On deep agreement

Here is Rene Girard in an interview with David Cayley describing his first discovery of the phenomenon of mimetic desire:

I went to Indiana University with a student visa. And I was doing a PhD in history because I was more of a historian than I was a — I was not at all a literary man — and I was teaching the French language at Indiana University and very quickly they gave me some literature to teach — novels: Balzac…Stendhal…Proust, you know — and much of the time I was just a few pages ahead of my students [laughs]. You know, I hadn’t read the books and I didn’t know what to say. And I decided that I should look — very deliberately — that I should look for what made these books alike rather than for what makes them different from each other, which is what literary criticism, even in those days, was after. You know, a book was a masterpiece only if it was absolutely one-of-a-kind, if you could find nothing in it that would be in another book, which is complete nonsense of course! So I became interested in human relations in the novel, you know — how the vanity in Stendhal, how close it is to the snobbery in Proust…

— From the CBC IDEAS radio show. Here’s a link to the whole series produced by David Cayley called “The Scapegoat.”

What I find interesting is Girard’s decision to look for similarities in novels, rather than differences, as a way of getting at something that would be lost if one fixated on differences. There is a common tendency, one to which Girard alludes, to treat the essence of a thing as that which makes it different from other things. In the history of ideas, we think we understand a thought best when we set it against another — Plato vs. Aristotle or Catholic vs. Protestant — when in fact, the similarities probably greatly outweigh the differences in such pairings.

(Aside: I stumbled across a book at the book store a few weeks ago called The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Herman. It is pretty much as bad as it sounds. I maintain that while there are many differences between Plato and Aristotle, in both style and emphasis, they are in basic agreement concerning what most matters to each. To take Mr. Herman’s approach is to mostly miss what can be discovered in exploring their deep kinship and thus to fail to understand either.)

Let’s entertain the hypothesis for a moment that when it comes to the truth of an idea, deep agreement with other ideas is more vital than open disagreement. Perhaps kinship and commonality are where the real power lurk within ideas. If so, there are two important things to be said:

  1. Such agreement makes communication possible. Diverse minds can only understand one another when they have access to a common reality. As Heraclitus writes “To be thoughtful is common to all.  (Fragment 113: Xynon esti pasi phronein.)  To take a hard perspectival (Protagorean) view and deny that we share a common mental reality is to deny communication at all — a self-contradictory sharing. And since the vehicle of communication is the medium of thought, i.e. the logos, we are attempting to meaningfully deny meaning, another performative contraction. Again we turn to Heraclitus and his concept of to xynon (“the common”): “The logos is common, most live as though they have a private wisdom.”
  2. But where there is agreement, no communication is really necessary. Therefore, what is deeply common usually doesn’t get expressed at all. Common understanding is tacitly assumed and therefore never becomes an object of open reflection or communication. What do get voiced are points of disagreement, which assume the common noetic reality, without ever really expressing it. We notice the points at which we disagree and fail to notice the more fundamental places where we are in unshakable agreement, just our vision is alert to things that move but become inured to what never does. Alfred Whitehead once remarked that “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” What is tacitly assumed, but not spoken of because too obvious, is perhaps more definitive of a society that whatever verbal formulations it may entertain concerning itself. The Platonic/Socratic challenge to adequately define virtue, in concert with all the failed attempts to do so, points toward tacit possession of what cannot be voiced.

All of this relates to my project of defective reading. If the common is usually not summoned in to speech, it underlies all our speaking such that we can recognize that something is wrong/missing in a verbal account without being able to give adequate voice to it.

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The Republic’s cast of characters and the Divided Line, Part II

This in the continuation of an earlier attempt to assign the major characters of the Republic places on the Divided Line:

DIANOIA
Thrasymachus (dianoia as skeptical apistia)Dianoia is the power of grasping the insufficiency of opinion as such. Opinion must be ultimately grounded in a higher order reality or it will wither under skeptical dianoia. Thrasymachus takes the cynical point of view that justice is an arbitrary invention of those in power. In doing so, he grasps the conventional/contingent/malleable nature of opinion as such, which is a defining feature of dianoia. Mapping him on the Cave Allegory, Thrasymachus sees that the puppets are not the realities the credulous masses believe them to be and wants to be a puppeteer. He even thinks Socrates’ “method” is exactly that, and consists of tricks to mold and generate self-serving beliefs in his interlocutors. (338d) Thrasymachus is faithless, i.e. suffers from apistia, and does not see the beliefs as defective images of some higher level reality. His dianoia is downward looking, a means of critiquing (others’) beliefs in order to undermine them and replace them with self-serving substitutes. Yet, his notion of “advantage” must be based on a criterion other than mere opinion in order to provide the infallibility his notion of justice seems to demand (341a). Advantage cannot itself be a product of arbitrary will, if will is to be well-guided by appeal to advantage.

Both Adeimantus (Dianoia trying to secure a better pistis) and Glaucon (Dianoia leading upward to noesis), brothers of Plato, accept that Thrasymachus’ cynical account of justice has some sort of force. They understand and raise questions about the contingent genesis of belief, even their own beliefs. But, unlike Thrasymachus, neither is willing to abandon their belief about justice. The two essentially beg Socrates to help them secure their belief on a securer basis against Thrasymachus’ threat. Both trust that justice must be more than an arbitrary product for the self-service of those in power. Their willingness to expose their own beliefs to testing is evidence of the dianoietic virtue in them. But there is an important difference between the two brothers. At one point in the dialogue while discoursing about The Good, Adeimantus essentially gives up looking up toward noesis and requests an adequate opinion from Socrates:

Adeimantus: But, Socrates, you must tell us whether you consider the good to be knowledge or pleasure or something else altogether.
Socrates: What a man! It’s been clear for some time that other people’s opinions about these matters won’t satisfy you.
Adeimantus: Well, Socrates, it doesn’t seem right to for you to be willing to state other people’s convictions and not your own, especially when you’ve spent so much time occupied with these matters.
Socrates: What? Do you think it’s right to talk about things one doesn’t know as if one does know them?
Adeimantus: Not as if one knows them…but one ought to be willing to state one’s opinions as such.
Socrates: What? Haven’t you noticed that opinions without knowledge are shameful and ugly things? The best of them are blind — or do you not think that those who express a true opinion without understanding are any different from blind people who happen to travel the right road?
Adeimantus: They’re no different. (Grube/Reeve, 506b-d — I have added the character names before each line.)

At this point Adeimantus drops out of active participation until Book VIII, while it is Glaucon who participates in the very heights of the dialogue: the Sun Allegory, the Divided Line and Cave Allegory. Adeimantus is ultimately downward-looking, using dianoia to hone and sharpen belief but never advancing beyond this honing. Glaucon, on the other hand, is upward-looking and never abandons the upward quest towards noetic truth.

Socrates (Noesis) — I am the least confident here, since Socrates continually refuses to own any claim to knowledge and knowledge is located at the noetic stage. But Socrates continually maintains noetic openness to his lack of other knowledge. He is never satisfied with mere opinion as such and never confuses opinion with knowledge. I think that Socrates, in denying any claim to knowledge is really denying any ability to adequately express his knowledge in a way understandable to others. Any logos of knowledge will be only a ready-to-hand opinion, however true. But I am unsure whether Socrates is just the highest stage of dianoia or a full participant in noesis. The Republic, after all, never advances beyond the dianoietic level. It’s claims are all hypothetical, defectively pointing toward realities that it is unable to express directly.

The Republic’s cast of characters and the Divided Line, Part I

This is a continuation of a series arguing for the importance of the Divided Line in understanding the Republic. In an earlier post, I gave some indication of the mapping of the Divided Line quarternity (eikasia, pistis, dianoia, noesis) onto features of the larger dialogue. One of those mappings was of the speaking characters in the dialogue, which can be expanded in the following manner:

EIKASIA
eikasia — Cephalus

 

PISTIS
pistis (right opinion) — Polemarchus
pistis (wrong opinion) — Cleitophon

 

DIANOIA
dianoia (downward-looking, undermining belief, cynical) — Thrasymachus,
dianoia (downward-looking, establishing belief) — Adeimantus
dianoia (upward looking toward noesis) — Glaucon

 

NOESIS
noesis — Socrates

 

Let me begin to point out the grounds of these homologies:

Cephalus (Eikasia) — The segment corresponding to eikasia on the Line is the region of images and shadows. Cephalus has been freed from the tyranny of desires (a type of shadow) but is afraid of the shadows of injustices that he may have committed in life:

[When] someone thinks his end is near, he becomes frightened and concerned about things he didn’t fear before. It’s then that the stories we’re told about Hades, about how people who’ve been unjust here must pay the penalty there — stories he used to make fun of — twist his soul this way and that for fear they’re true. (Grube/Reeve, 330d)

His fears take shape in the theater of his dreams:

If he finds many injustices in his life, he awakes from sleep in terror, as children do, and lives in anticipation of bad things to come. (Grube/Reeve, 330e – 331a)

His obsession is with overcoming injustice (which can only be a shadow of some unspoken working notion of justice) but he never gives voice to justice as such. Socrates tries to turn him toward some belief in justice, even puts words in his mouth, but Cephalus departs the scene without pursuing justice. In the Cave Allegory, Cephalus would be like one who is turned from the shadows toward the fire, but finds the light too confusing and dazzling and so turns back to his fears and dreams. His concern is thus fully for images, not the higher reality of which they are the images. He is aware that his fears are shadows of realities, but the realities he pursues are his prior acts of injustice toward which he attempt to make recompense to gods and offended persons.

 

Polemarchus and Cleitophon (Pistis)Pistis means dedication to, and defense of, belief. Polemarchus begins by defending his father and the traditional belief about justice that is implicit in his father’s fears. He is characterized as loyal and courageous. The traditional version is that justice is a matter of “giving back what is owed” (331e); that what is owed are “benefit to friends and harm to enemies” (332d); that “friends” are those who are actually just and “enemies” are those who are actually unjust (334d). But Polemarchus is converted by Socrates to a truer belief about justice: that justice is always a benefit, that “it is never just to harm anyone” (335e). (Note that this amounts to a true belief about justice and not a true belief of justice — there is a difference.) Polemarchus commits to defending this modified opinion of justice. He becomes a loyal ally (i.e. “auxiliary”) of Socrates, and he commits to serve as his “partner in battle” (335e) against any version of justice that has been shown by the argument to be defective. Polemarchus later in fact comes to Socrates’ aid against Thrasymachus and his follower Cleitophon at 340a-b. The brief appearance of Cleitophon as a “believer” in the teachings of Thrasymachus show that pistis is also capable of defending a false belief (that it is “just to obey the orders of the rulers” — even presumably orders that harm the ruled (340a)) to the one unfortunate enough to follow the wrong teacher. In the Cave Allegory, both Polemarchus and Cleitophon are like those who measure the various shadows of justice in accordance with the puppets that produce them i.e. belief in a trusted authority such as tradition, family or teacher. Belief, at this level, is the highest standard of measure. Courage, spirit, steadfastness and loyalty are the virtues of this stage; Polemarchus is the paradigm.

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

The Divided Line as “Protreptic Analogy”

This post is continuing a discussion of the Divided Line analogy. Earlier contributions were here and here.

The Greek word analogia divides into two roots: the prefix  ana, meaning “upward”, and logos, meaning “ratio”.  An analogia is the application of a ratio derived from something well-known in order to point toward some feature of a less known pair. A analogy has four terms and two ratios. The missing feature may be (1) a unexpected similarity of relation or a (2) undefined term. Let me explain them in turn:

(1) An example of analogy revealing a ratio is Wallace Stevens’ claim that “A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.” Put in analogy form, the analogy is

man:woman::poet:world

All four terms are known, but the surprising point seems to be in the equivalence of ratio, that the relation between poet and world should take the same form as the well known man-toward-woman relation. The analogy communicates Wallace Stevens’ experience of being a poet, which is otherwise invisible to untutored eyes. We can point to features of external experience, but must rely on ratio — which is invariant to perspective (*see below) — and analogy to communicate inner experience. The philosophical importance of analogy should be obvious, since philosophy wants to point out features that are subjective but non-arbitrary. The form of Stevens’ philosophical vocation is an inner-something to which he conforms (subjective) but which he lives into without being its creator (non-arbitrary.) This protreptic pointing can really only happen through analogy.

(*Let me give an example of the perspectival invariance of ratio. Imagine looking a person from a distance of 50′ and then again at 100′.  From the former perspective, the person will look taller and the latter shorter. Now imagine that the person is holding the same 12″ ruler in both cases. Although visually the two perspective differ in size, the ratio of length of ruler (e.g. 12″) to height of person (e.g. 72″) will be invariant in both cases. This is how measurement works, to allow the invariance made possible by ratio (logos).)

(2) Every analogy has four terms. If three are known and the ratios asserted to be equivalent, we can use an analogy to solve for the fourth term. The Divided Line is an analogy that guides the search for the fourth segment, e.g. noesis. The first two segments establish its guiding invariant ratio the difference between an image and that of which it is an image. We are then to apply this ratio to the third segment in order to find the fourth term. The Divided Line communicates a beginning point (the third segment, doxa-as-hypothesis) and a direction of search (an image calling forth its original, defined both by the first two segments and by the large division of the line as a whole) as a guide to understand noetic reality. It is protreptic, “forward-reaching”, since it frames an aspiration more than giving an answer. Noesis is what would be known if we are successful in following the guidance of the Divided Line analogy. The communication of noetic truth (immanent subjective criteria that are non-arbitrary) for someone who does not yet recognize it can happen no other way. Let me summarize my point with an analogy:

pointing : objects-in-the-world  : :  analogy : objects-of-inner-experience

The Divided Line is an invitation to look where Plato is pointing. It is less a conclusion than a task. It’s goal is the illumination of noetic experience for the willing seeker.

 

 

The Divided Line as organizational key to Plato’s Republic

In my last post, I gave a very compressed explanation of the four segments of the Divided Line Analogy. (Republic, 509d-511e) But the Divided Line can be best understood by using it as an overlay for different parts of the Republic — then the parts and whole of the dialogue are mutually illuminating. The Divided Line Analogy is the representative of the whole; it give the logos or ratio of the parts in relation both to each other and to the whole itself. ( It took me about a decade of reading and rereading to figure all this out.) Here is a schematic version of some of those overlays, each of which I hope to unpack in future posts:

 

THE CAVE ALLEGORY
First, we need to distinguish the three main levels, each with its own type of object:

1. bottom level — where the prisoners sit shackled. The only “objects” are the shadows and echoes.
2. middle level — the level of the puppets, puppeteers and fire. A partition divides this level in two: (a) a front side in which only puppets are seen; (b) a back side, where one can see the puppets, the puppeteers and the fire.
3. top level — the ground outside the cave opening. The objects of attention here are the animals-themselves, the plants-themselves, and the light of the sun.

Given those three levels, one of which is divided by a partition, we get the following four “stations”:

1. eikasia — (Level 1) — turning from the shadows on the cave wall;
2. pistis — (Level 2a) — seeing the puppets on the front side of the partition wall;
3. dianoia — (Level 2b) — seeing the puppets, puppeteers and illumining fire behind the partition wall;
4. noesis — (Level 3) — emerging from the cave.

 

THE GENESIS OF THE CITIES
The parts of the Divided Line map to the four gradations of city in Books 2 through 5. (These divisions come from Eric Voegelin’s Order and History, Volume III: Plato and Aristotle.)

eikasia — Primitive City (369b – 372c)
pistis — Luxurious City (372c – 375c)
dianoia — Purified City (376e – 448e)
noesis — Philosopher’s City (449a – 541b)

 

THE VIRTUES
eikasia — justice/dikaiosyne
pistis — courage/andreia
dianoia — moderation/sophrosyne
noesis — wisdom/sophia

 

THE TRIPARTITE PSYCHOLOGY (See Republic, 436a-b)
eikasia — desiring-part/epithymia
pistis — spirited-part/thumoeides
dianoia — calculating-part/logistikon
noesis — not included. Thus, Socrates calls the threefold scheme, “deficient.” (504b)

 

THE MAJOR CHARACTERS
eikasia — Cephalus
pistis — Polemarchus
dianoia — Thrasymachus, Adeimantus, Glaucon
noesis — Socrates

 

IGNORANCE – OPINION – KNOWLEDGE (See Republic, 477a – 478e)
eikasia — ignorance/agnoia/aporia
pistis — opinion/doxa (as belief)
dianoia — opinion/doxa (as hypothesis)
noesis — knowledge/episteme

 

FOUR “DRAFTS” OF THE REPUBLIC (discussed here)
eikasia — A first aporetic (i.e. unsatisfying) draft, i.e. Book I alone.
pistis — A second poretic (i.e. satisfying) draft comprised of Books I – IV and Books VIII – X
dianoia — The final written draft, i.e. the Republic as we have it.
noesis — The *real* final draft — the teaching of the Republic realized in the soul of its reader.