Philosophy in Dialogue (exchanges in philosophy from MSN Critical Theory Group)


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From: ver  (Original Message) Sent: 2/6/2003 1:32 AM

Plato’s Socrates in the Republic is at pains to rule out that the philosopher will go back to the cave from where he ascends to the world of ideas while making a case of a better option to descend to help the people inside the cave find enlightenment. The latter appeals to the moral function of philosophy . Yet, true to the aporetic form of Platonic dialogues, Socrates will not make his option intelligible and open to a more direct political engagement, as the moral option would suggest.This aporetic dilemna has contemporary amplifications. The position of intellectuals in modern society, as Foucault advocates, is now cast into the larger political situation in which the morality to speak in behalf of ‘others’ (the cave-dwellers in Plato’s assumption) finds lesser moral appeal. The attack on representationalism, as it extends from epistemology to the politics of struggle, has now made way for a politically precarious form of agonistic struggle that seeks to avoid both the ‘indecency of speaking for others’ (Deleuze) and the temptation of totalitarian virtues disguised by an emphatic pandering to the public taste. Plato’s Socrates would find this contemporary version of aporetic politics a beningn form of the philosopher’s hesitance to rule, which necessarily begins with arrogating the privilege to speak on others’ behalf. But the visibility of modern intellectuals in the public sphere, while advancing agonism as a radical way of expressing the labor of the negative (as against the positivistism of the progressive left, or marxist intellectual), does not totally approximate a Socratic aristocracy of private philosophy. The modern intellectual has become radically vulnerable to both the cooptation of State apparatuses and of the popular sentiments of the pliable public . Unlike the modern intellectual, Socrates is ironically invulnerable to bribes and the temptation of property,security and wealth.His death is a poetic defiance of the realism surrounding the position of an intellectual in society.The advent of the internet has shown more vulnerability. While the net provides better amplitude for public debate, the indirectness of exchange in terms of space-time traffic, has radicalized the anonynmity of the public vis-a-vis the privacy of the intellectual’s identity in Socrates’s time. Today, the intellectual has no identity beyond the net can reveal; the more the intellectual becomes visible in many forms of expressions and media, the lesser identity recedes into the background. The intellectual is becoming ‘public’. Socrates hesitated to rule;the modern intellectual,however, also hesitates to rule under the sanction of agonism. The intellectual’s opinion has replaced the philosopher who is under the burden of choice to rule or not to rule. Opinions,however, know no dualism between the Forms and the world we are caved in. The net has shattered the Platonic dualism of worlds. The still poignant weight disturbing the philosopher’s conscience is becoming unfortunately more powerless to affect change in proportion to its noble and positive intimations to reform.

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From: hawk Sent: 2/6/2003 11:04 AM

ver,    I like your apprach. I hate to say it, but you may have a goodly part of it baskwards. Or maybe I do.    It seems to me that the modern intellectial is no more subject to the constraints of his society than was Socrates to the constraints, on himself, by his society. [Didn’t the Greeks still keep slaves at that time?]  The modern intellectual who also wishes a nice ocean/lake/mountain view terrace with a Beamer out front and all that goes with it and that goes with what got it for you -both the “intellectualism” and the Beamer-  it may become a problem. He or she may well have to sell one or the other.  Socrates may have been unwilling to rule, He also couldn’t be bothered. Any more than a  modern philosopher  can be bothered, every day, all day, about money for this, threats from them, what color uniforms to issue to whoever…  And these are things which must be done, decisions which must be made and coordinated. All in all, a major nuisance for one of contemplative bent.  No, I can’t see many philosophers actually willing to rule, and none capable of doing that sort of job at all well. -Hawk

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From: ver Sent: 2/8/2003 3:19 AM

I fully agree with you that no philosopher is willing to rule much less capable of leading. Socrates’ silence on the breaking point between a consciousness of a refined mission to lead and an equally ironic hesitance to engage is a compelling argument that stains both the philosopher’s moral conscience and his capability. But I think this is not a decisive statement on Socrates. An equally profound dialogue, such as the Phaedrus, also suggests that the possibility of political engagement is not far-fetched. Socrates and Phaedrus discussed about madness outside the walls of the polis. This is very revealing: the topic of madness is more politically charged than the negotiated terms of disputation within the chambers of the political life of the city. Outside the walls of the city, politics is discussed in more vivid, uncompromising terms than the hypocritical civility of the polis would condone.Both discussants employed the language of poetry, more spontaneous and expressive of the spirit of real agonism than the profitable game of rhetorical victory and losses in the platform of the city. Rhetoricians in the polis had to be masters of disguise,their beings spliced between telling the truth and playing at speaking truth to power,between logic and game, etc. Socrates and Pheadrus were more politically expressive and the intimations of the possibility of political engagement is no less than a forceful undertone.
Modern intellectuals vis-a-vis the proverbial philosopher-rulers of Plato, have become more of critics themselves bearing rhetorical sovereignty over words they use, the informations they market, the ideas they leave to the public to consume. They become more effective by murking the distinction between an intellectual and the public;hence, the idea of a public intellectual. No doubt, most rhetoricians in the time of Plato frequently invoked a divine intervention to settle disputes and disagreements over interpretations. Today the market is saved by invoking the proverbial invisible hand. But Plato did not invoke intervention from above. If it is to be an intervention, it is neither theological nor mystical. Rather an intervention by humans. The plan of the Republic reveals that the corruption of the soul and the city could only be cured through an initiative and a real agonistic quest to place truth to its proper location, in a place where power does not conceal its motive for truth.


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