Friday, December 31, 2004

Why Cal Didn't Belong in the Rose Bowl

The final numbers: Texas Tech 45, Cal 31. Of course, I might eat these words tomorrow if Michigan plays like they did in last year's Rose Bowl.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Muhammed is not your friend

One of the blackest holes in my knowledge of the history of the world's religions is Islam. Excessively ignorant, but at least I am self-aware. Given that Islam played a major role in Byzantine History, however, I realized that this is a situation that demands more swift rectification than, say, my interest in Ancient Chinese History. Over this Christmas break, then, I have been trying to get a bit of a foundation for Islam, reading the Koran and the Sirat (Life of the Prophet).

I'll be frank, it has not been either uplifting, encouraging, or inspiring and it has not helped me to at all appreciate statements by President Bush about "good muslims" and their compatability with America and her goals and values. Aside: it is perhaps unfair to label our President with this, since he is probably simply taking the word of a trusted advisor, which I don't have a problem with in and of itself--he is the last in a long chain of education and thought. However, our President vocalizes the --almost unquestioned-- majority opinion among intellectuals, and the implications and extensive consensus of that majority opinion, and so I think I am justified as using him as a current figurehead. Enough.

I still have a significant portion of both texts to read, but thus far I have been extremely unimpressed with the person of Muhammed. In fact, downright disgusted. I will perhaps explain myself more when I have finished my little reading list (which includes a few other texts) and provide a plethora of examples, but for now my opinion on the subject is similar to that expressed in a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville that I happened upon:

"I studied the Koran a great deal ... I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammed. As far as I can see, it is the principle cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world, and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion infinitely more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself."

Here's the thing (and it will take me a little bit to get back round to my main point, but bear with). There ARE the people within the folds of both Christianity and of Islam who fall into the (actually useless) labels of "fundamentalist" that the MSM likes to continually use. There is the potential person, somewhere in Christianity, who still actually thinks and would vocalize that we need to fight a holy war against the Infidel and take back the holy land and that such an enterprise is explicitely blessed/commanded by God. I am willing to say this person exists somewhere because I have met people who exemplify tendencies or parts of this vision, but not the whole. So, all right, let us grant that this Christian exists somewhere.

However, in all my years being raised in a (warning you may be offended by me after I use these labels) fundamentalist evangelical family, Church and frequently schools, I have yet to meet this person. There are an infinite number of reasons to support the state of Israel that have nothing to do with the so-called "Zionism" that is supposedly the characteristic mark of Evangelical Fundamentalists: it is gross error to attribute America's allegiance with Israel as only upheld by foamy-mouthed "Zionists" (wherever they may be). The point here is that the "fundamentalism" in Christianity (as characterized by MSM) is truly on the fringe. There are those ideas within the Christian fold, but they're strange, they're not standard, they're not explicit, and they are certainely not required by either Holy Bible nor by Holy Tradition.

MSM, and their liberal intellectual chums attempt to parallel the fundamentalism of Islam with the "fundamentalism" of Christianity. What they do have right is that "fundamentalism" as methodology is basically a return to the literal strictures of the Book. As presented it is simple, populist and on the surface: anyone can pick up the book, read, and say, yep, I see where you get that. The problem is that it is not the methodology that is the problem here, though that is what is always blamed and used as the label. Rather, it is difference in the content of the respective books. Do any of the people who throw around these labels actually read the Bible and the Koran? Notice any [?!slight!?] differences?

Christian fundamentalists are not required to be "Zionist Crusaders". As I said above, the great majority are not. On the other hand, a Muslim fundamentalist is, by definition, a jihadist. 100% of Muslim fundamentalists believe the jihad (the physical one) is divinely ordained. Why? Because its in their texts, it is explicit, it is obvious.

A Christian reading the Bible has to jump through major interpretative hoops to get to Zionism.
A Muslim reading the Koran has to jump through major interprative hoops to get out of Jihad.
This is a major difference, my friends, and no one is acknowledging it.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Friday, December 10, 2004

Help Me, Philosophic Types

I want to make an argument that there is a fundamental difference between "Critical" and "Dialectic" methods of thought. I do not think that my arguement is stretching anything. However, I have attempted to make this argument to others and been questioned on this basic distinction. I am seeking confirmation of my sanity.

I understand the Modern Critical Method as taking nothing for granted: its goal is to show that X is not the case, to question the very nature, existence and truth claim of X, and in some cases to go on to explain how the idea or belief in X came about. Classical Dialectic, on the other hand, while its method is necessarily negative, starts from the existence of X. Socrates in the dialogues of Plato, does not ever question that X is. Where is the discussion on whether or not there is "good"? Whether or not X or Y or Z is good is discussed throughout, but the existence of the Good is not in doubt; the same could be said for the Beautiful or the Just. I think this is so basic that it is the fundamental basis of the Dialogues. The "Elenchus" is useless unless there is a point of Catholic Truth (not in the religious sense). There is a difference between Plato and Descartes (to use him as representative).

I see a parallel between this (Dialectic) and Apophaticism. Negation is the method, but at the heart of it there is unquestioned reality. Imperfect language can only be used negatively to refer to the real being/notbeing. The Being/Notbeing is not questioned.

I need to learn to write with fewer qualifying clauses. I've been reading too much Thucydides.

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God

Antony Flew, one of the leading atheists of this century, has converted to theism. Philosophia Christi has an interview between Flew and his friend, Gary Habermas of Liberty University.

There is also an AP news story about Flew's decision.

Flew says he is a theist but not a Christian. From the interview:

HABERMAS: C. S. Lewis explained in his autobiography that he moved first from atheism to theism and only later from theism to Christianity. Given your great respect for Christianity, do you think that there is any chance that you might in the end move from theism to Christianity?

FLEW: I think it’s very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form: regular religious practice perhaps but without belief. If I wanted any sort of future life I should become a Jehovah’s Witness. But some things I am completely confident about. I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam. . . .

HABERMAS: I ask this last question with a smile, Tony. But just think what would happen if one day you were pleasantly disposed toward Christianity and all of a sudden the resurrection of Jesus looked pretty good to you?

FLEW: Well, one thing I’ll say in this comparison is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure, which the Prophet of Islam most emphatically is not.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Books I Wished I Owned

Michael Gilleland has a post on books he wished he owned. I'll copy his first one, J. D. Denniston, The Greek Particles, but here's the rest of my list.

Plato, Platonis Opera, vols. 1-5.
James Adam, The Republic of Plato, vols. 1-2.
John Burnet, Essays and Addresses.
Renford Bambrough, New Essays on Plato and Aristotle.
A. E. Taylor, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, vols. 1-5.
Charles Williams, Taliessin through Logres.

And since I don't want to be ungrateful, here's some books I'm thankful to own.

Charles Williams, Figure of Beatrice.
Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (trans. Pines), vols. 1-2.
Richard Purtill, Logic for Philosophers.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, vols. 1-5.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Wayne Says Sources Say Pope Says Bush is Antichrist

Who is Wayne Madsen, and why does he have any credibility with the Catholic Times?

(Yes, it's true; I should be writing a paper now.)

Excellent Article on Art Criticism

A friend of mine pointed this article out to me a while back. I was reading it over recently and was reminded of how good it is. A quotation: "As a critic, lately I've begun to feel that something more than explaining and advocacy is called for, that qualitative choices must be made -- and articulated." Read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Lucky for Cal

Thorgerson laments that there will be no Michigan-Cal showdown in the Rose Bowl this year. Thorgerson should thank his lucky stars that he won't have to see Michigan humiliate Cal on national television. His lachrymosity should be joyful, not sad.

Republic 328d2-4

"For you should know that, for me, as the other pleasures, those of the body, wither away, the desires and pleasures concerning speeches grow the more."

[There's a question here about translating "emoige," i.e., "for me." I followed Shorey in translating it as a dative proper, whereas Bloom puts it in the locative dative. I didn't like Bloom's decision since emoige appears outside the relative phrase containing its purported object, "pleasures."

This is the first contrast in the Republic of bodily pleasures with something else. Shorey says that "Plato characteristically contrasts the transitory pleasures of the body with the enduring joys of the mind," but here we have not a mind/body contrast but a contrast between the pleasures of the body and the pleasures "connected with" (to use Bloom's translation) tous logous. Does Cephalus realize that the pleasures of speeches are pleasures of the highest part of the soul? Plato certainly seems to make that connection later in the dialogue, but does Cephalus know about the tripartite soul?]

Sad Sad Day

There will be no justice at the Rose Bowl this year. Neither will there be the great Burglar showdown that I was anticipating. No potential for a blow by blow blog-o-rama in which Cal wiped the grass with Michigan and I got to let the Burglar know all about it. I weep.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Bothered by Target

This is frustrating. Why is it so frustrating? Should I be more worked up over Iraq, the Goningen Protocol, Theo Van Gogh, North Korea and Iran? Maybe, and I probably am, but America [and by America I mean final bastion of Western Culture] will stand or fall by the charitas of the homeland.

(Audio piece)

(Opinion piece, facts are at the end of the second page)

Will this ultimately matter? In terms of tangibles, not as much as the Salvation Army figure of $9M, because they will find other places to ring a ling, but it is shameful. But it is the principle of the thing. NO ONE in their right mind considers the Salvation Army solicitors. I wish solicitors were half as uninvasive. The Salvation army is not those kids who ask you if you want them to go to college, and would you please buy this subscription for $50, ten of which will go towards them going to Magic Mountain for a day, and two of which will be put in a scholarship fund which they will never see because they can't go to college if they're not sitting at home doing their homework NOW.

The day we start BANNING the Salvation Army is not the end of the world, but it is corporate entities seeing the world from the top down. We, the corpus, need the salvation army at the door of Target to redeem (if by only a little) our wantonness inside the doors, and to remind us of the greater corpus when we leave with our credit card receipt.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation (1863)

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Monday, November 22, 2004

Partner in Crime

Greetings Fans and Loved Ones of the Burglar. I will try not to be too obnoxious with my own special sense of humor on this page of otherwise notable intelligence.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Still Roses, Barely

Michigan lost to Ohio State, which is always bad. (I almost flew from California to Ohio for the game. Perhaps it's best I didn't.) But it looks like Iowa is picking up UM's slack by beating Wisconsin. So UM will end up in the Rose Bowl despite losing to rivals Notre Dame and Ohio State in the same season.

A Contest, Sort of

A big congratulations is ready for anyone who knows where the name "Bourgeois Burglar" comes from. When I started this Live Journal, I thought it was an original creation of mine, but later I realized I had read the phrase in a book -- a book about one of my favorite books -- a while back, and I guess it was lodged in my subconscious.

Alternatively, you could guess who the original Bourgeois Burglar is. Of course, if you know who coined the name "Bourgeois Burglar," then you know who the Bourgeois Burglar is.

Using Google to find the answer would work, but it wouldn't be much fun, now, would it?

If you don't want to use Google, but you want hints, let me know.

Friday, November 19, 2004

141 Years ago Today

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Republic Translation

Apologies to those who check in here to follow the progress of my Republic translation. I'll resume translating in a few days.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Revisiting Those New Year's Resolutions

To recap, the resolutions were the following:

1. Don't let the dishes pile up in the sink.
2. Complete reading for classes ahead of time.
3. Write first drafts of all my major papers and solicit criticism on them.
4. Study Greek one hour a day.
5. Study Latin one hour a day.
6. Stock music collection with classical music again.
7. Write a letter to Jaroslav Pelikan asking him for advice on how to succeed as a scholar.
8. Acquire good art for apartment walls.
9. Find new prime number.
10. Read Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities

To wit, I have completely succeeded in none of these. I have partially succeeded at numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. I have not done 7 or 8, but there is still time to do so before the year's end. Numbers 5, 9, and 10, however, show no signs of being completed by the year's end.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Republic 328c7-d2

"For if I were still able to get myself easily to town, it wouldn't be necessary at all for you to come here; instead, we would come to you. But, as it is, you ought to come here more frequently."

[Note that the "you" in this sentence is singular (all three times); i.e., C. addresses himself to S. and not to S. and G.]

Monday, November 01, 2004

Republic 328c5-7

As soon as he saw me, Cephalus greeted me warmly and said, "Socrates, you do not often come down to us in the Piraeus, but you certainly ought to."

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Republic 328c1-4

He was seated on a sort of cushioned stool, wearing a chaplet, for he happened to have just sacrificed in the courtyard. We sat down beside him, for some stools were arranged in a circle there.

[The grammar of etugchanen with the participle tethukos is a bit tricky. The use of etugchanen with the participle indicates that the main action is in the participle, and etugchanen simply adds something like "by chance" or "happened to."

The word I've translated "cushion" is proskephalaiou, which is literally "head cushion" or "pillow"; it includes the root keph-, which is in the name Cephalus.

When I think about it, this scene strikes me as strangely grotesque. People are sitting around in a circle, and the (literal) head of their group has just made a sacrifice in the courtyard, for which he has been crowned.]

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Michigan 45, Michigan State 37

Good triple-overtime win for the Wolverines, who look poised for a good bowl game, but the mathematicians tell me that if both they and Wisconsin go undefeated in the Big-10, the Badgers will head to Pasadena. Gutsy call to go for two points after the touchdown in the third overtime. That really seemed to put the pressure on the Spartans, and it's always good to beat them. Almost as good as beating Ohio State. If only there hadn't been that game at Notre Dame in week two.

Lloyd Carr will go down in history as one of the best UM coaches. Better than Bo? Hmmm. (By the way, I thought Bo's piece on W was spot-on. Some of the responses from OSU and MSU fans are priceless.)

Memo to Charlie Krieger: Better luck next year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Republic 328b9-c1

And he seemed to me to be very old, for it had been some time since I had seen him.

[It appears there's a Gr. idiom here, dia chronou, which I've translated "it had been some time." It may just be that P. is using dia with the genitive to indicate the means (see Smyth, 1679). That is, the means of explaining why C. seems old to S. is that it has been some time since S. has seen C.

I find this description by S. a bit strange, for S. himself is no spring chicken. I'll try to track down how old S. might be at this point in his life, since a little later S. will ask for advice from C. because C. is older.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Republic 328b4-8

So we went to the home of Polemarchus, and there we came upon Lysias and Euthydemus, Polemarchus's brothers, and also Thrasymachus, the Chalcedonian, and Charmantides, the Paeanian, and Cleitophon, the son of Aristonymus. Polemarchus's father, Cephalus, was also at home.

[Another sentence you hope turns up on the Greek final, but it never does. Instead, you get the one with four participles in the subjunctive.

Shorey says that "The particles single out Thrasymachus for ironical emphasis." I don't know why. Any enlightenment on this matter is appreciated.

Notice how these people are all non-Athenians (i.e., foreigners).

Euthydemus gets a Platonic dialogue named for him; he also gets a lesson or two from Socrates in Xenophon's Memorabilia.]

Monday, October 25, 2004

Republic 328b2-3

And Glaucon said, "It seems we must remain."
"Well, if it seems so," I said, "then must one so do."

[The interesting part about this little exchange is the meaning of dokei in 328b3, which I've translated "seems."

First, one has to decide if the verb is in the second or the third person. Cornford favors the second person and translates "if you think so." All the others I consulted went with the third person, which results in a translation involving the third-person "it"; e.g., "it seems . . . ." I think the second-person construction is rare.

Second, one has to decide the meaning of dokei. It could mean think, suppose, expect, seem, etc. Fortunately, the options are narrowed down because of the third-person dokei. In this context, the word that makes the best sense is "seems."

To throw in another wrinkle, Bloom notes the following: "At the end of this scene, which is a dramatic prefiguration of the whole political problem, Socrates uses this word as it was used in the political assembly to announce that the sovereign authority had passed a law or decree. It is the expression with which the laws begin, "It is resolved by [literally, 'it seems to'] the Athenian people. . . ." (Bloom, 441n6). See, e.g., Herodotus, The Histories 1.3.2; see the entry in LSJ II.4.b for more entries in this vein. Thus, Bloom translates it "resolved."

This is a bit too interpretive for my tastes. I think it's important to draw the connection with the political resolutions, but I'm not sure if that's sufficient to employ the English word "resolved" to capture the meaning intended. However, Godley's translation of the Herodotus passage noted above disagrees with me, too.]

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Republic 328a9-b1

"for after dinner we'll get up and go see the all-night festival. And we'll be together with many of the youths there, and we'll talk. So stay, and don't do otherwise."

[This is the first instance in the Republic of the verb dialego, meaning to converse with, argue, or discuss a question. I've translated it here as "talk."]

Summer Reading 9

The Bear and the Dragon, Red Rabbit, The Teeth of the Tiger by Tom Clancy

When I was in college, I once got into the elevator in my dorm and overheard the following line of a conversation between two other guys: "Weezer is so much better than Green Day."

I tried really hard not to laugh, not because it's obvious the guy was wrong, but because they were having the conversation in the first place. As music goes, both bands are so banal it's pathetic that he was trying to argue for the artistic merits of one over the other. I vowed never to engage in such a conversation.

I'm about to break that vow with the following sentence. Tom Clancy is so much better than Robert Ludlum.

Anyway, I'd been slacking on my Tom Clancy reading for a while, and I decided to catch up. (I've been reading Clancy since The Hunt for Red October came out. I've now read all his Jack Ryan novels.) TBatD wasn't too bad; it's pretty much an advertisement for the U.S. military.

I've noticed a pattern in Clancy's plots since Rainbow Six. They seem to be really anticlimactic. The climax of RS was really boring. As was the climax of TTotT. As was the climax of RR. Part of the reason is that the good guys have such better technology than the bad guys (see RS and TTotT) that there's really no contest when it comes down to fighting. At least Clancy respects this and doesn't place his heroes in harrowing situations for the sake of the harrow. No. The good guys have weapons that don't require the harrowing situation, and Clancy, despite the resulting boring climax, should at least be given credit for sticking to his guns. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Republic 328a6-7

"And they'll also hold an all-night festival that will be worth seeing."

[Pol. here uses some of the same language S. had used in the first sentence of the dialogue to describe why he went down to the Peiraeus. S. went down theasasthai, to see. (Literally, the last phrase is "that worthy to see.") Both Pol. and S. want to see, that is, to be spectators: S. of "the manner in which they would perform the festival" and Pol. of the "all-night festival." S. says the procession was kalos, fine or noble; Pol. says the all-night festival will be axios theasasthai, worth seeing.]

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Republic 328a3-6

"Will they hold torches and hand them off to one another as they race on horses? Or what do you mean?"
"That's it," said Polemarchus.

[See the Laws 776b for Plato's metaphor about passing the torches. Adams has some comments as well.

I've been linking to the Perseus mirror sites because the one at Tufts doesn't seem to be working. Sorry if it takes a little longer for your computer to connect to Berlin.]

Monday, October 18, 2004

Republic 328a1-3

Then Adeimantus said, "Why then, have you not heard that tonight there will be a torch-race on horseback for the goddess?"
"On horseback?" I said.

[One of my favorite Socratic replies: "On horseback?" Whenever someone praises something to me on the basis of its novelty, I almost always think, "On horseback?"]

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Republic 327c12-14

"But are you really able to persuade," he said, "if we do not listen?"
"Not at all," said Glaucon.
"Well, you'd better make up your minds to that, since we won't listen."

[I'm not terribly pleased with my translation of 327c14. One difficulty is what to do with os. The way I've got it, it refers back to the previous comment that P. won't listen. Adams translates "you may make up your mind that we shall refuse to listen," putting the os with the genitive absolute. I'm not sure which is correct.

Another difficulty is the genitive absolute (akousomenon). Since it's in the future tense, it seems to indicate that P., et al. don't intend to listen to S. or G. I think my translation of "since" is too strong, but I couldn't work out another satisfactory way.

It's only taken me one week to translate one Stephanus page. At this rate I'll be done in about six years.]

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Republic 327c10-11

"Is there not yet one possiblity remaining," I said, "that we should persuade you all of the need to let us go?"

Friday, October 15, 2004

Republic 327c7-9

"Well, do you see how many of us there are?" he said.
"How could I not?"
"Then you two must either turn out to be stronger than these men, or stay here."

[Most translators (Grube, Shorey, Cornford, Bloom) translate 327c8 as a statement. In the Gr., it's a question, but since the aforementioned translate it as an indicative statement, I'm probably being naive in translating it as a question in Eng. Also, the note in Smyth on the construction used in 327c8 (pos gar) is interesting given the context here: "imply that something is impossible (often of surprise)" (see Smyth, 2805). It is indeed a strange question Polemarchus asks.]

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Republic 327c4-6

Then Polemarchus said, "Socrates, you both seem to me be hastening to return to town."
"You do not guess badly," I said.

[This was the first sentence I really puzzled over and still came to the conclusion that there is no way to translate it literally from Gr. into sensible Eng. The problem is that the participle apiontes ("returning") doesn't go well in Eng. with the infinitive hormasthai ("to hasten"). So I switched the parts of speech. I've always heard that even a good translation is no substitute for the original language, but now I'm convinced, partly because I don't think these types of situations can be uncommon. I suspect they're more like the norm than not.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Republic 327c1-3

So a little later Polemarchus arrived with Adeimantus, the brother of Glaucon, and Niceratus, son of Nicias, and some others who apparently were from the procession.

[This is the kind of sentence you hope ends up on an exam, but it never does. The verb hake gave me some trouble. At first I translated it "came up," but then, given Plato's attention to up and down (cf. first word of Republic, kataben), I didn't want to include connotations of "up" when the Gr. didn't require any. But I still wanted to avoid something like Grube's "joined us." Bloom's "caught up" worked a little better, even though it uses "up," because the idiom "caught up" doesn't juxtapose its "up" with "down." But the lexical meaning of hako has the notion of coming to a place more than Bloom's connotation of catching up.

One question: Most of the translators inserted the word "apparently" before "from the procession." I couldn't figure out why, but I went along with them. I figure it must be the use of tines.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Republic 327b5-8

And I turned around and asked where Polemarchus might be. "There," he said, "he is coming behind; just wait."
"Certainly, we will wait," said Glaucon.

[Three things here.
(1) Do people still ask where someone "might be"? Or is it better to ask where someone "is"? S. uses the optative case to inquiry into the whereabouts of P., which is literally translated "might be." That might sound foreign and/or highfalutin to some, but I like it.
(2) The name "Polemarchus" does not actually occur in the text here. There is only the verb "he might be" and the reflexive "himself" so that the reader knows S. is inquiring after P. and not, for some odd reason, the slave boy standing in front of him. But translating "he himself" seemed awkward.
(3) The last sentence is a hodgepodge of particles and pronouns. Cornford translates: "'Very well,' said Glaucon, 'we will.'" There seems to be a slight difference between this and Bloom's "Of course we will wait." Cornford's offers the possibility that G. is reluctant to wait; Bloom's makes G. sound a bit eager to wait for P. (This could be an attempt to show off Glaucon's eagerness; cf. 357a.) I couldn't find anything one way or the other in LSJ or Smyth on the particular construction used here, so I tried to strike a middle ground with the colloquial "certainly."]

Monday, October 11, 2004

Republic 327b4-5

And after the boy had taken hold of me from behind by the cloak, he said, "Polemarchus orders you both to wait."

[Again, the use of keleuo should be translated "order." There are other words Plato could have used if he wanted to have the slave boy say "P. wants you to wait," which is how Shorey and Grube translate it. Bloom uses "order" consistently, which is not unusual for his translation (despite other shortcomings it may have).]

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Republic 327b1-4

After we had offered prayers and looked on, we turned toward the town. Then from afar, Polemarchus, son of Cephalus, recognizing us hastening home, ordered his slave boy to run and order us to wait for him.

[It may seem strange that Polemarchus would have his slave boy order Socrates and Glaucon to wait. Shorey translates the phrase as "bid us wait," and Grube "ask us to wait." But these translations seem to miss the fact that Plato uses the same word (keleuo) for the directions Polemarchus gives to the slave boy and the directions the slave boy gives to S. and G. Would Plato shift meaning in this close a proximity? I don't know for sure, but I doubt it. I think the repetition of the word indicates that Polemarchus considers S. and G. to be similar to his slave boy in an important way: he gives orders to them. However, the credentials of Shorey and Grube are much better than mine, so one should hold my translation loosely, though I think it the better one.]

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Republic 327a1-5

I went down yesterday to the Peiraeus with Glaucon, son of Ariston, to pray to the goddess and, at the same time, wishing to see the manner in which they would perform the festival, since this was now its first observance. The procession of the native inhabitants seemed to me to be fine indeed; however, the one which the Thracians conducted came off no less fitting.

New Long-term (Very Long-term) Project

So I'll be posting my translation of Plato's Republic here. It will go very slowly, but I hope to at least do a sentence or two a day. After a while, I should be able to pick up the pace, but for now my Greek skills are about a two on a scale of fifty, which is also a good reason not to trust my translation.

Republic posts will be titled "Republic ###," where the "###" will be replaced with Stephanus numbers. My translation will be in blue. Any comments I make will be in brackets in black. Comments and corrections are most welcome. Someone should also start taking bets on whether I'll finish this before I die: odds are probably not in my favor, but stranger things have happened.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Summer Reading 8

Lysis, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito by Plato
Memorabilia by Xenophon

My first time reading Lysis and Memorabilia.

My first time really thinking about the Apology of Plato. The Apology poses this central question to the reader: Is the apology of Socrates successful? If you know the story, you know that Socrates is condemned to death, but I do not think that indicates a failure on Socrates's part. (It may or may not indicate success. I don't know.) A limitation, perhaps, but not necessarily a failure. Why? Well, let us ask the following: Could Socrates have been successful and yet lost his court case and been condemned to death? [NB: the decision to find Socrates guilty is distinct from the decision to condemn him to death.] This forces us to ask what success would mean to Socrates, and thus we are forced to answer the question What is the good life? I think that is what the Apology is about. Is the good life the philosophical life? The religious life? The political life?

The good (and oft infuriating) thing about reading Plato is that one leaves with questions and not answers. But one hopes that one has learned to ask better questions.

The good thing about reading Xenophon is that it's not Plato or "Plato's Socrates." Xenophon gets bad press, undeservedly, because he seems dull. Is Xenophon as stupid as he seems? That's the million-dollar question.

BMCR has a review of the edition of Memorabilia I read. I couldn't find a peer-reviewed review of the translation of Apology, Euthyphro, and Crito, but the comments from the readers at Amazon were quite insightful. I could find no peer-reviewed or Amazon-reviewed reviews of the translation of Lysis I read.

One last thought for now. The Apology is a text usually taught in introduction to philosophy courses as an example of Plato's writing and thought, but the Apology is highly atypical in Plato's corpus. It is one of the few Platonic writings that is not really a dialogue. It is (for the most part) a Socratic monologue. To present it to first-time readers of Plato as representative of his work is misleading. Perhaps it's better to start with something like the Lysis, though that suggestion is not likely to get far in philosophy departments since the Lysis has no overt philosophical content. Perhaps this is to the detriment of philosophy departments.

Summer Reading 7

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

At first glance this book looks like ancient Chinese or Japanese wisdom literature. It's not. It was written in the mid-nineteenth century in English by Okakura, a Japanese man, who was curator of Chinese and Japanese art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This is not to denigrate Okakura, but the book cannot really hold a candle to, say, Confucius. Of course, Okakura gladly admitted this. His goal in writing the book was to preserve and defend the Japanese heritage of art. He does this by presenting the Japanese aesthetic as ornamently and plainly as possible. The proper path between ornament and plainness is where one finds the Japanese aesthetic, at least the Japanese aesthetic of which Okakura speaks.

The Japanese aesthetic is essentially one of refined taste. The tea ceremony, with its understated elegance, is the central symbol of the text, but, as Okakura admits, the tea ceremony exists for the tea master. It is the tea master who has the proper aesthetic knowledge of art and other beautiful things. The many, who have unrefined tastes, are completely ignorant of the serenity and beauty with which the tea master is in daily communion.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Summer Reading 6

The Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson

This book was recommended to me by a former professor. I had asked him what constitutes a knowledge tradition, and he recommended this book, among others, as a starting place. The book takes the form of a selective history of philosophy beginning with Medieval philosophy and ending with commentary on the state of the art as it looked in 1937 when Gilson wrote the book. The book has four main parts. The first three cover "The Medieval Experiment," "The Cartesian Experiment," and "The Modern Experiment." A concluding chapter ("The Nature and Unity of Philosophical Experience") ties together the themes of the book and explains Gilson's selectivity in his history of philosophy.

There are two main thoughts developed in the book. First, that there is a unique philosophical experience. Second, that there is something that unifies that philosophical experience.

What is philosophical experience? First, it's an experience. (Duh.) Now think of an experience of seeing a red book. It is a perceptual experience, and there is something to the experience that singles it out from all other experiences. What that something is is a matter of debate among philosophers, but that's not of interest to us here. Now think about what it might mean to have a philosophical experience instead of a perceptual experience (or an auditory experience, or gastronomic experience, or religious experience, etc.). What sorts of things are going to be involved in a philosophical experience? In the perceptual experience, things like color and shape and vision are parts of the experience, and we would say that the central part of the perceptual experience is that you experience the seeing of something. What brings together all the parts of that experience into one experience is your seeing the red book.

But now what is the unity of philosophical experience? Gilson says that it is Being. It is Being because only Being can be the "cause" of the laws (or, to put it another way, justify the conclusions) that can be inferred from Gilson's survey of philosophical experience. There are a number of these laws or conclusions. I'll just quote from Gilson (his words are in blue).

Philosophy always buries its undertakers.

By his very nature, man is a metaphysical animal.

Metaphysics is the knowledge gathered by a naturally transcendent reason in its search for the first principles, or first causes, of what is given in sensible experience.

As metaphysics aims at transcending all particular knowledge, no particular science is competent either to solve metaphysical problems, or to judge their metaphysical solutions.

The failures of the metaphysicians flow from their unguarded use of a principle of unity present in the human mind.

Since being is the first principle of all human knowledge, it is a fortiori the first principle of metaphysics.

All the failures of metaphysics should be traced to the fact, that the first principle of human knowledge has been either overlooked or misused by the metaphysicians.

Since philosophical experience is an experience, it cannot be adequately captured in words (just like I could not really capture the perceptual experience in words). The bulk of Gilson's book is designed to illustrate the philosophical experience by tracing the fate of certain philosophical ideas through history. He argues that the three greatest metaphysicians--Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas--came closest to expressing a pure philosophical experience in their philosophy because they understood that philosophy must be done philosophically. That might sound like a truism, but Gilson's history illustrates how easy it is to miss that truth. Descartes, for example, missed it when he attempted to solve philosophical problems by mathematical method. As soon as Descartes tried to substitute mathematics for philosophy, his failure was certain. The same was true for Ockham's use of logic, Kant's use of physics, and Comte's use of sociology. Each of them tempered the philosophical experience with some other kind of experience--the mathematical, logical, etc. The result of this tempering led Descartes, Ockham, et al. to neglect Being, to the detriment of their philosophy. This is not to say that Descartes's philosophy is not philosophy at all, but that his philosophy is flawed because it neglects the unifying principle of philosophy, namely, Being.

I think, when supplemented with some primary texts in philosophy, this would make an excellent book for an introduction to philosophy class. It is not a comprehensive history, but I don't think a comprehensive work would necessarily be the best work for such a class. In fact, such a work might even neglect Gilson's lesson.

Summer Reading 5

The Underground History of American Education and Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

John Taylor Gatto was New York State and City teacher of the year about ten years ago. Then he quit teaching, after thirty years, because he was fed up with the public school system. I picked up this book because (a) it was recommended to me by a respectable person, and (b) some day I will probably have children who will need to be educated. I've always had suspicions about the public school system, but Gatto's book is an eye opener. If even half of what he argues for in UHAE is true, I will never send my children to a public school, even a good one. This isn't to say that Gatto is a sloppy thinker or doesn't support his argument. It's just that what Gatto argues for really goes against the grain of conventional wisdom about schooling.

So what is Gatto's thesis? There are actually a number of them, and what follows is not exhaustive.

(1) Public schooling was designed (that's important, it was designed) to "remove all significant functions from home and family life except its role as dormitory and casual companionship" (p. 380). In other words, public schools were designed to erode the natural bonds between parent and child and replace them with artificial bonds between the state and the child.

(2) The motivating thesis of compulsory schooling, that "the certified expertise of official schoolteachers is superior in its knowledge of children to the accomplishments of lay people, including parents," is false (p. 384).

(3) Schooling is both very expensive and results in dispirited children; education is practically free and results in free, independent human beings. The difference between schooling, which may or may not coincide with education, and education, which can be done without schooling, is enormous. The degree in "education" that is so eagerly obtained in many colleges and universities is really a degree in "schooling." I cannot spell out the full difference between education and schooling here. Read the book.

(4) "Mass dumbness first had to be imagined, it isn't real" (p. xxxi). School makes people dumb, not smart.

(5) The way things are now is not the result of some vast conspiracy. Instead, "we are held fast by a form of highly abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which was grown beyond the power of the managers of these institutions to control" (p. xxxiii).

Gatto gives a plausible argument for each of these theses by drawing on materials available in mainstream scholarship. I think it helps his case that he doesn't refer to very many, if any, "conspiracy books" to make his case. He pins most of the blame on Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan for financing the compulsory school experiment with the full knowledge of what the schools would produce: dumbed-down assembly line workers with little independent spirit.

UHAE is about 400 pages long. I'm still thinking over the main arguments of the book and reading certain sections over again, so I cannot offer very many criticisms of it. One thing that I will say is that Plato draws a lot of fire from Gatto for providing the ideology of an organized, planned state. I think he's missed the boat on Plato there, but so did the people Gatto criticizes (like Carnegie, et al.). I think Gatto may realize this, or at least he would if he reflected on a quotation from Plato he includes in the book: "Nothing of value to the individual happens by coercion" (p. 384). This quotation runs contrary to all the other citations of Plato in UHAE, and Gatto must surely have noticed this. John Calvin also comes in for a lot of criticism, some of it unjustified in my opinion.

Dumbing us Down is a collection of lectures and papers given by Gatto and one time or another. Much of it is reprinted almost verbatim in UHAE, but UHAE is much more comprehensive in its attempt to understand the history of American schooling. Dumbing us Down can be read in a few hours and is more readily available in stores than UHAE. Read one or both of these books if you want to educate your children well. (The full text of UHAE is available online.)

Monday, September 20, 2004


Does anyone have any advice on how to properly fold a fitted bedsheet? I just finished the laundry, and everytime I try to fold a fitted sheet it just looks like a big, lumpy ball.

Leo Strauss, Born September 20, 1899

"The flight to immortality requires an extreme discretion in the selection of one's luggage." (Persecution and the Art of Writing)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Summer Reading 4

The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture edited by Hal Foster

Another book on a class reading list; this one is a collection of nine essays with a preface by the editor.

Since I'm not a big fan of things with the postmodern label, I would not have picked this up on my own. As presented by the contributors to this book (with the exception of Habermas), postmodernism is a critique of modern ideals of rationality. While reading the book, I had the occasional thought that "Well, I could be wrong about the importance and high value of reason. But really? Hard to think so."

I am thankful for the challenges the book presented, but I have two competing beliefs about postmodernism. The first is that since postmodernism in general (if there is such a thing) seems to be the best contemporary challenge to philosophy as conceived by Socrates and therefore merits serious study and attention in order to meet that challenge. The second belief is that postmodernism is positively irrational and therefore hard to take seriously. Of course, these two beliefs are connected by the nature of postmodernism as a philosophy or ideology or archeology or whatever that subverts modern (and ancient and medieval) rationality. Note that this last sentence itself expresses the controversy, since most postmodernists deny that things have real natures.

Since I don't get the appeal of postmodern writing style, I'll just describe some thoughts on Craig Owens's article, "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism."

In Owens's chapter, it's difficult to tell if Owens is making an argument, trying to make an argument, or just opining. For example, this is what I think is Owens's summary of his chapter:

Here, we arrive at an apparent crossing of the feminist critique of patriarchy and the postmodernist critique of representation; this essay is a provisional attempt to explore the implications of that intersection.

In the first part of this, we have two things before us: the feminist critique of patriarchy and the postmodernist critique of representation. It seems highly unlikely that there is only one feminist critique of patriarchy and only one postmodernist critique of representation, but the definite articles modifying those phrases seem to indicate that there is only one of each. As to the merits or demerits of the feminist critique of patriarchy and the postmodernist critique of representation, we are left in the dark. There are some claims made before this statement about these critiques, but no defense of the claim that they are defensible or even sensible critiques. Also note that the crossing of these two things is "apparent." This indicates that Owens is hedging his bets about his thesis. This becomes clearer when you look at the next part, which includes the assertion that the two critiques intersect. We have gone from an apparent crossing to an intersection without an explanation of why the crossing was only apparent in the first place or why it is no longer so.

Notice that when the essayist should be at his clearest, the point where he states the purpose of the essay, Owens utilizes metaphors and provides only a vague sense of what his purpose is. Consider it this way. Owens says that he has written an "essay," which is a "provisional attempt" to "explore" the "implications" of the "intersections" of the feminist critique of patriarchy and the postmodernist critique of representation. Now an essay is something with which I have some familiarity, but what about the other phrases? Well, I know what all of the other words mean, and in other contexts their meaning is fairly clear. For example, if my friend asks me to go "explore" a cave, I have a good idea what to expect if I agree. There may be some variations (e.g., we might just walk about a cave, or we might need more serious spelunking gear such as ropes and headlamps), but what we'll be doing is fairly clear. We won't, for example, be skydiving. I think Owens is being metaphorical with his use of "explore," which is fine, but when what we are exploring are "implications" of an "intersection" of two sets of opinions held by Owens to be a critique of "patriarchy" and "representation," a little clarification would be appropriate (if the goal is to communicate clearly with the reader).

I comment on this because such vagueness is characteristic of the writing in the book, to greater and lesser degrees in each author, and although unclarity does not plague only postmodern writing, the cynic in me wants to say that unclarity is a necessary condition of postmodern writing.

I also found curious the inclusion of a chapter by Edward Said, whom I would not have considered to be postmodern. (Is Noam Chomsky postmodern then, too?) Contrary to the other chapters, I found the chapter by Said particularly lucid, though that may itself be because Said's chapter was right after a bunch of mumbo-jumbo (that's a technical philosophical term) by Jean Baudrillard.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Michigan Football

Just watched Michigan get trounced by Notre Dame. Ouch. The final score wasn't too bad, but watching Notre Dame come from behind in the third quarter was awful. As always, there's still the Big Ten championship to shoot for, but you know when Michigan fans start saying that that it wasn't a good game.

Summer Reading 3

Art and Nonart and Basic Issues in Aesthetics by Marcia Muelder Eaton

The second of these books was on a reading list for a class I'm taking this fall. I picked up the first book just to see what else Eaton had written. I'll discuss Art and Nonart since the other is only a survey.

Art and Nonart appears to be some form of Eaton's dissertation. It reads like a dissertation (i.e., a bit dry) and is structured like one, too. The basic task of the book is to find a definition of art that will allow us to make a principled distinction between art and nonart. Eaton surveys a number of different ways to try to define art, and she finds each of them lacking. This material is presented in greater length in Basic Issues in Aesthetics, which provides a good survey of the field as it stood in 1987.

In Art and Nonart, Eaton's definition of art is as follows:

"x is a work of art if and only if (1) x is an artifact and (2) x is discussed in such a way that information concerning the history of production of x directs the viewer's attention to properties which are worth attending to."

(1) is accepted by pretty much everyone. Even though sunsets are beautiful, most people do not consider them to be works of art. There are some issues to be cleared up on this topic (e.g., when, if ever, can artifacts such as sticks or stones be considered art?), but for the most part (1) is noncontroversial.

(2) is where the philosophical action is at. There are four basic parts to (2).

(a) x is discussed
(b) information concerning the history of production of x
(c) directs the viewer's attention
(d) properties which are worth attending to

Regarding (a): This seems to be Eaton's innovation in philosophical aesthetics. She places quite a bit of emphasis on the fact that x must be discussed in order for it to be considered a work of art. On this issue, she makes a good response to the critic who says that her definition entails that history and criticism are more important than creation. Not at all, says Eaton: "no claim about importance is being made at all. A feature of an organism may not be the most important or interesting thing about it, but nevertheless may serve to distinguish it from other organisms" (p. 116).

Regarding (b): By bringing in "the history of production" to her definition, Eaton casts her lot at least partially with what is called the "contextualist" camp. Like the name implies, contextualist theories of art make reference to a context in order to define a thing as a work of art. Contextualist theories are in general opposed to formalist theories (i.e., theories in which only features of the work of art itself figure prominently in a definition of art). So, for example, in thinking about a painting, according to Eaton we should take into account "information concerning the history of production."

Regarding (c): Eaton says relatively little about what she means by "direct the viewer's attention." Perhaps she thinks it is obvious what is meant. Perhaps it is, and right now I have nothing to criticize her theory on these grounds. But I suspect more could be said and that this could turn into a really sticky issue.

Regarding (d): The information about the history of production must direct our attention to "properties which are worth attending to." These properties which are worth attending to must be intrinsic to the work of art; that is, they must be perceivable. So Eaton's definition is not solely contextualist; it stipulates that the context must direct our attention to intrinsic properties of the work of art. These intrinsic properties in turn must be "worth attending to," a phrase that, for Eaton, essentially boils down to "gives us aesthetic satisfaction," and these properties are not necessarily fixed. They can vary from tradition to tradition.

One upshot of Eaton's definition is that something like Duchamp's urinal should be considered a work of art. She states, "Not everyone sees the urinal as a work of art. But when enough people do, it becomes one. The important thing here is not to try to decide what the precise point is when an object or event becomes a work of art, but to realize that being seen as a work entails that we discuss it in certain ways, and look at it in certain ways, upon learning something about its history of production. Why are football games not works of art? Because they are not discussed mainly in aesthetic terms. They could be, and if they were, they would become works of art" (p. 118).

This strikes me as a defect in her view. My common sense position is that urinals are not works of art regardless of the manner in which they are discussed. People who discuss urinals as if they were works of art are behaving very silly. I have no defense of this view right now and am willing to admit that, in light of the absence of such a defense, that Eaton is probably correct.

Art and Nonart closes with a chapter on distinguishing good art from bad, or better from worse. It includes a case study comparing Jan Vermeer with Norman Rockwell, in which Eaton concludes that Rockwell's art (and she thinks it is art) is not as good as Vermeer's because its affect is "cheaply achieved" (p. 149) (i.e., his symbolism is direct and obvious).

Monday, September 06, 2004

Summer Reading 2

The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum

I decided to read these books because I really liked the movie versions of the first two. (Will there be a movie version of the third? Who knows.) Also, I needed some mind candy kind of reading stuff, and this provided it. Blowing through a 500 page book in a day or two really boosts the reading confidence. It's a great contrast to laboring over ten pages of Plato a day.

Having said that, Robert Ludlum has got to be one of the worst best-selling authors of all time. Here's a blurb from Publishers Weekly:

"The literary faults and stylistic excessesthat characterized The Icarus Agenda, The Gemini Contenders and other of Ludlum's works are present in his latest mammoth thriller, but fans will nonetheless cheer the return of his most popular character, David Webb, aka Jason Bourne, the assassin who never was. . . . The Ludlum trademarks are present: improbable bloodbaths, repetitive action, stilted and off-the-point conversations and--most annoying--the use of italicized words or entire paragraphs to simulate passion. This is formula writing that delivers even less than its meager promise."

The only thing these books have going for them is plot. (Character development? What's that?) The plot of the BI and BS are better than the contrived BU. I found BS to hold up the best, since it has a pretty fast, intriguing, and believable plot and also lacks the most annoying scene in the Ludlum corpus, which occurs right in the middle of BU, a horrendous scene where Bourne's wife, allegedly a "strong female character," appears in Paris to help Bourne--she's supposed to be in a CIA safe house--and only succeeds in foiling Bourne's mission and getting his partner killed. And then everyone seems to just forget about what a moron she was.

Note to people who liked the movies: The plots deviate wildly from the books.

Summer Reading 1

Interpreting Plato by E. N. Tigerstedt (Uppsala, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell, 1977)

I had hoped for more from this book since it was recommended by a scholar of Greek philosophy in response to my concern that I don't really know enough about the history of Plato interpretation. I was hoping for a comprehensive history of how Plato's writings have (or, in some cases, have not) been interpreted since ancient times. The book is, from what I can tell, an excellent book, but it does not aim to give such a comprehensive history. It focuses primarily on Plato interpretation of the last two hundred years, especially in English and German, with a few nods to French scholarship. Discussion of ancient and medieval interpretations of Plato are almost nonexistent in this book, though I should note that Tigerstedt has written another book, The Decline and Fall of the Neoplatonic Interpretation of Plato that may deal with those periods in detail. I have not read it, but plan to. I should also note that the book was written almost thirty years ago. One major strand of interpretation that Tigerstedt does not address is that of Gregory Vlastos and his progeny. Since Vlastos's writings on Plato have cast a very long shadow over Plato studies in the second half of the twentieth-century, it is unfortunate Tigerstedt's book does not discuss him.

The book is organized into seven chapters and a preface. Tigerstedt begins with "the problem" of interpreting Plato and then tracks and critiques proposed solutions to the problem. "The problem" turns out to be: it's really hard to figure out what the heck Plato's writings mean. Of course, this is true of many great philosophers (and nonphilosophers, too), but, says Tigerstedt, "The interpreters of, e.g., Aristotle, or Kant, or Hegel by no means always agree. But the controversies about Plato are far more radical and fundamental. What some scholars regard as a faithful picture of Plato the man and his philosophy, is to other scholars an outrageous caricature or a pure invention. The dispute between the various schools of Platonic interpreters is not confined to judgement and evaluation but concerns the very essence of Platonism" (p. 13).

There have been, in the past two hundred years, five basic approaches to Plato's texts. Tigerstedt in general finds fault with all of them, though he does have praise for a number of individual interpreters and interpretations.

The first approach is to decide that some of the dialogues are spurious. It's a pretty self-explanatory way of dealing with "the problem." Get rid of the dialogues that seem to cause the problem by arguing they are not genuine. Even though this approach hides behind scientific sounding methods of linguistic analysis, e.g., "stylometric analysis," there are many problems with the presuppositions of the analyzers.

Approach number two: admit that the "contradictions, gaps, obscurities, and ambiguities that worry the interpreters of Plato" (p. 22) are real, but attribute them to the fact that Plato could not reason logically or coherently (not least because Plato did not know about his most famous student's system of logic). Seems a bit overly simplistic. Tigerstedt gives a brief refutation of the two main proponents--Richard Robinson and I. M. Bochenski--of this view.

One of the most popular proposed solutions to the problem is, thirdly, the "genetic approach." Here's how it works: first assume that Plato's thought developed, roughly along the same lines of his biography, then chalk up the contradictions, gaps, obscurities, ambiguities, etc. of the dialogues to the fact that Plato's philosophy changed (and, according to most opinions, improved) as he got older. This solution stands in opposition to Schleiermacher's, which holds that Plato was in command of his entire philosophy from his first dialogue and only expounded it gradually for the sake of his readers/students. The genetic approach seems to be prevalent today under the influence of Vlastos. Tigerstedt's analysis of this approach alone makes the book worth reading, if only to make one aware of the faults of the genetic approach that go unchecked today.

The fourth proposed solution is to suggest a unity of Platonic thought. The unity can mean "the recurrence of certain fundamental problems whose solutions, however, may vary greatly, even change radically," or "the profession of certain general ideas, a Weltanschauung which does not exclude even important variations, contradictions, inconsistencies," or "a real, close-knit system" (p. 52).

Lastly, Tigerstedt dissects the Esoterists' approach. Like the name suggests, these interpreters seek to find the secret teaching of Plato, primarily through the use of secondary sources such as Aristotle, Albinus, Numenius, or later Platonists. There is some support for the claim that Plato had two teachings--one for the many and one for a few, trusted pupils--in the Phaedrus and the second and seventh letters, but one difficulty with this approach is that by focusing on the testimony of, say, Aristotle, it seems to ignore the dialogues themselves. It is important to note that today's so-called Straussian interpretations of Plato would not count as Esoterist according to Tigerstedt since they, for the most part, attempt to derive the hidden teaching of Plato by reading the dialogues and not by examining secondary sources. (One should also note that Tigerstedt favorably cites Strauss's essay, "On a New Interpretation of Plato's Political Philosophy," two or three times.)

Tigerstedt closes his book by suggesting that interpretation of Plato keep in mind a number of things. (1) Platonic irony. (2) The fact that there are two dialogues going on in any dialogue--one between the interlocutors (usually one of them is Socrates) and one between Plato and the reader. (3) The fact that Plato chose to write dialogues, as opposed to some other kind of work. (4) The fact that the author of the dialogues is officially anonymous, though unofficially everyone seems to have known it was Plato. (5) "Plato's works being what they are, there will always remain a margin of subjective interpretation, of error, far larger than in most other works. It is vain and dishonest to try to conceal this difficult from ourselves and others" (p. 107).

The footnotes of this book are very good even if unavoidably a bit dated.

The ISBN of this book is 9122000909, and I give it because it may be difficult to track the book down by title.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Summer Reading Recap

In the next few weeks, my posts will cover some of the books I've read this summer. My reading list for the summer didn't turn out just as I wanted it to, but I don't think I was a complete slacker. I won't rate the books by stars or thumbs-up, and my thoughts won't be presented as comprehensive book reviews.

Friday, August 06, 2004

A True Gentleman

I grew up near Detroit, at a time when Barry Sanders was playing for the Lions. I was not following professional football when he decided to retire, but I found his decision to do so interesting. (Compare it to Socrates's reasons for not accepting money for his teaching -- at a time when he could have made a lot of money for doing so.)

Recently, Mitch Albom recorded an interview with Sanders. It helped me understand and appreciate Sanders much more. The following exchange is a response to Albom's asking why Sanders didn't go back into the final game of his rookie season in order to win the rushing title for that season.

M: Why not go back in then?

B: Because that would have been for everybody else, not for me.

M: But it was your record.

B: No, because up to that point, every run that I had made -- every game that I had played in -- it was in the spirit of competition -- the way the game is intended. But to go in just for the purpose of the record, that's different than going in because we need these yards -- or we need these points. You know what I mean?

Kids, you should grow up to be like Barry Sanders. Parents, you should teach your kids to play sports with this kind of attitude.

Monday, July 26, 2004

What Passes for Activism from Me

This is a copy of the e-mail I sent to the yahoos at Yahoo!

Please know that I have deleted my Yahoo account and will no longer be using Yahoo services of any sort. I chose to do this when I heard that Yahoo had partnered with Planned Parenthood to sell t-shirts with the words "I had an abortion" on them. That is quite tasteless and, perhaps, morally reprehensible to boot. You have lost my patronage.

Please consider doing the same. To view the evidence yourself, go here.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Something from Way Back

I was looking through old files on my computer and came across some writing assignments from a creative writing class in college. This was one of three places I had to describe in an assignment. It really exists. I think I saw the horrible movie "Dante's Peak" there. Starring Pierce Brosnan.

Rerun movie theater, Elephant & Castle, London.

The floor is dirty and crunched popcorn is scattered everywhere as if the entire lobby were a giant popcorn machine and no one bothered to clean up after most of it had been sold. The two ticket booths are enclosed in thick Plexiglas that is scratched and almost opaque. The microphone for the attendant doesn’t work so you have to shout through the glass. On the weekdays, four big bouncers are usually there, about one for every moviegoer. The second theater (of two) has no lighting at all except for the red exit signs above the back doors. The people in the back are usually smoking marijuana, so sit up front or you’ll end up with a buzz at the end of the movie. The screen is small. The seats are covered in green plastic that crinkles every time you shift position. After the movie starts, the theater is pitch black. It’s very difficult to go to the bathroom and find your way back. After a while you give up looking for your friends and sit anywhere (but the back). No one is really watching the movie: they’re either talking or smoking or making out. That’s okay because the movie isn’t any good. You can get to the theater from the Tube Station. Take either the Black or Brown Line.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Thoughts after a Lecture by Terry Penner

What I think it takes to be a good scholar in philosophy today.
(1) Mastery of original languages (at least Greek, Latin, German, and French).
(2) Knowledge of logic (formal, informal, set theoretic, metalogic, modal, etc.).
(3) Knowledge of the history of philosophy (both breadth and depth).
(4) Knowledge of the state and history of the discipline.
(5) Excellent study habits and writing skills.

NB: These are not criteria of what it takes to be a good philosopher nor even a good teacher of philosophy.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Robert Pinsky

Last night I went with some friends to listen to Robert Pinsky, one of the most skillful poets I have ever read, read some of his poetry. Listening to him read is a wonderful experience. Although I disagreed with some of his statements about language and "culture," he leaves almost every other contemporary poet in the dust. His knowledge of like and unlike sounds is vast, and his skill in bringing that knowledge to bear on words is virtuosic. Watching him read is like watching a prizefighter box: each movement is the seamless product of erudition and long practice.

He also recited from memory Ben Jonson's poem "His Excuse for Loving":

Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have my Peeres;
Poets, though divine are men:
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or Fortune gives the grace;
Or the feature, or the youth:
But the Language, and the Truth,
With the Ardor, and the Passion,
Gives the Lover weight, and fashion.
If you then will read the Storie,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now,
Either whom to love, or how:
But be glad, as soon with me,
When you know, that this is she,
Of whose Beautie it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keepe the middle age at stay,
And let nothing high decay,
Till she be the reason why,
All the world for love may die.

Pinsky read some poems from a collection he's working on now. He also took requests. He is 63 years old and looks amazing. After the reading, which lasted less than an hour (Pinsky is always careful to not drone on too long), he sat at a table and signed autographs with the patience and demeanor of a saint. During the question and answer session, a woman raised her hand to say that she didn't have a question but that this was the first poetry reading she had been to and that she was enjoying it and having a good time. She was genuine, and Pinsky seemed honestly thankful for her comment.

After the reading, back to the Bourgeois Apartment for good times with Carlos, Ally, Schubert, Heather, and the Bourgeois Wife, who really knows how to hostess a party: "mistress of herself though china fall."

Monday, March 01, 2004

Tomorrow is the big voting day (see "Electioneering" below). I am eagerly awaiting the chance to play my role in the democracy.

Random question: In the Iliad, why is the consummation of the early battle between Paris and Menelaus denied by Aphrodite, and is the end of this fight a cop-out on Homer's part? It would seem as if Aphrodite's intervention is completely unwarranted and that cynically one could accuse Homer of bringing her in only so that he can continue his story for another twenty-one books. Given that fact that Homer was a great genius, I do not think this is the proper way to read him here, but for the moment I am caught up on this issue.

Has anyone read Maritain's book Prayer and Intelligence? Comments?

Also, it seems that the question of homosexuality has become the test of rationalism at my university (and, from what I can tell, elsewhere). Do you think homosexuality is acceptable? If not, you are irrational and (consequently) bigoted. Now whatever you may think about homosexuality, is it really that obvious that to oppose it is to be irrational? I would like to know why.

I have found this article by Hadley Arkes from 1996 to be informative on the judicial aspect of this issue. In fact, the whole symposium of which this article is a part is quite interesting and well worth a few evenings spent reading it over in detail.

Too many links in this entry; I know. More coherent thoughts in a few weeks after papers are done. In the meantime, pardon the rambling.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


So, I think that I will vote "no" on all four propositions on the California ballot. As for the first two propositions (on education), I think the less money the state has to spend on education the better. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but if billions of dollars cannot produce at least semi-educated students, the solution does not seem to be to give them (whoever "them" is) more money.

As for the next two, you ask me, "How can you vote 'no' on a proposal called the 'Balanced Budget Amendment'?" I respond: It will further degrade the spirit of republicanism (small r republicanism) in the state. The fact that state legislators have to be coerced (i.e., threatened with pay loss) into passing a balanced budget indicates that the state of politics in general is not one based on love of equality and love of homeland, the two virtues needed to sustain a republic. Passing this proposition to amend the state constitution is an admission that the quality of these virtues is strained. I hold out hope that the spirit of republicanism can be revived by an improvement in the manners and mores of California. It certainly will not be revived by a law, the effects of which, if passed, will do irreparable harm to the spirit of republicanism.

Perhaps I am wrong about these things, and I would honestly like to know. Can there be anything worse than a citizen who has a mistaken understanding of political things? Perhaps a student of philosophy who has studied too much political philosophy and not enough political science.

Also, what irks me is Democrats voting for Kerry because he is the only one who can defeat Bush. I'm not a stellar student of history, but something tells me that there's got to be bad precedent for voting for someone just because you don't like the other guy.

Also, what irks me is the constant assumption that the "religious right" is the only sector of society supportive of Bush. Is this true? If so, then how come the religious right is presented as a "minority opinion" in America? Doesn't it take more than a minority to vote a president into office and support his policies? Well, honestly, probably not, and that's what worried James Madison so much in Federalist 10. I've always wondered how Madison could support the principles of republicanism and still maintain that a faction could be a majority, especially since he never clearly states who decides what the "permanent and aggregate interests of the community" are.

Maybe I've been reading too much Chomsky, not that I agree with him, but I think he represents one of the few genuine critical alternatives to the Federalists.

Sunday, February 01, 2004


Fewer things are worse than being sick all night and day. I suppose if one were sick on the day one was invited to the Super Bowl party of the year, then that might be worse. Oh, wait. That's me. At least my wife is sick with me.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Random thought: If you have a few extra dollars and would like to purchase some good rock and roll music, please buy it from Jaycob Van Auken (click this one for the web site, or skip the web site and get straight to the music buying). Or I guess you could just spend that money supporting Beethoven, again. Like that guy needs any more money.

Forgotten New Year's Resolution

10. Read Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (vol. 1 and vol. 2) from start to finish. I do not know how many times I have started that book, but it keeps kicking my butt. It's huge. It is so long and convoluted that I get about 200 pages into it (say, chapter 46, "Ideals and morality are the best means for filling that big hole called the soul," or chapter 47, "What all others are separately, Arnheim is rolled into one") and stop reading for a while (only 2,200 more pages to go), but then if I try to pick up where I left off I cannot remember what is going in the story. So I go back to the beginning, read about 200 pages, and stop. (NB (to self): Musil did not finish the book, and that makes it even more frustrating since I know that when I get to the end--and I will get to the end--it will not really be an end.) You ask, "Why does he not sell the book and give it up?" and I reply, "I have sold the books once, and then I bought them back." In the end, it cannot be explained at all.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

It feels good to be back in class. I do enjoy the "thrill" of reading and studying; in particular I enjoy reading and studying the great works of western civilization. This quarter my energies are primarily directed toward Hobbes and Kant, two names that don't particularly inspire the masses, I know, but all that's needed to rectify that is an ardent PR campaign.

Yesterday, did something had not done in a while: hung out with a bunch of guys without any women around. Sheldon Vanauken noted two things about male friendship that represent the spirit of our age. (1) Egalitarianism has so penetrated our society that men cannot be away from the sound of a woman's voice anywhere. (2) The acceptance of homosexuality has jaded people's opinion about the possibility of true and deep male friendship. My wife keeps pestering me to start a gentleman's club similar to the ones of aristocratic England. Of course, the phrase "gentleman's club" now denotes a place where no true gentleman would be found dead. It now means something very ungentlemanly. Similarly, Dorothy Sayers describes Christianity as a religion for adults, meaning by this it is a religion suitable to intellectually mature, rationally sophisticated, and deliberately logical reflection. Here we see the same twisting of words: "adult" now means something that stands in opposition to its former meaning. Consider the surprise of many if upon entering into an "adult bookstore" they were confronted with logic textbooks and intellectually challenging literary works in philosophy and theology. Now "adult" implies "sexual," but that implication is obviously spurious: even the juvenile may be "sexual" whereas today's "adult" may not be rational. By the by, I've always found the description "adult situations" on a movie to be somewhat funny. Adult situations? You mean like balancing the checkbook, going to work, taking care of the children?

But anyway, the plan for a true gentleman's club is on. Sorry, no ladies (or any other sort of women) allowed.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Rafael Ferber

For some reason, every time I try to fill in a form on the web, the name Rafael Ferber appears as an "auto complete" option in my web browser. I don't recall ever searching for Mr. Ferber, and I'm afraid to do so now. What kind of business is he in? Is it reputable? The frustrating thing is that I cannot figure out how to remove Raffy from the list of auto complete options. So he keeps dropping down. In fact, he's the only one dropping down, so when his name appeared as an automatic option for the subject of this entry, I decided to give him his due.

Tomorrow after church, I'm going to the wedding of Amanda Cunagin (soon-to-be Hamilton) and Andrew Hamilton (still-to-be Hamilton). They are both artsy people, and my expectations are high for an artsy wedding. I understand the rationale for short weddings, but it seems a little cheap when they're only 15-20 minutes long. I mean, you might as well hit up the justice of the peace. I also think weddings could be billed as potlucks: last name A-H bring salad, I-N bring side dish, O-T, brings drinks, U-Z bring deserts, main dish provided.

I am feeling pretty manly lately. While at my parent's house in Michigan for Christmas, my dad and I built a coffee table for our (my wife's and mine) apartment in Irvine. We built it from some planks he had made from a walnut tree that fell down near his church. We did use power tools, but contra Tim Allen that did not create my feeling of manliness. I trace the source of my machismo to using old hand tools that were passed down from my grandfather to my father. There is nothing like the feel of using a sharp hand planer. For an Impressionist rendition of my feeling, see Caillebotte's painting of floor scrapers.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's Resolutions

1. Don't let the dishes pile up in the sink.
2. Complete reading for classes ahead of time.
3. Write first drafts of all my major papers and solicit criticism on them.
4. Study Greek one hour a day.
5. Study Latin one hour a day.
6. Stock music collection with classical music again.
7. Write a letter to Jaroslav Pelikan asking him for advice on how to succeed as a scholar.
8. Acquire good art for apartment walls.
9. Find new prime number.

The Man in Black

Eulogy for Johnny Cash.