• Todd Martin
    257
    When Demetrius Poliorcetes had taken Megara, Plutarch says that the Greek city was spared pillaging. Seneca declares, however, that Stilbo (Stilbon, Stilpo), her most famous philosopher, lost all his children and his wife in the conflict...

    ...The famous biographer goes on to say that Demetrius, remembering that he (Stilbo) resided there, sent for him to have an audience with him; for he was famous for his choice of a life of tranquility...

    ...and having gained that audience, asked the philosopher whether he had lost any of his belongings, to which Stilbo replied that he had lost nothing that belonged to him, since, as Plutarch says, “I have not met with anyone to take away knowledge”, and, as Seneca says, “omnia mea mecum sunt (all my things are with me)”.


    Now let’s fast-forward a millennium and a half to the day Machiavelli penned his Dedicatory Letter of “The Prince” to “the Magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici”: Lorenzo had not sought an audience with the disgraced tortured and exiled former Secretary of Florentine Foreign Affairs. He had no idea the most infamous tract in the history of political philosophy was coming his way...

    In that letter Machiavelli both humbles himself to Lorenzo, and exalts himself, but, at the end, makes this statement: “And if your Magnificence will at some time turn your eyes from the summit of your height to these low places, you will learn how undeservedly I endure a great and continuous malignity of fortune.”


    Now, let’s compare and contrast Stilbo and Machiavelli: the former is courted by a prince, the latter has to court one; the latter complains of his ill fate while the former rejoices despite his misfortune (and let’s remember: Stilbo lost his whole family while Machiavelli retained his). As far as comparison goes, if we accept that both were equally philosophers, nevertheless we must recognize that something changed in the way they viewed the world in the intervening centuries that resulted in philosophy becoming less august, and more in need of promoting itself (as opposed to being respected and sought after).

    I submit this question to you: is the philosopher more like Stilbo, a man who can unwillingly attract the audience of princes while living a life dedicated to the most austere of principles; or is he more like Machiavelli, who, feeling abused unused and neglected—much as his muse, Ovid, did—must appeal dejectedly to the higher powers in hope of redress?
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    something changed in the way they viewed the worldTodd Martin

    What changed is that Machiavelli was not guided by the image of the Good. As a member of the Megarian school above all else he sought the Good. The Good played no role in Machiavelli's view of nature and man. He takes man as he is rather than according to some ideal to be achieved.

    Descartes marks the difference between the ancient and modern in the third of his provisional maxims from the Discourse on Method. He begins: "My third maxim was always to try to conquer myself rather than fortune, and to change my desires rather than the order of the world ...". The maxim is provisional because what he actually intends to do is move the world with his Archimedean point (Meditations). Machiavelli too sought to conquer fortune rather than himself.

    We do not have any writings of Stilbo, but it is clear that Machiavelli was a skilled rhetorician. His gift to Lorenzo was the one things ruler's most value, knowledge of how to rule. But any ruler who desires to stay in power will naturally be wary of someone who claims to have this knowledge because they pose a threat. So Machiavelli plays the part of the humble, ordinary citizen who has suffered greatly, that is, a weak man who would pose no threat to a prince.

    If we agree with Nietzsche that the philosopher is a creator and legislator (Beyond Good and Evil, chapter 6, We Scholars) then I think Machiavelli takes the title. While ostensibly he instructs the politically ambitious how to gain and maintain power, like Nietzsche, he knows where the real power lies. that is, in shaping the hearts and minds of generation after generation.

    If, on the other hand, we take philosophy to be a way of life devoted to virtue, excellence, and spiritual development then perhaps the nod goes to the equanimous Stilbo. He was powerless to change fortune but demonstrated great power in his ability to change himself.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    His gift to Lorenzo was the one things ruler's most value, knowledge of how to rule. But any ruler who desires to stay in power will naturally be wary of someone who claims to have this knowledge because they pose a threat. So Machiavelli plays the part of the humble, ordinary citizen who has suffered greatly, that is, a weak man who would pose no threat to a prince.Fooloso4

    Btw, I agree with your general analysis. There might just be a few quibbles. In the above statement of yours, I agree with all its sentiments except for this one: “...who has suffered greatly”. To me, whether Niccolo had suffered adds nothing to the humble front he puts up. Achilles suffered, was mistreated by Agamemnon and complained about it; but never humbled himself to that king of the Greek army. Indeed, one who has suffered may just want revenge; so, to me, by declaring his suffering to de’ Medici, Niccolo was hoping for that prince’s favor, compassion, and some future appointment...

    In other words, Machiavelli seems to me to be giving a free gift—his political tract about how to acquire and maintain a principality—to a prince, in hopes of personal gain from him; for he (Machiavelli) had spent the best part of his life in service to the Florentine government, mostly as her “Secretary”, and, after losing that post, felt that he had lost his very life. He went from being a high-ranking government official to being a nobody. A letter he wrote to his friend Vettori on 10 June 1514 sums it up: “So I am staying thus among my lice [in this village], without finding a man who remembers my service [to Florence] or who believes I might be good for anything.”...

    ...and as to whether he thought Lorenzo might fear him, I offer this excerpt Niccolo wrote to one of his philosophical buddies in “The Gardens” as evidence that he didn’t so think: “I do not want to leave out news of the way the Magnificent Lorenzo conducts himself, which has been...of such quality that he has filled the whole city with good hope...His Magnificence is...liberal and grateful in audience, slow and serious in reply. His way of conversing is of a sort...that has no proudness in it...In sum, he makes himself both loved and revered rather than feared...” etc.


    Stilbo. He was powerless to change fortune but demonstrated great power in his ability to change himself.Fooloso4

    This sentiment doesn’t quite agree with me either. For if, as you say, Stilbo believed in “the Good”, then he would have wished, not merely to change himself, but rather to align his soul with that good. This alignment may involve a change from an initial state of mind imparted by the community (which is what you might have meant), but it doesn’t involve what, as we say in our modern Nietzschean parlance, “a creative remaking of ourselves”. Would you agree with this or not?

    In fine I want to express my gratitude for your reply. I knew this would not be a popular topic in this forum; I didn’t expect to get such a quality response as this was to it by anyone.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    I suggest Machiavelli was not simply addressing Lorenzo but intended to instruct not only future princes but future philosophers. It is not simply a question of whether Lorenzo might fear him but of the ruler fearing the wise. Consider, for example, Xenophon's Hiero. Machiavelli held Xenophon in very high regard.

    Yes, he was trying for the princes favor. That is consistent with everything I have said. And yes, he hoped for gain in return. That is consistent with Machiavelli's teachings.

    Right, Stilbo did not wish merely to change himself but to draw closer to the Good, that is, to be good. Hence :

    ... a way of life devoted to virtue, excellence, and spiritual developmentFooloso4

    And now I submit the same question to you: is the philosopher more like Stilbo or Machiavelli?
  • Todd Martin
    257
    I think the answer to that question lies in the philosopher’s notion of his relation to civil society, or to the political community.

    Both the ancient and modern philosopher understand or perceive that there is a vast gulf between himself and everyone else, and that this great divide is created by the different priorities of the two: the citizen says he believes in the truth—until It conflicts with what he holds dear: his family, country, or (especially) god, so he implicitly places these things above the truth in order of priority. The philosopher, however, really only cares about The Truth, and neglects the things other men hold dear in order to have the most freedom possible to devote himself to Her pursuit. I think all philosophers, both ancient and modern, recognize this.

    This disparate relationship, b/w truth and community values, pits the philosopher against his community. The ppl will not endure even an implicit assault on the things they hold dear, and it is THEY, whether the demos or the aristocracy or the king, that rules politically, and has the power to condemn to exile, or even to death, the philosopher...

    ...and this is problematic for the latter, because, though he dare publicly act according to inner dictate, his outer personage is prone to the danger from public sources of power. He wants to pursue Truth, to philosophize in his soul, and to share this with the few like souls he can find in his community—but his soul is housed within his body, and the fate of the former depends upon that of the latter: if he die, then he can no longer philosophize; if he be exiled, then can he no longer consort with the Roman litterati, but must converse with the ignoramuses in Tomi, or in Sant’ Andrea...

    ...Allan Bloom speculates that Socrates chose death over exile for two reasons: “because he was old [and therefore had little opportunity left for philosophizing], and because it [his death] might just help philosophy.” This implies that, had he been, say, forty years of age instead of seventy at the time of his trial, he would have chosen exile over death—which, if true, undermines his (Socrates’) argument in The Apology and Crito for his acquittal.

    At any rate, the pursuit of Truth led ancient philosophers onto very diverse paths, some choosing virtue, others even pleasure, as the primary good...yet this intellectual difference did not divide them too drastically: Seneca admired Epicurus while disagreeing with his doctrine, which we can clearly see in The Epistulae Morales: as he argues there, Epicurus’ pleasure was of a rather austere sort, much in-line with Stoic teachings.

    As you have noted, Machiavelli was primarily speaking to future—not princes, but rather philosophers. And what was his message to them: that WE (the philosophers) are not prone, as the ancients thought, to “the slings and arrows of fortune”, but have the power to bend men’s minds to our will, if we only benefit them enough to otherwise leave us alone to our austere study?

    That, O Morosophos, is prolegomena to what I hope is future discussion. Please forgive me if I have left your question unanswered: I have limited time to devote myself to this conversation; but I look forward to it, and prioritize it among the many day-to-day activities I indulge in.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    Allan Bloom speculates that Socrates chose death over exile for two reasons: “because he was old [and therefore had little opportunity left for philosophizing], and because it [his death] might just help philosophy.”Todd Martin

    On the first reason, from Xenophon's Memorabilia IV. 8.1:
    "If anyone thinks that Socrates is proven to have lied about his daimon because the jury condemned him to death when he stated that a divinity revealed to him what he should and should not do, then let him take note of two things: first, that Socrates was so far advanced in age that he would have died soon, if not then; and second, that he escaped the most bitter part of life, when all men's mental powers diminish."

    I am not sure this can be taken at face value. First, we know from the Phaedo that he had a young son, and second, there are no accounts, as far as I know, in either Plato or Xenophon of any infirmity.
    ,
    On the second, does Bloom explain how this might help philosophy?

    As you have noted, Machiavelli was primarily speaking to future—not princes, but rather philosophers.Todd Martin

    It is not only would be philosophers who read Machiavelli. Those who seek power find him very helpful. This would not have been unexpected by Machiavelli. In addition, as you pointed out, the rulers establish the conditions for political/public life. By instructing the rulers Machiavelli helps shape the conditions in which the philosopher is free to follow his pursuits.

    ... if we only benefit them enough to otherwise leave us alone to our austere study?Todd Martin

    The theme of mutual benefit reoccurs throughout the history of philosophy. We see it in the Republic with the ironic definition of justice as minding your own business. But the goal is not simply to make the city safe for philosophy but to make philosophy safe for the city.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    I think the question of why Socrates did not defend himself is an interesting and important one. Perhaps it is an admission of guilt and an acknowledgement of the threat of philosophy, that it undermines the foundations of the city. It was necessary for the just city, the city in speech, that it be a new beginning, populated by the young. But real cities must be a continuation of the city as it already exists. The harm caused by Socrates, like the harm caused by medicine, was a necessary harm for the benefit of the city.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    Thanks for the Xenophon quote. It seems not to require more context for understanding, yet I am perplexed by it: how would Socrates’ acceptance of death because he was already naturally so close to it show that he wasn’t lying about the daimon? Because a man near death is prone to tell the truth?

    But ppl commonly carry secrets to the grave. My maternal aunt had an affair with a barber and bore her only son (she had already two daughters from her husband), yet she never confessed this to anyone, not even the grown son, before her death—which was not sudden, but, rather, prolonged— and even though she may have suspected that the truth either was already being whispered in the community, or might come out after her death.

    Yet it appears that that is the force of Xenophon’s argument: that Socrates wouldn’t lie, being so close to either death, or to that death-in-life, when the mental faculties have declined to the point that life is no longer worth living.


    we know from the Phaedo that he had a young sonFooloso4

    I think he had at least two, but that is irrelevant: I think your point is that he had someone to live for. But I think I remember reading somewhere that his sons were rather dull. Were he to choose to live, wouldn’t he do so rather for his “spiritual” sons? the Platos and Xenophons and others with whom he felt a kindred soul, and whom he had led out of the darkness of the cave into the light of philosophy? rather than for his natural family?...yet he chose to die despite all the appeals of his friends that he live.

    I think I remember reading elsewhere also that he could count on his friends to take care of his family after his death. Sorry: I can’t quote any passage to affirm this: it is just an old memory (the sort that can be as untrustworthy as its opposite).


    there are no accounts, as far as I know, in either Plato or Xenophon of any infirmity.Fooloso4

    There didn’t have to be an existing infirmity for Xenophon to express this sentiment: he was speaking of what was likely to come for Socrates, who, obviously, judging by how he behaved in his last days, was not yet prone to mental infirmity. Nevertheless, it could reasonably be expected to come in the ensuing years, since he was, at 70 years, of what was anciently considered “the full years of a man” (according to Biblical scripture), after which dementia was likely to set in, just as it is today after the age of 80.


    does Bloom explain how this might help philosophy?Fooloso4

    I could look the quote up for context, but I don’t think I need to. Bloom meant that Socrates chose to be philosophy’s martyr: that by dying unjustly at the hands of the state he might secure future sympathy for the philosopher...which, if true, shows he cared more about his “spiritual” than his temporal offspring.


    By instructing the rulers Machiavelli helps shape the conditions in which the philosopher is free to follow his pursuits.Fooloso4

    Yes! That was his brilliant innovation; no ancient philosopher dared or even thought to attempt the same, though several were involved in politics to a higher degree than Machiavelli ever was...

    ...I’ll tell you my intuition; I don’t know the exact timeline on these matters, but it seems to me that, just about the time of Niccolo, natural philosophy was coming to the fore, with men like Galileo making discoveries, and carving a path that might have made certain suggestions to political philosophy: either emend the old worn-out systems to protect us, and align yourself with us, or remain in the old paths and be relegated to “the dustbin of history”. I suspect you have superior knowledge of this, and I look forward to your opinion.


    But the goal is not simply to make the city safe for philosophy but to make philosophy safe for the city.Fooloso4

    But philosophy, true philosophy, cannot be made safe for the city; for, as I have pointed out, the priorities of the two are at odds: the latter will not broach any contradiction that their family or community or god is the greatest good; while the former is born to ask “what is the good?” and therefore question what his community accepts a priori.


    But real cities must be a continuation of the city as it already exists.Fooloso4

    Exactly! Which is evidence that Plato never believed his imaginary city was practicable. What he meant to do was show us the ideal city; the theoretical one by which all practical ones would be measured. In this way he was behaving just like a natural scientist who perceives a mathematical formula that comprehends all the messy phenomena he sees in the real world, as Galileo (or was it Newton?) showed that all bodies must fall to the earth at the rate of 32ft/sec squared...though all “real” bodies do not obey that law.


    like the harm caused by medicine,Fooloso4

    This is incomprehensible to me, O Morosophos; for I am not aware of any harm the ancient physicians caused the city...so, I would like for you explain that.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    how would Socrates’ acceptance of death because he was already naturally so close to it show that he wasn’t lying about the daimon?Todd Martin

    The suspicion is that Socrates was lying about his daimon. He said it always guided him and kept him from doing harm. But he says being being condemned to death did not harm him. Xenophon begins his Apology by saying: "But what they didn’t make clear—and without it his boastfulness is bound to appear ill-considered—is this: he had already concluded that for him death was preferable to life."

    I think your point is that he had someone to live for.Todd Martin

    My point is that he was not so old as to be incapable or uninterested in sex. That does not match up with the picture of an old man about to die.

    Nevertheless, it could reasonably be expected to come in the ensuing yearsTodd Martin

    How many years? Would those years be worth living? Wouldn't those years be spent philosophizing with his friends? Perhaps not if his health significantly declines, but such decline is not inevitable. Xenophon was no fool. I don't think that any of this should be taken at face value. There may be more to this, but if there is and what it is requires a careful look at the texts. I have not done this so will leave it an open question.

    yet he chose to die despite all the appeals of his friends that he live.Todd Martin

    Socrates said that philosophy is preparation for death. I think he did more for his friends by being obedient to the law and showing that because of the life he lived he had no fear of death.

    Bloom meant that Socrates chose to be philosophy’s martyrTodd Martin

    I would be very surprised to learn that this is Bloom's view.

    I don’t know the exact timeline on these mattersTodd Martin

    Machiavelli died 1527. Galileo was born 1564. Francis Bacon was born 1561

    natural philosophy was coming to the foreTodd Martin

    Natural philosophy was already prominent, guided by the work of "the philosopher", that is, Aristotle. I think that what changed was the beginning of a new chapter in the conflict between reason and revelation. Between the ancient and modern world there is the Christian middle ages. The claims of reason were regarded as inferior to the claims of revelation. Modern philosophy and science overcame the domination of the Church.

    But philosophy, true philosophy, cannot be made safe for the cityTodd Martin

    I think there will always be a tension, but what Plato learned was how philosophy could avoid the fate of Socrates. Later philosophers learned this as well. They developed salutary public teachings while hiding their true teachings in the text. Allan Bloom knew all about this through his teacher Leo Strauss.

    Which is evidence that Plato never believed his imaginary city was practicable.Todd Martin

    Right.

    What he meant to do was show us the ideal city; the theoretical one by which all practical ones would be measured.Todd Martin

    I don't agree with this. I think it is a warning against ideal cities. The breeding program alone should be enough to warn us off. Beginning with Glaucon's objection that it is a city suited for pigs, we are led to see that what is best in speech is not what it fit for human beings.

    I am not aware of any harm the ancient physicians caused the city.Todd Martin

    It is an analogy. The physician treats the body with medicines that are to some degree harmful but restore and promote health. Socrates harmed the city by undermining its foundations, but he did so to promote the city's health. To make it more just and reasonable.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    Bloom meant that Socrates chose to be philosophy’s martyr.
    — Todd Martin

    I would be very surprised to learn that this is Bloom's view.
    Fooloso4

    Here is the actual quote from “Closing of the American Mind”:

    “Achilles’ laments and complaints about why he must die for the Greeks and for his friend [Patroclus] are very different from Socrates’ arguments and the reasoning that underlies them for accepting death—because he is old, because it is inevitable, and because it costs him almost nothing and MIGHT [my all caps represent italics in the text] be useful to philosophy.” (p. 285)

    Now, the context for this passage does not surround it in Bloom’s text, so we must go searching for it elsewhere; but we needn’t go far to find it. On p. 281 we read,

    “Thus philosophy’s response to the hostility of civil society is an educational endeavor, rather more poetic or rhetorical than philosophic, the purpose of which is to temper the passions of gentlemen’s souls...The model for all such efforts is the dialogues of Plato, which together rival the Iliad and the Odyssey, or even the Gospels, introducing a new hero who excites admiration and imitation...Plato turns the [ridiculous] personage of The Clouds into one of those civilization-constituting figures like Moses, Jesus or Achilles...”

    Notice that these three figures are all great men characterized by tragedy: Moses led his ppl to the promised land, but was not allowed to follow them there; Achilles bested Hector, but was not fated to see the conquest of Troy; and Jesus’ fate is most similar to Socrates’ in that he was put to death for heresy...

    ...therefore to my mind, when Bloom says, “and MIGHT be useful to philosophy”, he can only mean that he believed Socrates thought it likely, or at least not unlikely, that his life would be memorialized by his disciples after his death. This memorial would be in the form of writings about his life—ones that would appeal to the gentlemen, to that special class of men who were both partially sympathetic to him, and who had considerable political clout (cf pp. 276-7, beginning at “There are three groups of men...” etc)...

    ...and why does he italicize “MIGHT” here? Had he merely been speaking of the obvious fact that a man going to his grave cannot know what will occur after his death, then there would be no need for italics; something more is required to explain them. This is provided by Bloom’s analysis of the difference b/w ancient and modern philosophy with regard to fortune: the latter believes fortune can be mastered while the former does not (cf p. 286). Here, Bloom wants to emphasize Socrates’ respect for fortune: he (Socrates) can no more be sure that his life and death will be memorialized to the benefit of philosophy than that philosophers will rule (cf p. 284, “The Enlightenment Transformation”)...but he was willing to bet his life on it, at least acc. to Bloom.

    Referring back to the quote from p. 285, notice the phrase, “and the reasoning that underlies them [Socrates’ arguments for accepting death].” By the underlying reasons I think Bloom meant the hidden ones (and real ones), for he does not even mention Socrates’ chief argument in the Apology of Plato: that it would be unjust for him to have benefitted all his life from Athens, then turn around and negate her lawfully conducted jurisdiction.


    The physician treats the body with medicines that are to some degree harmful but restore and promote health. Socrates harmed the city by undermining its foundations, but he did so to promote the city's health.Fooloso4

    But what greater degree of harm can one do to something other than by undermining its foundation? So, to characterize what Socrates did to Athens as “to some degree harmful”, but overall good, yet undermining her foundation, undermines your analogy. And the idea that Socrates, after a lifetime of philosophizing, suddenly felt guilty after being indicted and was willing to be put to death seems rather silly Morosophos.


    Modern philosophy and science overcame the domination of the Church.Fooloso4

    The Dark Ages were not lacking in philosophy. Aristotle and Plato were still respected and studied during the Middle Ages: the former was indeed incorporated into ecclesiastical doctrine, and though his teachings were modified to fit the church, that actually helped preserve him for the few scholars of philosophical bent who could then go back to the original texts.


    Natural philosophy was already prominent, guided by the work of "the philosopher", that is, Aristotle.Fooloso4

    But the Renaissance scientists were busy contradicting Aristotle. The famous example of course, the one you read in the introductory chapter of physics books, where short shrift is given to ancient scientists and their naivety, is that he thought bodies of different weights would fall to the earth at different rates of speed. Aristotle may have inspired modern philosophy of the natural sort, but it soon left him in its wake.


    Machiavelli died 1527. Galileo was born 1564. Francis Bacon was born 1561Fooloso4

    It appears then that Machiavelli was not prompted in his political philosophy by these natural scientists, but that they rather were inspired by him. I appreciate this information, Fooloso4, for it tells me that the modern philosophical revolution, The Enlightenment, was directed inversely to the ancient one: in the beginning, men of thought were directed to the natural world, particularly to astronomy, and only later were forced to deal with politics. After many centuries of stasis, it was the political philosophers, not the natural ones, who dared/decided to shake things up.


    Wouldn't those years be spent philosophizing with his friends?Fooloso4

    Finally, O Morosophos, let me only add this as reply: not if he were to live far from his patria in exile.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    Thank you for confirming my suspicion that Bloom did not call him a martyr. The passage does not say in what way it might be useful. I think it has to do with his being law abiding. Given the tension between Socrates and the city, demonstrating that the philosopher is not higher than the law was very helpful.

    Notice that these three figures are all great men characterized by tragedy ...Todd Martin

    Whether Socrates death was a tragedy requires a longer discussion about philosophy, tragedy, and comedy. If I remember correctly Bloom has a few things to say about this. And note that the reasons you cite:

    he is old, because it is inevitable, and because it costs him almost nothingTodd Martin

    and

    it would be unjust for him to have benefitted all his life from Athens, then turn around and negate her lawfully conducted jurisdiction.Todd Martin
    '
    say nothing about martyrdom.

    But what greater degree of harm can one do to something other than by undermining its foundation?Todd Martin

    Does this mean you would have found him guilty? Athens was not in good health.

    And the idea that Socrates, after a lifetime of philosophizing, suddenly felt guilty after being indicted and was willing to be put to death seems rather silly .Todd Martin


    I agree, it is rather silly, but I did not say anything about feeling guilty. That is your conjecture. 'Pharmakon' means both a medicine and and a poison. It can bring both benefit and harm. Socrates plays with this dual meaning in the Phaedo and Phaedrus. Consider also the destabilizing effect Socrates had on his interlocutors and him calling himself a physician of the soul.


    The Dark Ages were not lacking in philosophy.Todd Martin

    Yes, but I was referring to modern philosophy. [Edit: when I said: "Modern philosophy and science overcame the domination of the Church." Medieval philosophy is often described as the handmaid to theology, 'ancilla theologiae']

    But the Renaissance scientists were busy contradicting Aristotle.Todd Martin

    Right. This marks the transition from ancient to modern.

    After many centuries of stasis, it was the political philosophers, not the natural ones, who dared/decided to shake things up.Todd Martin

    It was both. The Copernican Revolution (Copernicus, 1473-1543) changed man's view of the universe and his place in it. He was no longer the center of the universe.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    @Fooloso4 The reason I have not yet responded to you is because our debate caused me to feel the need to do some research first: I felt the need to do a close rereading of Plato’s Apology and Crito, and to examine what Bloom has to say about Socrates’ death in the several books of his (Bloom’s) I have in my possession.

    I have been conversant with Bloom for over 30 years. Indeed it was he that introduced me to philosophy—not him personally, but rather through his books, particularly “Closing...”, but also, later on, “Giants and Dwarfs”, “Love and Friendship”, and, of course, his two major translations, of “Emile” and “The Republic”.

    I originally joined this forum, not long ago, out of a felt need to seek others who might share my own philosophical interests...or at least potentially share in them. You are the first whom I’ve found, after a year of searching here, who is familiar with the last century’s revolution in Socratic interpretation initiated by Strauss and continued by his students and theirs. Where this revolution has led I have little idea: it seems to have inspired Republican American politics of the late 90s—being used in a manifestly political way which Bloom, had he lived so long to see, would have lamented—when certain intellectuals supporting President Bush espoused his (Strauss’) ideas.

    Our debate about why Socrates chose death over exile has thusly caused me to return to the works of the philosophers, to test whether my opinion is correct or not. Thus I owe a debt of gratitude to you, O Morosophos, for having led me back to books I had too long neglected...and to some I am not familiar with...

    ...and I hope to end my neglect of you soon with a response—after I have finished my research.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    The reason I have not yet responded to you is because our debate caused me to feel the need to do some research first:Todd Martin

    I am always glad to hear that.

    it seems to have inspired Republican American politics of the late 90sTodd Martin

    I think that was an interesting development. Students of Strauss split between those who stayed out of politics and those who became politically active. They are often referred to as East Coast and West Coast Straussians, although it is not a strictly geographical split. The west coasters centered around Harry Jaffa, Claremont College, and the Claremont Review. They are generally well read and argumentatively capable, but I have nothing positive to say about their brand of conservatism.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    I thought you might find interesting. From The New Republic:

    To understand the emergence of Trump-supporting Straussianism, it’s important to realize that this group is very different than the Straussians who were influential during the Bush administration. After Leo Strauss died in 1973, his followers divided into two factions, creating the infamous “Crisis of the Strauss Divided.” And the best way to understand the divide between West Coast and East Coast Straussians is through the quarrel between Harry Jaffa and Allan Bloom, who were the respective heads of the rival schools.

    Strauss encouraged his students to form tight relationships since frank and intimate conversation among friends was the heart of philosophy. Jaffa and Bloom were very close in the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1964 they co-wrote a book, Shakespeare’s Politics, dedicated “to Leo Strauss our teacher.” But over time Jaffa became involved in grassroots activism in the Republican Party, authoring the famous lines that Barry Goldwater uttered in 1964, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” As he became involved in right-wing activism, Jaffa gravitated towards social conservatism, praising the religious right, appearing on Pat Robertson’s show, and emerging as vocal homophobe (he argued in 1990 that “sodomy is, in the decisive respect, as morally offensive as incest and rape”). This put him in collision with his former friend Bloom, who was a closeted gay man. In a nasty review of Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987) published in the Straussian journal Interpretation, Jaffa wrote that through AIDS “God and nature have exacted terrible retribution” on gays. Bloom died a few years after Jaffa wrote those vile words. Some friends, notably the novelist Saul Bellow, claimed that Bloom had died of AIDS, although this is disputed. What is undeniable is that Jaffa put a homophobic jab in his review with the intent to hurt his former friend.

    The disputes between Jaffa’s West Coast Straussianism and Bloom’s East Coast Straussianism can be discussed along philosophic lines: Is America, as Jaffa believes, grounded in ancient philosophy or was the American founding, as Bloom would have it, built on the low but solid ground of early modern philosophers like Hobbes and Locke? Does the survival of America depend on the virtue of the people, as West Coast Straussians believe, or in the maintenance of constitutional norms, as East Coast Straussians believe? But the dispute can also more easily be understood in terms of the familiar social divide in the Republican Party. West Coast Straussians are the grassroots activists, grounded in social conservatism and ultra-nationalist in foreign policy. Sociologically, East Coast Straussians are more aligned with the party elite, and tend to be found in Washington think tanks and serving as career bureaucrats.

    Another way to frame the divide is on the issue of regime change. Strauss, like Plato, was fascinated by the founding of regimes, and his students clearly believe that the key to politics is to have power at the moment of creation. For the East Coast Straussians, regime change is a matter of foreign policy, as witness the failed attempt to democratize the Middle East by force under Bush. For the West Coast Straussians—perhaps shaped by Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided, a seminal and brilliant work on Abraham Lincoln as a revolutionary thinker—regime change begins at home.

    In a 1959 critique of the book in National Review, Willmoore Kendall prophetically argued that Jaffa’s celebration of Lincoln could give license to celebrations of new Caesars who claim to be avatars of the popular will. Readers of Jaffa’s book, Kendall warned, needed to be wary...

    ...lest Jaffa launch them, and with them the nation, upon a political future the very thought of which is hair-raising: a future made up of an endless series of Abraham Lincolns, each persuaded that he is superior in wisdom and virtue to the Fathers, each prepared to insist that those who oppose this or that new application of the equality standard are denying the possibility of self-government, each ultimately willing to plunge America into civil war rather than concede his point.

    Kendall was wrong on one point. He feared that an America too beholden to the ideal of equality would see a rise in political extremism. But with West Coast Straussians supporting Trump, we see that Jaffa’s license to political extremism can be used just as easily by those who oppose equality—and Kendall’s warning of a new Caesarism has been fulfilled.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/137410/pro-trump-intellectuals-want-overthrow-america



    I would add one thing. Some of Strauss's most notable students, Stanley Rosen and Seth Bernadette for example, perhaps influenced by Socrates, stayed out of politics all together.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    Thanks for the New Republic piece. It WAS interesting...

    ...it caused me to recall a refutation of Jaffa’s criticism of Bloom I composed and published on a website devoted to discussion of Strauss back in the 20-aughts. That site was cancelled soon after, and its title taken over by a company that sold beauty products, “Philosophy”. Were you ever familiar with that site? That was a long time ago, and my memory of much of it has faded.

    Of the two, Jaffa and Bloom, Bloom seems more politically consonant with their spiritual father, Strauss; for, like him, he espoused moderation in politics, based on his interpretation of the political intentions of the ancient philosophers, and was himself not active in politics like Jaffa. It was interesting to see how far Strauss’ influence on politics goes back—all the way back at least to a Barry Goldwater speech given in 1964, only three years after my birth! It is just as interesting to note that there is no mention of the divide b/w Strauss’ students, which occurred rather early on it seems, in any of Bloom’s published works or interviews that I am aware of. He seems rather to consider his true rivals—ie, those whom he must refute—to be men like Dale Hall, Daniel Bell and John Rawls: not outwardly political men, but rather men who might pervert or obscure or deform the old books by which he hoped to inspire his students. This is all of a piece with his teaching that philosophy is a very personal, as opposed to political, undertaking...

    ...but Socrates proved that the search for knowledge and the desire for justice in the polity are ultimately entwined. The desire of the philosopher—the man born to pursue the truth—and that of the citizen—the man born to follow the ways and beliefs of his fellow citizens—must necessarily collide with each other...and the latter is destined to win politically, because that sphere is where he, the citizen, has power through numbers: there are many more men in the cave than those who have the power to peer outside it...

    ...but, as Bloom admonishes us, though the philosopher is psychologically outside the cave, he always remains physically within it; and I think this fact is what inspired both the ancient temperance in his (the philosopher’s) political writings—ie the appeal to the aristocracy—and the Machiavellian audacity to abolish it in favor of the plebs. In other words, the philosopher/scientist was always going to have to take account of politics...one way or another.

    The split in Strauss’ students, some taking a more moderate, some a more extreme stance toward politics, is reminiscent of the post-Socratic divide b/w Stoic and Epicurean. Division after philosophical revolution seems to be a given: as soon as the pre-Socratics gave way to Socrates, their exalted independence was compromised, inasmuch as they now had to turn their attention away from atoms and eclipses (the microcosm and macrocosm) to the mundane affairs of horse-smiths, orators and oracles.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    Were you ever familiar with that site?Todd Martin

    I was not. But I did discover that philosophy can now be purchased in a bottle.

    all the way back at least to a Barry Goldwater speechTodd Martin

    I too found that interesting.

    This is all of a piece with his teaching that philosophy is a very personal, as opposed to political, undertaking..Todd Martin

    Political life had the dual meaning of public life and rule. In the former sense Socrates was very political, spending his time in the marketplace conversing with all sorts. Plato too was political in so far as his work shaped the western world. There is also a distinction between private in the sense of not sharing with anyone and a private group. It is the latter with which Socrates often engaged.

    Bloom admonishes us, though the philosopher is psychologically outside the cave, he always remains physically within itTodd Martin

    Does he say what he thinks our status is epistemologically? I am inclined to thing that we are psychologically still under the influence of the image or makers. We are, however, able to choose, at least to some degree, which ones we listen to.

    Division after philosophical revolution seems to be a givenTodd Martin

    Yes, this seems inevitable. It is true of religion as well. The followers of Jesus, the followers of Mohamed.
  • Todd Martin
    257
    I did discover that philosophy can now be purchased in a bottle.Fooloso4

    Ha ha! Good joke. But I regret that that site was cancelled. I spent a good bit of time on it around 2004-6 (?). There was a guy on there who was very persuasive in espousing modern natural rights teachings, especially economic ones. He thought I was much younger than I was, and talked me into accepting a mailing of several books by obscure Enlightenment era authors whose names I no longer remember, in an attempt to convert me. The only one of those books I saved and still have is Hobbes’ Leviathan.

    The Jaffa critique of Bloom I attempted to refute on that site was I think his “Humanizing Certitudes and Impoverishing Doubts”, a play on a quote from Bloom’s Closing..., from Part Two (“Our Ignorance”): “What is so paradoxical is that our language is the product of the extraordinary thought and philosophical greatness at which this cursory and superficial survey has done nothing more than hint. There is a lifetime and more of study here, which would turn our impoverishing certitudes into humanizing doubts.”

    My instinct is that Jaffa felt Bloom was a nihilist, in the form of his former teacher Nietzsche, while Jaffa himself clung to the old or standard natural rights teachings, and defended The Constitution. In TCAM (The Closing of the American Mind), Bloom obviously both defends and criticizes that constitution (in different contexts). Bloom says he began his career believing in Freud, was converted to Nietzsche, and finally settled with Plato...but Plato would have never believed in natural rights...

    ...a request of you, O Morosophos: are you internet-savvy enough to pull up Jaffa’s criticism of Bloom, the one entitled, “Humanizing Certitudes and Impoverishing Doubts”? I have tried, but everything I found was either a requirement of purchase, or of access to a university account...and I am not a professor, student, or card-holding consumer. The reason I ask this of you—and I don’t want you to go to great lengths that would put you out in any way—is because I remember that I refuted one of Jaffa’s statements therein concerning the Constitution quite definitively, and would like to see that statement again, to judge whether I was correct in perceiving it to be so obviously self-contradictory.


    Does he say what he thinks our status is epistemologically? I am inclined to thing that we are psychologically still under the influence of the image or makers.Fooloso4

    I assume by “we” and “us” you mean philosophers... among which I do not count myself. I may have been born with the nature for Her... but I came to Her so late, in my 30s, and by a mixture of nature and chance with a preponderance of the latter: only by chancing upon books I found by browsing in libraries and bookstores did I ever find either Bloom or deGrazia. My brief fling with the University before this, in the early 80s, offered me nothing.

    By “epistemologically” I assume you mean whether Bloom thinks the philosopher can be truly independent of the regime or polity or community with regard to his THOUGHT. The answer to this is a resounding “yes!” According to Bloom, that is the uniqueness of the philosopher as a human being and citizen, that he cannot accept the city’s beliefs because he bases his thought on reason alone, which the city cannot do. The following is from his essay, “Aristophanes and Socrates: A Response to Hall”:

    “The philosopher, of course, begins, as do all men, in the cave; and...he pays the strictest attention not only to particular or individual things but to their shadows. But the difference between him and other men is that he learns they are only shadows—shadows which give us access to the truth—whereas they believe the shadows are the real things and are passionately committed to that belief. That is what cave-dwelling means. The cave must always remain cave, so the philosopher is the enemy of the prisoners since he cannot take the non-philosophers’ most cherished beliefs seriously. Similarly, Socrates does not care for other men, but only to the extent they, too, are capable of philosophy, which only a few are. This is an essential and qualitative difference, one that cannot be bridged and that causes fundamental differences of interest...To the extent that the philosopher turns some men to the light, he robs the cave-dwellers of allies. It is not because he lives in the sun, out of the cave, that I say the philosopher is at tension with the city; his problem is due precisely to the fact that he is in it, but in a way different from that of other men.”

    It isn’t simply that the philosopher’s problem is that his soul is trapped inside his body while his body is trapped within the cave. His soul too begins within the cave, and only by education, literally, is it brought outside into the sunlight; and this, only after great attention has been payed to “the individual things” and to “the shadows”; for as Bloom admonishes us, though the shadows must be perceived as unreal, it is only they that give us access to the truth.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    I have not read the essay yet. I just checked to see how much of it is included.

    There is a gap of a few page here and there but it appears that the bulk of the essay is here:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=X7ePDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=Humanizing+Certitudes+and+Impoverishing+Doubts&source=bl&ots=PJd8G781Dv&sig=ACfU3U34xCmqOY88fK2eRGK1l9-enpKN9g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjGkNe3vYbwAhWll-AKHVMoBSYQ6AEwCnoECBMQAw#v=onepage&q=Humanizing%20Certitudes%20and%20Impoverishing%20Doubts&f=false

    I assume by “we” and “us” you mean philosophers.Todd Martin

    I meant you and I and our neighbors and strangers.

    “epistemologically”Todd Martin

    Epistemology is the problem of knowledge. This is the central issue of the cave and th/e ascent from it.

    But the difference between him and other men is that he learns they are only shadows—shadows which give us access to the truth—whereas they believe the shadows are the real things and are passionately committed to that belief.Todd Martin

    I do not agree with Bloom. One meaning of the shadows is opinion - opinions are takes to be the truth. If I remember correctly he makes this clear in the translation of the Republic. Where I disagree with him is with regard to the truth, that is, the "things themselves", the Forms. Socrates' wisdom was his knowledge of his ignorance. Part of what it means to be in the cave is to be ignorant, to lack knowledge of the Forms. We, you and I, and Bloom and the philosophers are cave dwellers. Plato is the guy parading images before us, images of truth and knowledge, the Forms.
  • Fooloso4
    1.2k
    I started reading Jaffa's review but decided not to force myself to continue. It contain a great deal of rhetoric but is wanting in reasoned argument. He seems to deliberately misconstrue what Bloom says.

    William F Buckley once quipped:“If you think Harry Jaffa is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him. It is nearly impossible.”

    Jaffa champions some version of traditional morality, some combination of reason and revelation, ancients and moderns, made manifest in a mashup of Aristotle, natural rights, the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, and the Bible. Jaffa and his students seem more interested in persuasion than truth, or perhaps, persuasion in the service of truth as they see it. God and Country.

    Edit: I finished the article. If the intent of philosophical argument is to examine the truth to the best of our ability then this is not a philosophical argument, but rather a poorly disguised sophistic argument.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment