Ignorance and Pedagogy

This post is something of a coda to my previous slow reading assignment of Book 2 of the Republic. There, two young brothers of Plato, Glaucon and Adeimantus, revisit the Thrasymachus argument that a just life is worse than an unjust one, despite (i) having just witnessed Thrasymachus “losing” the argument to Socrates, and (ii) expressing the firm belief that the just life is better. They do not waver in the belief and yet are willing and ready to put that belief at peril by making Thrasymachus’ argument even stronger. Belief as such always includes a residuum of doubt, and the brothers voice this doubt as a way of encouraging further thinking with Socrates’ help. Socrates is amazed at his students. (So am I when the same thing happens to me among my own.) This has encouraged me to think again about belief and thinking. I hope this isn’t too repetitive, but here goes:

Slow Reading Project: Republic, Book 2

Let’s go at it again, even slower this time — my plan is about two posts a week (Thursdays and Mondays, perhaps) until we reach a natural stopping point. For those who are new to this and want to know about slow reading, go here. For those who are new and/or want to review our previous slow reading of Book 1, start here. Let me review briefly the rules:

A. Let’s stay focused on just this part of the larger dialogue. Please, those of you who have read the entire dialogue, don’t make connections to anything beyond our current reading for now — although earlier texts are fair game. For now, let’s try to consider only the dialogue up to the end of today’s passage.

B. Read slowly. Try to incorporate every detail into your experience of the text. Aesthetize: try to see, hear and smell what is going on. Sympathize: try to understand the motives of the characters

C. Please comment in order to contribute. Make sure that you check the comments later on, since that is where the life of this Slow Reading will be conducted. Feel free to comment in response to other commenters as we go along. Don’t just think you are talking to me. You should know that I am actually out of the country — this post is being posted automatically according to a schedule — so I may not be able to respond quickly to your comments. I encourage other posters to step in in my absence.

I will give a few notes and observations to help you with your reading. They are not interpretations exactly, just pointers, notes, provocations and hints. Feel free to totally disregard them! In several places, I include questions. You don’t have to answer those either. I have no fixed answer in mind myself — questions just arise for me as I read slowly — as they should for you. Now on the the reading: (more…)

What I’m Reading

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my attention seems to flit from thing to thing, so that it is not uncommon for me to be reading up to a dozen books at a time — not simultaneously obviously, but from one chapter of one book to a another chapter of another and so on. My chief virtue is not perseverance of attention, but perseverance at returning to what I have left behind. I am pretty tenacious when it comes to that. That said, here are the books I am working on and why: (more…)

Plato’s Critique of Writing in the Phaedrus

Plato seems to have been convinced that writing could never be a sufficient vehicle for communicating knowledge directly. Writing can only convey doxa/opinion, never the truth of the matter. This is one of the reasons that Plato requires a defective reading, since a text must testify to its defects in order to be true about its own falseness. What follows is a long quote from the Phaedrus dialogue on this theme: (more…)

The Triune Person

I hope you have been doing some reflecting on my post The Triune Self. What is at issue is that there seem to be some basic truths about ourselves that divide into three types correspondent to three independent propositions:

I am like everyone else.
I am like no one else.
I am like some people and unlike others.

All of these are true about a human person, or so it seems to me, and the trick is to figure out how each of those are true about anyone in particular (you, for instance.) I also think we should guard against any conception of ourselves that loses the scent of any one of these truths about personhood. (Note that I am now using the word “person” to capture some of this manifold richness that I fear is lost when we talk about “self” or “soul” or “individual.”)

I want to highlight some peculiarities of #2, this sense of being individually distinct from others. Here are a few: (more…)

George Eliot quote that relates to doxa/opinion

“An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person…”  George Eliot, Middlemarch, Chapter XXVII

Replace the word “egoism” with “opinion”  and the quote can stand unchanged.

The Triune Self

Consider, if you will, three statements and ask yourself which is true of you;

(1) I am like everyone else.

(2) I am like no one else.

(3) I am like some people and unlike others.

Notice that in logical form, these propositions seem to be exclusive of one another. So which of them is true of you? In what way? What are the consequences of emphasizing any one of these at the exclusion of others?

I will pick up the discussion tomorrow (hopefully) in a follow up post, but I am hoping you will think through these three propositions and reflect how they each apply to you. Please show your work…


Symposium Question: What is the value of like-mindedness?

Time for another symposium question. Allow me to set this one up a little bit, with a kind of point/counterpoint:

1. It would seem that like-mindedness is quite valuable, since every sincere argument has as its goal agreement, and agreement is a form of like-mindedness. Also, a community that doesn’t agree about anything essential is really no community at all — and, since community is valuable, like-mindedness must also be. Even “agreeing to disagree” requires agreement, and such an agreement is a way to end a potentially hostile dispute. We know even at the individual level that to be of two minds about a subject is “disagreeable” and so we take strong steps to overcome such a situation. So like-mindedness is an obvious good, maybe one of the best of goods.

2. It would seem that like-mindedness is a real problem in human societies. For even if we grant that agreement about what is good is itself a good, much/most agreement is about something that is not necessarily good. Another problem is that like-mindedness is often achieved by silencing the voices of dissent through a process of exclusion. Plus, Rene Girard has shown that like-mindedness concerning the desirability of common objects leads to potentially violent antagonism or aggressive competition for that object. Finally, like-mindedness removes the diversity of opinion that makes thinking something new possible. So it is obvious that like-mindedness is, on the whole, of negative value.

Do you agree that this issue is important, both psychologically, intellectually and politically? So how would you respond to either or both of these points of view? Please respond in the comments section below.

“Metaphysical Desire in Girard and Plato”

That’s the title of a paper that I presented at the 2010 Colloquium on Violence and Religion at Notre Dame — a version of which was published in the journal Comparative and Continental Philosophy (Volume 2.2, 2010). Here is a link to the Notre Dame version, which I introduce in lieu of a substantive post: Metaphysical Desire in Girard and Plato.

I mention it so that I can segue from a detour into Peirce & Girard back to my (still Girardian) reading of Plato. Now that I have discussed the importance of mimetically-mediated shared attention in human meaning-making through a discussion of Peirce and Girard, I would like to now emphasize its importance in Plato through this paper, particularly the way philia/friendship works to shape such attention. I also want to gesture toward a way out of the violent foundations upon which most of human meaning-making is unfortunately and unintentionally based.

The issue of “positive mimesis” is a controversial one in Girardian circles. On the one hand, the pessimist/realist camp of Girardians tend to dismiss most talk of positive mimesis as forms of  mythological disguise manifesting a Pelagian avoidance of the hard truths of mimetic desire and scapegoating (and it can tilt that way in practice); on the other hand, the optimist/romantic camp observes correctly that Girard himself accepted that mimesis is not all bad, that there are (and must be) positive forms of it, as in the Imitatio Christi. I admit to a sympathy for both points of view and in developing my own (dialectical?) version of positive mimesis, I pray that I don’t overlook the true insights of the “realist” side, a side to which I belong by disposition (I am a Calvinist after all.) I guess my claim would be that while our cosmology/anthropology should be realist, our eschatology/ecclesiology had better not accept current reality as fated necessity. Human beings must live in a “tension of existence” between these two poles of realist acceptance and eschatological aspiration — see Soren Kierkegaard and Eric Voegelin as champions of this point of view.

Peirce and Girard and the semiotics of desire

There is a big ice storm in Georgia (where I am) and the power is out — so writing anything substantive is fairly difficult. So I can only hint for now at one of the themes of my projected paper, “Mimesis and the Mediation of Meaning,” beginning with a comparison of the central ideas of Rene Girard and Charles Sanders Peirce that I find so enticing.

Here is Rene Girard on mimetic desire: (more…)