Tagged: Socrates

Maxims on Modern Democracy

A citizenry proves itself untrustworthy with power, even essentially unworthy of self-government, to the extent that they are collectively sanguine, let alone enthusiastic, about the kind of people they are invariably asked to vote for. To be successful at the highest levels of democratic politics is to expose oneself as the kind of character who overvalues short-term gain, who is always prepared to...

Limits Imposed and Removed

Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorite modern writers, published two distinct but similar poems called “Limits,” dealing with roughly the same philosophical theme, namely the gradual narrowing of our remaining experience as we grow older. I wish to discuss the shorter of the two poems, which, although less well-known, is the one I prefer. I begin with Borges’ work itself, which I...

On Teaching Abnormal Souls

Throughout my teaching life, I have naturally had many opportunities to counsel students who were looking for some guidance on personal matters — typically, given my philosophic character, matters of a “big picture” nature, rather than passing practical concerns. The most interesting and enriching of such opportunities, from my perspective, are usually those in which the student’s problems are more fundamentally spiritual, his...

“Injustice” vs. Responsibility

After being convicted and condemned to death by a jury of hundreds of his fellow Athenians, Socrates, awaiting execution, was offered a chance to escape from prison and live in exile. He rejected the plan, primarily on the grounds that by choosing to live in Athens his whole life, to marry and raise his children there, and to practice his preferred way of...

Humans Cannot Fly

Socratic Mathematics

Humans cannot fly,
Unless they learn to grow wings —
Ten thousand years on.

This is the profoundest implication of the expression, “Patience is a virtue.” Can you wait, diligently preparing yourself, for one hundred centuries?

On Suicide

No one commits suicide due to a moment’s transitory suffering. Suicide is by definition a last resort, which means that one turns to it only when other “resorts” have proved unsuccessful, i.e., when one feels that time and circumstance have provided no other solution to one’s suffering. The suicidal person, then, is responding to the accumulated despair of past suffering, or the accumulated...

Freud vs. Plato on Eros

In my recent piece, “On Freud,” I said of the “father of modern psychology”: He saw his theory as a more scientific version of Plato’s tripartite soul. He was in fact Plato for auto-mechanics. And for all his titillating and supposedly shocking nonsense about sex, he was oblivious to Eros, which is the specifically human manifestation of sexuality, and the key to mankind’s...

On Being Outside

I officially swore off wasting any more mental energy on Donald Trump’s reality TV presidency this week, and determined, as I do when I feel overly mired in the transient insanities of our moment of civilizational disintegration, to turn to the eternal. I shall, however, cheat a little on my promise — but only to the degree necessary to demonstrate a philosophical point!...

Nietzsche, Youth, and Hubris

From Twilight of the Idols: To live alone one must be an animal or a god — says Aristotle. There is yet a third case: one must be both — a philosopher. (R.J. Hollingdale translation, 1968.)  True — but why does Nietzsche assume that Aristotle had not thought of that? My suggestion: the hubris of exceptional youth. Nietzsche completed Twilight of the Idols...

Plato: Mythologist or Philosopher?

Apropos of a discussion of Plato’s intentions in his depiction of Socrates, and specifically the notable ways that Plato’s Socrates differs both from Xenophon’s contemporaneous depiction and from the historical figure later Socratic philosophers, such as the Stoics, had in mind, a friend who views Plato with some skepticism confronted me with this provocative question: Is Plato a philosopher or an artist? Is...