Mencken and Socrates and St. Paul on Political Doxa

Mencken on American voters:They like phrases which thunder like salvos of artillery.  Let that thunder sound, and they take all the rest on trust.  If a sentence begins furiously and then peters out into fatuity, they are still satisfied.  If a phrase has a punch in it, they do not ask that it also have a meaning.  If a word slides off the tongue like a ship going down the ways, they are content and applaud it and await the next.” – From page 43 of the 1996 Johns Hopkins University Press edition of H.L. Mencken’s 1956 collection, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (more…)

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Avoid News

News is the paradigm case of doxa. Obviously, one must approach it critically and carefully, dianoietically if at all. In a hyper-saturated media environment, we need to cultivate ascetic forms of response. I came across the following essay by Rolf Dobelli, entitled “Avoid news” that I think is quite thought provoking.

Incidentally, I am a fan of Dobelli’s book, The Art of Thinking Clearly.

Felt Absence and the Quest for Virtue

In Book II of the Republic, Socrates lays out a strategy for determining the meaning of dikaiosyne, a word translated almost universally in Plato translations as “justice,” and just as universally in New Testament translations as “righteousness”. His strategy is peculiar to say the least: let’s make the soul large to our view by creating a city in speech; let’s look for the three (other) virtues of wisdom, courage and moderation; whatever virtue is left over must be justice. How can we take this method of discovery seriously? Questions abound: (more…)

Provisional Aims of My Book Project

I intend to write a book about Plato’s Republic, particularly about his notion of doxa (opinion/seeming) as it relates to the quest for wisdom. My working title is “A Defective Reading of Plato’s Republic.” A truncated list of the theses I intend to defend in my book and to begin airing out in my blog:

1) That knowledge is something above (not reproducible to) doxa and yet the communication of knowledge must be mediated by opinion/doxa.
2) That opinion/doxa is defective in relation to knowledge and its defect must become focal in order to ascend to knowledge.
3) That desire/eros requires an awareness of defect joined to an anticipation of satisfying what is missing, what I am calling “felt absence.”
4) That the question arising from the defect in opinion/doxa, that shapes a search, is properly erotic.
5) That the Divided Line is the interpretive key to the Republic and that its function is to establish a form of erotic exhortation/protrepsis to overcome the intentional defects of the dialogue.
6) That the constructions of the “city in speech” in the Republic is a concrete illustration of the groping toward Form schematized in the Divide Line
7) That the Platonic educational program is one devoted to the liturgical shaping of philosophical desire.
8) That dialogic irony is a rhetorical form that attempts to avoid the premature satisfaction of scandalized belief.
9) That the conversion/periagoge which constitutes the end of education cannot be reduced to doxa.
10) That forms are heuristic anticipations of the overcoming of doxic defect produced by nonrivalrous forms of mediation.
11) That friendship/philia  is an essential component of true philosophical praxis.
12) That the Republic is intentionally defective and its true teaching is not given in the dialogue itself.

I realize that these theses are too truncated and thus incapable in themselves of communicating my interpretation of Plato’s thought. (This incapacity of direct speech to communicate vital truth is something that I believe Kierkegaard learned from Plato.) But one can point, direct attention and provoke thought in a particular direction. One of the ironies of my book is the attempt to say directly what cannot really be said directly. Wallace Stephens wrote that “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” I am worried that my book will be all too successful in this resistance!