Monday, February 27, 2006

In Which I Attempt to Sum Up the Row Over Intelligent Design

Aristotle says, "The causes responsible for things seem to be nature, necessity, and chance, and also intelligence . . . ." (NE, 1112a30ish).

The Darwinist says, "The first three causes Aristotle lists are the only legitimate causes."

The Designist says, "Let us also admit the last cause Aristotle lists."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Interpretation of King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1

The play opens with three people: Kent, Gloucester, and Edmund. At first I was puzzled about why Edmund is there. Kent and Gloucester, being part of the king's council, I could handle. But why Edmund, the villain? Here is my attempt at explaining Edmund's presence.

Shakespeare represents with these three a whole soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Kent, being the king's advisor, is reason. Gloucester, the king's loyal friend, is spirit. Edmund, greedy for power, is appetite.

Kent's first words are "I thought . . ." Thinking is exactly what reason does.

In the Platonic tradition, the spirited element of the soul mediates reason and appetite. In the opening scene, Gloucester introduces Kent to Edmund.

Lear enters then and, in his madness, which is already upon him, tears apart this whole soul: he sends Gloucester to attend to the dukes of France and Burgundy. (Edmund, though not addressed by the king, leaves with Gloucester.) I say that Lear is already mad, or at least (lit.) unreasonable, because there is no good reason to disrupt a whole, well-ordered soul. A whole soul (or city) is a beautiful and good thing, and there can be no good reason (or no reason at all) to tear it apart. But Lear does tear it apart; I conclude that Lear is not governed by reason even from the very beginning of the play.

Tragedy ensues. What else would one expect to follow in the wake of such a mindless disruption?

After Lear has made the tragic decision to banish Cordelia, each of the three parts of this original triad proceed thusly. (1) Kent tries to dissuade the king from his course of action. But Lear will not listen to reason, and reason separated from spirit and appetite can affect no change. (2) Gloucester, eager to assist the king, overplays his hand since he is not guided by reason. (3) Edmund, unbridled from reason and spirit, dwells on and pursues his base passion for power.

Thus, Edmund's presence is explained by the necessity of appetite in the city/soul. Appetite is not bad; but appetite following its desires leads to ruin. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester together could have saved Edmund. Consider Gloucester's urging Kent to remember Edmund as Gloucester's honorable friend and Kent's statement to Edmund that "I must love you, and sue to know you better." Kent however is prevented from taking Edmund under his wing, and so Edmund is not tamed, as he might have been. Apart from Kent and Gloucester, Edmund ruins both Gloucester and himself. (Reason seems to survive.)

Last thought (for now): It is true that Lear's division of his kingdom among his three (or two) daughters is the obvious source from which the rest of the play flows. But his disruption of the Kent-Gloucester-Edmund tripartite city/soul allows the second division (the division of his kingdom) to proceed. I suggest that if Gloucester and Edmund had been present, they (with Kent) could have functioned as a well-ordered unit to prevent (or at least soften) the disasters brought on by Lear's decision.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In Which Manolo Sees That Agathon Was Wrong

Manolo says, ". . . the designers of the Project Runway, they are not the handsome peoples. This it is not the handicap in the world of fashion, as it is also true that many of the famous fashion designers, they too are ugly. The Manolo, he theorizes that this it is because the ugly they are naturally drawn to the beauty."

Plato in his Symposium (201a-c, trans. Benardete) creates the following dialogue between Socrates and the playwright Agathon:

"And if this is so, Eros would be nothing else than love of beauty, but not of ugliness?" He [Agathon] agreed.

"Hasn't it been agreed that that of which one is in need and does not have one loves?"

"Yes," he said.

"So Eros is in need of and does not have beauty."

"Of necessity," he said.

"What about this? That which is in need of beauty and in no way possesses beauty, do you say that it is beautiful?"

"Certainly not."

"Do you still agree then that Eros is beautiful, if this is so?"

And Agathon said, "It's probable, Socrates, that I knew nothing of what I had said."

"And yet spoke you beautifully, Agathon," he said.

So the fashion designers of which Manolo speaks are in the same boat as the god Eros: they are both in love with beautiful things because they themselves are ugly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Meno 70c-72a

Here's a longish passage from my translation of the Meno. It begins in the middle of a speech by Socrates.

But here, friend Meno, it has turned out the opposite. It’s as though there has been some drought of wisdom, and it’s possible [71a] for wisdom to have gone from these places to yours. At any rate, if you wish to ask someone here about this, there is no one who will not laugh and say, “Stranger, it’s possible I seem to you to be someone blessed -- at any rate, to know whether virtue is taught or what manner it comes to be -- but I stand very much in need of knowing whether virtue is taught or not taught, and am not as one who happens at all to know what virtue is.”

[b] So I, Meno, am even one such as this; I am poor with my fellow citizens about this matter, and I find great fault with myself thus, not knowing about virtue at all. But if I do not know what a thing is, how do I know what sort of thing it really* is? Or does it seem to you to to be like this: if anyone does not learn to know at all who Meno is, this one’s to know whether [Meno] is beautiful or rich or even well-born, or the opposite of these? Does it seem to you to be thus?

Meno: Not to me. But you, Socrates, do you truly [c] not know what virtue is, and is this what we’re to report about you back home?

Socrates: Not only this, comrade, but also that I have not met another who it seems to me did know.

Meno: What then? Did you not meet Gorgias when he was here?

Socrates: I did indeed.

Meno: Then he seemed not to you to know?

Socrates: I am not entirely mindful,** Meno, so I am not able to say in present circumstances how it seemed to me then. But it’s equally possible he does know, and that you know what he spoke; so remind [d] me how he spoke. And if you wish say yourself, for doubtless it seems to you however [it seemed] to him.

Meno: To me, yes indeed.

Socrates: Therefore, let’s be done with him, since he is not here, but you yourself, by the gods, Meno, what do you declare virtue to be? Speak and do not be grudging so that I will have fabricated a most fortunate lie if you and Gorgias, as ones who know, were to bring it to light, though I’ve stated I never yet have met with one who knows.

[e] Meno: But it’s not difficult, Socrates, to say. First then, if you wish, the virtue of a man, it’s easy; this is the virtue of a man: to be competent to manage the city, managing to do good to friends and harm to enemies, and himself taking care not to suffer any such thing. But if you wish the virtue of a woman, it’s not difficult to go through: she must economize the household, both preserving what is in the home and listening to the man. And there is also virtue of a child, both female and male, and of the old man, if you wish, of the free, or if you wish, [72a] of the slave. And there are very many other virtues, so that there is no impasse to speaking about what virtue is. For according to each of the practices and stages of life there is a virtue for each work of each of us. And I suppose it’s like this, Socrates, for badness, too.

* Including “really” because of the force of “an . . . ge . . .” Or perhaps it should read, “how do I really know what sort of thing it is”?
** Chosen instead of the usual “I’m rather forgetful” or some such to bring out the continuing ambiguity of “entirely,” “at all,” etc. (cf. to parapon at 71b3 and 71b5). I.e., does Socrates not remember at all, or does he just not remember all of it?