Lewton Thomas Jones
Philosophy of Literature
Plato was a sophist first most and a changeling of socio-political dialect. He tells us in The Apology that he was present in court at the trial of his mentor Socrates, he also says he was one of the friends who offered money to help Socrates. In the Phaedo he appears that he was absent from the taking of poison by Socrates in prison due to being sick at the time. Was this just artistic literature? We need to dig deep to find out who Plato really was and what motivated him and understand what appears to be a very strange metamorphis concerning the stages in his life. Xenophon mentions that Plato was in the inner Socratic circle. Aristotle writes that as a young man Plato had been a pupil of the Heractitean philosopher Cratylus. Plato, according to the Alexandrian chronologists, was born in 427 BC and died in 346 BC aged eighty-one.
Plato lived during the Peloponnesian war during the oligarchy of the “Thirty” set up by the Spartan in Athens at the end of the war. Plato seems to have two faces. In his dialogues to Charmides and Gridas (friends of Socrates?) he alludes that he was a close relative of the “two” oligarchs which seem to be the genesis to his extreme rules regarding Athena democracy. Plato traveled after Socrates’ death, visiting Megara and his friend Eucleodes. He visited Cyrene for mathematical camaraderie with Theodorus. He went to Egypt acquiring priestly knowledge. In Italy he mingled with the Pythagoreans. He is even rumored to have visited the Persian Magi and other magis. This hardly sounds like the doubting philosopher who uses Socratic dialogue to show that nobody really knows anything. Plato was calculated and aware of power.
In the Symposium we are told philosophy is a love of wisdom (not superstition or political dogma). It is about passion, truth, and _____ i.e., the collect of the human soul. (A soul according to Plato is in distress with “a half formed idea” . . . is likened to the pains of childbirth, and the philosopher is presented, in his relation to his disciples, as the midwife of the spirit. His task is not to think for other men, but to help them to bring their own thoughts as birth.” “Philosophy is, in Plato’s eyes, ‘a way of life,’ a discipline for character no less than for understanding.”
*The mind of Plato
A.E. Taylor Pg. 35
1922 Constable and Co. University of Michigan Press
He speaks of mimesis in his Theory of Education, i.e., like is known by like. * His theory of education is dominated by the thought that the mind itself inevitably “imitates” the character of the thing it habitually imitates.” That said, let us see Plato as the manifestation of his ideas and their true fruition. * “Just because the aspiration after wisdom is the fundamental expression of the mind’s true nature, it cannot be followed persistently without resulting in a transfiguration of the mind’s true nature (Plato): Its ultimate affect is to reproduce in the individual soul those very features of law, order, and rational purpose which the philosopher’s contemplation reveals as omnipresent in the world of genuine knowledge”
This individual soul I see is Plato’s own reflection. It is the transference of Sophist, empirical visions towards the world outside. In this case Greece and Athens. It could be described as an intellectualism emotion, a passion for inner truth. The soul for Plato has to do with his imitation of Socrates and his interrogation methodology. Plato’s vision of morality is based on his idea that knowledge can be known by the virtuous. The danger here of course is that those who aren’t virtuous in Plato’s world are seen as lawless and ignorant to the truth. This changeling imitator of metaphysics is Plato who doesn’t see science as a possibility without knowing the “character of things.” This is accomplished by dogma which eventually is the world Plato logically assumes is necessary. Plato sees mimesis as everyday “opinions” a lot of dissonant and changing beliefs in contradiction with themselves.
Science, as we know, has fixed, consistent truths, absolute, grouped and joined by logic and necessity. Deduced from true principles. To accommodate this need for science, Plato writes his “Theory of Ideas.” He is echoing two premises. (1) Heracliteansism and Socrates. The flux and motion of things and the universality of truth. We basically just imitate Plato’s supra-physical world in our everyday life activity. We become changelings like Plato, thereby making sure he is not alone in the world and in fact the mind-god of our collective consciousness.
It is Plato who tells us what we need to know about why we are here-this smacks of Stalinism. Stalin’s biggest achievement in control was to use philosophy to convince people they need not look outside society or control. The fixed power is there to be imitated as we actively learn to obey it and grow to like it. We, as misguided thinkers in Plato’s view, are to strive to understand exact ideas even if we are really relegated to create approximate and imperfect resemblances of Plato’s world of ideas. A.E. Taylor writes – Science is assuredly something more than true opinion; it deals with things which cannot be perceived by the senses, but only conceived by thought.”
This rationality and its sense of external logic appealed to Plato because now ideas do exist. Literature, poetry, and art, are just imitators of this purity. Plato, we can guess, wasn’t good enough at comedy, satire, and tragedy to write literature or poetry so it must exist before it creates something. This consistency is not a consistency for Plato. Venus DeMilo would be a copy of beauty to Plato who saw beauty as something identified from an idea or distal form just as with virtue. In Platonic language a thing or person who is beautiful may become unbeautiful by not participating with beauty which in itself, according to Plato, never begins or stops. The perfect triangle world of Plato puts man as just man itself. Plato, as we know, uses his mind to exalt ideas, yet he is imitating the logic of his predecessors, i.e., the sophists, the pythorgeans, the logicians, etc. He simply replaced dialogue with a stoic objective quality control. This thinking becomes a political idea. Creativity is out and obedience is in.
Pg. 154 Plato: To Totalitarian or Democrat
Thomas Landon Thorson
1963 Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ
“The most striking difference between classical political philosophy and present-day political science is that the latter is no longer concerned at all with what was the guiding question for the former: The question of the best political order. On the other hand, modern political science is greatly preoccupied with a type question that was of much less importance to classical political philosophy: questions concerning method.
Greek semantics via Plato created the need for method. By imitating Plato’s language of reflective perfection, the Western world has become a system of political consciousness operating in a speculative language of an assumed virtuous priori. This is our manifest destiny it would seem. Anything that just describes the world such as poetry or literature is unfunctional because it is not ruled by political functionality.
Plato wanted philosophers to control the policies. In his letter VII Plato writes “and so I was forced to extol true philosophy and to declare that through it alone can real justice both for the state and for the individual be discovered and enforced. Mankind (I said) will find no cessation from evil until either the real philosophers gain political control or else the politicians become by some miracle real philosophers.”1
Plato had a contempt for the working population R.H.S. Crossman writes* (pg19). “It is clear that the shortcomings of the antidemocratic revolution were the first great disappointment of Plato’s life. Now he realized that ‘gentleman’ could behave worse than the demagogues of the proletariat.” (Eros and the party at the Symposium attest to this.) Crossman goes on to say “this did not alter Plato’s profound contempt for the working population. Plato remained an aristocrat, convinced that the peasant, the craftsman, and the shopkeeper were incapable of political responsibility. Government was the prerequisite of the gentry, who did not need to earn a living and could therefore devote their lives to the responsibilities of war and politics. Plato had a special word, banausic, to express his contempt for their menial occupations.” (pg 19)
We can see this is imitated today by the “experts” hired by the rich to explain to us what is going on in the “real” world. Western civilization still imitates much of Plato’s ideas, politically, culturally, and scientifically today. The new Realists of 1912 made a futile attempt to stop this madness when they proclaimed “the independence of what is known from the knower.” Their first polemic was that idealists (Plato would be one) made illicit use of the fact of over egocentric predicament to argue fallaciously from the tautology that everything that is known is known to the conclusion that everything that is – is known. Of course the dye had been cast on Western consciousness so that thinking like this was considered illusionary, etc. Plato would agree, I am sure.
Aristotle said of mimesis – that art imitates nature thereby one actions of the character, brings out the universal, whereas Plato had a low opinion of most art forms because of their imitative nature; removing them from as he said from “truth,” or the “real” thing. In the Republic Book 3, 395 Plato also warns that bad qualities may rub off on the artist who imitates a bad character. He goes on to show the contrast between mimesis and diegesis (narrative). His point is to show there is more of a distance between the storyteller and the story told. This would apply to Plato’s use of showing us who Socrates was as well. Once again we can see the nature of Plato. He does not practice what he preaches. It would seem he has a sociopathic distance from whoever he speaks to.
Eastern University Press © 2003 Keith Quincy
In the Philosopher’s Education, Chapter 10, in the dialectic Socrates says to Glaucan: Mathematics, geometry, and other studies have a defect. They begin with certain unexamined assumptions, employ them as axioms, and make deductions from them, creating a vast tissue of deductive reasoning, all of it consistent and logically water tight, but resting on unexamined ideas. It’s the function of the dialectic to examine those assumptions, and many others. Asking why and how they can be shown true by demonstrating that they are deducible from higher order ideas or forms, ascending one scale until the one idea, that of the good, is reached, from which all other ideas may be deduced. Glaucan responds: A noble undertaking. Socrates responds: not everyone can manage it. We have to weed out the unfit.”
The question I would ask is who is saying this, Plato or Socrates? Who is the unfit? Where is the good to imitate? It is a changeling we call Plato wearing a thousand masks and propelling humanity into a false consciousness that remembers nothing of history but continually repeats its mistakes. What is the philosophy of literature? You are reading it, but my imitation is unique because I did not know Plato or Socrates. Just like Aristophanes, I will have to create comedy in this linguistic tragedy.
Translated by Lee M. Hollander
University of Texas Press 1923 – 1960
Kierkegaard says of Plato ____ He sees love as comical like Aristophanes. It is a category of contradictions. Kierkegaard says “what I shall demonstrate now is that love is comical. (pg 54) By love I mean the relation between man and women. I am not thinking of Eros in the Greek sense which has been extolled so beautifully by Plato, who, by the way is so far from considering (Symposium Ch 9) the love of woman that he mentions it only in passing, holding it inferior to the love of youths. (12). I say love is comical to a third person.
It is Plato’s dietetic nature that he tries to put Eros into the pure forms such as a Platonic love. Kierkegaard goes on – (Pg 55) (Symposium, Ch 29) if one should answer Plato about love, i.e., that one is to love what is good, one has in taking this single step exceeded the bound of the erotic. The answer may be offered, perhaps that one is to love what is beautiful.
Plato’s absolute virtue in idea or form needs laws to protect it because it merely invitation and subject to Eros and logos which he acknowledges as the ultimate interactions to virtue and truth.
Kierkegaard (Pg 55) from the (Symposium Ch 24) continues “again if I should refer the erotic element to the bisection of which Aristophanes tells us (15) when he says that the gods cut a man into two parts, as one slit flounders, and that these parts thus separated sought one another. There is no reason for the thought to stop at this point. The gods might divide man into three parts. Kierkegaard concludes, “as I said that love renders a person ridiculous if not in the eyes of others then certainly in the eyes of the gods”
Hereby we have the symposium with Socrates looking like a babbling clown cajoling about Eros, according to Plato. The philosopher as a two-headed Janus clown, one profound, one subject to the whim of a flesh party. Where is Plato’s ideal goodness? Do poets represent the illogical that permeates Plato and Socrates in these dialogues?
What is Good
Weidenfeld & Nicolson © 2003 London
“Among many Christian Renaissance thinkers the ethics of Plato seemed far more congenial than those of Aristotle. Two aspects of his views made him attractive. One was his claim that the form of the good is the highest being, and that the supreme good consists of the contemplation with it. Naturally the Rennaissance admirers of Plato such as Marsilio Ficino identified the form of the good with God.
God, for Plato, was the laws he imitated or wrote. He could not empirically operate as a true philosopher without reaching for a dogmatic proof. The poets were a reflection of his own imitation of truth. At least they knew a narrative was an expression of one’s self. Plato, like Freud, felt that he spoke for the entire mind of the universe. The Protestant religion reflected Plato’s goodness as A.C. Grayling writes – “By one getting of money, by honest endeavor in trade and commerce, a respectable sign of God’s favor, even if such a life was not quite the best that could be envisioned. Plato’s semantics became the Western irony, no longer just philosophy but religion itself. A great imitated imitation of abstract tit for tat.”
Aristotle sought metaphysics and common knowledge, breaking away from Plato’s elite revelations toward “fixing” other’s minds. “A.C Grayling writes, “Another point of disagreement (with Aristotle) was Aristotle’s claim that since reason is the highest of man’s qualities one best life for man is the life of contemplation. “Let’s get back to Homer (presocratic).”
Homer was an influence on Plato – Homer who by saying Okeanos begetter of god’s and mother teth’s declared all things be the offspring of flux and motion. Plato didn’t think Homer is the forerunner – Hericlitus was aware of this when he said “You can’t step in the same river twice.” Plato moved away from the kinetic life to present static narratives that presupposed a priori that only he and Socrates understood. Aristophanes was able to breathe life into Socrates by showing the humor of the man himself versus the icon of the cave and sage indirect.
The Presocratic Philsophers
Cambridge University Press © 1957; 1983
“All things are full of gods Aristotle says in the deanina about Thales vision of the whole world as somehow alive and animated.” I submit that poetry is what describes this animation. Shelly called this embellishing the mute phenomena which can only truly exist when a poet sees it. The poet creates its metaphorical presence. Just as Shelley also described the soul within a soul in his poem “Epicpsychideon.”
“Aristotle in the Sophist says that Empedocles was the first to discover rhetoric and Zeno the first dialectic. – By didactic Aristotle has in mind the sort of philosophical interrogation pursued by Socrates in the early Platonic dialogues.”
The question elicits from his interlocutor assent to an endox on a belief in good standing accepted by everyone or most people or the experts, which he then forces him to abandon whether by reducing it to absurdity or by showing that it conflicts with the beliefs the interlocutor holds. If one suspects the motives or the tactics of the questioner one will be inclined to change him with being a mere controversialist (antilogikos) which is what Plato had in mind when he describes Zeon in the Phaedrus. Do we not then ____ this eleatic Palmedis argues with such skill _____ the same things appear to his listeners to be both like and unlike, both none and many, both at rest and in motion?
Plato can’t find logos in this ebb and flow of human relation. He is isolated from the human stage itself and the person he writes Socrates about was in the middle of human folly it seems all the time. Plato has the same paralysis James Joyce said of the Irish, the inability to free yourself from that which imprisons you.
Jacques Derrida of Grammatology
Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
John’s Hopkins University Press
Jacques Derrida writes, “Knowledge is not a systematic tracking down a truth that is hidden but may not be found. It is rather the field of free play, that is to say, a field of infinite substitutions, the closure of a finite ensemble.” (Ed 423, SE 260) (Pg 220 Portrait of an Artist) (Pg xix Translators preface). James Joyce wrote, “I shall be a priest of eternal imagination transmuting the daily bread of life into everlasting life, I will use my wit, my cunning and the smithy of my soul to create the uncreated conscious of my race.” Unlike Plato, Joyce knew that experience had a cognition that ceded Platonic dialogue for it called into being a life with presence and consciousness.
Experience for Jacques Derrida he says (Pg xvii) “as for the concept of experience, it is most unwieldy here. Like all the notions I am using, it belongs to the history of metaphysics and we can only use it under erasure. “Experience” has always designated the relationship with presence, whether that relationship had the form of consciousness or not. (Eros; Plato’s perfect love comes to mind for me here) – he goes on – yet we must by means of the sort of contortion and contention that discourse is obliged to undergo, exhaust the resources of the concept of experience before attaining and in order to attain by deconstructing its ultimate foundation. It is the only way to escape “empiricism” and the naive critiques of experience at the same time (89.60). Pg 127.
Regarding forms or ideas that Plato was in the wise to – Levis Strauss writes the symbol had been borrowed but the reality remained quite foreign to them. Even the borrowing had a sociological rather than intellectual object. For it was not a question of knowing specific things or understanding them or keeping them in mind, but merely of enhancing the prestige and authority of one individual or one function at the expense of the rest of the party. Plato’s idea that poets were just imitators and philosophers were the real thing is suspect when we think of Socrates and Plato in a kind of cult of fame announcing all phenomena which they discovered first or claim to have. When we deconstruct Plato we see that he is an imitator just like the poets he condemns as superficial agents of truth. (Pg 48 & 49)
N.Y. © 1978
Nietzsche writes about the birth of tragedy as a duality of the Dionysian (Eros) and the Apollonian (order). He feels that “when the Dionysian element rules, ecstasy and inchoateness thereafter: When the Apollonian predominates the tragic feeling recedes. Plato at least, according to Aristophanes was justifying Socrates as a Dionysian player who not only played at Eros but rejected the Apollonian order with laws. He deconstructed the Socratic world of thought and made it into a city where laws controlled unvirtuous people. This need for balance was the swing in Greek culture Nietzsche talks about when he says “The balance is achieved for the first time in Aescylus, and then again in Sophocles: by the time Euripides and Socrates come to dominate the literacy scene, the Dionysian element is authenticated and at last all but completely suppressed.” Enter Plato who creates a Socrates he merely writes about and imitates as a passing of the torch of knowledge as Nietzche states, “in the Bacchal the thwarted god takes his revenge. Nietzche goes on, “the decline of Greek tragedy begins when creative ecstasy is suppressed and has to give way to cold calculation. We see Plato as one comic tragic imitation of what was once Greek.”
Nietzche goes on to say, “now the old myths ceased to be experienced as parts of an ecstatic religious ritual and become objects of rational analysis; the gods and their stories come to be judged according to the prosy maxims of reasoned justice.” In order for Plato to conquer poetry, comedy, tragedy, and literature he needed to claim philosophy as the true knowledge. He then created a world that fit his imitation of a Greek city. It was now a Utopia for the guardians of his ideas of what a city should be. Socrates is no longer doubting for us,instead we have an artificial philosopher who modifies information to fit the needs of his own logos.
Nietzsche feels that art is one of “the ruses of life; tragedy has always had a vital function: to protect men from a full knowledge of the life destroying doom that surrounds them.” Nietzsche sees “Euripides and Socrates ugly and artistically unified.” The Platonic dialogue to him is an “effective parody which in their superficiality and optimism no longer acknowledge the reality of the abyss of suffering.
In conclusion, Plato needs to be deconstructed to allow life to breath. He is an obstacle to discovery. His is the knowledge of stagnation and imitation. He is the seed of Western tyranny and state control. He lets mind control replace speculation. Derrida sums it up very well. (Pg 139)
University of Chicago Press © 1981
“Undecidedly, mimesis is akin to the pharmakon. (Plato as metaphor) no ‘logic,’ no ‘dialectic,’ can consume its reserve even though each must endlessly draw on it and seek reassurance on it. “As it happens, the techniques of imitation, along with the simulacrum has always been in Plato’s eyes manifest by magical, thawmaturgical.”
We must deconstruct Plato to protect us from the past so we don’t imitate it for the present or for the future. Plato is just a name; a word; a self-proclaimed man of importance. The city is still the city of individuals free to think. Let the self be the self. Plato was an idea, a formed a triangle of imprisonment . . . a much to do about nothing . . . a spectre of double vision announcing its presence through writing and ideas. Anointing us in repetitive idioms that are mere echoes of the original moment.