Socrates, Schaeffer, and the Form of the Good: Considering Goodness in the Context of Sound (Alternatively, I am So Tired and Still Have to Write My Thesis: Thoughts from a Senior’s Notebook)

December 16, 2018

Pierre Schaeffer’s concept of acousmatic music and in particular reduced listening relates directly to the Socratic concept of the form of the Good in the context of exploring sound. Schaeffer was a pioneer of music concrète and the concept of acousmatics. Music concrète is music derived from sound itself, as opposed to a harmonic structure (as in traditionally tonal music) or formula (as in pieces born out of set theory). Acousmatics is the concept of hearing a sound divorced from its physical source — this means a sound just as the sound itself, as opposed to a sound related to the instrument or physical body that makes that sound. Listening in this way is ideal for Schaeffer and is what he refers to as reduced listening. For Schaeffer, there are four aspects to acousmatic listening, the last of which (entendre) is the ideal reduced listening: ouïr, comprendre, écouter, and entendre.

Schaeffer’s four modes of listening are akin to Socrates’ conception of the levels of knowledge of reality. To Socrates, ignorance acts as the zero point, which would correspond to a total lack of listening on any level in Schaeffer’s modes of listening. Then comes imagination, which is for Socrates reflective of something but not necessarily attached to truth or knowledge. This corresponds to ouïr (perception), a completely passive, basic manifestation of sound at a primal level. The next level for Socrates is opinion, which is interpretive as it passes judgement on something but it is still less true than knowledge. This corresponds to comprendre (comprehension), which is listening according to a language or signal. An example of this could be the understanding of musical tropes and gestures in tonal music, or our more or less automatic means of attaching the sound of a word with its meaning from a linguistic standpoint. This corresponds to opinion in that it is interpretive but regards sound as a representation of something tied to our physical world, and is still listening to sound in the context of its source. Scientific knowledge is the next step for Socrates, as it is factual and proven with data but still driven by hypothesis, which is rooted in the physical world. The next step in Schaeffer’s hierarchy is écouter (to listen), or sound as indices of worldly events or physical objects. Similarly to Socrates, this is an unreflective, information gathering action. In the same way that scientific knowledge is factual, this form of listening is true but still in relation to a worldly source. The highest level of knowledge is knowledge of the Forms, which corresponds to a knowledge of the true nature of reality. This is where entendre (to have intention [in hearing]) comes into play. Entendre is essentially this idea of reduced listening, in hearing sound divorced from its physical source. This is the purest and most ideal form of listening, in that it allows for a dissociation between sight and sound and promotes listening from a perspective that places the foremost importance on the sound itself. An example of this is when you repeat a word over and over again to the point that it stops serving the linguistic purpose we assign to that word and instead just becomes a combination of phonemes and vibrations — when you start hearing like that, you are taking part in reduced listening. The four Schaefferian modes of listening correspond with the Socratic levels of knowledge of reality in the sense that level of comprehension of a concept correlates with how pure one’s understanding of that concept is (the concept in Socrates’ case being reality and the concept in Schaeffer’s case being sound).

Schaeffer also speaks on sound objects, or a discrete and complete representation of something that remains the same at its core from any perspective. Sound objects are both ideal and objective, and they are revealed clearly only in an acousmatic reduced listening setting. He states the following in his piece Solfège de l’objet sonore (As referenced by Brian Kane in his book Sound Unseen, pg 32): “A sound object … endures through these changes and enables different listeners … to bring out as many aspects of it as there have been ways of focusing the ear, at the various levels of attention or intention of listening.” Here, Schaeffer argues two things: first, that a sound object stays the same and maintains its integrity even when taken from different perspectives; and second, that a listener can perceive this object to different degrees of clarity, depending on the intent of their listening. This to me is an almost direct philosophical corollary to Socratic and Platonic thought as outlined in the Republic with the allegory of the Cave and further discussions of the form of the Good. Socrates discusses the form of the Good as something that cannot be degraded in its purity; only the Forms (which are purely conceptual) are truly good, and Goodness still exists within physical manifestations of these forms, but to a lesser degree because physical reality is a degraded version of true reality (the reality understood through knowledge of the form of the Good). Schaefferian sound objects and specifically the idea of the transcendence of the object (taking something from several different perspectives and it still is at its core the same thing) resonates with the form of the Good as illustrated in Plato’s Republic. For Schaeffer, a specific sound at its core exists most purely in the conception of that sound, which is most accurately accessed in a pure listening experience (that is, a completely reduced listening experience where the sound exists only as the sound itself). I am not sure whether or not Schaeffer was directly influenced by Socratic thought when establishing his philosophies on sound, but there is certainly at the very least an indirect influence, whether the Cave and Plato’s Republic were something Schaeffer was intimately familiar with or whether it is just a reflection of how Platonic and Socratic thought have shaped our society over the course of hundreds upon hundreds of years.

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Does Plato’s political theory apply to the U.S – a view from a foreigner

December 3, 2018

In Book VIII, Socrates elaborately identified and critiqued many forms of political systems. Socrates critiqued Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. Aristocracy, represented by Socrates’ Kallipolis, identifies that the society should be ordered in three classes, craftsmen, law-enforcers and the rulers. This society is organized by the inherent value of citizens, those most worthy in terms of knowledge and justice – The form of the good. Timocracy for Socrates is when the ruler of a political systems aims to rule in terms of ambition or honor instead of the form of the good. This would be represented by a ruler’s ambition for conquest and war. Timocracy is degenerated from Aristocracy and is the second best form of government. Oligarchy for Socrates is when a small part of the population rules over the majority. This creates diversity and that there is constant conflict between the majority and minority. These small group of ruling people possesses power and wealth. Hence, the poor are constantly in conflict to take the power and wealth from the rich. Democracy is then the variation from Oligarchy, where the society focuses on the equality of the spread of power. Plato referred that people in a democracy had the freedom to do whatever they wanted, which resembles anarchy. Plato uses the example of an oligarchic man and his democratic son, where the father is disciplined and makes money. Whereas his son has no discipline and spends all the money his father makes. In a chaotic democracy – towards the later stages, some tyrant will evolve and establish tyranny, which is the worse form of government. In the realm of chaos, someone will establish their presence but in the form of oppression over the public. This is the worse form of government as it is the most unjust and bad. (Plato’s Republic, Book VIII, and IX)

I only visited the U.S several times before actually coming to the U.S to study music at the Eastman School of Music. However, the U.S is not an unfamiliar country to me as most of the world does revolve around it. However, for most of the times, not for good reasons. People talk about the “American Dream” and I did not ever conceptualize the U.S as a dream, although attending Eastman was certainly a dream of mine while I was younger. The U.S is just so chaotic with problems such as race, religion, politics, and society. The bads definitely outweighed the goods of the country. I did not agree that it was a “dream” of any sort, if anything, it was more like a dystopia filled with problems. According to Plato, Democracy is a pretty bad type of political system as freedom is valued more than the wellbeing of society as a whole. I believe Plato’s theory is reflected in the U.S. There are shootings reflecting personal opinions regularly and the society is filled with many issues. I believe all this is due to the freedom that an individual is entitled to, causing individuals to promote their ideas and beliefs in unorthodox methods. There was a news article from the 2016 news article campaign, where I saw that various satirical presidential candidates such as “Deez-nuts” which is a 15-year-old from Iowa participated in the presidential elections. Although he did not win any elections, he did win roughly 8-9% of the votes. I just found it hard to comprehend that a 15-year-old could enter the presidential elections, this almost seemed that the 8-9% that voted for the 15-year-old are just trolls and saw politics as a meme or something.

With president Donald Trump in position, his provocative comments made towards the media just strikes me as absurd although it might not be directly related to the democratic system. The Guardian of a society should be wise and just. I believe for the U.S, they might have a president that does not acknowledge the form of the good or even show tyrannical qualities. The democracy that allowed every individual to vote for what they truly believe is good for society, in turn, was actually bad for society as a whole. I believe if the current situation continues to worsen, tyranny might possibly evolve out of the chaos.


Just an individual in a Just society

May 10, 2013

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On several occasions recently I have watched a group of people struggle to grasp the logic behind Socrates’ plan for the ideal city, as stated in Plato’s “The Republic”. I have been thinking about why it is difficult for people, including myself, to understand where Socrates is coming from when he tries to explain his reasoning for the just city. I think that the underlying concept of what success, justice, greatness etc. is and where it truly comes from is different in our minds and the mind of Socrates. Whether the difference lies in the society that Socrates was a part of, or Socrates himself, I don’t know. I do believe that what makes it hard for some people to understand why in the world Socrates would believe the things that he did that would make a better and more just society is the fact that we are focusing on such different things.

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First of all, the society that we live in today places its focus on the individual, not the city, state, or country. We tend to place significance in a person’s achievements and success. The people that I have talked to about things that we feel are greater than the shallow achievements of a person, still usually speak of the potential for an individual. Socrates more often spoke of the potential of a just city, versus the potential for a just individual. I believe that this is the difference that makes it hard to relate to Socrates when he is talking about the ideal society. We are used to the focus being on an individual’s greatness, while Socrates is giving us his plan to form a society that is great.

The concept of “everything in its right place” is one of the most important elements of Socrates’ ideal city, and happens to be one of the ideas that spark the most discomfort among readers of “The Republic”. In this situation, Socrates explains that the ideal city would benefit from every person doing the job that they are most fit to do. This means, for example, that a person with steady hands (among other features) would be a surgeon, because that is what the city needs. Socrates explains that the city will benefit most from every individual doing what their natural skills enable them to do best. Most people find some conflict with this and I think it is because we live in a society where the individual is revered as being able to do whatever they want. “The American Dream”, for example, represents the idea that anybody can become anything that they want in this country, regardless of background, race, gender, sexuality, skills, knowledge, or experience. Obviously skills, knowledge, and experience would need to be acquired before the greatness of the individual could be achieved, but the underlying idea that appeals to people in “The American Dream” is that you are not destined to one career path, status, or lifestyle.

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My experience, and seemingly others experience as well, has been a sort of conflict of interests. I have been more focused on being a just individual, while Socrates looks for justice in a society. He does explain how he believes a person can have a just soul, but this is mainly a factor in his ideal city. He believes that a society consisting of just individuals will be the foundation of the just city. However, part of being a just individual to Socrates means knowing your place in society, and being content with that. I think that most individuals in today’s society, however, are not ready to give up their aspirations and submit themselves to the construction of a just city.


“A Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness”

May 9, 2013

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I have found that it is easiest for me to understand what a person is trying to say if I am able to relate to their situation. This is how I attempted to understand Socrates’ explanation of “The Forms”. I have often thought about the world as having a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” covering everything. Imagine yourself looking at a tree, but there is this layer of Saran Wrap over top of it. You would be able to see the tree somewhat, although its’ shape, color, and definition etc. would be altered and impossible to see clearly. I was able to follow “The Allegory of the Cave” so well because I related this metaphor to my own experience.

In “The Allegory of the Cave”, Socrates describes prisoners who are seeing shadows of figures, which are made to represent real things in the world. These figures are in the shape of trees, people, animals etc. Because the prisoners have not seen anything except the shadows of these figures their entire lives, they accept the limits of what they are seeing to be true. In my own opinion, there is a metaphorical layer, which covers everything in front of a person, which disables them from seeing the truth and reality of whatever it is that they are looking at.

I think this layer that comes between the average person and reality is something that is created by many things. The media, for example, definitely keeps the public from understanding the truth in a situation, in a number of ways. For example, each news station has a certain set of values, morals, and opinions, which are injected into the stories that are told. When the news stations report on a story, the public is not just presented with the facts that make up the situation, but a certain set of opinions about the events as well. The opinions are not the problem, but the way that they are presented does not make it clear to the viewers that there are more than just facts being reported.

It is my belief that society, whether this is intentional or not, does this same thing. As we grow up, we take some things to be true simply because that’s how we were taught. For example, we are taught that achieving a certain amount of success will result in happiness. This, to me, is like putting a “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” (bull crap) over everything; or putting a bag over someone’s head. The happiness that is obtained when a person follows the lifestyle that society places on a pedestal is not true happiness, and in my opinion, doesn’t really mean anything. Conventional success, as defined by society today, focuses on things like money, status, material things and fame. While these things may bring some sort of happiness to some people, there is not enough substance and depth to keep me satisfied or interested. The “Saran Wrap layer” that is put over everything restricts people to seeing certain things a certain way, and keeps them from knowing more. In this example, people can obtain a certain type of happiness and will be content with that, because they have not been able to see that there are greater, more powerful, and more beautiful forces than the feelings that having lots of money can bring.

Although I do not agree with everything that Socrates says, I found it interesting to see how far the analogy of the “Saran Wrap layer of fake-ness” can correlate to the “Allegory of the Cave” and other readings. In general, I felt that I was able to follow what Socrates was saying because I had this other analogy to compare and relate it to.

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Formness As It Relates To Languages

April 12, 2013

I have slowly become more and more fascinated by the implications of languages in everyday life.  Finding that most areas I enjoy learning about are in fact the study of a language, despite my deplorable use of English.  From my self study of German, to computer programming languages such as Java and Python, and Music.  I am starting to see my life through a lens of language analysis.  And so I would like to offer these ‘thoughts’ on Plato’s Theory of Forms and what, to me, are some implications of his theory.

1.) Plato’s Forms, Forms as an Idea

Plato discerns Forms through a series of examples, the result of which leave us with a definition roughly:

the Form(X) is the most perfected example of X

so what does this mean? It means that the Form(Toy Poodle) is the perfected ideal of the Toy Poodle

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“Wha?”

Lets think of it this way, if I ask you what makes a Toy Poodle a poodle you might say:

It is a dog

It is small

It walks on four legs, barks, and likes to chase the mailman, etc…

But wouldn’t all of this be true of say a Yorkshire Terrier?

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“Back off Beotch!”

They are a dog, small, walk on four legs, bark, and trust me, love to chase the mailman.

Then we would need to find more descriptors to further define the Toy Poodle from the Yorkie such as “the Toy Poodle is a species originating from Germany or France, where as the Yorkshire Terrier is from England

This type of differentiation is a classic example of how many (if not all) language gather the bulk of there validity.  We cannot know the Toy Poodle from the Yorkie without the Yorkie.  In fact right now we don’t know the difference between a Toy Poodle and a Smarfuldorg, and being such they could very well be one and the same.

So a word/Form (noun to be more specific) is a direct resultant of its containing of attributes that define itself and its differences from another.

This methodology is abundantly available in the programming language JAVA, where you have the ability to create Classes and Objects.

Our class could be:

Dogs (

size;

hair_type;

weight;

)

In this statement we are saying “all things considered dogs have AT LEAST a size, hair type, and weight” without which we cannot call it a dog.  (note: hairless is still a hair type, the type without hair.  Where as weightless is most certainly an Alien).  You could also make the subclass Toy_Poodle e.g.

Dog(

Toy_Poodle(

country_of_origin(Germany or France)

))

Now after passing the test of ‘is it a Dog’ it can undergo the subtest of ‘is it a Toy_Poodle’

Then within the Class Dog(Poodle()) we could have the Object(Toy_Poodle(Frankie)) that, is to say an ACTUAL TOY POODLE NAMED FRANKIE!

FRANKIE

Dog(

size(small)

hair_type(short_curly)

weight(5lbs)

Poodle(

country_of_origin(Germany)

))

Congradulations Frankie is indeed a Toy Poodle by our standards =D

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“I always wanted to be real…”

So where does this tie back into other language.  Well I like the example of computer programming because it really takes out all of the emotion from the communication and gives us the meat of the process, allowing us to ask the question “why is it that the Form/Object/Noun Frankie (the now official Toy Poodle) coming to be in the first place and is Frankie really a Poodle?

I would argue the only reason Form/Object/Noun Frankie is coming to existence is because we are in fact trying to reach a consensus or impose our ideas on or with others.  This very act of Form/Object/Noun creating is the fabrication of ‘common knowledge’, which I would define as: any knowledge prerequisite to interaction.

And if this is the case then isn’t it possible this form of Knowledge is entirely fabricated?

I will leave you with this last thought as well (as this is already a lengthy post)…

Can one prove we can not communicate w/o forms?

If so then forms are a prerequisite to communication?

-RcM