Thursday, 28 January 2010

Elaboration on last post

There's a button to press, so let's push it. It's late at night, and I'm wired in more ways than one.

I read the Republic because it is a famous book, famous for being famous, but what else? All books of that age have a mystique and may contain reflexes of the ancient and forgotten. Not that I ever expect to get to the bottom of things, or that I even care if I can scrape out all the information I can about our earliest history. Nothing ever changes, nothing is ever lost. Blah blah blah.

An extended metaphor between the man and the state is what we find. Which is the most important, and truest inner meaning of this work, is up to you.

Argumentation involves an arrangement of natural language statements, denoting mental constructs that constitute fragments of a conceptualization of reality. We hope them to be consistent and logical. We hope to have a firm foundation for our views, and to operate within this system as much as possible. Of course, Plato didn't do this. His arguments are mostly flawed analogies, or circular or missing definitions. But herein, I wish to present a certain view of the argument of the Republic. To make it fit my own philosophical biases, I may add beliefs missing in the original. (One could also argue, if my beliefs are true, they are obvious and implicit, just as all true things are. Maybe Plato was weaving a fine paedagogical fabric that wasn't meant to be understood by the stupid, lazy, and those who can't see through multiple layers of interpretation. I doubt it.)

"The Good." What is it? It involves harmony. It involves pleasure, and to be broader, happiness. Taking these as axiomatic, a good person is one whose individual parts work in harmony. Plato distinguished the following as constituents of a man: intellect, passion, appetite. Moreover, man is a metaphor for society. It has constituents - groups of individuals with varying characteristics - and we take it as axiomatic to be Good for these to work in harmony, and for the happiness of all.

The most interesting bit of the Republic for me is when the author goes on to describe the different kinds of society and the kinds of people these correspond to, and how one changes into another. The analogy doesn't seem to work at times, but it is good food for thought. The principle I take from it, and what the argument seems to be becoming, is that each stage of society is one where certain of the aforementioned constituents are the most influential, both in the state and in the individual.

* Aristocracy, philosophers/clergy, the intellect
* Timocracy, the military, the passion
* Oligarchy, the merchants
* Democracy, the mob, the appetite
* Tyranny, rule by a man ruled by an appetite

Now there are clear similarities here with the caste system of Hinduism. This is what I meant by ancient reflexes.

Plato suggested that the leaders tell a story that the ruling class was formed from the precious metals of gold and silver and that it was wrong to mix them with the lower metals that the lower classes were made from. In Hindu mythology, the different castes came from different parts of the primeval giant, such as the Brahmins from the mouth, the Kshatriyas from his arms, and so on.

Now in the second chapter of the book Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a giant statue, and his different body parts are made from different metals. It transpires that different empires are supposed to correspond to the different parts of his body, and the metals they are made from. This is a bit like the different stages of society described by Plato. It's also like the Ages of Man and the Yugas, of Hindu and Greek mythology respectively, where there was a Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Does the account in Daniel have origins in related stories? Maybe they got picked up by the Hebrews during the Babylonish Captivity.

I can't find any similar suggestions or discussion of this point, although there probably is one in some book somewhere (probably written in the 19th Century, out of print, and written in German). Anyway, if you know leave a comment!

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