Friday, September 21, 2012

Hilary Putnam on Heidegger's slipshod scholarship

As I pointed out here, Heidegger’s pseudo-Platonic affection for Nazism is stunning. Heidegger was a deep student of the ancients and his way of discussing the texts, as Hannah Arendt recounts for his 80th birthday, saying more deeply what Leo Strauss also said - that Heidegger's way of thinking reveals each text in a novel way and that it would come to dominate Europe - was striking. There was suddenly, in her words, a new, "secret king in philosophy." Heidegger would study each word, each phrase, each allusion, and often build up a novel interpretation of the text.

In addition, Heidegger's reading of Plato is often careful and novel. Moreover, he was himself a brilliant philosopher, one who started a whole new and often more plausible way of thinking about being in the world, being with others, which removed much of the strangeness of Cartesianism (for Descartes, I am a thinking thing. But then, how do I know there is a world? how do I know that there are others, i.e solipsism?). Heidegger often shapes subsequent philosophy, for instance, in not pitting man against nature, deep ecology (see Michael Zimmerman, Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, Art).

And yet, Heidegger sometimes makes inferences that are wrong or fit only with his own predilections which are not Plato's. And as Hilary Putnam and Uwe Meisner, a philosopher and classicist at Augsburg, rightly note below, sometimes, at the core, these inferences are repulsively shoddy.

In such cases, Heidegger felt free to represent what he imagined to be hidden meanings in Plato (as did Strauss who was blown away by Heidegger), often by making them up. A search for new understandings of and sometimes for hidden or esoteric writing invites close readings. But a subtle understanding of the surface and an unearthing of seeming contradictions and hidden paths along with an assessment of them are something different. One can reveal the texts in the first way, but in looking for esoteric meanings, sometimes find startlingly wrong ones or infer that the meaning one thinks one has found is, in fact, there, pretty much without argument. And Heidegger's amazing 1943 assertion that the guardians are all philosophers who set, in their "freely thinking inquiry," all the rules for everyone else who will just repeat the same things and supposedly, even have the same passions, is a paradigm case of this error. Recall: Heidegger aspired to do this for Adolf Hitler...

One might even see seeking to ventriloquize a tyrant on Heidegger's (and Strauss's, and perhaps even earlier Aristotle's part) as a kind of wish-fulfilment, a wrong turn pursued to its most reckless and, in Heidegger's case, evil and catastrophic conclusion. Heidegger is at core not a philosopher, but a monster, restricted only by his limited career as a Nazi official - he picked out "untrustworthy" i.e. decent students to denounce to the Gestapo during his time as Rector at Freiburg.

And yet, the subtlety of Plato's dialogues seems to invite this. As Socrates says in the Phaedrus,

“Socrates: Writing Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and it is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence , but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak and to whom not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled, it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.

…in my opinion, serious discourse about them [justice and similar subjects] is far nobler when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless but yield seed from which there springing up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever and which make their possessor happy, to the furthest possible limit of human happiness.” Plato, Phaedrus, 275d-277a

Heidegger had read Plato to pioneer, in recent times, thinking deeply about what a dialogue is (and his follower Strauss is often quite insightful on this). For a dialogue is not a treatise. That one knows what Socrates or the Athenian stranger or the Eleatic stranger says is not yet to discern what Plato thinks. And there are a series of interrelated dialogues in which the meanings are often elusive. For instance, in the Meno, Socrates coquets with the beautiful young man who inveigles him into discussing whether virtue can be taught rather than his original question: what is virtue? And they reach the provisional conclusion that it cannot be taught. Yet at the end, Socrates's invoking of Homer's image in Hades of Tiresias Theban, the blind prophet in the daylight world, who alone among the dead can see, "the rest are flitting shadows," is, of course, a parallel to Socrates in the cave of Athens.

But in the Republic, Socrates teaches Glaucon not to become a tyrant (he does not teach him to become a philosopher for which Glaucon has little inclination, though some interest; in the Republic, becoming a "philosophical youth" is reserved for the leader of the democrats, the bully Polemarchus, who actually begins to think about arguments - see my "Polemarchos as a symbol of the Republic's theme: a philosophical warrior for democracy against tyranny" here). In the action as well as the argument of the Republic, Socrates teaches Glaucon virtue and thus contradicts the most obvious, seeming conclusion of the Meno.

In fact, the Meno may be a lesson for Plato's students, present and future, in how to argue, how to think philosophically. It may also be important for a seeming sub-theme, the conversation with a slave who is able, stirred by questioning, to make a mistake, reconsider and ultimately prove an advanced theorem of Greek geometry. Contra Aristotle's later argument for "natural" slavery (even Aristotle notes in book 1 of the Politics that nature makes many mistakes...), the Meno shows that humans are equal in having the capacity to question and learn, to find (some of) the truth.

And of course, the Meno is relevant to Socrates's trial and death (Meno's host Anytus is one of Socrates's accusers and makes a brief and belligerent appearance). For to preserve questioning is to preserve the possibility of equality and decency which underlies a common good-sustaining democracy as opposed to the fallen democracy - defeated in the Peloponnesian war and at a low in 399 B.C. - which, after tolerating Socrates for 70 years, murdered its wise man.

Dialogues are not what they appear on the surface...

Now, Heidegger's philosopher-king - actually, a tyrant who rules purportedly wisely but without laws - is shaped by the invisible philosopher-guardians (Nietzsche's invisible philosophers of the future, embroiders Strauss in his posthumously published "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" in another striking anachronism*). And one might be inclined, mistakenly to shun Heidegger for Nazism and this kind of shoddy "scholarship." For Heidegger is often a powerful reader of others as well as an innovative philosopher in his own right.

Still, in the Republic, what the character "Socrates" imagines is the rule of guardians who are military men, soldier-athletes, and not philosophers. In fact, the whole point of the Republic is that the city in speech is Glaucon's fantasy, a military leader who is hungry for "relishes," a potential tyrant himself. The kallipolis (kalos polis) or beautiful city is what Glaucon would see as a good regime, a regime or god shaped to the psyche of the individual, in contrast to a regime of philosophers. Plato also makes this insight - one gets it from reading the Republic closely - explicit about the psychology of love and divinity in the Phaedrus:

"Now he who is a follower of Zeus, when seized by love, can bear a heavier burden of the winged god [Eros], but those who are servants of Ares and followed in his train, when they have been seized by Love and think they have been wronged in any way by the beloved, become murderous and are ready to sacrifice themselves and the beloved." (252c)

The image and potential of Glaucon, the warrior and his city, is clear here, the role of a philosopher-king as it were, or psyche in his soul, simply to restrain him. And in the chariot metaphor of the Phaedrus, the black horse of Glaucon's hungers would pull that psyche or charioteer far down, not rise up to see the truth or perhaps go on the journey Socrates conjures in images of the philosopher (248a-249c).

Socrates continues here:

"And so it is with the follower of each of the other gods [the gods are mirrors of the way the desires or appetites are structured in each individual] he lives in so far as he is able honoring and imitating that god, so long as he is uncorrupted, and is living his first life on earth [the metaphor of reincarnation of souls in earthly lifetimes and in spiritual journeys "of a thousand years" is vivid in Plato and the east), and in that way he conducts himself toward his beloved and toward all others. Now each one chooses his believe from the ranks of the beautiful according to his character and he fashions him and adorns him like a statue as though he were his god to honor and worship him." (252c-d)

The Republic shows Plato's or Socrates's implied city to be at least importantly Pythagorean (i.e. the followers of Pythagoras formed communities uninterested in a militarism). See "If the city of guardians is Glaucon's, what city is Socrates's here?"

And for all the exoteric (surface) handwaving of Strauss and his followers about the importance of "reading the text," Heidegger, the "one great thinker of our era" in Strauss's words, is perfectly happy to blow off Plato when it serves his Nazism. It takes mere reading to understand that this is mistaken and repulsive in a more than just scholarly way, as Hilary implies.

Now, Leo Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing, an approach which names something important about Heidegger's own writings as we will see, can be, as I noted in describing Heidegger as Strauss's mentor in the classics, an invitation to read subtly and well. Writers often have thoughts which they want to reveal only to some readers.

But Strauss's notion can also serve as a license to pervert what a philosopher thinks - pretty arbitrarily as Heidegger does about the philosophers as guardians - and provide no argument for it. The yearning that all the classic philosophers had a single hidden meaning which Leo Strauss has discovered - an invitation to the authoritarian rule of the best man - is not yet an argument for such rule. For instance, the assertion that the best man is smarter than everybody else and therefore, like a sea-captain, should rule does not yet say anything about what politics is. In fact, this is really a form of antipathy to politics.

But Socrates, in the Apology, reveals a leadership in the democracy (for a democracy which preserves questioning, a common good-sustaining democracy) which is more strongly that of a good captain and attracts a following (a shift of only 30 votes would have changed the decision). Strauss ignores this.

Strauss is, as I have often said, a cryptographer, a would-be decoder of hidden meanings, and not a philosopher.

And as Hilary's comment underlines, even sometimes more philosophical cryptographers just blow it.

So, one needs argument to show that the hidden meaning is, in fact, what the writer was directing us towards. The Republic provides the greatest indictment of tyranny, in terms of public consequences and even psychologically about the tyrant, so far written. And yet, it is easy to discern a hidden meaning in "Socrates's" story of regimes which decline from philosopher-king to tyrant. For as Aristotle says in book 5 of the Politics, it would be perfect and a circle (kuklos) if a tyrant of a certain kind became a philosopher king. As one of Plato's best students, his announcement of this "criticism" suggests that Plato was advancing a message of that sort (and Aristotle himself not only recommends the rule of the "outstanding man" - who would pretend, he says, to rule over Zeus? - but himself advised Alexander).

"Socrates," helpfully for the careful reader, adds that extremes are nearest to each other - tyrant to philosopher-king - and out of something moderate and self-satisfied (some kings), nothing great will ever come.

But the surface arguments of the Republic contradict this hidden pointing. See here, here and here. And Plato was loyal to Socrates who "went down" to fight against the censorship of questioning and philosophy within the Athenian democracy and died for it. Socrates was a founder, as Gandhi and King later insist, of civil disobedience. See here, here, here, and here. Heidegger and Strauss, European reactionaries, have no imagining about, let alone insight into this form of resisting tyrannies, either of majorities (defective democracies) or the more ordinary form.

Plato's other student Demosthenes, who had written Phillipics against Philip of Macedon, Alexander's father, was murdered by Alexander. Although Aristotle sees and signals a hidden meaning in the Republic in book 5 of the Politics and goes on to discuss a supposedly common good-oriented tyranny, pretty much borrowing from the advice of Siominides to the tyrant in Xenophon's Hiero (Strauss wrote on this pro-tyrannical work in his first book in America, On Tyranny), there is little evidence that Plato was arguing for this meaning as opposed to challenging his students to think about it and, hopefully, reject it.

I initially was saddened - but persuaded by - the discovery of Aristotle's pro-tyrannical account of the Republic in book 5. It seemed evidence for what Plato encouraged his students to think. But about four years ago, I saw that Strauss's wooden and non-philoosphical way of looking for hidden meanings - find the hidden meaning and you have the answer in a writer without any reasoning about it - was false.

Interestingly, Heidegger pioneered this kind of cryptography in the 1920s and early '30s (Strauss adapted it in America after World War II). In his 1943 Essence of Truth, Heidegger's own vision of Nazism turns to be just a misreading of Plato according to Heidegger's political desires to further Heidegger's ambition to become Hitler's "brain." Heidegger here projects his own Nazism onto Plato.

Meanwhile, the Socrates who defended questioning and not authoritarian rule by philosophers, the Socrates who was wise only in that he did not know about the ideas (he knew instances of justice but not the idea of justice...) and unlike others, did not pretend to himself or others that he knew, the Socrates who never advocated and could not consistently have advocated the rule of a philosopher and went to his death to affirm the need for philosophical and political questioning in a democracy, the Socrates who pioneered what we call civil disobedience, that Socrates is nowhere to be found in Heidegger or Strauss. See here, here, here, and here.

I have previously broken the story of Heidegger and Plato, quite an amazing one for most Anglo-American Heidegger scholars who see Being and Time as a novel philosophical work, focused on the tradition from Descartes to Husserl, which does not touch upon the ancients (h/t Tracy Strong). Think of Robert Solomon's interesting discussions of Heidegger and existentialism; there is no whiff of Heidegger's extraordinary classicism...

But Heidegger's belief is that we have “fallen” into the “one” (das Man) and that the only way to become genuine is to recognize our personal mortality – Sein sum Tode, being towards death – and sacrifice ourselves for the Fatherland. This cave of the "one" is exactly what one must turn from to become a philosopher in the Republic or, perhaps, to become an authentic soldier who will die in battle - realize one' generational destiny, one's historicity - in a repeat of World War I for Heidegger. The structure of Being and Time thus mirrors that of "the cave metaphor," as Heidegger subtitles his 1943 Essence of Truth. And yet as Hilary and Uwe Meisner note, it also plainly perverts it. For Plato was not about encouraging every citizen of the polis to become "authentic" by serving the Fatherland in battle.

In the chapter on historicity, I show in detail here and here, Heidegger affirms a pro-Nazi point of view about the destiny of his generation: a repeat of World War I. See also here.

But is this really comparable to Socrates's sticking to his post in Athens by soldiering for the democracy, and then defending questioning against an Athenian proto-McCarthyism (a phony democracy or what Rousseau would call a will of all) or proto-Hitlerism? Is this Socrates's fighting, with his life, for a democracy which includes questioning (philosophy and dissent from injustices to which a mob may often be moved, a common good-sustaining democracy). The latter is what Rousseau would call a general will or a will to equality, i.e. the equal freedom of citizens, and founds modern democratic theory.

The movement or structure in Heidegger's existentialism broadly parallels the movement of philosophy out of the cave, but the Nazism Heidegger recommends grotesquely parodies the life and politics of Socrates.

Heidegger's Nazi vision is, in fact, made up out of whole cloth allegedly from Plato and needs a mesmerized group of followers which cannot, like a child, point and say: He [the Emperor] isn't wearing any clothes!

This is the pride as well as the viciousness of what Heidegger fought for politically with all his being. No wonder that Hilary and Uwe Meisner are appalled at the rotten "scholarship" of Heidegger's crucial remark on Nazism.

In Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss explicitly draws a line between what is said for superficial readers and what is offered to careful ones. But the book itself is a feint. One imagines from the title that Strauss will discuss Tycho Brahe and Kepler – burned at the stake – and Galileo, threatened and forced to recant as well as the followers of Darwin - the Scopes trial - for their pursuit of science. One imagines Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine and Marx, inter alia. But this common expectation of the reader about the word "persecution" is surface. Strauss mentions and means none of these familiar cases of crimes against thinking.

Rather, Strauss fears only persecution by the democracy of the extreme right – those among philosophers who seek to counsel tyrants and make them supposedly wise.

In fact, Being and Time, published 21 years earlier, also illustrates Strauss's point and makes roughly similar moves. In the late 1920s, Heidegger sought Husserl’s chair at the University of Freiburg. The senior professors might not have given it to an outspoken Nazi sympathizer. And, more importantly, the Weimar government fired professors who announced themselves as Nazis.

So Heidegger starts the book with his search for a mystical Being as opposed to the existing beings in the world. But this, too, is a feint. Heidegger switches abruptly to Dasein – the being for whom the question of Being comes into question - and spends the rest of the book on this.

Now Dasein (Being there) is and is not what we think of as an individual. He is a local farmer, rooted in the soil and engaged, without reflection, in tasks. But also, German Dasein may eat French Dasein (the French language, Heidegger tells us, is no good for thinking...), Polish Dasein and Russian Dasein (the wheels came off this imagining in the Soviet Union).

After introducing Dasein, Heidegger talks, in a lengthy and often poetic and innovative philosophical account, about the authentic historicity of this being, understanding one's own thrownness and mortality - Being toward death - breaking free from "the one" (for most of us much of the time, death is everyone's else's) and then, by implication, joining the Nazis and fighting a now successful repeat of World War I. Read carefully, the section on historicity excludes other alternatives (see the posts on this linked to above).

Of course, his students and not Heidegger went to their deaths. In his 25th high school reunion speech at Konstanz, Heidegger mystically invokes the graves and markers of those who had fallen in World War I while he had avoided frontline service as a medic. See here. Even beyond the Nazism, Heidegger's politics reeks of bad faith.

But one has to read with care the passage on historicity, far into a long book, to get this point. The Nazism is but adumbrated, steadily, in a lengthy book, for the careful reader, and a sleepy one might miss it. And so, among often reactionary academics in Germany, Heidegger got his promotion...

Heidegger's pseudo-Platonic “pure national socialism,” the one he adhered to long after Hilter lost and even in his posthumous interview with Der Spiegel in which he says democracy is too weak a regime to deal with "the problem of planetary technology," is that in which philosophers serve as guardians and through their "freely thinking inquiry" set all the rules for the society.

But a careful reading of the Republic reveals a very different meaning. For instance, the argument in book 2 that philosopohers are like dogs in barking at enemies and wagging their tails at friends is Socrates’s worst argument – as I underline here - and made so that the careful reader will be suspicious of the seriousness of the subsequent construction, again for Glaucon's sake, of the "city in speech." For in book 1 of the Republic, Socrates had just defeated the argument of Polemarchus - that justice is benefiting friends and harming enemies - with the points that one often mistakes friends and enemies and in any case, that the just man does not seek to harm others. So as his interlocutor Adeimantus would have remembered from the previous conversation and is quite taken aback by Socrates's assertion of, the argument that dogs are like philosophers, barking at strangers who might be friendly and rubbing up against even masters who beat them, is not meant to be taken seriously.

Perhaps Heidegger was a careful reading without a sense of humor. In any case, he missed something essential that if one reads the text carefully, one is meant to notice.

For Plato, the hazy philosopher king is not the same as – not close – to the guardians. In fact, the proposal for a philosopher-king is largely a satire - Plato takes the charges against Socrates and shows what it would take to clean up the gods, for example. See here, and here. But one can see how, given his prejudices, Heidegger might have grasped for philosopher-guardians.

One needs to be careful about getting too high on oneself. Heidegger was famous, mesmerizing (Arendt and Sartre and Strauss, inter alia, show as much; others like Loewith were less taken - see My life in Germany before and after 1933). Heidegger taught Plato with a deadly seriousness, founded or adapted a common view of the philosoher-tyrant among pro-Nazi philosophers, and missed badly on the Republic.

But just as scholarship on Plato's argument, Heidegger’s Nazi version, as Hilary says, is shocking. The line of argument pursued in reactionary Plato scholarship, which Strauss names and Heidegger practices, goes back to Al-Farabi. One focuses on deliberately "ambiguous, allusive, misleading, and obscure speech." And for Strauss, the "great men" never, ever make a mistake. No word, no setting in the text, no number fails to be calculated so the careful decoder will miss the point. And Heidegger is the "one great thinker of our era..."

If one practices ambiguous speech, the chance that about the most important things one will just say something stupid, viz. Heidegger about the phulaches (guardians), gets pretty high.

In 1943, Heidegger indicates his Nazism more clearly than elsewhere, and highlights its reactionary pseudo-Platonism. It is still vague - note the misleading title of the section "Seeing and the Seeable in the Yoke of the Light."

The sentence about the philosopher/guardians just pops out and then recedes. As political institutional development, it is nothing (Heidegger was, at most, a would-be high functionary among the Nazis like Schmitt, who lasted two years longer - until 1936; he was not a potential leader with a worked-out argument).

Though ceasing to be Rector of the University of Freiburg in 1934, Heidegger remained a Nazi throughout the War.

But continuing the pattern of hiddenness, Heidegger would trim all this material from post-War versions of the Essence of Truth. He had been banned from teaching in Germany for 5 years and was trying to conceal his politics, that is rehabilitate himself.

In the 1943 version of the Essence of Truth, Heidegger thinks Socrates is the best example of being toward death. That is a good point. But he entirely misses Socrates as a founder of civil disobereience within the democracy. Heidegger ignores Socrates’ questioning as a source of dissent in a common good-sustaining regime as well as a basis for philosophy.

Instead, he (and Strauss) impose the image of the philosopher-king from the Republic. They do not see Socrates in life as trying to reform the democracy, and translate him, instead, into their interpretation of Plato. Theirs is a pseudo-Plato, not the Plato who admired Socrates.

Plato defended Socrates for “going down” in the democracy to head off tyranny, including philosophical tyranny, i.e. that of Critias. Socrates's words and action in the Apology affirm a decent, or common good-oriented democracy, one which protects questioning. So Heidegger is a weak scholar of the Apology and Republic, and is fundamentally mistaken about both Plato and Socrates.

One danger of exoteric writing (writing which misleads superficial readers) is that it invites a deliberate carelessness in expression and in the reading. In fact, it is precisely because Heidegger pioneered a new form of reading and writing, often careful and creative, that he mesmerized himself, gave himself permission to refashion Plato as a Nazi.

But that Heidegger has a vision of Nazism in which the philosophers lead the slaughters and redesign a heavily controlled society, one of a eugenic idiom, for the masses of people who are gulled is appalling. Heidegger's and Strauss's image of a philosopher advising a tyrant to mislead the people with religion (roughly the Athenian Stranger in the Laws who is the focus of Strauss's last book and for Plato, a Socrates who did not take the poison, a "Socrates" without integrity) resembles the neocons making war to conquer the world and are elected mainly by evangelicals who haven't a clue. These pseudo-philosophers - William Kristol or Paul Wolfowitz** or Abraham Shulsky, for example - are among the would-be guides of the clueless Bush or Romney.

And that is an even worse crime than the, nonetheless, awful shoddiness of Heidegger's interpretation.

Here is what Hilary wrote to Uwe Meisner:

"Dear Uwe,

The political significance of Heidegger's vom Wesen der Wahrheit was called to my attention by Alan Gilbert, an old friend (he was a Harvard undergraduate in the 60s), who is now a professor at the University of Denver. In his blog, Democratic Individuality, he wrote:

"In 1930 Martin Heidegger lectured for the first time on The Essence of Truth (Vom Wesen der Wahrheit) and in 1931-1932, on Plato’s Teaching concerning Truth (Platons Lehre von der Wahreit). In 1943, at the time of the battle of Stalingrad, he delivered an expanded version of these lectures as The Essence of Truth: Plato’s Cave-Metaphor and the Theaetetus (Vom Wesen der Wahrheit: zu Platons Hoehlengleichnis und Theaetet). In the latter, he suggests in paragraph 13 that the guardians must be the philosophers who through their 'freely thinking inquiry' shape every aspect of political and social life. This was Heidegger’s blueprint for a 'good' regime, the 'inner truth and greatness of national socialism' he espoused even in his 1953 Introduction to Metaphysics." I checked this for myself, and I found the slip I described to you. I have attached an image of the page from the English translation.

Hope we meet again. The dinner was great fun,


Here is the passage

"Seeing and the Seeable in the Yoke of the Light [given the surprising political content of the next sentences, this title is also a feint]

We must now see if what has been said can be verified from Plato’s own presentation. With this intention we turn to the final section of book VI of the Republic. In regard to the ‘state’ (as we somewhat inappropriately translate polis) and its inner possibility, Plato maintains as his first principle that the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize. He does not mean that philosophy professors are to become chancellors of the state, but that philosophers are to become phylaches, guardians. Control and organization of the state is to be undertaken by philosophers, who set standards and rules in accordance with their widest and deepest, freely inquiring knowledge, thus determining the general course society should follow." (paragraph 13, p. 73)

Here is what Hilary wrote to me:

"Subject: Heidegger's slip

Dear Alan,

The slip (actually an incredible blunder for a classicist) in Heidegger's vom Wesen der Wahrheit is that he says the philosopher rulers are philakes,

I pointed this out to an acquaintance Uwe Meisner who is a philosophy professor at Augsburg, who was shocked. That is the message I just copied to you.

Une forte embrassade,

And here is what I responded:

"Dear Hilary,

Yes, it is a shocking slip and shows that Heidegger adapted to his own purposes many things. I think I remarked this in the original posts, but I will write more on this because it reveals how far Heidegger distorts Plato to unearth what Heidegger thinks of as the true meaning of Plato – he is right that there are complicated or hidden paths in Plato, but mostly wrong about what they are – and to take in how grotesque his Nazi misinterpretation of Plato is.

Une forte embrassade,


* Thomas Pangle, the editor of the essays, added the word Heideggerian to the title. He has a reverence for Strauss's texts; it is unusual for him to have done that. So perhaps the word separates a fascist or Nazi version of existentialism, pretty clear in the essay itself, from, say, Sartre's.

**Wolfowitz worked with Allan Bloom as an undergraduate, went to courses with Strauss as a graduate student, but was mainly influenced by the right-wing, former Trotskyite nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Much of Strauss's influence in political life came from Robert Goldwin, a "one man-think tank" who transformed the Republican Party as Donald Rumsfeld eulogized him at the American Enterprise Institute in 2010. The lines from Strauss to the importation of authoritarianism (commander in chief power, executive power) are bipartisan and manifold.


Matt said...

This is a nice and useful essay, though this bit:

" One imagines from the title that Strauss will discuss Tycho Brahe and Kepler – burned at the stake – and Galileo, threatened and forced to recant as well as the followers of Darwin..."

Seems to imply that Brahe or Kepler (or both) were burned at the stake. The cause of Brahe's death is disputed, (I guess that slow mercury poisoning is now a common idea, though a kidney infection was long thought to be the reason) and Kepler also died of illness. Kepler had some problems later in life, but they were as much or more political than religious. Neither, as far as I can tell, faced very serious persecution for their beliefs. Perhaps you meant Giordano Bruno? Anyway, it's a small point that's not central to the interesting essay, but it jumped out at me.

Daniel Lindquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dhananjay said...

I know nothing about Heidegger, so on that matter I shall fall silent. But this essay itself contains sloppy mistakes and esoteric interpretation.

First on this offhand remark: "Contra Aristotle's later argument for "natural" slavery (even Aristotle notes in book 1 of the Politics that nature makes many mistakes...), the Meno shows that humans are equal in having the capacity to question and learn, to find (some of) the truth."

It is customary for philosophers to bash Aristotle for his defense of both slavery and sexism in Politics I, but it behooves us to get the details right. The former prejudice is at least given some argument, and to Aristotle's credit, the argument for natural slavery is explicitly set against the custom of slavery as practiced in his time. All consistent with the wonderful demonstration with the slave-boy in the Meno. Indeed, by Aristotle's lights, we have no reason to suppose that de jure slaves, prisoners of war and their children, are natural slaves. The question who is a natural slave turns on the possession of autonomous reason, and since we too judge some people incompetent to live their lives independently due to mental deficits, the difference between us and Aristotle is certainly smaller than we'd like to think. He may of course have made bad empirical estimates of how common this state was, and his later remarks in Politics VII about the necessity of slaves even in the ideal city are troubling. The worst part of this offhand dismissal of Aristotle is that the claim about nature making mistakes is part of the argument against slavery as practiced in Greece in his time - it is meant to challenge the common assumption that from slavish parents come slavish children.

I follow little of the jagged discussion of "Heidegger's philosopher-king". The standard reading of the Republic in 'analytic' Anglo-American circles is the one that seems to be attributed here to Heidegger. It is also, contra Professors Gilbert and Putnam, the plain surface meaning of the text of the Republic. (On these points, see my second comment below.) Professor Gilbert does not give us either of the two most important texts relevant to this question from the Republic, but instead quotes rather arbitrarily from the Phaedrus and other dialogues, and makes interpretive assertions at least if not more controversial than that in the quoted passage of Heidegger. (Is it not standard scholarly practice to put such a quotation at the head of the essay, to allow readers to form their own opinion?) According to Professor Gilbert, "the proposal for a philosopher-king is largely a satire". This is not exactly the consensus position amongst Plato scholars. Nor is the claim that the Athenian Stranger of the Laws is an anti-Socrates likely to win widespread approval.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

Dhananjay said...

Here are those two quotations from the Republic (my translation).

(1) Rep. III, 414b1-6: "Isn't it then most truly correct to call these [the rulers] guardians (phylakas) in the fullest sense, against both the will of external enemies and the ability of dear ones at home to do wrong, and to call those young men whom we just now labelled guardians instead assistants [or 'auxiliaries', epikourous] and defenders of the decrees of the rulers."

(2) Rep. V, 473c11-d6: "Unless either philosophers come to take up rule in cities or those who are now called kings and lords come to take up philosophy genuinely and capably, that is, until political power and philosophy unite, while the many kinds of people who now go their way in one or the other occupation are forcibly kept from it, cities will obtain no relief from misfortune, Glaucon, nor in my view will humankind." (Cf. also the whole discussion at the beginning of Book VI of why the true philosopher is fit to rule.)

It seems perfectly reasonable to identify the philosopher-rulers with the (true) guardians, that is, the guardians of the laws and not merely the military class, who are only helper-guardians in the sense that they defend the decrees of the rulers, who themselves are tasked with preserving the constitution and especially the education system of kallipolis. What is described as a "shocking slip", then, seems to be little more than a reference to Republic 414b1-6.

There are of course intriguing differences in the views put forward in the Republic (main discussion leader: Socrates), the Statesman (the Eleatic Stranger), and the Laws (the Athenian Stranger), especially about the importance of the rule of law and its relation to embodied political expertise. But there are important continuities which also vindicate reading the views developed by the main discussion leader in each of these dialogues as harmonious with the behaviour and doctrine of the Socrates Plato depicts in the aporetic dialogues such as the Protagoras. (Note that I make no assumptions about the development or chronology of Plato's views.) These continuities include the ideas that knowledge is powerful and ignorance weak, that the true statesman or king would have technical knowledge, that no such people exist in cities as we know them, and that we must find a way to live as best we can without such knowledge while holding out hope that it comes our way. These ideas can be found in various forms in the Apology, the Crito, the Gorgias, the Protagoras, the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws, i.e., all the importantly political works of Plato. Seeing this as the core of Plato's political vision does not require esoteric reading, either as Strauss or Heidegger practice it or as Professor Gilbert does.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

Blinn Combs said...

Hi Alan,

I'm having a very difficult time identifying precisely what you take the alluded slip to be. Is it the identification of philosophers and guardians? (One would hope not, given the strength and quantity of quotes of the type Dhananjay provides; 473c-d is usually taken as the central claim of the entire work).

Is it something else? I noticed that you have two different transcriptions of the Greek for "guardian." Putnam's "philakes" is a fairly gross error of transcription, but as such errors go, and especially considering that he's working from an English translation of Heidegger's work, it would be difficult to attribute it to Heidegger himself.

What am I missing?

Alan Gilbert said...


I wasn't writing an essay on aristotle. But you are right that Aristotle is very critical of existing practices of bondage as I argue in detail in Democratic Individuality ch. 1. By the way, one of the three best cities in book 2 is Carthage, a barbarian city, so the common idea that Greeks may enslave barbarians conquered in war is placed in question.

Alan Gilbert said...

On your second note, I am sure consensus among contemporary students of philosophy is often a good thing. But it is not yet an argument. And since you know nothing of Heidegger, you say, you obviously have a firm basis to comment (he worked on the Greeks for some 20 years, and his work is serious.

Alan Gilbert said...

I cite a lot of posts, almost a book's worth, on these matters on my blog. You are under no obligation to pay any attention to them before commenting, but I note that your comment is not based on reading them and on an average rejection of deviation from a current scholarly norm.

On the substance, you are right that philosophers emerge seemingly from guardians (though one might want to consider whether the education of a guardian to feel always the same emotions as others, have the same thoughts, even with preparation in mathematics, amounts to a likely philosophical education (it is not Socrates's story of his own, or of the role that an inner voice or guiding spirit, a daimon, plays in it.

But I mention here and in the citations the discussion with Polemarchos on friends and enemies and how Socrates overcomes this. And I thin mention that Socrates at the beginning of book 2 suggests that philosophers are like dogs (or guardians) who know friends and don't bark, and bare their teeth at those they do not know. I detect some skepticism in Adeimantus's responses. But in any case, Plato, I think, means us to see that this argument is doubtful, based on book 1. The standard reading you refer to is I think that a philosopher-king rules over the guardians (since the guardians are full of misconceptions or myths like the one of the metals. The guardians are not yet philosophers...I explore the possibility that the guardians are an ideal version (or god) for Glaucon, Socrates's companion and the main interlocutor. And perhaps this is responsible for some of the satirical tone in much of the argument. My apologies that I did not meet your standards of scholarly rigor, and that Heidegger's usual affirmation of a Platonic Nazism (I think again pseudo-Platonic), though you have not read him, does.

Alan Gilbert said...

Sorry for typos. The last sentence should speak of Heidegger's unusual affirmation of a Platonic Nazsim - it is the one time that he does this, and until I studied Essence of Truth and some of the background in Heidegger, I had no idea that "the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism" was Platonic...

Alan Gilbert said...

For any one who would like to follow this up, you can hit on the links in the blog, marked here, to access the relevant posts.

Alan Gilbert said...

Oh, one other matter. Heidegger thought that the philosophers should set the rules for the leader, meaning Hitler. Was Hitler, the man of "beautiful hands," as Heidegger called him, plausibly a philosopher? And in what way does the stand-aside ruler of Heidegger's citation manage to be a philosopher? And what kinds of philosopher (examine Heidegger's own activity as a Nazi, in speeches, writings, and for a short cut in Faye's recent account?) serve Hitler? Perhaps this is all some reason to reconsider Heidegger's philosophy and, as he saw it, straightforward activism. But it is not Plato.

Alan Gilbert said...

Matt, thank you. Good point (I was trying to clarify the difficulties in so-called exoteric writing in Heidegger and Strauss, and did not check this point.

Dhananjay said...

I'll note that my comments were confined to Aristotelian and Platonic exegesis, things I do know a little about. The reason I mentioned briefly the present state of Plato scholarship was for readers who may not be familiar with it, partly because you seem to appeal to Professor Putnam's authority. In any event, it was not an argument ex consensu omnium. The theme of your essay is that Heidegger, normally a sensitive reader of Plato, here makes an extraordinary slip, intentionally, in service of his Nazi political views. If the putative slip is what I think it is - the identification of the philosopher-rulers as phylakes (φύλακες) - then it is no slip at all, but rather usage of Socrates' own preferred terminology, given Rep. III, 414b. If it is in service of Nazism, then it is using Plato in service of Nazism, whether fairly or unfairly to Plato's own broader political views. The usual non-esoteric reading of Plato's political philosophy reveals a hostility both to the mob rule that killed his teacher and to democracy in general, and seemingly mixed feelings about the value of the rule of law over the rule of even wise individuals, much as we find in the later chapters of Aristotle, Politics III. But in any case, these are matters of continued scholarly controversy, and maintaining that Heidegger is a shoddy classicist on the basis of the quotation you target is unsupportable. That is all I meant (and mean) to say.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

David said...

Hi Alan,
Thanks for the entry. One question: I'm a bit confused as to why, in discussing the origin of Strauss' esoteric reading of Plato and other ancient philosophers, you do not even mention his deep interest in medieval jewish philosophy, but focus instead on his interaction with Heidegger. No doubt Heidegger was influential for Strauss, but if you read, for instance, Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, which if I remember correctly Strauss discusses in the first chapter of Persecution and the Art of Writing, Maimonides just says that he has composed his work at a number of different levels for different sorts of readers. Why not think, then, given Strauss' extensive background in Medieval Jewish philosophy, that his esoteric reading of ancient philosophy stems primarily from his (in my view, quite reasonable) method of reading medieval jewish philosophy and not from his interaction with Heidegger?

Blinn Combs said...

Just one quick point. Quite apart from the purposes to which Heidegger is putting his analysis of the Republic, he appears in the gloss only to be providing a synopsis of "the final section of book VI of the Republic." And by way of introducing that material, he simply reports the conclusion reached in the long preceding section: That "those who are to be established as guardians in the strictest sense must be philosophers" (Translating τοὺς ἀκριβεστάτους φύλακας φιλοσόφους δεῖ καθιστάναι. [503a]) And in fact, Heidegger's gloss is an almost verbatim restatement of this bit of text, allowing for his usual habit of over-translation: "the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize." And read in the context of the surrounding paragraphs of this section of Book VI, which detail first the possibility of the ideal state, and then review the character traits of the rulers, Heidegger's remarks are just an apt--and by his standards, remarkably lucid--description of Socrates' procedure.

So it's very difficult to see how this could plausibly be taken to be "an incredible blunder" especially by a classicist.

Blinn Combs said...

Correction: the quotation is from 6.503b, toward the middle. I'm currently without my OCT, so I'm uncertain of the precise line numbers.

Alan Gilbert said...


You are right that Strauss also learned this from Maimonides. But I would pay attention to Strauss's descriptions of his encounters with Heidegger, who made Weber whom he had encountered look like an "orphan child" and of whom he said posthumously - and one writes more honestly he says "one foot in the grave" (a comment on a passage he found puzzlingly direct in the late Hobbes) - that he was the "one great thinker of our era" (maybe there will be another, in 2200, I seem to recall, in Malaysia...). The essay "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" is worth pursuing with great care in the context of Strauss's writings in the 1920s. In addition to my posts on it (linked in the essay), see William Altman, The German Stranger.

Alan Gilbert said...

About the ancients (he had heard Heidegger analyzing Aristotle's Metaphysics at first), Heidegger was a primary, perhaps the primary guide.
But Strauss disguised his relationship to Heidegger in America - told admiring students like Catherine Zuckert not to read him (hardly philosophical or Socratic advice...). So the reference to Maimonides may be what he means to tell us about how he got into this, or it may be a feint (exoteric) to put off sleepy readers. Since Strauss is not good at argument (he is a very serious scholar), his discussions and extreme care about writing (one must read him literally and not bring a bevy of obvious allusions - i.e. a German Jew in America can't, just can't admire Hitler...), it is probably true that much of what he says dissolves under examination. Dissolves: is self-contradictory or once one knows the politics, uninteresting except as a statement of preference, not as political philosophy or worked out argument.

Alan Gilbert said...

“Dhanajay” (Jagannathan) has provided a lively commentary on my last post here, and along with Blinn Combs, tries to defend the scholarly honor of Heidegger – that he understands the guardians not just as auxiliaries or warrior-athletes but most as philosophers – and, in effect, trash the political honor of Plato and perhaps even Socrates who seem, on this view, endorsers of proto-Nazi regimes of the “wise.” Dhanajay’s comments are here along with Blinn Combs’ and some of my responses. The tone of his comments is aggressive and demeaning, so I thought I would reprint my final comment and the whole sequence below.


I am very glad to see that you are no longer speaking in the voice of the “philosophy”- police (Blinn, too, often does this). The ambition to state what one takes to be the consensus view – with some cleverness and learning – does not lead to anything of much interest (and is hardly Socratic…).

Hilary is my old friend (politically as well as philosophically), and I and many others have learned a great deal from his work (see Democratic Individuality, chs. 1 and 4, for example). He has given me advice on what I write about Plato and Socrates, but is not a specialist in these areas though, of course, he knows Greek and has powerful insights. I cited him for one of these. Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism as what the guardians do is shockingly bad scholarship, Uwe Meisner thought and Hilary thinks. So do I. And that a vague sentence appealing to a text of Plato is the substance of his Nazism (“the original truth and greatness of National Socialism”) is horrifying and amusing.

To annex this to good Plato scholarship - and allude to Plato in this way aside from those who grew up with Nazism as Heidegger and Strauss did - is a mistake. For instance, nothing in Greek cities, including the supposed city in speech, has much resonance – some quasi-Spartan eugenics aside – with racist mass murder…

The Nazis circa 1943, and Heidegger as a then party-member, are not a poor approximation of Plato's city in speech (i.e. as "true national socialism").

Perhaps one wants to say of Heidegger with Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, disarming Wilmer with his big heaters (guns) - "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

I mention the Meno in my essay(s) where Socrates questions a slave who un-forgets (roughly, Heidegger’s translation of aletheia) a theorem of Greek geometry. That doesn’t fit well with your view since the weak can learn as much as “the strong” through questioning. Nor does the surface conclusion of the Meno – that virtue, not being knowledge, can’t be taught - help your claims. For if this is right, the one navigator can’t be the one philosopher-ruler, pace your assertion (since knowledge has nothing to do with virtuous ruling), and if the claim is not fully right (i.e. Tiresias who is blind and yet can see the future and still can see even in Hades, and Socrates), one might want to be a bit less precipitous about feeling strong, philosophically speaking. In fact, that seems to be Socrates’s target in the Apology, that many, including sophists like Thrasymachus, think they know and do not…

For in the Apology which you cite on behalf of your view, Socrates says he is wise only in this: that he knows that he does not know (in a non-self-refuting way, that he knows examples of justice, but not the idea of justice, let alone what a just society looks like). This thought contradicts the city in speech (and your summary of the official views) point-blank. Since Plato was careful about argument – see book 1 of the Republic where Polemarchus, initially a democratic bully, begins to learn about reasoning and thus becomes a philosophical youth (as reported in the Phaedrus) – I would be careful about announcing that “the philosopher-king” in your sense is what Socrates is recommending in his defense at his trial (or in Plato’s rendition/thinking about the speech).

Alan Gilbert said...

What Socrates appears to be defending is the importance of asking questions even at the cost of his life – and thus, trying to make or maintain a space for philosophy and also political dissent in a democracy (see his remarks about sentencing). If so, philosopher-kingship (in a small circle in this city of cities) would be about, sometimes, when it counts, taking leadership for what is good even at great sacrifice. So Gandhi in his translation of the Apology and King seem to me to have it right at least about Socrates – and the standard academic consensus and your version of it, earlier and now, seems to me mistaken.

Today, one reads Socrates "knowing" how a philosopher must be read, as those who have taught one, read him, often not devoting too much time, and not attending to what Plato thought about how his dialogues should be read or the order in which a student might want to read them or what a dialogue is or what Plato tried to teach his students in the Academy and long into the future. But in fact, the hidden writer of the dialogue often makes fun of or questions the “discussion leader” as you call them (Shakespeare is not Hamlet, Romeo or Juliet...) And Socrates, of course, didn’t write…(except for some poems alluded to in the Phaedo).

I appreciate the citations you (and Blinn) bring up. But far from solving the problem of what the Republic means about a philosopher king, they scratch the surface. Just who becomes, for instance, a philosopher-king? The Republic doesn’t say (it does hint this in the decline of regimes which do not complete a circle – kuklos - as I noted in the post, but you won’t allow this since that is precisely a hidden or not surface reading). And of course, you would never get to the further issue: should we take the powerful psychological and moral arguments against tyranny in the Republic more seriously as I do or the largely un-argued hidden pointing (Strauss, Heidegger)?

The Athenian Stranger in book 4 of the Laws shocks Klinias by suggesting a tyrant who can change things rapidly for good or ill (I think the line numbers are roughly 708-711 but am traveling now and don't have the book). Note that Socrates never recommends changing things for ill. One is meant to note that, inter alia, the Stranger is a Socrates who did not take the hemlock (See William Altman’s revelatory essay on “A Tale of Two Drinking-Parties,” those in the Phaedo and in book 1 of the Laws).

The consensus view is often not to read the Laws very much - and one might notice that, in contrast, Strauss pivots his interpretation of Plato on the Athenian Stranger (see his last book in 1973, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws).

Xenophon in Hiero shows the poet Simonides, a wise man (note Polemarchus’ reliance on him taking over from his father in book 1 of the Republic and Socrates’s argument against this view), shaping the unhappy tyrant Hiero up to serve a common good. Strauss routinely refers to a tyrant who listens to a reasonable man being the best ruler, much better than elected ones (see On Tyranny, p. 27). So it is easy to read Plato – not Socrates – as saying this, and to then infer that Xenophon and Plato have the single view of their teacher. And then the Seventh Letter seems to fall into line as well. So then Heidegger would have the right view (and of course, Nazism might seem a variant…).

But there is no evidence that the historical Socrates held such a view, for instance in the Apology (so it makes a difference, for instance, that your brief invocation of the work is so far off). It could be that Gandhi and King are right about Socrates – prefiguring civil disobedience – and Plato is wrong, i.e. really often differs with or makes fun of Socrates.

Alan Gilbert said...

But Plato seems to have a lot of affection for/admiration of Socrates and to have learned from his questioning and his example (Plato retreated from the market place to an invisible Academy because he did not want to meet the same fate). That he thought democracies often wrong – in Rousseau’s later terms, wills of all – and that ignorance which loudly asserts knowledge is bad, does not mean that he thought badly of Athens as a democracy sometimes tolerant of philosophy. Instead, he, like Socrates, wanted to make it more tolerant of philosophy. The latter view would make Plato (along with Socrates) someone who works, guided by a glimmer of the shining idea of justice, within the present, once again, a leader standing up occasionally, when needed, for the right, but not seeking to impose philosophical rule.

It would also suggest that Plato differed from Xenophon who didn’t like democracy much and plainly thought of advising tyrants i.e. Hiero, to become reasonable. It could even be that as a student of Socrates, Plato was writing a send-up of this idea in the Republic (in the Seventh Letter - I am aware of the controversy about it, but take it as genuine - Plato would experiment with advising Dionysius the younger and more hiddenly, his own student Dion, in Syracuse’s circumstances, and discover how difficult it was, stating that he, who knew most about legislation, would never write a book about laws...).

Socrates is charged by the Athenian “democrats” with defaming the gods. Imagine what it would take to clean up the gods in Athens, Plato’s Socrates seems to be saying in the Republic - complete censorship of myths as well as Homer. Imagine how we will produce guardians (even philosopher-guardians) – a little mathematics and all the same acts, all the same sentiments, all the believing in noble lies. Why that was just how Socrates developed, wasn’t it?

But of course, Plato’s Socrates’s account in the Republic about how philosophers develop suggests how easily they are corrupted in most societies, how close they may be to tyrants (tyrants are those who rule badly, without laws). And Socrates speaks in the Apology of his daimon which makes him avoid hubris/pride/seeking to be a god or have more than human status, and ask questions (his ignorance again). His daimon warns him when his questioning or argument is going astray, something one can learn from the Phaedrus where he initially mocks the god Eros, and the Symposium where he shows in the voice of Diotima that Eros is not a god, the child of Poros and Penia (resource and poverty), always swelling, as it were, with passion (or argument) and falling short, waxing and waning, and is like…Socrates.

But it is a Socrates or a philosopher who is seeking, who is not arrogant (Oh, I forgot, both these dialogues are on your proscribed list along with many others…).

Of course, the Phaedrus and Symposium show that Socrates does blaspheme a god, i.e. Eros. But Plato perhaps wishes to affirm Socrates’s questioning – to show that he does not go along with the consensus (even among the philosophers of Athens, so to speak), but certainly not to agree with their putting him to death for it (sneering at democracy is really for Straussians, though I should note, that the attitudes displayed here are not on balance better than those of the more sect-like acolytes of Leo).

One major implication of the Apology and the Crito is that the laws, in Athens, to become better, i.e. more just, need to be reformed (even the “laws” whom Socrates invokes speaking to Crito seek to distinguish themselves from the unjust sentence of men…). One would think that the law against disbelief in the Athenian gods as well as the law confining capital trial to a single day might be candidates.

Alan Gilbert said...

So I take Plato to be mocking Xenophon (at least the Hiero). I don’t know if there is much chronology on this (see for example Gabriel Danzig's interesting but speculative article on "IntraSocratic Polemics" on the relation of the two Symposiums here) but Plato would have known of and probably heard and argued with Xenophon a bit, given their common teacher. And perhaps Aristotle disagrees here also with Plato, his teacher, in book 5 of the Politics where he seeks to promote wise tyranny, invoking Xenophon's Hiero at length, and in life, where Aristotle sided with Alexander against Athens and against Plato’s other student, Demosthenes who died as a defender of Athens at Alexander's order...

A note of 503b itself which speaks of philosophers becoming the most precise guardians and thus seeming to override or at least qualify the notion of auxiliaries as soldiers. Socrates here speaks daringly, but elliptically. It turns out that few (oligoi) have the temperaments to do this (very hard to find the relevant traits together).(503d) Glaucon, for example, is impulsive (hungry: where are the relishes?" he says earlier) and a potential tyrant. Steady, he is not. Philosophical, he is not.

Socrates speaks shortly thereafter of how the goal of the many is pleasure, though of others, knowledge (of some sort). (505b, c) This launches the discussion alluding to the idea of the good (ton agathon idea), something described only by metaphor (the sun in the noetic universe more grand than the visible sun in the physical universe; 508c).

But are there enough potential guardians who are philosophers, one might wonder? And who, even in this circle of discussants with Socrates, are candidates?

Given the presence of Socrates and with no attention to irony, a shadowy philosopher-king is imaginable. But a number of philosopher-guardians?

The text is also peppered with warnings about reading with caution, how little Socrates is revealing, perhaps can reveal, to the interlocutors at least in one session.

But when Socrates reaches toward the idea of the good, Glaucon gasps at an immense beauty and then, revealing himself, stammers of the good: surely you can't mean pleasure. (509a)

This reveals again Glaucon's impetuous striving, as a military figure, tempted by injustice (his resonant story of the ring of Gyges) toward tyranny; the guardians - down to: the biggest hero gets the most girls - are an echo of this, not of philosophy. The discussion with Socrates pacifies Glaucon, makes him listen, persuades him not to become a tyrant. He was Plato's brother and otherwise, unknown to history. So the element of philosophy - Socrates - in the dialogue with Glaucon may actually have done this, persuaded and thus saved him. But unlike Polemarchus, he does not appear in another dialogue.

Glaucon is no philosopher, the city in speech is not a philosophical city, and the dialogue is not - in any straightforward way - a "teaching" about how to order a good city (the qualifications on what the city in speech is, for instance, that it is discerning a kind of order in a city to find the order in a soul, no more, is already a warning to an attentive reader that all is not as it seems. The standard reading of the sentence is a sleepy reading, and Heidegger is sometimes better than this...).

Hush, says Socrates. No, pleasure is not the good...

Alan Gilbert said...

I appreciate your and Blinn’s scholarship (and thanks for the work on the Protagoras). And Heidegger liked to think of himself (he apparently served as a medic and not at the front lines in World War I) and his students as soldiers, i.e. philosopher/guardians in your terms. The military service is of no philosophical or for that matter, political merit; Heidegger grew up as a reactionary and saw things as one; his philosophy and/or poetry is a metaphorical overlay on baseness. Alternately, he puffed himself up and harmed others at Freiburg and would happily have killed, though, remaining a Nazi party member on the home front, he mostly was still lucky enough to/managed to avoid this...

But as for your raising of eyebrows – including, appeal to particular and thus isolated sentences (in contrast, Heidegger's is deliberately a fleeting mention) and current scholarly consensus about what parts of texts are important - i.e. how particular sentences must be read - and which texts are important in your and his comments and the continuing undertone of scorn in yours, there are only the words of the sentence, i.e. no further argument or interpretation in context. In terms of writing as scholars - the appeal to consensus substituting for reading and thinking deeply, in effect a form of self-censorship - your effort is self-defeating.

Athenagoras said...

Words. What's the argument?

Athenagoras said...

(1) I think you're mostly right about Heidegger as a person and his politics. You can't use that to directly impugn his scholarship and his thinking though—that's ad hominem.

(2) I agree with Owe Meisner that "there are complicated... paths in Plato" and that Heidegger's wrong about some of these. This doesn't mean he *wilfully distorts* the text or that he thinks of his own interpretation as *Plato's* true or hidden meaning—it doesn't follow.

(3)Your take on Plato's Socrates is interesting. I'm not sure however how it's meant to be taken. Is he the real Socrates (i) or a representative of Plato's own thinking (ii)—it's ambiguous.

AD 1-2: I've tried to defend a more layered, critical reading of Heidegger (see But I don't think Heidegger is looking for hidden meanings: He isn't interested in the *auctoris mentis* in that sense. I don't think Plato wanted to be taken in this way either—he's too open-minded for that. Strauss' esoteric reading, it seems, is more religious inspired (see David's post).

AD 3: (i) Plato's Socrates is a deliberate counter-image to Aristophanes' *Clouds*. Instead of the charlatan, we get the moral saint; in place of the enemy of Athens, the Great Educator—it's an anti-Socrates. To take this as the "real deal" would be blue-eyed.

(ii) It's hard to construe Plato's Socrates as being pro democracy anyway. Aristophanes and Sophocles point out limits and weaknesses. Plato's *Republic* is a thought-experiment in how to replace Athenian democracy root and branch (cf. also my This hardly means he's a proto-Nazi of course, but it doesn't exactly make him a friend of people-rule either. Not on any "exoteric" reading anyway.

Alan Gilbert said...

Athenagoras, thank you for the comments. I will look at your material, but a couple of thoughts.

I have posted at length on Heidegger as endorsing Nazism in Being and Time (needing to bury it so that many would miss it so that he would not be fired) and on his extensive interpretation of Plato (see his 1943 Essence of Truth). The latter post is from early May 2011.

The claim that Heidegger did not practice hidden writing and that he did not learn something of this from his very careful study of the ancients needs a defense (i.e. the common assertion of the contrary doesn't mean there's an argument for it).

With regard to Socrates in Plato, it is clear in the Apology that Socrates defends questioning in Athens. He does so both in politics - and dissent in a democracy as opposed to Meletus-like suppression is in fact democratic - and philosophy. I have about 20 posts on this (roughly a draft of a book) over the last three years. It may be wrong, but asserting that is probably takes some argument.

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