Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Glaucon's military obsession: another contradiction about the cave and the ascent, part 3

See parts 1 and 2 about how to read the contradictions in the story of the cave and turning toward the light here and here.


Socrates asks Glaucon to think of what would be useful in battle to soldiers and, by implication, to Glaucon himself as a soldier. He suggests number and geometry. Recall that the slave proves, through questioning, an advanced theorem of Euclidean geometry in the Meno. Geometry is important.


Yet Glaucon has a very hard time with this thought. He remembers what has been said accurately; fascinated by the possible choice of life suggested by his own tale of the ring of Gyges, the ring of power here - and also fascinated by Socrates.

Is he able to follow argument? Does his mind work by asking questions and pursuing elements of (steps to) the truth?


"Well, Glaucon, what kind of study would attract the soul from the world of change to the world of eternal things? A thought strikes me now as I speak [there is some truth in this: that is how thoughts often come; this is also Socrates's irony about Glaucon, highlighting Glaucon's slowness to get how the argument involves him]. Didn't we say that these men must be warrior-athletes in their youth?"(521d)

The last question also refers to Glaucon. He was and is a warrior/athlete/would-be tyrant in Athens with an imagined ring of gold...


The guardians are Glaucon's dream, not Socrates's.


"Then the studies we prescribe must satisfy an additional requirement," continues Socrates.

"What [τὸ ποῖον/of what kind]?"

"They must be useful to warriors [μὴ ἄχρηστον πολεμικοῖς ἀνδράσιν εἶναι]." Socrates is toying with Glaucon here.

"Of course, if possible," Glaucon concedes.


"We have previously accounted for their education in gymnastic and music, have we not?"

"We have."

"And gymnastic is that which concerns the development and decline of the body and things that are perishable [σώματος γὰρ αὔξης καὶ φθίσεως/wasting ἐπιστατεῖ]." Here the opposition between the wrenching turning and ascent toward the eternal, the noetic, the invisible and real and heading downward, the wasting away of the body before our eyes, is acute.


Glaucon seems, by memory, rotely i.e. barely, to get it. "Clearly."

"So this is not the study we are looking for." Socrates repeats himself in case the dull hearer/reader misses it.

"No" (521d-e)


Memory is one of Socrates's proposed characteristics of guardians who might become philosophers. It is this which Glaucon possesses. For Socrates then asks:

"Could it be music as we have so far described it"

Glaucon offers a rare, longer response, aptly recalling the surface of an earlier argument:

"No. You remember that we said that music is the counterpart of gymnastic and that it employed habit to educate the guardians. Melody instilled a certain harmony of spirit, and rhythm imparted measure and grace but neither was the same as knowledge. It also nurtured qualities that are related to those in stories that range from sheer fables to those whose content is nearer to truth. But there is nothing relevant in these studies to your present purpose."


Note Glaucon's introduction of "your" here. The purposes and cities - one only implied, a city of philosophers, qussi-Pythagoreans - are here underlined as belonging to different characters, different seekings. See "Pythagoreans on the surface and in the depths of the Republic" here and "if the city in speech is Glaucon's, what city is Socrates'?" here.

Glaucon conjures the ring; Socrates seeks the truth...


"True. Your memory is very precise." [ἀκριβέστατα, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἀναμιμνῄσκεις με]." Glaucon has one important characteristic of being a guardian and doing philosophy - the careful reader might notice - but does he ask questions about argument, abate forgetting (truth is aletheia, not-forgetting in Heidegger's apt translation)?

This very passage shows how sharply these paths divide.

"But Glaucon, what kind of study ought we to be looking for then? All the arts seemed to us mechanical."

"They did indeed. But if we exclude gymnastic, music and the arts, what remains?"


Socrates is speaking to him very simply and clearly as if to someone who isn't likely to get it - quick in memory, slow to follow or think, an acute contradiction - someone who needs care to see or at least be decisively turned from a negative public purpose: becoming a tyrant.


Socrates asks leading questions, builds up slowly, underlines the point, often through repetition. Though this happens with many interlocutors (and with Socrates in the conjured speech of Diotima in the Symposium), it is exaggerated with Glaucon.

Glaucon staggers around.


"I would say that if we can't locate anything beyond these," Socrates says, "we should consider something that applies to all of them."

"What? [τὸ ποῖον/of what kind]?(522b)

"Virtually the first thing everyone has to learn. It is common to all arts, science, and forms of thought?"

"What?"[καὶ μάλα/and more so] If the reader is not getting by now that this is something of a slapstick routine, she is not paying attention, i.e. not noticing the tone and thinking about it, not beginning the ascent.

Instead mirroring Glaucon, she is just absorbing the surface, asleep, as in the daylight world (see Phaedrus, 275d-277a)*


"Oh, that trivial business of being able to identify one, two, and three. In sum, I mean number and calculation. Is it not true that every art and all knowledge must make use of them?

"Yes, it is."

"The art of war as well? [ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, καὶ ἡ πολεμική]" Socrates reiterates/reminds Glaucon's psyche almost hypnotically. He has conjured a city for Glaucon.

"Of course."


Socrates jokes about Agamemenon who couldn’t count. Palamedes, the man who invented counting and a warrior at Troy, arranges the troops. There is a meme of aptness in mathematics/philosophy which runs through Greek soldier/heroes and Socrates.

"Well, on the stage, at least, Agamemnon was certainly made out to be an ignorant general in these matters. In several tragedies, Palamedes, who is said to have invented number, claims to have been the one at Troy who marshaled troops into ranks and companies and enumerated the ships and everything else as if nothing had been counted previously. Agamemnon, he asserts, was literally incapable of counting his own two feet. And how could he if he did not know numbers. But in that case, what sort of a general would he be."

"A very queer [atopon/out of place/otherwise translated strange] general [if that were true]." (522d). See here.

Glaucon speaks from expertise...


Then Socrates speaks of the ascent to reality. That is the philosophical movement. That is what Glaucon, with his cries about pleasure (hedone) as the highest good does not get. There is no sign in the dialogue that his psyche, given how it is ordered, reason driven by desire for power and pleasure, the weakness at or unwillingness to question and reason for himself, will lead, on his own, onto the path of philosophy.


Glaucon is tamed by Socrates, persuaded not to become a tyrant. That is the main action of the dialogue. But the dialogue runs aslant of philosophy, taken up by his challenge of the ring of invisibility (appearance) to justice, not following, with Polemarchus, doing philosophy. See here.


Socrates, remember, is a formidable soldier, as Alcibiades drunkenly, longingly recounts in the Symposium. He saves Alcibiades's life and then gives him the credit, the honor among military leaders. Socrates sticks, as he says in the Apology, to his station as Achilles in war.

But the stations here divide. Socrates is upholding the ascent [anabasis] to philosophy, not the descent into slaughter, wasting away, mortality.


Glaucon is lured into thinking about military purposes by Socrates’ ironic appeal to military usefulness. When Glaucon goes down this path like a male bull after a red cape, Socrates turns him around, makes fun of him for it.

"It is equally certain, then, that geometry must not be neglected in your beautiful city [ἐν τῇ καλλιπόλει σοι]. Even its by-products are valuable."

Your beautiful city - kallipolis - suggests expressly that the city of the guardians is Glaucon's.


"What are they?"

"What you have already mentioned: its usefulness in war. Further, we know that a man who has studied geometry is a better student across the board than one who has not."

"Yes, by Zeus. There is a great difference between the two."


"Shall we then prescribe this as a second study to be undertaken by the young?"


"And how about setting down astronomy as a third such study?"

"I am strongly in favor of it. A heightened awareness of the seasons and the months and the years will be useful both in agriculture and navigation, and still more in the art of war [ἀλλὰ καὶ στρατηγίᾳ/command; being a general οὐχ ἧττον]."

In contrast to an ascent, Glaucon summons and lists practical purposes here. But Socrates has invited this. Socrates then springs the trap:

"You amuse me, Glaucon. You are so obviously concerned lest people [τοὺς πολλούς/the many] think you are sanctioning studies that could turn out to be useless [ἄχρηστα]."


Philosophy, ascent to the noetic, is, to the many, i.e. merely practical people, useless. Here is a use of "the many" which leads interpreters, mistakenly, to see Socrates and Plato as anti-democrats. But the contrast of being philosophical/being merely practical is not, by itself, political.

Anyone who begins to question can ascend.


In addition, war is the realm of intense presentness and transience. The contradiction of the two ways of life, practical/philosophical, could not be more stark.


"Nonetheless, I realize your concern is not a trivial one." That is also to say, however, it is not one seeking reality.

Note that Socrates uses your concern here to mark off Glaucon's path (and idea of a beautiful city) from his own.

"Only with the greatest difficulty can one understand that every soul has that power of knowing that studies like these can refresh and purify [ἐκκαθαίρεταί]." Here Socrates slludes to the ascent, through questioning, mistake, and further questioning of the slave to knowledge about a Euclidean theorem in the Meno and the notion that one can recover knowledge, not-forget. This is Socrates's core egalitarianism.

But here, this thought also indicates that Glaucon is not - or at best, is not yet - on the path.


"Such a power" [questioning] is the only means we possess to seek the truth. All who hold this belief will accept these words with deep conviction."

Glaucon does not hold this belief.

"But those others who are wholly unaware of such things will naturally call them nonsense, for they can see no profit in them." (527e-528a) And here is Glaucon's, the military man's, worry about uselessness again.

"So you must decide, here and now, to which group you will address your argument."

Glaucon places his own concerns, delphically, between these two.

"Or will you speak to none of them, pursuing the discussion rather for your own profit [ἀλλὰ σαυτοῦ ἕνεκα], while leaving others free to gain from it what they will."

"The latter. I speak and ask and answer questions mainly for my own sake [ἐμαυτοῦ ἕνεκα]." (528a)


That is a hint that Glaucon will be dissuaded from becoming a tyrant by Socrates, but that he will not begin the ascent.


The text repeats the contradiction between number and geometry being the way to the eternal and unchangeable – the intelligible realm – and number and geometry being useful in battle, the realm of the transient, bloodied mortal.


It is Homer’s message that even Achilles, like Hector, perishes (see Simone Weil, "The Iliad or the Poem of Force").

Socrates (in this case, I suspect with Plato) speak of "beloved Homer" (book 10). Much of the book – consider, once again, the beginning of book 3 on the images of the purported horror of death and the underworlds which must supposedly be censored in Glaucon's beautiful city – concerns transience. See here on Plato's satire of censorship. (Socrates, too, is killed by the city.)


Here again is a blatant contradiction which passes Glaucon by and is meant to pass the dull reader by.

It is the kind of contradiction which Polemarchus identified in Socrates's argument with Thrasymachus. A witness who follows and thinks about argument, a rare interlocutor, can seek the truth. (339e-340b) In contrast, Cleitophon, the hanger-on of Thrasymachus, snipes as if Polemachus is just expressing a preference, appealing to authority. But Polemarchus shows him to be wrong.


That unusual intervention - it is repeated nowhere else in this dialogue or others - is a message to Plato's students about how to read, how to argue. It sets the counterpoint of following Socrates's argument, which Glaucon, beyond surfaces and metaphors, cannot do. See Polemarchus as a symbol of the Republic's theme here and initiation in Plato - how Thrasymachus throws the conversation off track here.


Let us recall the context of the discussion: philosophical rule. Socrates has been speaking of those who do not willingly seek office. "That is why we require that those in office should not be lovers of power [ἐραστὰς τοῦ ἄρχειν/lovers of rule]. Otherwise, there will be a fight among rival lovers."

"Right." (521b)


The satire of the city in speech - once again, the training of the guardians to all have the same feelings, the same habits, the same thoughts - is the opposite of Socrates (that satire, as Glaucon fails to notice, even excludes the powerful story of the ring of Gyges, i.e. his own imagining...h/t Lynette Grundvig).

Even this passage suggests that philosophers such as Socrates are no part of such a leadership. They go down only to help the democracy through questioning, not to rule.


Socrates speaks of a turn toward philosophy, an ascent, no child's game of flipping shells which have a dark side and a light side. This child's game has an echo of the cave, of the metaphor, shot through the Republic from the torches flickering in the darkness of the horse race (the metaphor for the interlocutors carrying the torch of seeming justice/injustice) to the cave right here to the myth of Er (of the underworld and how perhaps Odysseus escapes the cycle). This child's game echoes the metaphor of sleep (most in the cave) and waking up (Socrates, Polemarchus at the end of book 1).


"It s a conversion [ἂν εἴη περιστροφή], a turning of the soul away [ἀλλὰ ψυχῆς περιαγωγὴ} from the day whose light is darkness to the true day."

The daylight world is a world for most of sleep as if in a dream, its perceptions often uncertain, wobbling. It is indeed a wrenching turning to move toward the noetic light at the far entrance of the cave. Not many, even in the circle of Socrates, do.


"It is the ascent to that reality in our allegory which we have called true philosophy"

"Yes." (521c) Glaucon agrees about the metaphor. But as the descent of this argument (katabasis) into military life and transient slaughter underlines, he has no clue of what the ascent means, not just how to do it but even its direction.

Slaughter and the realm of the guardians points down. The turning is an ascent (anabasis) out of the cave. The first movement is Glaucon's god, the opposed movement that of Socrates and the Pythagoreans.


At best what the ordinary interlocutor will arrive at with Socrates is mere opinion, even if true opinion. That Glaucon chooses not to become a tyrant is a reflection of true opinion, guided by the shining example of Socrates.

Glaucon can experience, hazily (in a cave) the argument. He cannot do the argument.


Socrates is killed by Athens. The bright, young, beautiful Meno from unruly Thessaly becomes a mercentary for the Emperor of Persia, who when displeased by him, has Meno impaled...

Meno was not as fortunate as Glaucon. Perhaps he needed to heed some of Socrates's questions.


As with the silly philosopher as a dog argument in book 2 here, the contradiction between geometry as a step toward philosophy and eternity, geometry as useful in the transience of battle is meant to test the reader. Is one to be like Sterling and Scott or Popper bruiting truisms about what the text must mean or is the reader to think for herself and question the contradictions further?


That is, again, the literal message of the discussion of sure perceptions – of fingers - versus contradictions in the visible world which leads to dialectics. See here. That discussion mirrors and highlights for the reader the subtle contradiction between seeking the eternal – as Socrates does - and seeking transient military victory to become a naked corpse lying with the ring on its finger in a Trojan Horse buried deep under the earth.


Glaucon wants to impress Socrates. He makes many mistakes for this reason. Consider his account of astronomy, looking up at the stars, as seeking the heights of reasoning while Socrates mocks him: these are but painted ornaments on a ceiling.

"You have an overgenerous conception of what is meant by 'higher things.' Should anyone try to learn something by throwing back his head and staring at the decorations on a ceiling, I suppose you would assume he was engaging in intellectual contemplation instead of simply using his eyes. Maybe you are right, and I am being foolish. But in my opinion only the study of unseen reality can draw the soul upward..."

"A fair retort. Your rebuke is just. But if astronomy is to be taught contrary to present practice, what manner of learning will serve our purposes."

"One that perceives the sparks lighting the sky simply as decorations on a visible surface. To be sure, they may be properly regarded as the purest and most beautiful of all material things. But we must realize that they fall far short of the truth. They do not reveal the motions expressed in absolute speed and absolute slowness. Nor do they explain true number and true figures and how they move in relation to one another..." (529a-d)


What is needed is to study the mathematics of how the stars move. That is the science of astronomy which will go through powerful revolutions, and is not solely - though it involves - looking up at the stars.


Or consider Socrates allusion to the Pythagoreans and music - that they seek the mathematics of harmonies.

Here again, Glaucon finds something particular to say and waxes eloquent to impress Socrates:

"Yes, by the gods [νὴ τοὺς θεούς - god], that's right. And they are so absurd, too, with their talk of `dense' notes [πυκνώματα) and the like. They press their ears against the instruments as if they were trying to overhear a voice from next door. Then some claim to detect an extra note between the intervals which should henceforth be accepted as the smallest interval and the basic unit of measurement; others insist that it is no different from the notes already sounded. Both parties prefer their ears to their intelligence." (531a)


Contrast the sure-footedness about argument of Polemarchus commenting on Thrasymachus in book 1 - clarifying the argument for Cleitophon, Thrasymachus's shadow, who cannot follow - and Glaucon.


Perhaps some geometry will lift the soul toward reality. Perhaps if one waits till 50 (even Socrates, it is rumored, began exploring justice late)...

Or perhaps to leave transience behind, one must begin where one is, wrestle with argument, take the steps one by one, climb.


In the metaphor of the charioteer in the Phaedrus, Socrates is the white horse pulling the interlocutors and students up toward philosophy, Glaucon is the dark, balky horse, pulling, through his desires, downward away from truth.

Plato is...the charioteer ("Glaucon" and "Socrates" are both his avatars...)


The dialogue, the chariot, is a vehicle to ascend.


For all its length and dazzle, the Republic is but a beginning for the reader who wishes to become a student of philosophy...


*“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

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