Wily Socrates # 3

Continuing Conversations…. First a couple of quick announcements and then we’ll get back to reading Plato’s Ion below.

Folks, we’ve have some great conversations going on! (I’d better add a Page called Red-Hot Comment Threads, just to keep you up to date on the conversations that’re happening here, which can’t be seen from the front page.)

Also, over at 3 Quarks Daily, I noticed two very important thought pieces I’d like to recommend quickly, before returning to Plato’s Ion. First, there’s a piece on the “Progressive Muslim” movement, showing some affinities to the thinking of those postmodern Christian theologians we discussed back in my Kevin Hart post, about whom some of us are interested. I’m particularly struck by the way these Islamic believers are combining a “conservative” or “traditionalist” (for lack of better terms?) approach that is pushing back against mere (theological) liberalism, along with, at the same time, an urgent cry for social justice and putting that into practice. (This has affinities, fo course, to what is going on within Evangelicalism.)

The other piece I’d like to recommend is on “evo-devo,” a newer field of scientific research into “evolutionary development.” They’re finding that it doesn’t take endless eons of random mutations to produce evolutionary advances, because certain proteins can turn on and over-produce and speed things way up. It even deals with Darwin’s finches as an example. Talk about historical synchronicities….

Now, back to the on-going “Wily Socrates” posts! My idea here was to use Plato to introduce for our consideration some fresh vocabulary terms, that we might be able to use for talking about disciplines as diverse as physics and poststructuralism. (So far I’ve introduced the terms “formal ike” and the “formal-kind-of-thing,” and “rhetor-ike” and “poiet-ike”….

We’re working on this website towards a set of descriptive terms that are less contentious and less loaded than some of the terms already in use, such as “truth,” in the sense of “universal” or “absolute” truth, and “objective truth” as implicitly opposed to non-objective (i.e. subjective) untruth, all of which are terms that have heavy, heavy histories since the Enlightenment and have been subjected to a good deal of criticism and contention in the 20th century…. We want to have a vocabulary permitting us to accredit the genuine (and enviable) strengths of science, its experimental verification procedures, its mathematical elegance and precision, and its drive toward ever-increasing comprehensiveness, while still allowing for the substantial rigor of non-scientific fields whose subject-matters are not amenable to the same approaches.

Remember, by the way, that my own first field is 17th century studies, and so I have been immersed for many years in the historical texts in which the new ideas of the Enlightenment emerged, in support of the rise of science, and, to my enormous regret, these “worldview” attitudes and assumptions are not so neatly separated from the simple doing of science itself, even though I want to agree with what Rick, for example, so thoughtfully argues. (You could take a look at Caroline Merchant’s collection of 17th-century texts dealing with the new methodology in The Death of Nature, for instance.)

But when I am trying to characterize some historical and cultural outlooks associated with science, it seems that our scientists who are explaining quantum mechanics (QM) on this site (under Session One, Part # 4) are feeling that humanists and theorists such as myself do not always understand the “continuity” of Newtonian science with later science, or science’s beautiful neutrality and honesty and openness to revision (qualities I take to be fundamental to any way of knowing that claims to be in the liberal arts tradition).

In fact, I think we have established so far that for science, as a liberal art, “objectivity” and “comprehensiveness” are fundamental characteristics that are precisely defined in science. (We need precise distinctive features for each of the disciplines, along with some fresh general terms for what they all have in common…)

Personally, I might prefer to call scientific “objectivity” something more like “experimental verification,” because the heavily laden Cartesian term “objective” too quickly calls up “subjective” as its binary opposite and its only alternative. (But I can live with it if I have to….) Every discipline, after all, has testing and verification procedures, and to that extent could be called objective. (But we don’t use the word that way. Only the evidence adduced in the sciences is usually labeled “objective,” unless I am greatly mistaken.)

Unfortunately, the formal-kinds-of-things that many disciplines must deal with aren’t always susceptible to the repeatable lab experiment as their basic verification procedure. Whenever possible, it seems to me, such will be sought as a correlative or as a secondary support. (Poststructuralist language theory, for instance, can guide the setting up of some scientific studies and be confirmed by them, as can Chomskian language theory. The experiments however cannot at this point verify one or the other approach, or the precise combination of them we should adopt, and in complex ways the theories overlap and yet remain incommensurate. This is going to take a lot of work!)

In Plato’s Ion, as we’ve seen, Socrates takes to task the first Western literary critic and theorist (the rhapsode Ion of Ephesus) for not understanding the basic formal requirements necessary for any “-ike” (pronounced “EE-kay”). Perhaps this term “ike” is too awkward for us to adopt, but techne isn’t much better, because “technical standards” or “technical competence” today does not convey the pure formal brilliance of Plato’s more incisive terminology. Since techne is translated “art” (though it includes the sciences too, as in “the liberal arts”) perhaps I should use the term “artistic standards” and “artistic competence.” Or simply “formal standards” and “formal competence”?

In the next section of the dialogue, we will see Socrates introduce the first two formal (or artistic) features that will be observable in any genuine liberal art, with a view to distinguishing the genuine art or science from mere sham and pretence.

Also in this next section of the dialogue, we will see that Socrates appears to have a very low opinion of Ion’s “artistic” or “technica”l or “formal” competence. Before long, Socrates will be questioning whether poetics (poietike) is an –ike at all. But in the meantime, we will learn that if any way of knowing is to be an ike, then it must have “formal comprehensiveness” and “formal standards of evaluation,” just like every other ike. Also, we’ll see that Socrates uses arithmetic as one of his examples! I hope you enjoy the delicious humor of this little dialogue’s repartee.

Socrates …For the rhapsode ought to interpret the mind of the poet to his hearers, but how can he interpret him well unless he knows what he means? All this is much to be envied, I repeat.

Ion Very true, Socrates; interpretation has certainly been the most laborious part of my techne: and I believe myself able to speak about Homer better than any man; and that neither Metrodorus or Lampsacus, nor Stesimbrotus of Thasos, nor Glaucon, nor anyone else who ever was, had as good ideas about Homer as I have, or as many.

Socrates I am glad to hear you say so, Ion; I see that you will not refuse to acquaint me with them.

Ion Certainly, Socrates; and you really ought to hear how exquisitely I display the beauties of Homer. I think that the Homeridae should give me a golden crown.

Socrates I shall take an opportunity of hearing your embellishments of Homer at some other time. But just now I should like to ask you a question. Does your art extend to Hesiod and Archilochus, or to Homer only?

Ion To Homer only; he is in himself quite enough.

Oh, that innocent-seeming, yet lethal little “Socratic question”! The sound you just heard was the sound of a steel trap, springing shut upon the clueless Ion of Ephesus! (Okay, an iron-age trap.)

Socrates Are there any things about which Homer and Hesiod agree?

Ion Yes; in my opinion there are a good many.

Socrates And can you interpret what Homer says about these matters better than what Hesiod says?

Ion I can interpret them equally well, Socrates, when they agree.

Socrates But what about matters in which they do not agree? For example, about divination of which both Homer and Hesiod have something to say –

Ion Very true.

Socrates Would you or a good prophet be a better interpreter of what these two poets say about say about divination, not only when they agree, but when they disagree.

Ion A prophet.

Socrates And if you were a prophet, and could interpret them where they agree, would you not know how to interpret them where they disagree?

Ion Clearly.

Socrates But how do you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about Hesiod or the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his great argument? And does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world below, and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer sings? [Here’s a place where we get an idea of what the rhapsodes said about Homer to their audiences, but it is Socrates who supplies it, sounding very much the literary critic, himself! –jlb]

Ion Very true, Socrates.

Socrates And do not the other poets sing of the same?

Ion Yes, Socrates; but not in the same way as Homer.

Socrates What, in a worse way?

Ion Yes, in a far worse.

Socrates And Homer in a better way? [Notice it is Socrates who introduces the subject of standards of evaluation, and Ion merely echoes him. Ion is very good at learning the words by rote! But can he use the formal standards and put them into action? -jlb]

Ion He is incomparably better.

Socrates And yet surely, my dear friend Ion, where many people are discussing numbers, and one speaks better than the rest, there is somebody who can judge which of them is the good speaker?

Ion Yes.

Socrates And he who judges of the good will be the same as he who judges of the bad speakers?

Ion The same.

Socrates One who knows the science of arithmetic? [Lit. The one who possesses the “techne arithmet-ike”?]

Ion Yes.

Socrates Or again, if many persons are discussing the wholesomeness of food, and one speaks better than the rest, will he who recognizes the better speaker be a different person from him who recognizes the worse, or the same?

Ion Clearly the same.

Socrates And who is he, and what is his name?

Ion The physician.

I’ll break off the passage here, and let you ponder the perennially puzzling teaching device of Socratic questioning for awhile…. And the formal features Socrates is beginning to bring into view here as being necessary for any ike…. Questions and comments?

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16 Responses to “Wily Socrates # 3”

  1. Janet Says:

    Check out Rick’s clarifications and my responses on rhetorike and poietike under “Wily Socrates # 2.”

  2. Rick Says:

    OK teacher. I have a rought draft of my assignment. Sorry about the length.

    Socrates: … Does your art extend to Hesiod and Archilochus, or to Homer only?

    Ion: To Homer only; he is in himself quite enough.

    Two things to note here.

    The first is Ion’s claim: He claims to be an expert (to adopt a more modern word,

    which here means “his art only extends as far as”) on Homer, and Homer alone. He is

    not claiming to be an expert on all poets, on any other poet, or on some general

    “theory of being a rhapsode”.

    The second is the ambiguity of “your art”. This can mean the broad “art of being a

    rhapsode”, or the narrower “my individual particular application of the art of being a

    rhapsode to the poerty of Homer”. Ion answer shows he means the second.

    Socrates: Are there any things about which Homer and Hesiod agree?

    Ion: Yes; in my opinion there are a good many.

    Socrates: And can you interpret what Homer says about these matters better than

    what Hesiod says?

    Ion: I can interpret them equally well, Socrates, when they agree.

    On first impression, this answer is simply wrong. To interpret a poet, to “understand

    his thoughts”, requires that one be aquanted with those thoughts, and the expression

    of those thoughts. Here we have already seen that Ion is claiming to be an expert only

    on Homer. He cannot “interpret” Hesiod “equally well” for he does not have the

    knowledge of, of the expertise in, the poetry of Hesiod that he has in the works of

    Homer.

    So we must ask, what does he here mean? It must be something along the line of “what I

    say about Homer’s works would be equally applicable to the works of Hesiod”. This is a

    much weaker meaning of the word “interpret”; it is more or less of a claims that, in

    Ion’s opinion, where is sufficient overlap between what what Homer says and what

    Hesiond says that a rhapsode working with Hesiod could say many of the same things

    that he, as a rhapsode of Homer, can say.

    Socrates: But what about matters in which they do not agree? For example, about

    divination of which both Homer and Hesiod have something to say –

    Socrates: And if you were a prophet, and could interpret them where they agree,

    would you not know how to interpret them where they disagree?

    Ion: Clearly.

    Assuming “prophet” here means something along the line of “oracle”, here Ion is

    agreeing that to correctly understand, to “interpret” both Homer and Hesiod would

    require some sort of knowledge, or understanding, beyond him, and probably beyond and

    rhapsode.

    Here Socrates turns the conversation away from the art of Ion, the art of being a

    rhapsode of Homer, and even away from the art of being a rhapsode, to the topics that

    the poets touch on in their poetry. Even as Ion is weakening his meaning of

    “interpret” to include “would be appicable to …”, Socrates is strengthening it in a

    different direction to include the various subject matters (such as the “truth” about

    divination) touched on by the poets.

    Socrates: But how do you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about

    Hesiod or the other poets? …

    The answer is obvious: Ion has studied, and thought about, Homer, and has discussed

    Homer and interpretaions of Homer with others who have also studied, thought about and

    discussed the poetry of Homer.

    Socrates knows the answer is transparently obvious, and quickly move to change the

    subject.

    Socrates: … Does not Homer speak of the same themes which all other poets handle?

    Is not war his great argument? And does he not speak of human society and of

    intercourse of men, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing

    with one another and with mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world

    below, and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer

    sings?

    Ion: Very true, Socrates.

    Ion falls for Socrates’ trick of changing the subject and answers the second question,

    leaving the first unanswered. The conversation is now thoroughly off-track.

    Socrates: And do not the other poets sing of the same?

    Ion: Yes, Socrates; but not in the same way as Homer.

    Ion: He is incomparably better.

    Here an ambiguity of the word “better”; better in what way? Ion is answering Better as

    a poet. Socrates apparently means something else.

    Socrates: And yet surely, my dear friend Ion, where many people are discussing

    numbers, and one speaks better than the rest, there is somebody who can judge which of

    them is the good speaker?

    Socrates: One who knows the science of arithmetic?

    So who better to judge a poet than one, like Ion, who knows poetry?

    Socrates: Or again, if many persons are discussing the wholesomeness of food, and

    one speaks better than the rest, will he who recognizes the better speaker be a

    different person from him who recognizes the worse, or the same?

    Socrates: And who is he, and what is his name?

    Ion: The physician.

    So who better to judge a poet than one, like Ion, who knows poetry?

    If we view this text as a report on a conversation, we can only conclude that Socrates

    is acting in bad faith. Not only does he keep twisting the meanings of words, even

    where Ion’s meaning are clear, but keeps turning the conversation away from the topic

    at hand, the poetry of Homer and the art of being a rhapsode, to the “objective”

    content on the poetry. Thus Socrates, who clearly does not respect Ion, also does not

    respect the Homeric texts. Homer is not writing a textbook on arithmetic, or the

    wholesomeness of food, or being a warrior, or being a charioteer. Homer’s works are

    epic poetry, a story, a narrative. While his treatments of these topics, to be

    convincing, need to be plausible to the listeners, they need not be accurate in the

    sense that a textbook need to be. Should one dismiss Shakespeare because of the

    histroical inaccuracies in “Julius Ceasar”. Should we view “the Merchant of Venice” by

    standard of a law review article on Italian legal practice? Is Robert Service’s “The

    Cremation of Sam McGee” bad poetry because some details of dogsledding in the arctic

    are not completely correct? (OK, in that example it may be bad poetry, but not for

    that reason).

    If we view Homer’s works as basically a a pre-literate narrative that had been written

    down, the perhaps what Plato is doing here is inventing literate culture. A culture in

    which we take texts and look at them beyond their immediate purpose and treat them as

    something they were never meant to be, examining them for literal accuracy in a

    context where literal accuracy was simply not the point of the text.

    There are those who seem to believe that we are now passing into what they term

    “post-literate” culture, and as we do we are rediscovering the art of narrative in a

    way that literate culture, as it moved from pre-literate culture, lost. Plato is

    losing this sense of the art of narrative.

  3. Rick Says:

    sorry about all those carriage returns – I didn’t put them there (at least not on purpose)

  4. Janet Says:

    Way to go, Rick!!

    You’ve already wonderfully cottoned onto something that becomes much more obvious later in the dialogue: that Socrates “reduces” the language of an epic poem to the specific subject matters referred to at any given moment in the text, and then, because the literary theorist is not an expert in all of those ikes (formal disciplines), he has no right to claim to “know” as a literary theorist and critic.
    This only works if Socrates forecloses from view the only formal-kind-of-thing that COULD legitimate an art of poetry: the formally structured poem itself, called in Greek a “poiesis.” Socrates acts as though it never occurred to him that a poem might be a formal kind of thing per se, and that a lit theorist might have formal knowledge of that kind of structure. (Poor Ion makes a few ineffectual gestures in that direction, but Socrates easily deflects them.)

    Why? Because “Socrates” represents a brand new way to use language, called “dialectic” or “philosophic” language-use, and it is basic to all the liberal arts. This is a community’s rigorous effort (through dia + lexis) to “talk back and forth” about a formal kind-of-thing so as to define or account for it. They come up with a “logos,” translated “definition” or “account” or “formula” or “argument” because a “logos” means all of these things. (By the way, that logos is always open to further formal elaboration or correction.)

    What Socrates accomplishes in the course of the dialogue is to show there is no art of poetry because the language of the epic poem refers to subject matters in the world about which the poet or critic cannot claim to be an expert. SOCRATES WILL NOT ALLOW THAT THE VERY SAME LANGUAGE MAY ALSO REFLECT OTHER ORDERS OF FORMAL STRUCTURING AT THE SAME TIME. (That old Nestor may be telling his son about chariot-racing because he is an anxious old man worried abut his son’s safety, and both reverend and rather tiresome — this kind of literary-critical assessment of why Homer wrote that speech as he did is not allowed in this dialogue. And in fact, rhapsodes weren’t speaking on that level but on a more didactic level like “fathers should be respected by their sons” perhaps.)

    Now here’s the really strange thing. Modern English-speaking Greek and philosophy scholars, trained (of course) in the Anglo-American tradition, do not tend to read these dialogues as pieces of literary art. They extract formal arguments from them and analyze the arguments, often using symbolic logic descended from Bertrand Russell’s attempts to axiomatize mathematics logically. (Some Greek scholars do bring in the contexts and settings very skilfully to elaborate and assess the arguments, but they have never taken the dialogue as a whole and used that to reinterpret the ostensible arguments, to my knowledge.)

    So what I am saying about the dialogue is never said about it in our philosophy or Greek classes and couldn’t be (unless the teacher had some Continental linguistics and lit-theory and was over in the English or Comp Lit department instead of the analytical philosophy department!) — that Plato actually uses the art of poetry in making this dialogue, and he couldn’t do that unless he knew and mastered the art of poetry!

    And that this introduces into the dialogue some indeterminacy, because the various levels of reading the dialogue qualify one another. Most analytic philosophers would not find this kind of “equivocation” meaningful or interesting, but a Continental poststructuralist (in this case me, as far as I know) could analyze it quite rigorously….

    So Ion is usually read (for the past 100 years) as Plato’s rejection of poetical language-use in favor of dialectical (or “scientific” or rationalistic) language-use. In oder to clear the way for rational philosophy and logic, the modern story goes, Plato has to discredit poetics. (As Derrida formalizes this, as soon as Plato established philosophy in opposition to the ACTUAL (because it seeks the Platonic formality behind the actual changing manifestations of things) he places philosophy in the place where poetry had always reigned (the place of having a formalism that is opposed to and more coherent than the ACTUAL.) Therefore, poetry is the bitter rival of philosophy and must be discredited. Thus, in the modern centuries, this dialogue becomes the original instance of “the two cultures” of C. P. Snow: the hard sciences (Socrates) versus the humanists, a binary opposition that is particularly acute in the Anglo-American setting.

    Rick says: “Two things to note here.

    The first is Ion’s claim: He claims to be an expert (to adopt a more modern word,

    which here means “his art only extends as far as”) on Homer, and Homer alone. He is

    not claiming to be an expert on all poets, on any other poet, or on some general

    “theory of being a rhapsode”.

    The second is the ambiguity of “your art”. This can mean the broad “art of being a

    rhapsode”, or the narrower “my individual particular application of the art of being a

    rhapsode to the poerty of Homer”. Ion answer shows he means the second.
    —————
    Okay, here is the exact point where we differ in how we think from Plato. Rick can say that Ion claims to be an expert in Homer and not Hesiod [edited by jlb — because we think in terms of “knowledge” and an area of knowledge instead of episteme, or a formal ike addressed to a formal kind of thing. I think episteme is badly mistranslated as “knowledge.” A “form of knowledge” might work, because then the white lightning of formal elegance comes back into view. So Rick thinks of Homer as a field of study…} …without first asking, “what is the formal-kind-of-thing that rhapsodes are experts in?” It makes sense to us that someone might specialize in Jane Austen rather than in Dickens [because of our tendency to put the modern emphasis on the knowledge of relevant facts as opposed to the Greek sense of the formal grasp of ike]. But would not this person have to understand narrative theory that could be applied to both? Our fields of study are far more complex than in Plato’s day. That allows Plato to lay in some very basic considerations that perhaps we have lost sight of.

    If Ion is an award-winning expert in rhapsodike (also called epiipoietike) then he should possess the ike of epic poems! Therefore he should be able to formally describe any epic poem, because as Socrates will soon point out: “Every techne is a WHOLE techne, is it not?” I.E it formalizes the formal structure and principles of a formal-kind-of-thing that has formal structures and principles. (If it didn’t, it wouldn’t BE a formal-kind-of-thing to begin with!)

    You see, for Plato, Ion cannot be an expert without the theory of the formal kind of thing, which is not Homer’s epics, but epic itself.

    Rick’s second point shows a closely related difference between how we think and how Plato thought. They would not distinguish between knowing the theory and applying the theory. Why? because every activity associated with a formal kind is governed by its formal kindness. So applying the theory of the kind of thing to make it or to analyze it or to interpet it — this is all the same ike.

    (Over in Section 7 of my lit theory course I explain the active -sis ending we see in poiesis, which means both the poet’s activity in making the poem and the poem itself viewed as a formal structure. They didn’t cut nature at the joints the way we do. We separate all these activities and entities whereas they saw them fluidly and dynamically constituting one another. This is where Saussure and post structuralism is closer to classical Greek theory than we are on this side of the Atlantic.)

    Finally, about Socrates’ “trickiness.” (Can you see why he was executed AS A Sophist!?)

    This is another difference between us and Plato, IMHO. Plato knows that the world isn’t decided by the arguments, but by the character and idealism of citizens. The search for truth in each of the ikes is always, while beautiful existentially and for its own sake, directly related to the formation of citizens and the fate of the polis. So Socrates adapts his speaking to the character of his interlocutors.

    Perhpas there is an art of poetry. But Socrates does success in showing that Ion does not possess this art. He does not speak from theoretical or formal grasp of his formal kind of thing. And even more importantly, what are his motives in pursuing this “art”? So there is a multi-dimensional analysis going on here, while we tend to abstract the logical arguments from such complex considerations.

    May I compare this to the scientists’ unwillingness to engage my comments on what it feels like to live inside some of their science. They are very uncomfortable with moving from simple science to the worldview it implies — that is too “speculative.” But we need disciplines that do manage this. Perhaps we are ill equipped to deal with the sophists of our own day if we cannot separate the rhetoric and the arguments from the motivations or desires, in formal ways. This was why Plato and Aristotle insisted on many arts, a robust pluralism of the arts, and why the dominance of scientific and logical styles of thought don’t necessarily equip us to deal with ethical or political decison-making.

    Again, though, Rick and the rest of you who are reading Ion with me, don’t be too quick to judge what Plato knows or doesn’t know. If Odysseus can build a raft to get off Calypso’s island, then he must possess the formal art of raft-making and the formal kind of thing a raft is, and how its structure is governed by its formal purpose. Id Plato can make a poem and Socrates can use rhetoric to mislead Ion, then they know MORE than they are saying. This is tricky but it is teaching! If not for Ion, then for our bystanders….

    P.S. the Christian humanists of the Renaissance knew this about Socrates and they also saw it in the Jesus of the Gospels, by the way. Jesus always adapted his words to the character of the person with whom he was speaking and said very different things in different contexts, and so did those Christian humanists. They were after all humanists and teachers of literature and rhetoric. I’m always struck by how much Socrates and Jesus had in common in their teaching styles (and not just in what society did with them).

  5. Janet Says:

    I said: “Socrates” represents a brand new way to use language, called “dialectic” or “philosophic” language-use, and it is basic to all the liberal arts.”

    EXCEPT RHETORIC AND POIETICS. These do not simply use language to define and account for things in the world that can be referred to by language. No, these are language ikes and they look at language structures per se and how they can be used and to what ends!

    And this is why it isn’t easy for me to tell y’all a story about what poststructuralism has to say, because it is always working on meta-levels. And these meta-levels are ones (as I see more and more how deeply from our conversations) scientists are trained to “abstract away from,” as Rick put it in another context. No wonder the excerpts Sokal quoted from Lacan and Irigaray so dismayed and offended scientists! Now I’m starting to think that I don’t know if I could ever defend or explain what they were saying, and how they didn’t mean what you heard them as saying, because it all lies in the areas you scientists abstract away from automatically!

    But I do know that the kind of thinking we see in the dialogues are examples of that wonderful capacity of the human mind to not get stuck in side of any formal system but to back out of it and grasp it as a whole and move to a meta-level, the kind of capacity that we see in Douglas Hofstadter’s work on strange loops and in Roger Penrose’s ideas about Godel’s proof and about the nature of human consciousness. Perhaps that is where poststructuralist thought will converge with science and mathematics fruitfully, and this weblog conversation has helped me to see this and begin to write about it myself off this site. Thanks! And not just for that!

  6. Janet Says:

    I didn’t stress sufficiently the helpfulness and sophistication of Rick’s reading of this section of the dialogue.

    I used Rick’s comments to clarify what I take to be the formal structure of Plato’s thinking here, in order to give us an alternative way of thinking and an alternative vocabulary, that may be less heavily embued with some of the divisive tendencies of modern thought. This is not meant to take anything away from Rick’s comments taken in their own right! Thanks so much, Rick!

  7. Rick Says:

    I think you’ve lost me. Let me try to explain my problem here.

    Let us grant for the immediate purpose your claim that “Socrates does success in showing that Ion does not possess this art [of poetry]”.

    However, Ion is an award winning rhapsode, he excels at what we perhaps would call the “craft” of being a rhapsode. He successully _applies_ the “ike” or the “techne” of being a rhapsode, with awards to prove it.

    You then claim that “They would not distinguish between knowing the theory and applying the theory. Why? because every activity associated with a formal kind is governed by its formal kindness. So applying the theory of the kind of thing to make it or to analyze it or to interpet it — this is all the same ike.”

    But the entire dialogue seems to establish exactly the opposite! Socrates shows that Ion does _not_ possess the “ike” of poetry, yet that does not remove the fact that he is an award-winning rhapsode. Thus there must be a distinction between applying an art, a “ike”, (i.e. acting “as if” one had the ike, as Ion does so successfully) and actually having the art (or ike). Ion successfully applies the art, but does not have it.

    you said:”It makes sense to us that someone might specialize in Jane Austen rather than in Dickens. But would not this person have to understand narrative theory that could be applied to both?”.

    Well, yes and no. Is there something about being specialist in Jane Austin that is transferable to a study of Dickens? I would assume so. But that does not make an expert in Jane Austin an expert in Dickens. To be an expert in Jane Austin requires more than some knowledge of the formal structure of novels; it requires actual concrete knowledge of Jane Austin’s work. All the knowledge of formal structure of novels and all the narrative theory that we could possible imagine will not make a person an expert in Jane Austin if they have never read Jane Austin’s work. It might make their becoming an expert in Jane Austin easier, in that they already have a grounding in the sorts of things that one needs to look at and treat as one looks at her works, but that formal “leg up” hardly makes one an expert in Jane Austin.

    You state that “Therefore he should be able to formally describe any epic poem, because as Socrates will soon point out: “Every techne is a WHOLE techne, is it not?”

    Well, again, yes and no. Years ago I tried my hand at glass-bead making (lampwork). I was never an expert glass-bead maker; no-one could even accuse me of being a good glass-bead maker. But I did succesfully make glass beads! Did I or did I not possess the ike of glass-bead making? You said “If Odysseus can build a raft to get off Calypso’s island, then he must possess the formal art of raft-making and the formal kind of thing a raft is, and how its structure is governed by its formal purpose.” Was it an excellent raft? A pretty good raft? A barely servicable raft? If the ike of raft building is no more than knowing in some sufficient sense what sort of thing a raft is and how to put together a servicable raft, than I suppose I did possess the ike of glass bead making. But then Ion, as an award winning rhapsode, clearly possessed the ike of being a rhapsode, because he not only did it, but did it well.

    What I was doing with my glass-bead making was, is some sense, learning the “formal structure” of glass-bead making and how to apply it. I never did it particularly well, and life intervened in a manner in which I laid it aside. But what I did was in some sufficently abstract and formal sense “the same thing” as an expert lampworker; I used a torch, a mandrel, various colored glasses, etc. They just did it better (will so much in that “just”!). There is, in some sense, a “whole” art of lampworking, in which it all fits together as a coherernt “oneness”, but we possess the “shadows” of that “oneness” to differing degrees.

    So clearly, if included in the ike of an activity is the actual performance of it, one can possess the ike of something to differing degrees; a little (like my glass-bead making) or a lot.

    Thus there seems to be a deep ambiguity in your discussion about how much art/knowledge/craft/skill/technique one needs to posses to have an ike in Plato’s sense. Sometimes it seems that one can be an award winning expert (by anyone’s definition except maybe Plato’s) and still lack the ike, and other times being able to merely do something reasonably successfully (Odysseus building a raft) means one possess the necessary ike.

    “May I compare this to the scientists’ unwillingness to engage my comments on what it feels like to live inside some of their science. They are very uncomfortable with moving from simple science to the worldview it implies — that is too “speculative.””

    I guess by now you know my position is the the science does not in fact imply the worldview you assign to it.

    And it certainly seems strange to claim that those who make their lives working in a field somehow do not “live in the worldview” of the field they work with daily.

  8. Janet Says:

    Rick says,
    “And it certainly seems strange to claim that those who make their lives working in a field somehow do not “live in the worldview” of the field they work with daily.”

    Maybe not so strange, Rick?
    Not when their own temperament and interests help direct them into science in the first place, and then science itself trains them to abstract away from things like “worldviews,” which other disciplines study?
    For instance, the debate over quantum measurement FOR SCIENTISTS centers around the best physical (math) theory to account for the data, which can even involve “many worlds” theory — and yet the same scientists aren’t vitally concerned with the differences between what Bohr and Bohm thought about on the question of “worldviews about what reality is” implied by these theories — the aspects that most fascinate the humanists. And scientists get all grumpy when “New Agers” run off with ideas of quantum entanglement, which to me it seem impossible NOT to think about when WE hear these theories….

  9. Janet Says:

    Rick says about Ion:

    “If the ike of raft building is no more than knowing in some sufficient sense what sort of thing a raft is and how to put together a servicable raft, than I suppose I did possess the ike of glass bead making. But then Ion, as an award winning rhapsode, clearly possessed the ike of being a rhapsode, because he not only did it, but did it well.”

    AND:

    “Thus there seems to be a deep ambiguity in your discussion about how much art/knowledge/craft/skill/technique one needs to possess to have an ike in Plato’s sense. Sometimes it seems that one can be an award winning expert (by anyone’s definition except maybe Plato’s) and still lack the ike, and other times being able to merely do something reasonably successfully (Odysseus building a raft) means one possess the necessary ike.”

    Yes, I think for Plato and the Greeks of his day, you did possess the ike of bead-making, but as you say, you were merely an apprentice for a short time and perhaps not promising as a pupil, and so you possessed the formal ike only in a partial and limited degree rather than in an excellent or “kalon” (noble, fine, beautiful) degree. Therefore, you applied it poorly as a result. (No doubt “many-skilled” Odysseus made a gorgeously formalized instance of an ideal raft! Just as he spoke and fought and strategized “nobly” and “well” because of his lucid mental grasp of things. Homer appreciated that he had what coaches today call “a very good sense of the field” instead of being mostly brawn and emotion like Achilles….)

    But does Ion possess an ike simply because he pleases the crowds and wins lots of valuable awards? Of course you are right: he should be an true expert! But is he, in fact? This is where Socrates is going to show us how to distinguish between a real ike and a sham “discipline,” or at least between a genuine possessor of an ike and a mere pretender.

    And if Ion does not possess an ike worthy of being one of the liberal arts and capable of educating young citizens, then HOW IS HE WINNING all this money and awrds?

    This genuinely IS the beginning of Western “critical thought,” here with the historical Socrates and then with Plato and Aristotle. This dialogue can teach us the fundamental attributes of all rigorous, thoughtful, and critically informed, critically aware, thinking — as Plato and Aristotle and the West through the Renaissance understood it. It has elements in common with what we think today and is at the same time subtly (and not-so-subtly different from what we assume today.

    The theory of knowing (epistemological thoery) we will find here in Plato is capable of integrating the character of the professor into the assessment of the quality of the professor’s disciplinary thought. Kinda scary, actually….

    You are such a good correspondent for talking about this dialogue!

  10. Rick Says:

    You ask: “But does Ion possess an ike simply because he pleases the crowds and wins lots of valuable awards?”

    I would say that this gets the question backwards: Ion is pleasing the crowds and winning a lot a awards because he is doing something well. Eric Clapton is not a good guitarist because he sells a lot of records; he sells a lot of records because he does something well. Kathleen Battle fills opera halls becasue she does something well; she does not sing well because she fills opera halls.

    Perhaps someone totally ignorant of guitar music might not be able to recognize Clapton as being good, but one does not have to be an “expert” on guitar music to recognize that Clapton is good. One does not have to be an expert on operatic singing to recognize Battle is good.

    Your earlier cited Derrida as claiming that Platonic philosophy and Poetry as being “bitter rivals” and thus, to Plato, poetry (or rather, poets) “must be discredited”. I would understand this along the lines of poetry being concerned with bringing the specific characteristics of each individual being talked about into the foreground, which pushing their commonality into the background; we are interested, so to speak, in the differences between Odysseus and Achilles, what make Odysseus Odysseus and nor Achilles, while in philosphy we are bringing the abstract commonality onto the foreground and pushing the individuality into the background, where, in a sense, Odysseus and Achilles cease to be separate individuals, and become “lost” in a common abstract “hero-ness” (or something like that).

    It is wrong to treat the world in either manner exclusively; we do not enjoy Clapton as an abstract guitarist, or Battle as an abstract operatic soprano; it is their differences from the others that make them unique and special. We can tell Clapton from Joe Satriani, as we should. This of course does not mean that never makes sense to abstract into “guitar playing”, but one does not generally go to a Clapton or a Satriani concert to hear abstract guitar playing; one goes to hear Clapton, or to hear Satriani.

    Is there an ike of being a rhapsode? It is a skill to be learned and practiced. There is certainly an “art” to it. On cannot do it well without the skill and the knowledge of how to do it. Ion had that art; none-one was taking him aside after a performance and telling he “don’t quit your day job”.

    It seems that the type of criticism Socrates levels at the art of being a rhapsode could be leveled against any any skill; it appears a kind of “victory by defintion”. There is no ike of guitar playing because Clapton is not an expert luthier and doesn’t make his own guitars. Kathleen Battle is not an expert in ancient Egypian culture and yet sings Aida, and thus the is no ike of opera singing. A particle physicist in not expert in astronomy, thus there is no ike of physics. Literary critics are not experts in quantum mechanics, and quantum mechanicists are not experts in literary critism, and thus there is no ike of either literay critism or of quantum mechanics. Probably no-one today understands all fields of mathematics; is there then no ike of mathematics?

    And what would Plato think of “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe/ All mimsy were the borograves/ And the mome raths outgrabe”? What about people spending time and energy on nonsense like this? WOuld he be horrified? Should he be horrified?

  11. Janet Says:

    Rick, this commentary of yours is great! I think Plato would be pleased as punch that you have such a thoughtful and inquiring and sophisticated mind! So hang in there as this dialogue proceeds. I think the connections it makes might be very interesting to you.

    One caveat. Don’t let the word “abstract” creep in when you are thinking about the Greek notions of the Form-al kinds-of-things and the formal ikes. Think of “elegant formality” as a kind of “white lightning” in (every instance of) a kind of thing, and the theory and practice of Eric Clampton as his own uniquely marked mastery of that certain kind of elegant formality.

    P.S. It is certainly the case, as you demonstrate, Rick, that we are today much more interested in individual style than the Greeks were, since they were engaged with the first full perceiving of the formal coherences of things and the way that ikes could be built on making descriptive formalizations (logoi) of those formalities! But given that difference and advance in our day, I still think we can benefit greatly from trying out Plato and Aristotle’s approach. It enlarges our mental world by giving us another paradigm or “language” to bring to the situation in our own arts and sciences.

    The word “abstract” emerged with its peculiarly modern meaning in the Eighteenth Century, when it took on and exemplified the binary structure of the Cartesian mind-nature dualism. That was when literary esthetics said that the goal of art was to imitate the “form” of the tulip and not its individual stripes. (And neoclassicism reigned in art and architecture with emphasis on idealized form, as opposed to Gothic, which now seemed irrational and grotesque.)

    Personification and allegorical satire became dominant figures of speech and genres. This correlated with the scientific break-throughs in describing material processes in terms of “abstract” or “relatively bloodless” formulas and mathematics — or so it seemed. The whole Modern West started making this absolute split between nature (which has no mind or spirit and is inert and lifeless) and mind (which is rational and mathematical and rigidly controls the natural world). Previously in the West, we always had “formality” as a third and mediative player between nature and spirit. (For me, this bears on thehardest questions, the ones Gavin has just brought up!)

    It does seem to be the case that each period has certain dominant and controlling ideas or themes, in this case the “clock-work” nature of body and matter associated culturally with Newtonian mechanics, and they diffuse through all the arts and sciences and religious and political institutions. Science was enormously impressive and so its seeming paradigms were very widespread in other fields. Again, this is uncontroversial in historical/cultural fields.

    In religion, for instance, Methodism was the dynamic movement and it simply ceded thought (in a certain sense) to the sciences and accepted the idea that religion deals with the heart and the sensibility of human beings, while science and public institutions deal with the rational and scientific realities. Thus it was able to make great progress in alleviating the suffering going on because of the increasing industrialization of England and the availability of hard liquor — previously the poor drank wine and ale. (You see signs of the significance of Methodism and the Wesleys all over England when you go to the small towns and villages….)

    So when we are reading pre-scientific thinking we have to be very careful about “reading back” into earlier thought the unconscious oppositions we ourselves take for granted. Think of Form-al reality as white lightning (not “abstract”) and you’ll be freer to apprehend the structures of thought in this dialogue, in my humble opinion!

    This is the exciting thing, I always told tell my students! Stop yourself each time you start to think of the formal nature of the things or the ikes as “abstract” and you will begin to get a more robust notion of what formal reality means for Plato and Aristotle and medieval and Renaissance thinkers. (It’s more originary and robust, kind of like the current Platonists’ “all possible mathematical universes” in terms of ontological substance, only more dynamic and developing. “Physis,” by the way, meant “all that is emerging, growing, developing” in the cosmos, by the way, with that active “-sis” ending, which I discuss in Section # 7 in the lit theory course on the right under Pages. I see some of you are going over there. Thanks!! It really helps for reading the Ion.)

    I think that Lewis Carroll’s whimsey actually brings out the formal dynamics of syntactical structure magnificently. He shows us the “white lightning” that was there all along, whether we consciously noticed it or not. We can read the poem because of all the From-al reality we have learned and can use tacitly. (Michael Polanyi’s wonderful notion of tacit knowledge always enabling central or focused knowing is deeply in accord with poststructural linguistics, by the way. I think his Personal Knowing was the most underappreciated book written in English in the 20th century, for political rather than intellectual reasons, I suspect….)

  12. Rick Says:

    ” Think of Form-al reality as white lightning (not “abstract”) and you’ll be freer to apprehend the structures of thought in this dialogue, …”

    I’m afraid I’m missing your reference to “white lightning”; where I com form it a reference to illegal alcohol, and I don’t seem to make a connection with than particular meaning.

  13. Janet Says:

    Rick, you have a poetic mind. You can do it! If you don’t, you’ll be shut into your own cultural thought-world exclusively in this regard.

    Without your marvelous skepticism, though, where would we be?

    I talk about the elegant formality of things and white lightning in section # 7 under Pages.

    I mean “white lightning” in a visual sense. It is the formal structure that “lights up” when you see some thing and KNOW that it is such-and-such a KINDESS of thing. (Is the structure in the thing or in your thought-structure and linguistics structure? The Greeks act as though it is a negotiation between all three!)

    Formal elegance or white lightning of the concept (Form-al) variety is what most toddlers grasp about “puppy” and “kitty” and Temple Grandin as an autistic person could not grasp except by working it out very mechanistically (she’s in section # 4). (Maybe my musings about the Greeks will only work for people with strongly visual imaginations?)

    This is where I don’t know if I can do this with words and not being present in the classroom — I’m gesturing toward a new-old concept that doesn’t exist in our day. This is where I want us to learn a new vocabulary that is incommensurate with our own. What’s the point of visiting another culture and thought-world if we only translate it into our own terms? We have to START there, but we can go beyond such mere translations. We’re all post-bacc’s here! Heck, we’re post-docs!

    Bottoms up!

  14. Janet Says:

    Going back a ways. I haven’t been clear enough. Rick said:

    “[quoting from Janet] “May I compare this to the scientists’ unwillingness to engage my comments on what it feels like to live inside some of their science. They are very uncomfortable with moving from simple science to the worldview it implies — that is too “speculative.””

    I guess by now you know my position is that science does not in fact imply the worldview you assign to it.

    And it certainly seems strange to claim that those who make their lives working in a field somehow do not “live in the worldview” of the field they work with daily.
    ______________

    I was trying to say that scientists, who by temperament and training focus on the concrete and on the applied mathematics, may not be aware of how rigid or reductive that orientation can “feel” for those of different temperament and training. (Given that a scientistic worldview did dominate the West until the big paradigm shifts started nudging both science and the West away from their absolutist expectations and toward the more “limitative” expectations we now take for granted.)

    No doubt if a certain humanistic outlook were somehow to become hugely dominant in our culture, then that would “feel” more onerous to live inside of culturally for the naturally more scientifically inclined, no matter how “right” it felt to the humanists who resonated with that outlook.

    Rick said: “I guess by now you know my position is that science does not in fact imply the worldview you assign to it.”

    I think I was speaking about any development in science, and the fact that each of which implies (to me) worldview implications, and did imply (rightly or wrongly) worldview implications to sections of the population (take the heat death of the universe) — and we’ve discussed many of them over in the part # 4 discussion, but any and all of those implications are usually stoutly disputed by our science contingent as not being intrinsic to the science.

    So I wonder which worldview you were thinking I was “assigning to science” when you said your own “position is that science does not imply” that worldview? (Which terms that I use seem most inappropriate? And are they inappropriate to current science or even to Newtonian science, I wonder….) It would be helpful for me to keep being reminded if you continue to disagree….

  15. Rick Says:

    Which worldview?

    As I understood your comment concerning “what it feels like to live inside some of their science”, it seemed that your were referring to this “feeling” as a bad feeling; so it would appear that your “inside of your science” referred to your “Cartesian rationalism”, or some updated version of this in which things are still completely determined by the natural laws that control them.

    This would seem to be confirmed by your reference to ‘how rigid or reductive that orientation can “feel”’.

    If I am misunderstanding this, please correct me.

    You said: “No doubt if a certain humanistic outlook were somehow to become hugely dominant in our culture, then that would “feel” more onerous to live inside of culturally for the naturally more scientifically inclined, no matter how “right” it felt to the humanists who resonated with that outlook.”

    I would take an an example of this your “Jerry Springer” teatment of “theism” over in certain science blogs (speaking somewhat metaphorically, without making any ontological commitments as to whether or not the “theism” that they are attacking is a “humanistic outlook”). They “see” an “outlook” that they find onerous no matter how “right” it feels to those theists who espose it.

    Getting back to Plato, Socrates, and Ion for a moment, if we take your earlier comment referring to Derrida’s interpretation of Plato as a movement in which “poetry is the bitter rival of philosophy and must be discredited.” [emphasis mine]. This could be interpreted as what is going on in those “Jerry Springer” science blogs, a movement within a certain segment of our society to discredit, to marginalize in more modern language, the general theistic outlook, and not just that small segment that denies the science. Just as Derrida’s Plato had to destroy the poetical outlook of Ion and his fellow rhapsodes to make room for his philosophy, so must the “new atheists” destroy theism as an acceptible philosophical outlook to make room for their “worldview”.

    Read this way, Ion is not a resource to help us learn to live together with different worldviews which interact and enrich each other by their very differences, but as a manual on how to discredit you philosophical enemies to make room for your own philosophy to be become dominant. Certainly in Ion Plato does not approach the art of the rhapsodes as something that should be taken seriously and used to enlighten and enrich as a kind of counterpoint to philosophy as he sees it, but as an essentially dishonest enterprise that cannot even be considered as having a “techne”. (I’m waiting for part 4 to appear to see what you say about “inspiration” as opposed to “art” in the dialog). Similalrly, note here how these bloggers generally, like Plato does the poets, present them as “liars” wiht essentially nothing uiseful to add tot he conversation that is society.

    I do not believe that the primary determinant of the arising of this “theism must be destroyed” mentality is the science, although it has, admittedly, become tangled up in the science and is being presented as if it were arising to the science. It is certainly a fact that certain segments of those taking a theistic stance do deny the science, but this is a small, if noisy, segment. What is going on here is something much beyond the annoyance of a small minority denying the science, and is something that is not being driven primarily by the science or the denial of it.

  16. Janet Says:

    Your last paragraph above — I could not agree more!

    I taught for 25 years at a university in which the faculty was dedicated to helping many of our students (from backgrounds in that small but noisy segment of religion you mentioned) to enjoy the benefits of a liberal arts education and expand their horizons and become more open and more able to live with ambiguity while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. We thought that if they were going to encounter the big world and have a nervous break-down they were better off to do it at college with older mentors around to help them out!

    I wonder what the equivalent is for the fundamentalists on the science blogs (not everyone, by any means!). They must have gotten advanced degrees in universities! How do we manage the GE component of their education so as to help them emerge from that fortess mentality? Or could science departments undertake some kind of course of their own — in the history of science and scientism vs science? Just pondering.

    More on your very helpful comments above later today. Ion #4 is on its way but I don’t get to the “inspiration” speeches quite yet, sorry!

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