Thursday, September 8, 2016

William Myrl; Letters to No One (67) - Kneading Plato part III

Dear No One,

Phaedo is the dialogue that covers the death of Socrates, his last words with friends, nattering away until they reach the hour appointed for him to drink poison. His closeness to death makes the afterlife an excellent topic for their discussion.

According to Socrates, the philosopher must always be in pursuit of death and dying, because he abstains from worldly things, and seeks the pure essence of concepts and truth. Physical pleasures are to be despised, because to have pure knowledge of anything we must have quit of the body. There are echoes of eastern philosophies in Plato's writings, and I wonder how familiar he was with them, and whether they were plagiarized.

If the body and the world are corrupt, and there is such a thing as a soul, then why not commit suicide? Socrates has an answer for this (he has an answer for everything), and it is that we are the property of the gods, and therefore have no right to self destruct. This is a very strange position for him to take, given his own proximity to suicide, but like all of Socrates other hypocrisies, this issue not addressed. In the dialogues, nothing Socrates says is ever criticized in earnest, because he is the mouthpiece of the author, and the author is the only person in the room.

How do we know that there is such a thing as a soul, and that it persists after death? That is solved quite handily with the baseless asseveration that opposites always create each other, and that as death is the opposite of life, death must create life, and visa versa. So there must be a soul that exists before the body- I honestly don't know how that connection is made. Someone asked me whether I wasn't enjoying Plato because it was difficult to understand. Let us be clear, Plato's dialogues are not difficult to understand. In order for it to be difficult to understand a thing it must be at least possible to understand it. Unalloyed nonsense is not difficult to understand, it is just nonsense.

The soul is immortal because it is invisible, and all of the invisible realm is immortal. The soul is a harmony, and a harmony can allow no disharmony within itself. The soul is immortal, and immortality cannot suffer death, therefore the soul can never die. He goes on and on, this Socrates, before he finally kills himself with hemlock (because the opinions of the many don't matter, unless they sentence you to death, in which case they become the law, and you cannot break the law without destroying society and being hated by all men who love good, which makes suicide okay).

Plato's arguments tend to revolve around the realm of pure concepts, where words and ideas have an unchanging existence outside of and above the petty material world. He defines a word, like good or immortal, in a given way, and then says that we must behave in accordance with these words, reality must adhere to these words and to their perfect natures, or else we are not lovers of knowledge and true philosophers. 

Mystical claptrap is as old as mankind, and he is quite accomplished in the field of pretending to be wise. The more that I read, the more bored I become, and the more confounded. How can a literate person be exposed to Plato, read his whole body of work even, and conclude that it is something worth doing, that it is something worth recommending to others? His characters debate back and forth, bandying jabberwocks, like the emperor's attendants discussing the fineness and variety of his invisible (and therefore immortal) panoply. 

I'm not trying to be mean, I don't think Socrates and his creator are valuable or interesting enough to attack. They are ancient peoples, plagued with all the ignorance of the ancients, and they serve well as intellectual curiosities. Why do we hold them up as anything more than that? What kind of mental gymnastics must we undertake to read this collection of weird assertions and perceive them as profound?


William Myrl 
Letters to No One

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