The structure of Plato’s Republic

I think the structure of the Republic is vitally important to understanding its meaning. Every dialogue, and especially this one, is an organized whole, and none of the parts will be fully understood if the nature of the whole is overlooked. Perhaps a first clue towards discovering this structure is in the obvious point that the dialogue is a drama, a type of play. If I were to divide Plato’s Republic into five acts as in a play, I would carve it this way: (more…)

Two types of problems

In E. F. Schumacher’s book, A Guide for the Perplexed (a short book that I often recommend to people who want to dip into philosophy for the first time), there is a final chapter called “Two Types of Problems.”  In it, Schumacher contrasts what he calls “convergent problems” from “divergent problems.” I am convinced of the vital importance of the distinction for the governance of our lives and politics, so let me give you a thumbnail version: (more…)

My discovery of the mystery of being

I want to share three experiences from my early childhood that planted in my soul the questions which still motivate me.  These are not academic questions to me at all, but living, concrete, personal provocations for living and thinking. I hope that, by this detour into autobiography (somewhat embarrassing to me), my peculiar questions (and my peculiar way of answering them) will acquire some context for you.

First memory. My father was serving in the U.S. Navy when I was born and so I spent my early years moving (more…)

The Dialogue as Icon

By far the greatest impediment and aberration of the human understanding arises from [the fact that] . . . those things which strike the sense outweigh things which, although they may be more important, do not strike it directly. Hence, contemplation usually ceases with seeing, so much so that little or no attention is paid to things invisible.” — Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Aphorism 50.

What characterizes the material idol is precisely that the artist can consign to it the subjugating brilliance of a (more…)

What grounds opinion?

The short answer is that nothing grounds an opinion. If it were grounded, it would constitute knowledge and would no longer be opinion. OK, what settles opinion then? Obviously, there are many opinions and to hold a particular opinion is to settle on one rather than moving on to another. To answer this question, I will rely on the schema of the tripartite soul in Book IV of the Republic. The tripartite psychology articulated there results from Socrates pointing out that the soul is often in conflict with itself, which he takes as evidence that the soul has parts. The city/soul analogy leads (more…)

A few tweaks to the site…

I have made some changes to the site that are worth mentioning briefly:

1. I changed the subtitle to make it more descriptive of what the site is about.

2. I rewrote the “About” page a little.

3. I added a page “What is Defective Reading?” — a first draft of a first part of a preface to my Plato book. Note that this is different from my previous post on defective reading.

The Relation between Knowledge and Understanding

Knowledge and Understanding are intimately related, and yet different, operations. In my post on The Phenomenon of Questioning, I made the claim that “Knowledge is parasitic on understanding — we can’t really know what is not meaningful to us…One may certainly have another type of relationship to someone/something that isn’t understood, but that relationship is not knower-to-known.” As a follow up, I want to explore a bit the differences and relationship between knowledge and understanding. I will be relying on some of the insights from my (more…)