Wily Socrates # 4

Are you ready for the next installment of Plato’s Ion? (Hey, “prison gal,” you’re a poet too, and I look forward to hearing from you here!)

In this new section, Socrates will continue to instruct the prize-winning “interpreter of literature” named Ion about what formal features will always be observable in the case of a genuine ike: that is, in the case of a formal Greek techne or episteme, an “art” or a “science”. [By the way, these words are pronounced “TEK-nay” and “e-pi-STAY-may,” by the way]

Rick has pointed out “a deep ambiguity” in how I am treating Socrates’ argument. I would “prefer” (!) to say the deep ambiguity lies in the way Socrates is treating the poetic art here. With most of the other arts – let’s notice that they are technes that DO NOT INCLUDE LANGUAGE in the structure of their formal kinds-of-things. Instead, most ikes use language dialectically and by way of exposition and communication, as a straightforward means of working out the elegant formalities of their kinds of things. The Greeks had a technical word for this: diegesis. It means speaking in one’s own person (as we usually do) in an expository fashion about a subject matter (kind of thing).

How do we know this? Because Plato employs the distinction between diegesis and mimetic speaking in the Republic! And because Plato’s best student Aristotle uses this same Platonic linguistic distinction (and on two different formal levels of structure) as part of one of the greatest analyses of the formal kind of thing called a “poiesis” that has every been theorized. (This is Aristotle’s Poetics, which is just lecture notes annotated by students! What if we had his polished work on the subject. Imagine! But the brilliance of his formal thinking is visible there in the notes, just as it is visible in Saussure’s students’ lecture notes that were posthumously published by his students as The Course in General Linguistics.)

Socrates seems to assume that poets use language in the same “diegetical” way that carpenters or doctors or mathematicians use language, as a means to convey formal features of their arts and apply the ike in specific instances. A doctor knows the principles of wholesome foods and an arithmetician knows the principles of counting (as we saw last time), and therefore, each possesses the formal “power” or skill to know when someone is “speaking well” or “speaking poorly” about the kind-of-thing the ike treats. (That formal white lightning that is marked by the discipline as the formal “kindness” of that kind of thing guides their thinking about the kind of thing.)

But an epic poet does not employ language only to speak discursively (or through diegetical exposition) of kinds-of-things that are by rights the subject matters of other arts. No, the epic poet crafts speeches for his characters and when he recites them, he is speaking not in his own voice but mimetically, as though he were Odysseus or the goddess Athena. Furthermore, we and Aristotle would add, the poet is using the same language in order to build a new kind-of-thing, a “poiesis,” that is made out of the special, literary structures of language the poet is fashioning at all times?

Again, how do we know this? Plato lays this out for us in the Republic! And in Book 10, he has Socrates issue an invitation to anyone who can make a case for letting the mimetic poets back into the ideal polis, after he regretfully concluded they must be banished. In fact, Socrates says he would be so happy to consider such a defense that he would accept it even if it were not written in poetical verse, but merely in prose! (This is so funny!)

Well, as we’ll see, a couple decades later Aristotle writes the lecture notes that are his treatise called the Poetics, using Plato’s technical own points that an epic poet speaks sometimes diegetically (in his own voice) and sometimes mimetically (in the voices of his characters). Hence epic poetry employs the mixed mode of language-use: diegesis AND mimesis. The dramatist, on the other hand, uses the mimetic mode exclusively and never speaks in his own voice at all. Aristotle’s treatise is called “peri poietike,” concerning the ike of poesis, and it starts right off confidently and rigorously elucidating the formal structure of the poiesis, treating the formal kinds called epic and tragic most of all. (Is this not suggestive concerning Plato’s own relationship to poietike? In fact, Aristotle mentions the “Socratic dialogue” right off, as a prime example of mimetic poiesis!)

But no, here in Ion and again in Republic (in Books 2, 3 & 10, which you’ll find in Hazard Adam’s Critical Theory Since Plato or in the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory – as you lit theory students out there already know quite well), we find “Socrates,” Plato’s mimetic character, speaking as the historical author of “dialectic,” the finely honed language used for a discipline’s critical questioning about a subject matter, and hence the word used for critical thinking in general for the next 2400 years on the European Continent – and for the next 2000 years in the English-speaking worlds! That is, whenever rigorous critical thought is not called simply called “philosophy.”

Socrates seems to equate the ike with dialectical or diegetical language-use. He will continue in this next passage to maintain that if a doctor can judge whoever is speaking about what foods are wholesome – both when someone speaks well and when someone speaks poorly (from a medical standpoint), then Ion ought to know when any epic poet is speaking well or poorly concerning the certain kinds of things that all epic poets “speak about.” Ion should not “speak well” about Homer only — no, not if he possesses epiipoietike, and this is indeed a curious flaw that seems to plague Ion (not speaking well about any other epic poet besides Homer), as luck (or Plato) would have it.

But is this – as our own in-house commentator Rick questions (may his name be praised) — really the literary techne? Is the ike of poetry really formal expertise a nd knowledge of the various formal kinds of things in the world that are encountered in the course of the epic narrative, or shouldn’t poietike instead treat its own unique formal kind of thing: the epic poem, in its formal structure and in terms of the poet’s artistic and stylistic acheivements?

We will see as we proceed through the dialogue that Socrates goes to great lengths never to allow the epic poem itself to come into view as though it were a formal kind of things in its own right. Socrates wants to talk about how to determine if someone possesses mastery of an ike through the accurate and competent way that person uses language to set out disciplinary principles about a subject matter in which language is not implicated at all!

As my marvelous mentor and classical scholar James Craig La Driere used to say, before his untimely death, Socrates “flattens” or “reduces” the language of epic to an expository flow of language in which the subject-matters of various ikes are discussed. In so doing, he lays out for us very clearly the formal characteristics of the ordinary ike, whether it be a theoretical science or a productive art that makes things. (Whenever I say “things” are you now thinking “formal KINDS of things”? Be sure you practice this mental discipline as you engage a Greek text!)

But an epic poet uses language in an unusual manner: in oreder to make a poem and not just to talk about the subject matters referred to in that language.

Is this a sore point for “Socrates” precisely because of the newness of the kind of rigorous dialectic speaking/thinking he represents – at least in the minds of Plato and Aristotle and the students in those first schools of the arts and sciences they founded in Athens? Don’t we still see this today, especially since the rise of science? (Very prominent in Francis Bacon and his explicit rejection of the loose language and cultural conceptual structures that he called the Idols of the Tribe, the Marketplace, and the Theater.

Some fields in the modern centuries have wanted to make language-use exceedingly precise and atomistic (as in Russell’s symbolic logic) and to ground words by seeing them only in terms of their specific real-world referents. They want to say “cat” denotes the cat as a species in the world, and do not want to think about “cat” as a formal place-holder in a system of signs which takes its value and identity from its place in a rich web of relationships of identity and difference….

Such disciplines and thinkers are exceedingly suspicious of metaphorical or symbolic language use or of “fictions” or “myths” as structures that can actually be used to explore and convey deep truths. (Isn’t this why an Oxford analytic philosopher like Richard Dawkins and a Continentally-informed lit theorist like Terry Eagleton are locking horns over Dawkins’ treatment of religion, regardless of theistic commitments or lack of them?)

So keep in mind as we progress through Ion that Socrates was after all the originator of dialectic, that new kind of philosophically more rigorous and thoughtful way of “talking back and forth” that Plato makes into the foundation of a vision of an arts and sciences education for young citizens of the polis. Derrida thinks it is the potent formalisms of poiesis that makes it the enemy to be rooted out by philosophical dialectic, and he reads Plato as 100% “logocentric” in using rationalism to rule out in advance any recourse to fictive structures, and in this case the mythic structures in Homeric epic are being used sloppily to reinforce rec eived values and opinions in the Greek polis. So lets so how the dialogue and evolves. Then we will step back and look at the dialogue as rhetoric. And then as poietics or literary art.

At any rate, Socrates certainly seems to be living up to Derrida’s notion of the Platonic enterprise in his treatment of Ion here. (Folks, I was expecting passionate approval of Socrates early in this dialogue, and instead I am getting from a scientist-cum-litterateur like Rick some passionate defenses of Ion, or at least of Ion’s art! Will the world never cease to amaze? Whose side are the rest of you on?)

These are curious matters, indeed! But not any “curiouser” than what readers of Plato are accustomed to encountering in his endlessly ironic dialogues. These dialogues do nothing for us unless they make us think and ponder their perplexities. And I highly recommend “a poet”’s embrace of “living with the mystery.” “Wondering” at what is perplexing is the origin of philosophy after all, as Aristotle tells us, precisely because “all humans by nature desire to know” – Metaphysics.

(A tangent: The difference between the first 2000 years of the Greco-European tradition, I argue, and the modern West was the shift from thinking though dialectic and open-ended questioning, still seen in medieval scholasticism, to the obsession with finding an absolute foundation and building an absolutist fabric of fact upon it that we see in Descartes’s vision of truth. Our science contingent has succeeded in convincing me that most scientists today aren’t like that, but I am still trying to convince them that nonetheless this was historically the case, until recently, in terms of the impact of science on modern Western culture in the 17th through the 19th centuries! This is precisely what gets thought out all through the 20th century and is the deep structure of the emergence of a post – Modernity mindset. It is not “relativism,” except in its most irresponsible forms.)

So hang in here with Plato and this dialogue. It’s well worth the effort. Ion truly is the beginning of the 2400-year-old history of literary theory as a very perplexing branch of philosophy in the West. What Plato clearly saw was that poetics represents something puzzling and provocative for the future of the philosophical project of applied critical thought, even in the very beginnings of Western philosophy.

Plato is placing the question of literary theory – for it always was and is and must be a question and an interrogatory – at the very heart of his immensely influential philosophical project. As its enemy? As its gad-fly? As an unacknowledged return of the repressed? We can only talk about those meta-level questions of interpretation after we have finished reading the entire dialogue on its diegetical or ostensible level of meaning, in which poietike does not seem to fare very well…

Socrates And generally speaking, in all discussions in which the subject is the same and many men are speaking will not he who knows the good know the bad speaker also? For obviously if he does not know the bad, neither will he know the good, when the same topic is being discussed. [The Greek doesn’t say “when the same topic is being discussed.” It says “concerning the same (kind of) thing,” using the Greek word autos, which is also the word usedin other situations to indicate the Form or Idea of a kind of thing, as opposed to an instance of it – jlb.]

Ion True.

Socrates We find, in fact, that the same person is skilful in both? (judging both the good and the bad speaker in terms of knowing the ike)

Ion Yes.

Socrates And you say that Homer and the other poets, such as Hesiod and Archilochus, speak of the same things, although not in the same way; but the one speaks well and the other not so well?

Ion Yes; and I am right in saying so. [Ahem. Did Ion ever say this? No, Socrates put all these words in his mouth, in the last passage we looked at!]

Socrates And if you know the good speaker, you ought also to know the inferior speakers to be inferior?

Ion It would seem so.

Socrates Then, my dear friend, can I be mistaken in saying that Ion is equally skilled in Homer and in other poets, since he himself acknowledges that the same person will be a good judge of all those who speak of the same things; and almost all poets do speak of the same things?

Ion Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and have absolutely no ideas of the least value and practically fall asleep when anyone speaks of any other poet; but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and am all attention and have plenty to say?

Socrates The reason, my friend, is not hard to guess. No one can fail to see that you speak of Homer without any art (techne) or knowledge (episteme). If you were able to speak of him by rules of art [speak of him by techne], you would have been able to speak of all other poets; for poetry is a whole (a whole ike). [Literally: for poietike is (techne) to holon]

Ion Yes.

Socrates And when anyone acquires any other art as a whole [a whole techne], the same may be said of them. Would you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?

Ion Yes, indeed, Socrates; I very much wish that you would: for I love to hear you wise men [sophoi] talk.

Socrates O that we were wise, Ion, and that you could truly call us so; but you rhapsodes and actors [hypocrites], and the poets whose verses you sing, are wise; whereas I am a common man, who only speaks the truth [aletheia]. For consider what a commonplace and trivial thing is this which I have said – a thing that any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art [when anyone possesses a whole techne], the inquiry into good and bad is one and the same. Let us consider this matter; is not painting a whole art?

Ion Yes.

Socrates And there are and have been many painters, good and bad?

Ion Yes.

Socrates And did you ever know anyone who was skilful in pointing out the excellences and defects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any other painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and has no ideas; but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or whoever the painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was attentive and had plenty to say?

Ion No indeed, I have never known such a person.

Socrates Or take sculpture – did you ever know of anyone who was skilful in expounding the merits of Daedulus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general (the sculptural kind of thing) were produced, was at a loss and went to sleep and had nothing to say?

Ion No indeed; no more than the other (i.e. in the case of painting).

Socrates And if I am not mistaken, you never met with anyone among flute-players or harp-players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes, who was able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyrus or Orpheus, or Phemius the rhapsode of Ithica, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?

Ion I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Nevertheless, I am conscious in my own self, and the world agrees with me, that I do speak better and have more to say about Homer than any other man; but I do not speak equally well about others. After all, there must be some reason [aitia, or “cause”] for this; what is it?

Socrates I see the reason, Ion, and I will explain to you what I imagine [sic] it to be. The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not a techne, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration [a divine dunamis or “godlike power”]; there is a divinity moving you, like that contained in the stone which Euripedes calls a magnet….

 

I hate to break off the dialogue at this very dramatic and funny point, just as Socrates is launching into his long and elaborate and highly inventive “epic simile” about the magnet, but we will have to leave those marvelous speeches for next time.

It’s interesting that Socrates at this point uses only examples drawn from the imitative or artistic technes and seems only to be thinking of “merits and defects” in terms of verisimilitude with what is being imitated, in each case. But I can’t help but think we could just as well see Socrates here as giving hints about how Ion might respond to this whole line of questioning. At least, if Ion does think he has a formal kind of thing that is not the subject matter of any other ike, shouldn’t he be speaking up about it by now? Ion doesn’t have a clue about the formal nature of what he is doing, does he? I think he is failing the test of defending his poietike quite miserably. And Socrates has only begun

Even if Socrates is not playing fair, as Rick and I both suggest, isn’t it also fair to say that if Ion had Rick’s expertise, for instance, Ion would be “speaking better” of his techne than he is able to do. Also, he should be able to recognize that Socrates is “speaking well” of the ike only occasionally and that he is speaking very “poorly” of it at other times? Ion shows no ability to judge the speaking of Socrates by a set of formal standards, or what Plato & Aristotle would call the “orthotike” that belongs to each discipline and is to some degree different for each.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle seek the truth first as educators, and I would argue that for them this is a higher priority and a more powerfully guiding formal end (or telos) of liberal thought than seeking truth within the ikes, important as that is. The difference between riding a bandwagon, playing to emotions, and following trends in order to win prestige and wealth and on the other hand actually possessing more than a shallow grasp of the ike in question – this difference (and it is a moral or ethical issue too) may be more in view in this dialogue than the actual ikes involved. Does Ion simply “learn his words by rote” and say what invariably stirs the crowds, rather than challenging and perhaps disturbing them, without a critical and thoughtful formal understanding of what an epic poem might be and what an interpreter of it would understand about it in its own right? If so, this is important, at the birth of the idea of a liberal arts education.

In our next installment, while Ion was eager to perform for Socrates, but was forestalled by him, now it is Socrates who will launch into one of the strangest and most memorable of epic similes of all of literarure….

Well, there is much to ponder here. But remember that we have learned an extraordinarily important formal principle for Greek thought: “every ike is a whole ike.” And this is only because an ike by definition treats one formal kind of thing in the world. And it is the that formal elegance of that kind of thing (its white lightning) that is followed and traced out in every purposeful activity associated with that ike.

The Greeks alone of historical human cultures, as far as we know, and this was the miracle of Greece, found an origin for human coming-to-know, and it was elegant ande compellling: the fact that there is indeed elegant formal order of a plenitude of different varieties visible to the human mind (“intelligible”) in the cosmos, including within the human space of appearance that is the city-state or polis.

We can come-to-know, for the Greeks, only because the world is filled not with things, but with kinds of things! Every time we see a cat, we also know something of the Form-al identity of “cat-ness,’ and therefore we can press further with our knowing. If there is form, then we can know, because rigorous knowing is formal by nature. And remember the Pythagoreans, early Greeks who discovered number, not as a humble method for counting in trade and everyday affairs, but in its own superbly elegant formality and its potent further “formalizabilities.”

Right here, this is the gist of classical Greco-European thought forever after. Identify a formal kind of thing and work out its elegance dialectically in an ongoing discovery procedure – this is the exciting way that “thought calls to us “in our deepest core of being (thank you, Heidegger).

So as Socrates continues to drill Ion with his strongly leading questions, notice the formal principles of ike he is expounding. Possessing an ike genuinely, or possessing a genuine ike (both of these are at issue in ion’s case, but they are formally quite distinguishable issues) must equip all members of that disciplinary community to 1) treat every instance of the formal kind of thing it is devoted to formalizing, and to 2) distinguish poor from excellent talking about (and practice of) the ike. The person claiming an ike must be able to apply an orthotike, a set of formal standards of evaluation, as developed by the disciplinary community.

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28 Responses to “Wily Socrates # 4”

  1. Janet Says:

    Coming soon — Socrates’ flowery speeches and his arresting “epic simile,” an analogy drawn from the science of his day: the magnet “stone” that draws iron rings and ends up dangling long chains of rings and other magnetized bits down from itself….

    Rick wants to see how I treat this matter of “inspiration.” And I want to see how you-folks treat it. Socrates will say that rhapsodes and poets are “inspired” by the divine Muse when those beauitful words are flowing from them. How are we to take this? What does it “mean”?

    “Not by techne and not by episteme” do they speak, but by en-theos-“ism” — that is by “a divinity (theos) within (en) them.”

    Hence, we get our own word “enthusiasm,” which had a very poor reputation during the Newtonian Eighteenth Century, as you might imagine, until the Romantic movement came along in reaction against the dominance of the Enlightenment “Reason.”

    (Remember Austen’s _Sense and Sensibility_ and the great movie of that name? The two sisters represent sense or reasonableness as opposed to Romantic (over) sensibility and a tendency to be carried away by “enthusiasm.” It’s no accident that the Romantics loved the neoplatonic tradition of divine madness and inspiration in relation to literature, at least metaphorically, and in relation to the poet’s exquisite possession of this sensibility and depth of soul, forced to languish away in the hard cold world of middle-class petty society, that propped itself up through its scientific self-complacency. (Not the scientists so much, but the middle class culture in general…or so the Romantic poets thought. But remember the Romantic stereotype of the scientist who “would peep and botanize upon his mother’s grave”?)

    Maybe I will just post this amazing next section # 5 with no commentary at all and let you go at it!? (You certainly heard plenty from me in THIS episode.)

  2. the poet Says:

    Janet, I hope you will continue to include your commentaries. I’m enjoying ION, but I get far more out of it when you take the role of educator (re, your paragraph: “Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle seek the truth first as educators, and I would argue that for them this is a higher priority and a more powerfully guiding formal end (or telos) of liberal thought than seeking truth within the ikes, important as that is. The difference between riding a bandwagon, playing to emotions, and following trends in order to win prestige and wealth and on the other hand actually possessing more than a shallow grasp of the ike in question – this difference (and it is a moral or ethical issue too) may be more in view in this dialogue than the actual ikes involved. Does Ion simply “learn his words by rote” and say what invariably stirs the crowds, rather than challenging and perhaps disturbing them, without a critical and thoughtful formal understanding of what an epic poem might be and what an interpreter of it would understand about it in its own right? If so, this is important, at the birth of the idea of a liberal arts education.”] When you gather up the threads, or say, “We’ve learned…” I find that immensely helpful. This particular paragraph (in brackets) had me nodding my head and thinking, “So that’s what I’m trying to do when work to get my students engaged in conversations about literature.”

    Your riff on catness reminds me of my friend Thom, a potter, who insists that cats unless they are black and white (like the cats of his childhood) are just “cat-shaped” creatures. He’s exercising his quirkiness when he insists on this, but also demonstrating for me that artists often begin with what I’ll call (for lack of a better word) a distorted view of reality. Think of Blake as a small child, seeing God out the window of the house and from thence forward being unfit to any profession but art. (You can’t limit Blake to poetry once you’ve seen his color plates.) Anyway, I’m trying to convey that there is much food for thought here. Bethany

  3. the poet Says:

    Janet asks: “I have a question in response to your question. How would Socrates (with his “formal features” of an ike, so far) respond to your question about how to know the difference between good ‘outrageous’ and bad ‘outrageous’ in a discipline other than your own? (I’m very serious about the importance of Plato’s formal analysis of the nature of the arts and sciences.)”

    I feel like the student who raises her hand because she can’t stand the silence, not because she knows the answer! But doesn’t the answer lie in how Socrates tugs apart Ion’s interest in Homer versus all other poets (which put Ion to sleep!)? Is it enthusiasm, in other words, which I take to mean unschooled enthusiasm, that directs Ion’s comments, or is it a deeper, more studied “knowing”? Socrates says it has to be enthusiasm, or it would apply to other poets, and not just Homer. Like the student who LOVES a certain poem and copies it out and gives it to friends, but can’t say WHY he likes it. On the other hand, encouraging such enthusiasms sometimes (sometimes but not always) leads toward a study of the whole field, the whole “kind of thing” that the individual thing first introduced. How am I doing? (Floundering?) Bethany

  4. Janet Says:

    Ah the noble poet, what a valiant Roman(ess) was she! And I am like the teacher who hears the widening silence with inward quaking and a sinking heart, until that blessed girl raises her hand! (Why is it, as we see in the Socratic dialogues, that those who hesitate to answer are the ones on whom all future answers rest? The readers and speakers on this website — what a great good fortune — have all been willing to speak but undogmatic — except maybe for me!!! Sorry, folks.)

    I think you are doing great, poet. We’re going to see, in future enstallments, that there are worse things than “enthusiasm” to motivate a rhapsode, as well. So your hesitancy to condemn enthusiasm outright is well justified, I think. And we know that Plato will turn to myth and story (and will use empassioned and inspired words) in later dialogues to carry the search for truth forward.

    But at the same time, here in this context and dealing with THIS rhapsode Ion, I think we can say that there is more than a grain of salt in Socrates’ “complimentary” reason for Ion’s success, don’t you? As “a poet” puts it: “Is it enthusiasm, in other words, which I take to mean unschooled enthusiasm, that directs Ion’s comments, or is it a deeper, more studied “knowing”?”

    Ion is so guileless, so “floundering,” that our pity may go out to him, but perhaps he is more culpable than he yet appears. We’ll see. Remember how much Plato loathed the Sophists, who made money teaching rich men’s sons to speak well in court. Always, these teachers of the first liberal arts (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) are thinking about the KINDS of citizens produced by various modes of education. Chief in those days were the itinerant teachers of rhetoric (the Sophists) and the rhapsodes. Did they produce critical thinkers who had caught a glimpse of formal beauty and rigor and might choose to live (and die) by it for the good of the polis?

    The Socrates attack will go deeper than evaluating (and perhaps condemning) the arts of rhetoric and poetic — it goes to the uses to which these ikes are put by those who know and can use these arts. Because these are arts of language-use (or Saussure’s “parole”) the “speaker” is part of the linguistic structure of the speaking, though the actual speaker has the arts to disappear behind a fictional speaker or an impressive “persona” wearing a golden crown…

    Again, the problem is that the rhetoric can become “fine clothes,” making the speaker appear “noble” and “fine” and “excellent,” while the inward reality may be otherwise.

    Think of campaign rhetoric and the rhetoric used to justify political decisions — it’s the opening of that “gap” between the language used and the real motives and attitudes that is so dangerous, yet once we have the arts of rhetoric and poetic they are available for this kind of terrible misuse. (Milton spent his life thinking and writing in terms of this problem, as some of the readers here well know.) How do we discern when the speaker is not what the words might make it appear? Or if the speaker is using words with great popular appeal as a cloak for less noble agendas?

    Socrates will give us more ammunition to use as this dialogue progresses, for discerning the difference between the genuine and the sham ike and the genuine and sham USE of an ike (which is a worse ethical sin in terms of the liberal arts).

    I asked, “How would Socrates respond to the question Rick asked about Luce Irigaray’s outrageous comments on E = Mc^2 — how do we know the difference between good and bad speaking in a discipline other than our own?” “A poet” started us on a good answer.

    I’m still pressing for even more application the formal features Socrates has elucidated, however. “A poet” speaks to one of those formal features — that the ike equips one to apply the principles of the ike to all instances of it — to every epic poet and not just Homer — in what she says above in reference to the student who LOVES a poem and has no idea why.

    It is true that one doesn’t know a discipline or idea until one can explain it in formal terms. (Yet when Paul asks me why I don’t “just explain” poststructuralism I seem to dodge the question…. But there is method in my madness! I will get you there, and believe it or not — by the shortest route possible! So you lit theory students especially, stick with me! This course is FREE, like Socrates’ was…)

    So, what about a second formal feature Socrates has given us? That the one who judges best of good and bad speaking is the one who possesses the ike? Here are the poor abused American scientists, seeing an outrageous hoax paper published and then reading Sokal’s incendiary excerpts and badgering rhetoric in his Fashionable Nonsense book that pillories top French poststructuralist thinkers. How are they to know what to think when they “read it in black and white”?

    I think they need to take recourse to scholars in that field, maybe faculty colleagues at their own universities, who might judge better about Lacan and Irigaray than Sokal can. And they can read some reviews of the book. But there is a larger issue here. Is it really likely that an entire field of thought is entirely devoid of rigor? That someone can walk in, look around, and declare the emperor has no clothes?

    I think we should be suspicious of any badgering, polemical writing like Sokal’s book. In fact, this, and the comments of Gavin and David and Rick over in Part # 4 of my lit theory course, have finally shown me what my students could never quite convince me of, that my wholsesale dismissal of the “Cartesian paradigm” and the Newtonian deterministic worldview will create a valid skepticism in my readers. A VALID skepticism.

    I am working on a post on what I’ve learned. But here is the main point from applying Socrates’ principle: is it really likely that Sokal and his coauthor can walk into a notoriously difficult field, read some of the material, and walk away with the formal grasp of the field to VALIDLY dismiss the field as pure nonsense? (Even if they are the unfashionable “French.”)

    The problem was that American scientists were encountering “social constructionism” on their own campuses (perhaps?) or at least in some books on science and so felt threatened and indignant already. But that movement is not to be laid at the door of poststructuralism. Sokal was carrying on a “hidden war” against a movement in North American and England by pilloring a series of French thinkers. Yet he never even attempts to show or support a direct connection. (The closest connection is one thinker Baudrillard, who is not a lit theorist.)

    Well, more on that in an upcoming post. As I’ve said many times, it is more difficult for poststructuralism to be grasped fairly and adequately in English-speaking countries than other intellectual movements, because we have not had decades upon decades of Saussurean thinking over here, as went on in Europe.

    I see some of you are going over to the fun little learning modules on Saussure — and this will stand you in very good stead. It is a lucid little presentation (very much on a beginner’s level). View it as an introduction into a sort of “non-Euclidean geometry,” because it has different postulates for thinking than we use over here. We need a “complementarity principle” if we are to learn to use fruitfully two very different ways of thinking, analytic rationality and Continental philosophy/linguistics.

  5. Janet Says:

    Here’s the Saussure link again: http://artsweb.uwaterloo.ca/~hrvagt/Saussure/index.htm

    Enjoy! It’s lots of fun, especially the quizzes. And the famous speech diagram!
    (I’ve been drawing some of my own diagrams to give you folks, but can’t get my illustrations to upload right, yet.)

  6. Rick Says:

    Socrates: And speaking generally, in all discussions in which the subject is the same and many men are speaking, will not he who knows the good know the bad speaker also? For if he does not know the bad, neither will he know the good when the same topic is being discussed.

    Ion: True.

    Socrates: Is not the same person skilful in both?

    Ion: Yes.

    Socrates: And you say that Homer and the other poets, such as Hesiod and Archilochus, speak of the same things, although not in the same way; but the one speaks well and the other not so well?

    Ion: Yes; and I am right in saying so.

    Socrates: And if you knew the good speaker, you would also know the inferior speakers to be inferior?

    Ion: That is true.

    Socrates: Then, my dear friend, can I be mistaken in saying that Ion is equally skilled in Homer and in other poets, since he himself acknowledges that the same person will be a good judge of all those who speak of the same things; and that almost all poets do speak of the same things?

    “… can I be mistaken in saying …”? Yes. Not only can be, but is. The of the matter is that Ion is not “equally skilled in Homer and in other poets”. Ion is skilled in Homer, but not in Hesiod and Archilochus. This skill arises though possessing a knowledge of the works of Homer and not in the works of the others. The skill, the ability to treat the subject matter, depends on the particular area of applcation in addition to the more general rules and features that are being applied.

    This is not true only of poetry, of course, but of all areas. Being an expert in Charles Dickens does not in and of itself make “equally skillful” in Jane Austin. There is a commonality in approach to the two, but the true particular skill arises though the knowledge of the particular (Dickens) rather than merely the general (novels).

    Being an expert in the theology of John Wesley does not automatically make one “equally skillful” in the theology of John Calvin. Again, there is a commonality that arises form the fact that both are protestant theologians, but it takes the particular knowledge of the works of John Wesley to be “skillful” in the theology of John Wesely; without also this particular knowledge of John Calvin, one is not “equally skillful” in John Wesely and John Calvin.

    A programmer can be skilled in programming in C++, but not “equally skillful” in Lisp, because of a lack of familiarity in the particular manner in which Lisp does things, even though both are generally programming.

    One can be skilled in the evolutionary history and biology of cats, but not “equally skillful” in the evolutionary history and biology of whales or cows because of the lack of the particular knowledge concerning whales and cows while possessing that knowledge when it comes to cats.

    Ad so on to any field one can think of. Skill in analytic philosophy does not make on “equally skillful” in poststructuralism. Being skilled in the detection of exoplanets does not automatically make one “equally skillful” in all other areas of astronomy. Being a skilled furniture maker does not make one “equally skillful” in cabinetry or in being a luthier even though all three generally work in wood.

    Ion: Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and go to sleep and have absolutely no ideas of the least value, when any one speaks of any other poet; but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and am all attention and have plenty to say?

    Socrates: The reason, my friend, is obvious. No one can fail to see that you speak of Homer without any art or knowledge. If you were able to speak of him by rules of art, you would have been able to speak of all other poets; for poetry is a whole.

    Ion: Yes.

    Ion;s anwser “yes”, has to be taken not as a “yes of agreement”, for we know Ion does not (nor should he) acknowledge that he “speak[s] of Homer without any art or knowledge”; clearly he does “speak from knowledge, and with art. This “yes” must be taken as more simple conversational marker that means no more than “go on, I’m still listening”.

    Ion here is bringing up exactly the point I noted above, that his skill pertains to Homer, and not to the other poets, and does (even if Socrates would deny it) speak with knowledge; that is, the particular knowledge of Homer that give a basis for his skill. Whether this arises through his interest, or some other factor, is not really the point here, but that the art and the knowledge of Ion the Rhapsode extends to Homer, and not “equally” to “any other poet”. He is pointing out here that he gathers, and pays attention to, information, knowledge, and considered opinion concerning the particular Homer, as that is his particular interest within the general art of “being rhapsode”; a general art that does not exist except in the particularities of the individual rhapsodes. Such a art does not exist today, because today we have no rhapsodes. We have only the historical “shadows” of a once existing art.

    Also, undoubtably Ion also pays attention to the performaces, an dperforamce techniques, of other rhapsodes for ways in which he can improve his own performances and performance technique. But not, or not only, at some “high” general level, but in the particular concrete level of an actual perfomrance on stage.

    Socrates: And when any one acquires any other art as a whole, the same may be said of them. Would you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?

    Ion: Yes, indeed, Socrates; I very much wish that you would: for I love to hear you wise men talk.

    Socrates: O that we were wise, Ion, and that you could truly call us so; but you rhapsodes and actors, and the poets whose verses you sing, are wise; whereas I am a common man, who only speak the truth. For consider what a very commonplace and trivial thing is this which I have said- a thing which any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art, the enquiry into good and bad is one and the same. Let us consider this matter; is not the art of painting a whole?

    Ion: Yes.

    As we have alread seen, when Socrates starts talking of “a whole art”, he loses sight of the inherent and necessary interplay between the general and the particular, to the point that he will not apparently admit that the particlar even exists. He speaks as if one could consider epic poetry so generally that we lose sight of the fact that there are in fact epic poets about whom the discussion of epic poetry must ultimately be grounded. We talk of epic poetry to understand the works of epic poets! Without epic poets, that is particular, concrete, existing epic poets who have produced particular, concrete, existing works of epic poetry there would be no epic poetry to talk about.

    Socrates: And there are and have been many painters good and bad?

    Ion: Yes.

    Socrates: And did you ever know any one who was skilful in pointing out the excellences and defects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any other painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and had no ideas; but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or whoever the painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was attentive and had plenty to say?

    Ion: No indeed, I have never known such a person.

    Socrates appears to believe that there is some “whole art” divorced from the real, concrete, existing examples that ground and give meaning to the art/science/skill, about which the “whole art” is concerned. This leads him here to talking as if “judging” or “criticizing” is the same as “doing” (or, rather, it seem that to Socrates the “whole art” has nothing to do with doing!). One can, of course be a judge, even a competent judge, of Polygnotus without being able to paint as well as, or in the style of, that painter. We can judge Eric Clapton without being able to play guitar as well as he does.

    How is it that we would judge a painter? BY his technique; his choice of colors, the composition, the quality of his brushstrokes, etc. We could ask if the depicted scene is accuate (did Washington really stand up in the boat as he crossed the Delaware? The crossing was during the night, not as dawn as depicted. etc.), but the judging of the artist is more generally done on the level of technique and symbolism, not on actual historical accuracy.

    How do we judge a rhapsode, a poet, or a novelist? Certainly be technique; the choice of words, the rhythm of the words, etc. Working with language, of course, one can also judge the content of the language. We can ask if Moby Dick is an accuate portrayal of whaling, although that is not really the point of the book; Moby Dick a not a textbook on whaling.

    Socrates seem unable, or unwilling, to treat the art of the rhapsode in the same manner as he treats the art of the painter, as a “painter of words”. His very example of the painter displays the weakness of his approach to the art of the rhapsode.

    Socrates: Or did you ever know of any one in sculpture, who was skilful in expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general were produced, was at a loss and went to sleep and had nothing to say?

    Ion: No indeed; no more than the other.

    Like the painter above, how do we judge the sculptor? Primarily by the technique; although content, again, is there (doe the scupture look like Caesar?) Again, his own example displays his weakness of trying to treat Ion as a lecturer at a unversity rather than as a poet, or a preacher, one who “stitches” words together.

    Are painters no more than illustrators of textbook type material? Are sculptors as not more than museum model-makers? Are poets no more than dry factual lecturers?

    Socrates: And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among flute-players or harp- players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or Orpheus, or Phemius the rhapsode of Ithaca, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?

    Ion: I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Nevertheless I am conscious in my own self, and the world agrees with me in thinking that I do speak better and have more to say about Homer than any other man. But I do not speak equally well about others- tell me the reason of this.

    Again, Ion points out to Socarates that he (Socrates) is wrong about the art of the rhapsode in genral, and the art of Ion in particular.

    —-

    Socrates: I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of this. The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, like that contained in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet,…

    And again, Socrates refuses to listen.


    There is an joke about higher education that, as one moves up the degree ladder, one learns more and more about less and less until one knows everything about nothing.

    This “knowing more and more about less and less”, the increased particularity of knowledge, is exactly what Socrates here is missing. Socrates wants some “whole art” that escapes the particularity of the real world, but, as our educational ladder shows, art and science is is grounded in, is learned by, and advances through, the study of particular intances that fall within the realm of the art. Socrates’ “whole art” is an art that cannot advance, that cannot correct itslef, because, in his refusal to acknowledge that Ion is in fact both an expert in Homer and not in the other poets, he loses a sense of the reality about which the art is about.

    Using the metaphor of the world being a territory and our knowledge of the world as a map of that territory, Socrates seems to need to learn that when the map and the territory disagree, it’s the map that’s wrong.

  7. Janet Says:

    Rick says: “This leads him [Socrates] here to talking as if “judging” or “criticizing” is the same as “doing” (or, rather, it seem that to Socrates the “whole art” has nothing to do with doing!).”

    Yes, I agree. This is what I was getting at (in my own way) in saying that Socrates reduces the flow of language in the epic poem to being merely a series of discussions of things that are by rights the subject-matters of other arts.

    But in fact the poets “do” things with language besides discussing subject-matters. Unlike other arts, which use language to talk about and arrive at formalizations of their subject-matters, poets are “makers” who “do things” with language — they “make” or formally construct poieses out of or in the medium of language!

    A “poiesis” (note the active “-sis” ending) is a word that refers both
    to the formal activity of a poet who is purposively structuring a poem, and to the elegantly formal result of that active structuring process, the poetic kind-of-thing through whose form all of those formal elegances and structurings flow as a result of all of that artistic structuring. You cannot formally separate the activity from the thing produced — because what unites them is precisely the Form-al kindness of the thing….

    I know I repeat this a lot, trying to get you to visualize with me the reiteration of the formalisms in the kind of thing, the one who knows the kind of things, and the one who makes the kind of thing.

    Well, Rick’s splendid contribution here has spurred me an entire answering post — which I will place on my front page soon. Now, why don’t more of you leap into this debate? Meanwhile Rick and I will stoutly carry on!

  8. theory kid Says:

    “Folks, I was expecting passionate approval of Socrates early in this dialogue, and instead I am getting from a scientist-cum-litterateur like Rick some passionate defenses of Ion.”

    I’m not surprised because Ion is the innocent babe in this dialogue who Socrates twists around his finger.

  9. theory kid Says:

    “The person claiming an ike must be able to apply an orthotike, a set of formal standards of evaluation, as developed by the disciplinary community.”

    This is not clear to me. First, didn’t Plato truly think that the “kind-ness” of things was a constituting part of the thing itself? Second, the “orthotike” were possible because the human mind was able to know these “formal” aspects, the “kind-nesses.” One identifies some particular thing by its participation in the forms — that is, by its formal properties (the “Chair-ness” of the Chair in Republic 10, though of course, there are real problems when the formal properties of a thing are abstracted in “the Forms” — Aristotle is better with his “material and formal” causes being essential for the thing itself, though I think you’re right that Plato thought more along the lines of Aristotle’s “causes” (aitia), but “participation” is confusing.)

    In short, the “set of formal standards of evaluation” have to emerge from the nature of the things themselves as “discovered” by the community, not as “developed” by the community. Science is all about “discovery,” which presupposes the formal properties are 1) constitutive of the things themselves, and 2) discoverable by the human mind.

  10. theory kid Says:

    Rick says, “And so on to any field one can think of. Skill in analytic philosophy does not make on “equally skillful” in poststructuralism. Being skilled in the detection of exoplanets does not automatically make one “equally skillful” in all other areas of astronomy. Being a skilled furniture maker does not make one “equally skillful” in cabinetry or in being a luthier even though all three generally work in wood.”

    Rick’s talking here about specializion. Is not each specialty an “ike” in Rick’s mind?

    Rick also says: “As we have already seen, when Socrates starts talking of “a whole art”, he loses sight of the inherent and necessary interplay between the general and the particular, to the point that he will not apparently admit that the particular even exists. He speaks as if one could consider epic poetry so generally that we lose sight of the fact that there are in fact epic poets about whom the discussion of epic poetry must ultimately be grounded. We talk of epic poetry to understand the works of epic poets! Without epic poets, that is particular, concrete, existing epic poets who have produced particular, concrete, existing works of epic poetry there would be no epic poetry to talk about.”

    I think Rick is a very discerning reader of Plato’s Ion. He will not accept Socrates’ tricks. Rick is one of the few people I know who are not tricked into the trap that Plato’s prestige in Western thought has laid for us, namely, that whatever Socrates says must be right. A lot of the time, it seems to me, Socrates may be flat wrong, and the Ion is an interesting example. In the end, Socrates may have won the argument with Ion, but we ask ourselves, would he have won the argument with me? Rick seems to think that the answer to this question is no. Very bold indeed, I’d say.

  11. Janet Says:

    “Is not each specialty an “ike” in Rick’s mind?”

    Yes, theory kid, I think you’ve made an excellent point here. It’s good to hear from a theory student, thanks! I also agree with your comments about Rick’s willingness to take on Socrates.

    I have more to say about your intriguing comment about science — and will say it soon!

  12. Rick Says:

    “Is not each specialty an “ike” in Rick’s mind?”

    Well, maybe. If we take an “ike” as not distinguishing between the formal and the application of the formal, then each specialty would be an “ike”. If Ion can “speak excellently” of Homer, and not of Hesiod, then I suppose we would be forced to conclude that being a rhapsode specializing in Homer would be its own ike.

    However, I would think there is the question of to what degree that defintion of an “ike” is useful in uderstading the world. It seems to me that if we are forced to conclude that either no-one possesses an “ike” (or at least a “whole ike”) unless they know everthing about an entire field of endeavor, or that each individual specialization is its own ike, then perhaps what we have is a problem with the concept of an “ike”.

    Take, for instance, chemistry, in particular the chemistry that takes place inside of the cylinder of an internal combustion engine as a fuel (gasoline) burns. This is complex chemisrty, and combustion chemisty is a reasonable specialization. But this does not deny that there is an overarching “chemistry” in general of which this is a particular application. An chemist who works with making plastics, for example, may not be fully conversant with combustion chemistry, the particulars of the context of the reactions that take place in an automobile engine are enough different from that in a plastic manufacturing context that expertise in one does not automatically translate into expertise in the other. But this does not deny the fact that there are, and both chemists would affirm that there are, “laws of chemistry” that are the same in both.

    Claiming that “chemistry” is an ike means neither of our chemists posses a “whole ike” since neither can “speak excellently” about the the “whole ike” but, like Ion, only aobut their particular part of it. On the other hand, claiming that the two areas af chemistry are each there own ike that each chemist possess “the whole” of leads one to miss the commonality of the two areas as applications of the laws of chemistry.

    I would thus think that the concept of an “ike” as not disinguishing between the formal (theory) and the particular (applications of the theory) is the problem we are facing in the dialog. In the “real world” are we live it there are specializations (audio electronics vs. digital electronics) of broader theoretical fields in a type of hierarchy (chemistry > organic chemistry > pteroleum chemistry > …) or which we operate on different levels as appropriate to the situatation at hand.

    There is a practicality here that comes into play in considering such specializations. We can certainly consider Shakespeare’s plays (as opposed to Christopher Marlowe’s) as a legitimate specialization. Perhaps we can consider Shakespeare’s tragedies (as opposed to he comedies) a legitimate specialization. Maybe even Hamlet (as opposed to Macbeth). We probably would balk at considering Hamlet, act one, scene one (as opposed to act one, scene two) as a legitiamte specialization (or maybe not…). I am not sure, however, that there is any really principled manner to draw the dividing line; over time, as fields develop, they do in practice tend to divide according to how much we know, how they develop, and how they fit into other areas of life (petroleum chemistry is a specialization because of the primarily economic and industrial importance of petroleum). What may seem to be too narrow a specialization today may, tommorrow, seem quite reasonable.

  13. Janet Says:

    {This is turning into a new post, but I’ll record it here for now –jlb]

    Rick says: “It seems to me that if we are forced to conclude that either no-one possesses an “ike” (or at least a “whole ike”) unless they know everthing about an entire field of endeavor, or that each individual specialization is its own ike, then perhaps what we have is a problem with the concept of an “ike”.”

    Here, right here, once again, we have the contrast between the formalism of the Greco-European tradition, about which I am “telling my story,” and the emphasis on “knowledge” in post-Enlightenment thought and educational theory. The ike is not “knowing everything about” a subject matter, for if it were, you could study anything and learn about it. No, the ike is the study of the elegance coherences and formal principles OF A FROMAL KIND OF THING. And this Possibility if knowing opens for the human mind ONLY because there is elegant formality in the world.

    Why do I keep insisting on this. A friend said to me, “You are asking Rick to take little baby steps with you instead of giving the larger picture of where you are going.”

    If this is the case, it is not because I am patronizing my readers by thinking they can only handle my little “baby steps.” I am sorry if I inevitably seem to give this idea of disrespecting my readers.

    No, this is not my intent, but it might be an inescapable by-product of what I am trying to do. If I can get you to make this leap with me — a kind of leap that can only be made by an act of the historical imagination — then you will start thinking about this formal elegance in the universe manifesting itself in the kind of thing because of the formal processes that produce the kind-of-thing.

    Once you stop separating the productive activities (e.g. the “laws of nature”) from the “object” — a separation or rupture that Descartes by his own amazing imaginative genius managed to make, and built a whole radically new subject-scientific knowing-object model for human acquisition of knowledge in so doing — then you will have two very different ways of thinking about the same things, one from our own culture and one from an earlier culture.

    This is the simple point of all my teaching and, I think, the simple point of all poststructuralist analysis — that the external world and the interiority of the human subject can be viewed as interrelated in a number of different ways, and each model will disclose (and also “white out” or erase) some aspects of the state of affairs.

    This recognition (to me the essence of what is best in post-Modernity) makes the splendid goal of the liberal arts education superlatively empowered today to accomplish itself, to think and to know — while at the same time makes us significantly chastened and humbled by the grasp of how deeply we are formed — intersubjectively, in our shared codes of conventional associations — by our own culture and our person histories of formation which go back to before we knew ourselves as an “I.”

    My goal is not to convince you, my readers, that the Enlightenment worldview was “wrong” and the Greco-European one was “right.” (But I see I have erred in my presentation, by seeming to suggest that. And rightly this has evoked protest, most recently from Hi.)

    No, I see the sequence of worldviews in Western history as merely one opportunity for us North Americans (who are so largely monolingual) to learn new “epistemological” languages, to imaginatively grasp and apply an “other” way of thinking rigorously from Plato and Aristotle.

    Why? Because this will enrich and broaden us, but most of all because of what it does for us when we “return” to our own world and our own deeply engrained set of assumptions about what knowing is and what it is for. We will see ourselves and our own worldview better, because we have fresh critical apprehensions about it.

    Now in the U. S., Stanley Fish, for example, has been notorious in arguing that getting outside of our own “interpretive community” only means that we have been inducted into another interpretive community, or two or three of them, but we can never get to a place outside of all these human communities and get an objective view of “the way things really are.”

    I want to say most emphatically that if Fish means this as critique of the time-honored liberal arts ideal of critical awareness and its power to “liberate” us, then it only holds water if we are thinking in terms of finding an Archimedian point upon which we can rest everything, and from which we can “move the world.” That is, if we are thinking of getting outside our former parochialism and acheiving a God’s-eye-vantage-point, so that we humans can loftily proclaim that we know finally and completely the objective and universal truth of the ways things really are.

    This hope, of course, was brand new when it arose with science and the Newtonian-inspired Enlightenment Modernity — that humanity could cease to be parochial and subjectively biased and attain to this universality of objective fact and a “self-evident” Reason. (In the 50s, so far as I can tell, I was still growing up in THAT world. What a huge paradigm-shift has occurred in our culture since then.)

    The Enlightenment was, like all powerful cultural movements, an experiment in attempting to put into practice and live out certain selected values, and many of those values were magnificent (the universal rights of man, for instance, and the idea that science could promote the material welfare of humankind).

    All such cultural experiments also produce the unexpected and often completely unwanted “dark side” of their selected values, because selecting some means excluding or denying others. And in the thrilling adventure of forging this new culture, we are generally utterly blind to this dark side. We simply do not see it, because we are focusing on what we have selected to focus upon. (But this is also why cultures are most critical and despairing aobut themselves for their perceived failures in fully instituting their highest values. In the Modern West, failures in acheiving genuine human rights for all; in the medieval West, failures in acheiving spiritual compassion and responsibility by persons in all levels of feudal society, which is endlessly mourned and reproached in medeival texts.)

    This is part of the human condition, I believe, and this is a view of the human condition shared by poststructuralism in postmodern times, and by the historical Christian faith in premodern times, both of which viewed humanity as riddled with contradictions even in our highest efforts, and who thought dialectically about the play of positivity and negativity in the human psyche and in human communities. (It didn’t lessen the acute disappointment in all humans not fulfilling consistently higher spiritual ideals and being pesonally transfigured and emposwered by grace.)

    Going back to Rick’s comment about the ike implying a KNOWLEDGE of everything about a specialization, I want to ask all of you to keep on pushing yourselves to think this question differently — as well as to think it in the astute way that Rick is thinking it. (Think it both ways. Let them play against each other. Work in the in-between of the two paradigms. That’s the poststructuralists’ chosen territory because its turbulence is so rich in seeking higher-order formulations about human menaing-structures….)

    Try to think this question of the specialization as being an ike, as though the specialization were NOT what Rick visualizes as a huge collection of data. Comprehensiveness could be of all facts in the field — or it could be of all the important and interrelated principles in the field. Yes, as Rick insists, these two are deeply entwined and in fact they constitute one another in semiotic terms. But for the Greeks, insofar as knowing is concerned, knowing is of the formal elegance.

    Remember, we ourselves have learned to think of “knowledge” as the key to how humans come to know through a gigantic and revolutionary historical process that is now deeply pervasive in our language and in our cultural conventions and codes and in our late-modern theory of education.

    And this historical shift began during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it seemed to us Westerners that we now had a FOUNDATION of absolute scientific certainty and truth upon which to build a structure of the sum total of knowledge. This structure of assumptions, Foundationalism, is no longer embraced in Anglo-American philosophy or in our other fields. On the other hand, this does not mean we are not “really” knowing or have no “objective” or genuinely evidential basis in science and the other fields, either. We do, but it is an ever-evolving picture, through the thrilling history of trying out and arriving at more adequate formalizations, whose Possibility emerged from the older ones?

    Okay now, try to think of a “specialization” in your mind, okay. It’s a big area with all kinds of little marks in it to be read, okay. And NOW, think of it as suddenly lit up for a moment by white lightning. That lightning traces out a pattern, a system, a “field-theory,” a tree structure, a taxonomy, a compex set of maths, whatever it is that travels along the main “lines of force” in that specialized area of thinking.

    Lo and behold — this is the “formal elegance” or formal structure of the kind-of-thing, what the Greeks were focusing on, insofar as the discipline has worked it out to date! THIS is what confers the ike upon the shcolar or researcher and enables each of them to move toward further, more advanced work.

    Our formalisms are what guide us in seeking facts and data and what helps us to know where to look next, how to select and combine those pieces into the required coherent picture or results. This skill of ours in this formal elegance derived from its human history — we are nourished by those who have gone before us, but we know we are working out an evolving story and we know that in the future our ike will look different than it does from where we now stand.

    So why do we persist? Because there is nothing better or more fascinating or revealing for us to do with our human energies, and we want to think it further and to teach it to young minds. We hope our specialization will cultivate and season young minds, and make them better equipped to be thoughtful citizens, and that some of them will turn into the future workers in our field. We don’t really teach them information. We teach them “how to think” that information.

    In every field and specialization, we do experience Kuhn’s “paradigm shifts,” but the many, many students I’ve read Kuhn with had no difficulty pointing out that his model was too simplistic and rigid — just an introductory schema for starting to think about science as (like any discipline) ihaving deep continuties with its past formalizations and yet being able to recognize when a leap to a better paradigm will fultil its earlier standpoint. Kuhn overdoes the incommensurability of the new paradigm with the old, my students always tell me.

    So I’d like to quote a passage from Polanyi to complete this post.

  14. Janet Says:

    [I gotta warn you. I’m on a riff and thinking out loud and unless you like this sort of thing, please skip this. I’m just getting some things down so I don’t forget to pick up these threads at some point later on in more organized fashion. I’m indulging myself….)

    A liberal arts education today could be more liberating, perhaps, if we really focused on teaching our GE students “how to think” in a number of different disciplines. This — my ardent and perhaps deluded personal theme — would counter the tendency of our students to latch on to their one chosen way of knowing (science) and deride every other one, as seen in the fanatical scientism that sometimes manifests itselves on the science blogs.

    And it could work against the tendency of our students to bring with them into the classroom their own (also scientistic) religious fundamentalism, taken as an absolutist and all-encompassing foundationalism. I don’t think we should ever ridicule or attack their religious faith in our classrooms (our country is built on freedom of religion and on obeying individual conscience — support those latter principles overtly, at every turn, imho).

    But we should always point out that our own discipline is one of many ways of knowing, and that it uses its own proper methodologies to study its own proper subject matters. We only entrench religious fundamentalism by countering it with (the appearance of) scientific or intellectualist fundamentalism. This is the tragic mistake of the Modern Era and it produced the wars of science and religion, I believe.

    You see, I don’t find this “foundationalism” in earlier Western Christianity, before the rise of science in the Modern West. Those earlier Western texts are always very modest, very dialectical, very much questioning their way into a better formal understanding but never a finished or complete or totalized “knowledge” of the Christian truth. And revealed truth never stood alone, but always beside secular wisdom and the truth of the natural world. (Again, this is why Virgil can lead Dante on his pilgrimage.)

    Natural and revealed truth not only stood in a dialectical relationship with one another in Christian thought, but both were assumed to be much larger and deeper than human beings, who attempted to understand and live into truth a little better in a never-ending process of dialectical exploration. (The church creeds weren’t statements of dogmatic truth: they were “markers” for mysteries into which we intended to work our way in our own life journeys. No linguistic formulation could ever contain truth. It culd only mark our dialectical pathway toward being changed into the image of the truth toward which we were drawn by its beauty and by our love for its generosity in manifesting itself towards us.)

    There is some accuracy, of course, but an even greater irony in the Modern story that the medieval world was closed-minded and dogmatic and that the scientific age brught in freedom of thought and the spirit of questioning. This “story” or the Modern West’s “grand narrative” is why we still teach innocent school children that Columbus’s sailors thought they would fall off the end of the world, when the circumference of the earth had been known for 1500 years and every church in Europe had depictions of the Virgin with the Christ-child, on her lap, holding a small toy ball, which is the entire world-system with the SPERICAL earth in its center! Flat earthers, indeed!

    Perhaps the West experienced two successive ages, medieval and Modern, both closed-minded in some ways and humbly inquiring in others, but ages when people lived entirely within their own worldviews, as the only way to encounter reality. Maybe now we have realized that we come to know reality most freely and deeply when we work with the cognizance of many worldviews, each interacting with an external world, according to its own traditions of formalism, and that this helps us in pressing the human encounter with reality and pursuing our deepest human desire, the simple (and highly spiritual) desire of wanting genuinely to engage in coming-to-know abut things that are much bigger than we are.

    It helps us most of all in testing and qualifying our tendency to think we know more than we do and more absolutely than we do. As a Christian, I am deeply disturbed by the triumphalist parading of a set of propositions as constituting a Christian certitude about the way things really are, because this is not faithful. Christian life is a journey into mysteries that deconstruct our assumptions and require every possible effort to think and integrate and ponder what they could mean along with every other kind of knowing — and contest every kind of arrogance (not that we don’t figure out ways to be arrogant anyway, thinking overzealously to protect the ideals and the acts of mercy that we love).

    “Intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem.” I borrow this from a blogger who also loves this quotation from Augustine. Roughly translated, it means, “There is no way into truth except through love.”

    “Truth” in the Greco-European tradition was always something we humans “approached” and sought to engage more deeply, through pondering dialectically the formal elegance of as much of the truth as seems manifest to us by continuing to build on upon earlier formalized and dialectical wisdom. It was never declared in any way that human beings understood or could ever pronounce upon the “absolute” truth. (The Roman Catholic decrees of infallibility are all of them late-modern in date, reflecting our modern scientistic sense of what truth is like.)

    Yes, I got off on a riff this morning that took us far afield. And if I were wiser (and didn’t want breakfast so much) I would not submit this but save it for a more seasnable time in the future. But everything seems to me to be related to everything else, and a purpose of this weblog is to help me dialectically to unfold and develop my own thinking, so thanks for opening these Possibilities, inlcuding these morning meditation. I will return to Ion and Rick’s points in a more focused fashion hereafter.

    One more thing, in case I should forget it, or this riff should never be possible again…. In poststructuralist thought and in premodern thought (Greco-European) the “possible” is always historical determined: only some Possibilities are possible. The possibilities for the future (probable futures, which Aristotle said were traced in essentia by poets) are based always on the openings that have evolved leading up to the present state of affairs.

    The spiritual possibility of a “new” covenant in the biblical tradition, for example, can only emerge “in the fulness of times,” after millenia of historical development: the working out of the old covenant must be in place before it can be both abrogated AND fulfilled (this is dialectic) by the new. (The new takes it identity from the elegant formalisms of the old.)

    In historical studies and in biology this is abundantly evident, where each new evolutionary development is possible only as a place that can be reached from where we have arrived, so that many abstract “possibilities” such as a “winged horse” are no long possible at this stage in our own actual evolutionary history.

    Or the huge shift from the medieval communal outlook to an intense preoccupation with individual subjectivity that you see everywhere occurring in my periods, the 16th and 17th centuries in the West, from Luther to Shgakespeare to Descartes, could not historically have happened earlier in Western history because the conditions were not ripe for it.

    I mention this because I’ve been thinking a lot about the tendency in anaytical philosophy to do these wide open thought experiments about “logical” possibilities — the possibility of encountering a set of Oxford dons on another planet is one I vividly remember from a Plantinga lecture, and the universe consisting of all possible books is another one that appeals to Dennett in his writings on biology.

    Somehow these contrasting views of the Possible (and of what “logic” is) — as wide open, as opposed to historically determined to a large degree — this contrast is strking me lately as an index to some of the key differences between analytical and Continental philosophy.

    Or between Enlightenment rationality on the one hand and the premodern, postmodern understandings of historical determinations being built into human individuals and into human cultures, so that their freedom is not our own modern “freedom from any constraint,” but rather freedom to become a realized person who can act wisely and redemptively within the severe constraints of human possibility. (Socrates and Jesus are examples of this in the earlier Western context.) The possibilities of transformation begin only in accepting the determined constraints of the current state of affairs and acting dialectically in terms of them.

    But the 20th century project of symbolic logic (and later of analytical philosophy) was itself constrained to think in terms of determining what “there is” according to rule-governed algorithmic and mechanized steps of inference, and this in spite of the fact that Bertrand Russell knew perfectly well that his whole Principia Mathematica could not ultimately go back to a genuinely established foundation. (An Account of My Philosophical Development.)

    Why? Why did he desire to pursue this project? It had nothing to do with encountering reality through elegant formalisms or with being transfigured personally by wisdom or with social amelioration, as far as I can see. I am utterly baffled. Why did we Anglo-American thinkers so desire to separate ourselves from the great ongoing human adventure we’ve been talking about above, and try instead to control our thinking down to its minutest steps in terms of what was now to be called “logic.” I just can’t get it. Give me the dynamic Greek logos any day!

  15. Janet Says:

    Rick says: [and I’m back to business – jlb]

    “Claiming that “chemistry” is an ike means neither of our chemists possess a “whole ike” since neither can “speak excellently” about the the “whole ike” but, like Ion, only about their particular part of it. On the other hand, claiming that the two areas af chemistry are each their own ike that each chemist possess “the whole” of leads one to miss the commonality of the two areas as applications of the laws of chemistry.”

    Rick, I think you have just proven Socrates’ point. Ion must not “really” know the “laws of chemistry” if he admits he only knows combustion chemistry, because this strange inability to say anything helpful about plastics chemistry would show (quite elegantly!) that he couldn’t know about combustion chemistry, because this isn’t possible without knowing the laws of chemistry in general pretty darned thoroughly.

    Do you see what I mean? Socrates doesn’t mean to insist, I don’t believe, that Ion has to be equally specialized in each of the epic poets and has to know everything about all of them.

    No, he is speaking in terms of the elegant formalities, the “general laws” of the ike as a “whole art” of a “whole” kind of thing, and saying that surely Ion ought to be able to tell who (among many persons) is speaking better about epic poetry and who is speaking poorly, no matter which epic poet happens to be being discussed. That is, he ought to be able to do this much better than a doctor or a geometer could do.

    Similarly, of course, any chemist can explain the chemistry of some specialization of chemistry (other than his or her own one) better than a non-chemist could do — better than a doctor or a poet or a physicist.

    And in this sense, a Jane Austen specialist must be well-trained in the “genus” (if you will) of literary studies, and then in the “species” of novel-writing, before becoming an excellent specialist in Austen, who may indeed know just about everything about the field and not simply its elegant formal principles….

    And if she runs into Socrates in Athens, she’d better be able to defend her expertise, not by adducing facts or knowledge about Austen, but by showing what is that special kind of genuinely formalized and rigorous thinking that is going into shaping the principles of her field, and that the literary work is a distinctive kind of thing that requires its own approach, and that she has principles of evaluation (an orthotike), and that she can teach young citizens how to think in this manner, as opposed to any other kind of careful and elegant thinking abut other elegant kinds of things.

    Most of all, she better be able (like Rick does) to catch out Socrates when he tries to argue as though language-use bears the same relationshhip to this ike as to other (non-language-based) ikes; that language is being used in more than one elegantly formalized way when it comes to how a poet constructs a poem out of structure of language and the specialist uses the simpler, more basic expository or diegetical language to talk about that kind of structure. Language is showing up as elegant formed on two very different levels here, and in two very different ways.

    Does the possibility of an elegantly formalized structure or “fiction” made out of language in itself threaten Socrates’ endeavor of using language “philosophically” or “dialectically” or “scientifically,” to produce accounts (logoi) that are the elegantly formalizations that happen when language used simply and instrumentally to formalize something else altogether?

    Here’s where Derrida comes in, as we’ve touched on before, showing that as soon as Plato opposes his new philosophical and dialectical formalizations of each kind to the Actual (as being more Really Real than the actual instantiations), then he has inevitably located his philosophical project in the formal space allotted to the literary fiction or the myth, which are defined and known for what they are by also standing in contrast to the Actual, and more Real. (A Myth of creation is talking about creation on a larger and truer and more spiritually profound level than a science textbook is — or each has its sphere and kind of truth. But ancient peoples regarded myth as more true — as true differently — than pedestrian actual facts are true.)

    For Derrida, this is a structural elucidation of why Plato must battle against poetics to the death, as it were — and it’s a brilliant elucidation on Derrida’s part. And in passing, I’d say that it helps us to understand why someone like Nietzsche, who is fighting for a breath of life in a dismal late 19th century scientistic Europe that closes its eyes to so much of its own misery, dislikes what he sees as Plato’s “deadly” scientific spirit so much. (See “The Birth of Tragedy.”)

  16. Rick Says:

    About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize; and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!

    — Charles Darwin, letter to Henry Fawcett, 1861

    Janet said: “Try to think this question of the specialization as being an ike, as though the specialization were NOT what Rick visualizes as a huge collection of data.”

    I am not trying to present a specialization as “a huge collection of data”. It is, rather, a collection of the relevant facts about the field, facts that are made relevant by the formal structure of the field. In the quote above, Darwin understood this, and has an understanding of the field of geology in which the number and colors of the pebbles in a gravel pit would be counted as interesting or relevant data.

    In Jowett’s translation of Ion (at least the copy I got from The Internet Classics Archive), there are no “U”‘s and 582 “u”‘s. Is this fact useful for understanding Ion at the level we are discussing it here? Probably not. However, it would be relevant, and useful, to someone who wants to print Jowett’s translation using a old-fashioned letterpress with hand-set type.

    I agree with Darwin here, that “all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service”.

    [And Janet – note the date of the quote.]

  17. Rick Says:

    What is an ike?

    Over in “Wily Socrates #3”, in a comment dated June 29th, 2007 at 9:34 am, Janet said:

    They [the greeks] 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.

    This is an important basis for my analysis. As I understand it, and have been using it, this says the an ike comprises both the formal structure of an area and the doing of, and the ability to do, the sorts of thing to which the area pertains. An ike is not only the “elegant formality” that orders the field and the kinds of things with which the field deals, but also with the application of this formality to activity in the world.

    Returning to a previous example of lampworking. There is a formal structure to making glass beads, a skill to be learned, the general types of things which one must have, both mentally and physically “at hand” to make glass beads. But to actually make glass beads (as opposed to merely thinking about or talking about making glass beads), one must have more. One must know things like “this particular piece of glass I want to use to make the bead will discolor if it is left in the flame too long”, and “that particular piece of glass which I want to use has a high melting point”, so one can apply the special care that must be taken to make the bead without discoloring the first glass, and ruining the bead. And one must know that “this particular third piece of glass has a higher coefficient of thermal expansion than the other two”, so special care must be taken and the bead designed so it will not crack while cooling and be ruined.

    So if an ike does comprise both the formal and the practical application of the formal, then necessarily the ike includes the “data” needed to apply the formality to the actual doing.

    One cannot make a formal glass bead; one can only make a particular glass bead.

    One cannot write a formal sonnet; one can only write a particular sonnet.

    One cannot measure the spectrum of a formal star; one can only measure a particular star.

    All of the “elegant formality” in the world cannot help me cook this particular fish filet unless I have the relevant “data” about this particular filet, at which point the formality can be applied and to allow me to cook this particular piece of fish well.

    Your comments above appear to dismiss this type of knowledge. You talk about “the contrast between the formalism of the Greco-European tradition, … and the emphasis on ‘knowledge’ in post-Enlightenment thought” and complain about an earlier comment of mine that of an “ike implying a KNOWLEDGE of everything about a specialization”. You deny what you took as my visualization of a specialization as “a huge collection of data”, and claim that, “for the Greeks, insofar as knowing is concerned, knowing is of the formal elegance”.

    You present the ike as “the study of the elegance coherences and formal principles OF A FORMAL KIND OF THING”.

    Thus here you seem to be denying that the ike has anything at all to do with the actual doing; it’s all “formal elegance” and none of the messy particularites, the “huge collection of data”, that is absolutely necessary for doing something well.

    Which brings us back around to the question I began the comment with: What is an ike? Is it only the “elegant formality”, or is it the “elegant formality” plus the “data” needed to actually make a glass bead, write a sonnet, measure a star and cook a piece of fish?

  18. Rick Says:

    Janet said:

    Rick, I think you have just proven Socrates’ point. Ion must not “really” know the “laws of chemistry” if he admits he only knows combustion chemistry, because this strange inability to say anything helpful about plastics chemistry would show (quite elegantly!) that he couldn’t know about combustion chemistry, because this isn’t possible without knowing the laws of chemistry in general pretty darned thoroughly.

    Early in the dialog, we see

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

    Ion: To Homer only …

    What can “does your art extend to …” mean?

    If it means (as I take it to mean), a fairly high level of expertise, then if we ask our combustion chemist if his “art (compustion chemistry) extends to plastics chemistry”, we would expect him to answer “no”. The expertise needed to actually do work in plastic chemstry is enough different that that for combustion chemistry that expertise in one does not automatically transfer to expertise in the other. If an autombile company wanted to hire a chemist to help design an new cleaner engine, it is unlikely that their first choice would be a plastics chemist.

    On the other hand, if for the combustion chemist “your art” is merely general chemistry, then yes, his art does “extend to” plastics chemistry.

    Which brings us around to the topic of my previous post, which is the relationship between an art and doing something in that art. Our combustion chemist, as a combustion chemist, is doing combustion chemistry; our plastics chemist is doing plastics chemistry. Both are doing chemistry, but in different fields with different expertises. Yes, perhaps the commonality of the two fields of chemistry would allow occasionally one to say “something helpful” about the other field, but in the specific activites of their fields, the expertise is enough different that one could reasonably say that the art of one “does not extend” to the art of the other.

    Simlar to something I pointed out over in #5, this gets to the question of what Ion meant when he answered “to Homer only”. I am, of course, understanding this as his not claiming expertise, and not as a claim that what he does is radically different from that a rhapsode who presents and interprets Hesiod or Archilochus. His “art” does extend to Hesiod and Archilochus to the degree that rhapsodes who present Hesiod or Archilochus are doing basically the same thing in the same way, but with different material. His art does not “extend to” the other poets because of the particularities needed for expertise, not because of different formal structures of being a raphsode presenting different poets.

    So it seems to me that I have “proven Socrates’ point” only if the formality of an ike is at so high a level as to be basically useless.

  19. Janet Says:

    Rick says:

    “Thus here you seem to be denying that the ike has anything at all to do with the actual doing; it’s all “formal elegance” and none of the messy particularites, the “huge collection of data”, that is absolutely necessary for doing something well.
    “Which brings us back around to the question I began the comment with: What is an ike? Is it only the “elegant formality”, or is it the “elegant formality” plus the “data” needed to actually make a glass bead, write a sonnet, measure a star and cook a piece of fish?”

    Janet says: Let me explain how I think Aristotle handled the problem you are bringing up, Rick, although it gets us somewhat ahead of ourselves. (!)

    Aristotle insisted — bless the man! — that the “degrees of determinacy” of the elegant rules for any kind-of-thing depends upon the kind of thing being known. This is sooo important for our thinking about contemporary arts and sciences, I think.

    Of course, he didn’t exactly say “degrees of determinacy,” which comes (for me) from linguistics and prosody. Anything that is normative (such as a “law” or principle or pattern) also has a norm for the degree of determinacy with which it is to be applied. Neoclassical satire obeys the iambic pentameter ideal or norm to a high degree of determinacy, where Donne’s and Marlowe’s satires back in the 1590s exhibit a somewhat different and looser normative pattern to begin with, and THEN a much reduced degree of determinacy in observing that norm! You have extra syllables and other “violations of the norm” or “poetic lincenses” all over the place. All of this must be included in a description or characterization (an account or logos) of the given author’s metrical style.

    This “degree of determinacy” issue was part of what distinguished the technes from the epistemes for the classical Greek mind.

    The “productive” arts (such as bead-making) had to deal with kinds of elegant formality much “closer” to the flux (the Actual world) than highly theoretical epistemes such as geometry and arithmetic.

    Being submerged in the flux of the Actual, which includes all kinds of violations of norms, contingences, and accidents — all of this unformed or less formed or detached fragments of formed stuff in general — the artist who is a bead-maker, a sandal-maker, a historian, a physician, or a maker of poems, all these possessors of TECHNES must deal with contingencies such as the individual idiosyncrasies of a piece of leather disturbing its potential as a sandal-thong, or the particularities Rick notes about bead-making.

    Here the “master” has the benefit of long experience, much of which he cannot impart formally to the apprentice. He can teach the logoi of his art, but the apprentice must acquire “the tricks of the trade” from his own future experience — and from observing how the master handles these idiosyncrasies or emergence occasions.

    Even here, though, the student is absorbing through observation such secondary or deriviative formal principles as may apply — something human beings are highly skilled at doing, since all of language is acquired in this way, for instance. (By observing, absorbing, imitating, not the specifics of speech-acts as heard, but the elegant rules and relationships held in common by all members of the speech community).

    When we consider this Greek formalistic approach, dealing with the ikes in their earlier less-developed phases, we can be freshly re-minded of the formalities that (as Rick points out) are always in play in the disciplines.

    But to deal with the impinging of such particularities, Aristotle invokes a highly sophisticated theory of the Actual, the Possible (or Probable), and the Necessary, which will have its own insights for us. We’ll get to that later when we do our last (third level) rereading of the Ion and invoke Aristotle’s theory of the poetic kind-of-thing, which rests upon the ontolgoy of the Actual, Possible, and Necessary.

    And as my old mentor Craig La Driere used to remark, Aristotle knew that the realm of the strictly Necessary, such as we see in the theorums of Euclidean geometry, is a sub-division (or a special case) of the Possible. In Possibility (Probability) we have the rules or laws being applied with a less-than-necessary degree of determinacy….

    PREVIEW: Aristotle did not say “degrees of determinacy in applicability of the norm,” of course, but that is the idea. And he said that poetics observes a higher degree of determinacy or necessity in its kind-of-thing than can be observed by historians in their kind-of-thing — hence poietike is “more philosophical” than historia! (Poetics, Book 9)

    This is giving the literary way of thinking and knowing a high place in the liberal arts curriculum indeed!

    The reason I think this issue of degrees of determinacy is so important for us in figuring out how to give each of our own disciplines its due, is that the empirical method of experimental testing in the hard sciences is the epitome of evidencbased knowing! As a theorist, I ENVY (no irony intended) this possibility that opens in the study of the natural world. The physicists and mathematicians are so fortunate because the determinacies of what they deal with are so (relatively speaking) transparent and reducible to evidentiary demonstration.

    In the human sciences, we are not so lucky! Our appeal to evidence is much more difficult, since we must rely on work in all the fields that deal in human meaning systems and make our arguments based on all of that, but on a meta-level. This is where the excellence of Derrida comes in, for instance. Theorists recognize he is working on an Einstein level of theory, but to see that, you must have spent years pondering texts and histories that are exceedingly far-flung. We must rely on one another’s seasoned judgments about who is speaking well (as opposed to speaking poorly) in our field.

    Like the work of Einstein, the work of a Derrida or Lacan (or Nietzche or Heidegger) enables us to map out whole new territories and with greater precision and comprehensiveness — always given that what Derrida and Lacan are mapping out are territories of the inconsistent, the self-deconstructing, the contradictory play of positivities and negativities in all communal and psychical meaning structures….

  20. Janet Says:

    Rick says:

    “Yes, perhaps the commonality of the two fields of chemistry would allow occasionally one to say “something helpful” about the other field, but in the specific activites of their fields, the expertise is enough different that one could reasonably say that the art of one “does not extend” to the art of the other.”

    The ultimate context for wanting to be able to evaluate “speaking well” for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, is the polis. The citizens of the self-governing community must have those among them who can give them wisdom and insight — in contrast to mere popular opinion — from the various ikes. If this is the case, then we hope that in times of outrage and hysteria calm heads can prevail and Athens will not exterminate one of its own colonies of Athenians in a fit of picque (or invade territories that may be irrelevant to its interests and the common good?).

    Late-modern educational theory has replaced this poli-tical telos of the liberal arts with a gigantically elaborated professional and career emphasis. Or even a “survival” emphasis, though we don’t say this — use higher education to earn a living (maybe) and have a retirement income (increasingly unlikely — but this is the telos that for Plato and Aristotle governs the form of life lived by a “slave” and not by a “free citizen”!

  21. Janet Says:

    One additional point about what I said above:

    I wrote:

    “Here the “master” has the benefit of long experience, much of which he cannot impart formally to the apprentice. He can teach the logoi of his art, but the apprentice must acquire “the tricks of the trade” from his own future experience — and from observing how the master handles these idiosyncrasies or emergence occasions.

    “Even here, though, the student is absorbing through observation such secondary or deriviative formal principles as may apply — something human beings are highly skilled at doing, since all of language is acquired in this way, for instance. (By observing, absorbing, imitating, not the specifics of speech-acts as heard, but the elegant rules and relationships held in common by all members of the speech community).”

    I want to add that the elegant rules and relationships I referred to here, the “langue” that resides in the mind (in the conditioned perception) of anyone who can engage in “parole” (language-ACTS, spoken or written) USING that langue (the code or set of conventions held in common, the “intersubjective” reality) — that elegant set of rules and relationships constitutes the “conditions of Possibility” for actual language-acts in the actual world.

    Hence Saussure’s langue is, in this respect, “isomorphic” or “homologous” (it has the same elegant design or proportionality) that we find in Plato’s Form or Idea or “concept.”

    It is more really real than any actual instantiation of its elelgance in the world, because its formal elegance both precedes and outlasts any actual language-act. Yet for humans, it is also a floating “place-holder,” filled in with evolving theoretical input from actual events and interactions with the world experienced and spoken about by members of the speech-community. All of these seemingly separate elements then are “mutually and reciprically self-constituted” by one another:

    — the parole carried on every day, written and spoken
    —the langue as the formal residue or really real “code” (the elegant formality) instantiated in the parole and extracted by the human mind as a gradual conditioning of our perceptions as we internalize all these formalities until they are “second nature” to us.
    — the human psyche, which emerges from birth through the mediation of “signs” exchanged betwee the emerging “self” and the mother/other (or close-bonded caregiver) along with others who speak to and with us.
    — the speech-community and all its other semiotic codes or meaning-generating systems, which are all themselves entangled through daily speech-acts with the primary meaning-generating system, the langue, and with everyone’s psyches and conditioned perceptions.

    We can separate out each of these elements formally, for the sake of analysis, only if we are constantly bearing in mind this incessant flow of ever-updated mutual and reciprocal relationships that hold each in being, and that constitute (all together) the historical conditions of possibility for the individual and the culture in its own day and age.

    We can only get “there” (to a possible future) from “here” (our evolving conditions of possibility).

    However, this doesn’t make us merely fatalistically determined inmates of The Prison-House of Language (a superb book on Saussure by Fredric Jameson.) Saussure, by the way, never suggests the absence of human agency. He simply placed it in the sphere of parole, not of langue.

    Both the individual and the culture CAN, I would point out, “back out of” any of these systems and grasp any of them (to some extent) from the “outside” or as “wholes.” (Unless they get “stuck” inside their systems because of fear and paranoia. And fear and paranoia come from trauma and are always with us…. This is why poststructuralism and psychoanalytic theory are such close and compatible companions.)

    This is precisely where the human brain is so excellent. If it is healthy, because it has developed with a genuine degree of safety in a somewhat predictable world (NOT the case for children in disfunctional families and societies, for example) the human brain do more than calculate, and it can do more than algorithms. (I think Hofstadter and Penrose are on the right track with Godel’s Theorum and the brain, although they come at this from other starting points.)

    Because the healthily developed brain fundamentally lives (adaptively and flexibly) within the intersubjective spaces of these marvelous meaning-generating “systems,” which the local human community has (always already) made available, and because the functional member of the community has internalized them, therefore a great potentiality has opened up within the public “space of appearance” for initiating the new and dreaming up and implementing brand new “possibilities” that are realistically based upon the given historical conditions of possibility (Hannah Arendt).

    The human mind WITH OTHER HUMAN MINDS can function resourcefully for thinking and reacting to emergent conditions on behalf of self and polis.

    The wonder of the human brain is that it can always “switch” from one system to another or from one level to another within a system fluidly and swiftly — and the more swiftly and smoothly it does this the better its odds of survival and its odds of interacting resourcefully and productively with the external world.

    So humans are distinctively marked through and through by the meaning-generating systems available to them in a local time and place and community — we ourselves have the English language and everything done in that language and all the disciplinary languages and histories and all our other social and cultural codes. We can learn other languages and other codes. I think a liberal arts education needs to make us at home in such a pluralistic world of opportunities for thinking and responding to emergent challenges. Functional families are little powerhouses for doing precisely this and therefore they produce resilient and adaptable children.

    What impedes all of this is any clinging to one given system or code that will not open to interacting with other codes. This is a fear-driven retreat that we all make at times, and that some in the scientific and religious communities are enacting right now in our society. The retreat into the fortress mentality and behind the bastions of a monolithic authority that answers all questions with its own exclusive way of knowing — we see this in the newly heated up wars and science and religion and in the Science wars, where the protagonists are characterized as scientists against cultural theorists or “postmoderns.”

    How do we “open” these closed systems and help these closed minds to open? How do we empower young people whose communities feel threatened and demeaned, to embrace thinking in a number of systems and being willing to view any system, no matter how precious and deeply internalized, from the perspective of another system, at least temporarily and provisionally?

    For theists within a theistic tradition, Lesslie Newbiggin challenged us to respond to the way that, historically, science has “relativized” Christianity in the modern centuries, by “relativizing science” in turn, from the perspective of the Good News. But before you scientists protest, listen to the rest of his message! He doesn’t mean to dismiss or demean science! But he suggests taking seriously the thinking that might allow the two dominant systems of Western history to play against one another, while we engage in some calm sorting out of their enigmatic and complex relationships.

    Here’s the best part, though. Newbigin points out that the theists he addresses will never be able to do this, unless we are first willing to test our own understanding of the Gospel, shaped as we are by Enlightenment Western culture, against the Good News of the Church in other places and in other times. Only so may we become critically aware of how much of our own embrace of the Gosepl is actually an embrace of our own cultural history!

    Newbigin therefore concludes none of us will EVER greet one another at the foot of the cross, until we have been willing to “relativize” our own grasp of the Gospel by testing it against other historical and cultural grasps of the Gospel. It is a winnowing and refining process, and while it is never finished and always onbly begun, yet it will makes us very humble indeed. And without humility, no one knows anything at all about the depths of Love.

    Clearly, Newbiggin was not advocating “relativism” nor was he demeaning either science or the Western church. He was pointing out how much we all need to be saved and liberated from our own blind ignorance of our profound cultural biases and assumptions, in our searches for truth, in science and in religion and in philosophy. For a British missionary to India, he read remarkably widely in all of these fields.

    I mention Newbigin because his model for the importance of opening what we most deeply honor and respect to the play of critical thought and to the recognition of its inherent negativites had a deep impact on me, and on the students who read the book with me over the years. He sketches out, it seems to me, in a very vivid way, the one vital requirement for engaging reality deeply, or for engaging any deep reality, which is dialectical engagement. (See especially the first three chapters of his lucid little book, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gosepl and Western Culture. I think it’s a great read for non-theists too.)

  22. Rick Says:

    Let me engage is a little random speculation inspired by Janet’s latest comment of July 18th, not necessarily well-thought out, and maybe not all that coherently presented …

    One of the problems is the word “real”,and the related word “reality”. There has been some discussion of this over in Session one, part 4 (Gavin’s “I am one of those scientists who thinks scientific reality is all of reality.”)

    I tend to come from a postition that a useful metaphor for the relationship between the mind and the world is that of a map (that which is in the mind) and the territory (the world). Above I cited the adage from this view that “when the map and the territory disagree, it’s the map that’s wrong.” That is, the territory is what is real, the map is a representation of the territory; it’s not the map that’s real, its the territory.

    Janet says that “I want to add that the elegant rules and relationships I referred to here, the “langue” that resides in the mind …” and that “Saussure’s langue is, in this respect, “isomorphic” or “homologous” (it has the same elegant design or proportionality) that we find in Plato’s Form or Idea or “concept”.

    Using the map/territory metaphor; the “langue”, the “elegant rules and relationships” and, through this isomorphism or homology, Plato’s Form of Idea or “concept”, “reside in the mind”, and are thus are part of the map, not of the territory. Thus they are, under this metaphor, not real, but only representations of the real.

    It seems to me that something like this is where Janet’s “scientists” are coming from – what is in the mind (the theories, the langue, etc.), because they are in the mind, are not “real”; the “real” is what is in the world. We can modify our theoretical understanding of electrons (the map), but not the electrons themselves (the world), which just go on being electrons the same as before. The eletrons are what they are, not what we think of them as being.

    Thus claiming the Forms, the Ideas, or the concepts are “real” (or worse, “really real”) comes across as a self-evident falsehood; they are “map-stuff”, not “world-stuff”, and thus are not real, they are merely representations of what is real.

    Ideas have consequences. Are there consequences to claiming that the map is “realler” than the territory? (And if the map is more-real than the territory, then the territory must be less-real than the map).

    That which is real (by the fact that is taken to be real) has ontological precidence over that which is taken to be not real; the more-real has precidence over the less-real. In a conflict between the two, the real takes precidence over the non-real; the more-real over the less-real.

    At this point we cannot help ourselves but to think of Ernst Mayr’s critique of “essentialism” as a philosophical position that had to be overcome before biology could find its proper grounding as science built on historically contingent evolutionary development (I know this is controversial, but there seems to me to be a valid insight behind it).

    We also note a point that Janet has repeatedly made, that the rise of science historically coincided with a rejection of the older philosophy of the high middle ages. Is this a historical accident, or were the two related in some way? Could it be that the philosophy of “Forms” is somehow inconsistent with science? Could it be that the rise of science necessited, and was a result of, the rejection of the old “Form”-based philosophical view of the world? Mayr’s argument would suggest so.

    The metaphor of the map and the world can also be understood as suggesting this as well. If the “Form”, the “elegant formality”, (the map), is taken as being more-real than those things that are taken to instantiate the form (the world), then how can it be that, when the map and the world disagree, it is the map (and not the territory) that’s wrong – the map is, after all, the more-real, the more “really real”, than the territory – and thus it is the territory, the less-real, that is wrong, rather than the more-real. (This is the definition of “real”). Thus “Form” based philosophical traditions lend themselves to the “upside down” preference of the map over the territory.

    Again this appears to me to be something like the where Janet’s “scientists” are comming from. By this understanding, there is being made a claim, explict or implied, that the Forms (the “map”) are “really real”, that is more-real, than the objects in the world that are (taken to) instantiate the Forms. This then is a rejection of science, is a form of anti-science, because it places priority of the map over the territory, and science is based, at its root, on the philosophical postion that the territory (the world) has ontological precidence (is ‘realler”) over the map (our theories of the world).

    It is of course not that simple; science does not always live up to this ideal (irony recognized). But science holds the more-real to be the world, and the less-real to be our theories; it is not that our theories (the “Form”) that are the more-real, even when individuals, both in and out of the sciences, confuse the two.

    Also, this suggests why this “Form-based” philosophy is seen by many as radical relativism, as “constructivism”. To them, if the map, rather than the territory, is “real”, and thus has ontological precidence, then where can there be the standard against which we can judge the map? To them the map is to be judged against the territory. If a map that shows Nashville to be in Kentucky rather than Tennessee, then the map is wrong and needs to be corrected – but only because the territory, which is the real, has precidence over the map, which is a representation of the real. If, however, we take the map to be what is real, really real, then how are we to judge the accuracy of — what? If map is real, the world is unreal, and thus Nashville is not “really” in Tennessee, but is “really” in Kentucky, and just appears to be Tennessee.

    Janet said “What impedes all of this is any clinging to one given system or code that will not open to interacting with other codes.”

    However, the “system or code” is the map, a representation of the territory. Once we begin to view it as “real”, particularly “really real”, then by its very real-ness we will “cling to” it and will be not open, or less-open, to other, alternative, “systems and codes”. If I know “reality”, and you disagree with me, then you do not know reality.

    Janet asks “How do we “open” these closed systems and help these closed minds to open?”

    A suggestion from the map/territory metaphor could be – stop treating the map as “real”, do not refer to the Forms, the map-stuff, as being “really real”. Acknowledge that they are “map stuff”, not “territory stuff”, and thus are not real; as “map stuff”, they do not have ontological precidence.

    Janet says “He [Newbigin] was pointing out how much we all need to be saved and liberated from our own blind ignorance of our profound cultural biases and assumptions, in our searches for truth, in science and in religion and in philosophy.”

    Is not a first step to this humility? To recognize that “our cultural biases and assumptions” are map-stuff, not territory-stuff, and as such are not real, and certainly not “really real”. Only when we recognize that “our cultural biases and assumptions” are our own representations of the real, but not themselves the real, can we begin to understand that the “cultural biases and assumptions” of others, also being not real but representations of the real, can add insight into what is real by looking at it from a different perspective.

    A native american Methodist minister, who has a church on a reservation, once in a sermon I heard used the metaphor of the church as a tree. There are, he said, two ideas about how to get the tree to grow in this foreign soil. One can try to transplant the fully grown tree from elsewhere, or one can plant a seed and let the tree grow naturally in its new soil.

    The seed model requires the understanding that the seed will grow into a tree with it own individual characteristics, and will be different from the parent tree form which the seed was taken.

    Now this can all be taken as merely word-usage – how we use the word “real”. Can we not simply define it to mean the map rather than the territory? Well, no. Language just doesn’t work that way.

    Each individual has their own version of the language, formed by their own individual histories in their own individual speech communities. That I use a word as representing some concept, does not mean that everybody else has that word invoke to them the same concept.

    If we wish to be understood, then we must use the language as it is used in the speech community, or rather those in the speech community, with which we wish to communicate.

    The word “real” is attached to a concept, and when our listeners hear the word “real”, it will invoke in them their own concept attached to the word. If the word “real” (as I would use it) means something other then “real” (as it will be understood) and “really real” (as I would use it) means something other than “really real” (as it will be understood), then I must find some other manner of expressing the concept I which to invoke, or simply be misunderstood.

    OK, this has turned into a rant. But maybe a somewhat philosophical rant.

    And I must note that I do not attribute to Janet any of the ideas or positions above. But I do think that her use of words like “real” and “really real” to refer to (what I take as) map-stuff is an open invitation to misunderstanding. And that I am not alone in this.

  23. Janet Says:

    Great, great post. It’s not a rant, it’s a riff! (Or a symphany.)

    Rick says:

    “Above I cited the adage from this view that “when the map and the territory disagree, it’s the map that’s wrong.” That is, the territory is what is real, the map is a representation of the territory; it’s not the map that’s real, its the territory.

    Janet says that “I want to add that the elegant rules and relationships I referred to here, the “langue” that resides in the mind …” and that “Saussure’s langue is, in this respect, “isomorphic” or “homologous” (it has the same elegant design or proportionality) that we find in Plato’s Form or Idea or “concept”.

    [Rick continues] Using the map/territory metaphor; the “langue”, the “elegant rules and relationships” and, through this isomorphism or homology, Plato’s Form of Idea or “concept”, “reside in the mind”, and are thus are part of the map, not of the territory. Thus they are, under this metaphor, not real, but only representations of the real.”

    Janet takes up now: This is the heart of the isue. This is the heart of the misunderstandings, as well, between defenders of science and poststructuralism (which is not attacking science, even if “social constructionism” does). I rejoice in Rick’s thoughts here and in the “maps/territory” metaphor.

    I am not saying the maps are more real than the territory.

    I am saying there is a third player — a third player that we do not focus on today when we think about reality, that the Greco-European tradition helps us focus on.

    The third player is the elegant formality. The elegant formalities are in the world. They are the “reality,” being even “more real” than temporal actuality. (I think most scientists would accede to this if they thought about it in these terms, but maybe not. It seems to me to be the kind of “abstraction” from the flux that Galileo carried out with rolling balls down tilted planes or as seen in all experimental settings. You are going after the formal relationships and not the obscuring extrinsic stuff, like air resistance, to formulate over time the formally elegant law of gravitation.)

    As knowers, we belong to a disciplinary community that focuses on a kind of elegant formality and we trace out our “map,” or “representation” as Rick notes. Our map evolves as we continue to work and to check it against the territory. The territory can always refute it in the end, so the future of our endeavor is an open-ended one.

    So far Rick and I are on roughly the same page.

    But my third player is crucial. Because it is the formal elegance of the map that imitates the formal elegance of the territory, and while the reality of the territory trumps that of the map, yet the map is where we start in knowing and naming the territory. The MAP guides our endeavors and it requires an upheaval to change to a genuinely upgraded map (from Newton to Einstein). Even though the new map is not possible without our experience with the old map.

    Plato’s “Forms” or “Ideas” are not the ideas or concepts in our minds for Plato. They are not maps. They are the formal realities we are trying to capture with our own logoi or accounts. The Forms are Plato’s ultimate ontological reality (well, except for the superultimate divine and transcendent reality he calls “the Good” that lies beyond the Forms).
    Plato’s Forms are in the world and beyond the world, “immanent” and “transcendent.” But they are the territory, not the map.

    But our human efforts to formulate the formal elegance of a kind of thing are in our heads and in our words as logoi, the “accounts” or “formulas” or “definitions” or our own “physical theories.” Logos is also translated “concept” and this human concept is also our best effort up til now to name and identity the Forms or Ideas.

    So we are striving to bring about as close an identity (a mimesis) as possible between our own disciplinary logoi and the Form-al realities external to us. Our logoi are not the “real,” as Rick points out. But they share at least some of the real formal “stuff” — its shape, its internal relationships, its maths — with the reality studied — or that is our aim.

    Our language, as a code or langue, is humanly formal stuff, and it contains in a popular version these efforts, contained in the linguistic meanings of the words, which come from a historical effort of knowing “what they refer to.”

    But remember too that we became speaking subjects, or “I”s, in the first place during the early years of our lives, when we were all making theories and correcting those theories (smoothly and fluidly) about what the words of our language meant: “No, this isn’t a puppy. This is a kitty-cat.”

    We never met the external world unmediated by the words and other formal dynamics of our native language. We have NEVER had an un-mediated encounter with anything external to ourselves, as quantum scientists so explicitly know.

    Rick mentions “electrons.” This is a logos, a “concept” or a human “sign,” which scientists employ as they search for the corresponding reality. They improve the map of whatever it is named “electron.” And you all know perfectly well the gaps between the formalizations and the reality, if it is even knowable to humans. (Gavin for instance pointed out the limits of human resources and will in building the splitting and measurement devices. And also physical limitations.)

    Positivists like Stephen Hawking have long ago given up on the maps ever equating to the reality, by choosing to be quite content simply with the maps. “I don’t know what reality is.” If the maps produce accurate experimental results for building more theory, then it doesn’t matter what the reality might be. The maps are reality enough for Stephen Hawking and for all the positivists in the scientific fields.

    But this is my field, studying the relationships between maps and territory. I am very aware of all of these conundrums (highly theoretical ones in some cases, yet accurate) across the disciplines and in the development of a human knower. Working scientists focus on these issues only insofar as they arise within science and these are so familiar as to be accepted and not questioned.

    But don’t you see that positivism, for instance, is admitting how hard you lean on your formalisms, your maps? Because sometimes all we have are the maps, corrected against the unknown (and possibly unknowable) reality.

    And as human beings in every area of our lives we are in this situation of living a short time and needing to lean on our maps to decide on what our lives and the world mean for us.

    I think I’ve learned from this weblog conversation that contemporary working and teaching scientists know all the things that I would use as evidence to make my theoretical interventions. Yet they tend to use the old language about “physical reality” as though it were simple and unproblematic. Also, you think of human minds and the external world as the only players in the ontological game, thanks to good old Descartes!

    To a specialist in the theory of maps like me, scientists seem to be simply so used to these aspects of their maps by now that they don’t come in for close scrutiny. (And such scrutiny isn’t science, after all. That is ontology and epistemology, and I do those from the standpoint of human meaning-generating systems.)

    We’ve got three things here, all ceaselessly interacting and constituting each other. The human mind, the external world, and all the shared intersubjective “maps” that form our social reality.

    In physics, enviably, the disciplinary maps can be checked closely through experiment and the community is dedicated to improving the maps at all costs, or so we hope!

    In the case of a language, the code we speakers all use also works like a map of the world, and may be much more arbitrary. But I would argue that it too is constantly checked against reality every day by its speakers and is constantly being updated, which is why language is always evolving and why words are always formal placeholders open to evolving specifications. (Thank goodness for the grace of language.)

    In fact, we probably learned to become disciplinary knowers from being first of all little children who were coming-to-know our language. Plato and Aristotle, in simpler times, are constantly adverting to language-learning and the phonemes of the language as models of formal elegance and how we come to know it.

  24. Janet Says:

    Rick says:

    “Each individual has their own version of the language, formed by their own individual histories in their own individual speech communities. That I use a word as representing some concept, does not mean that everybody else has that word invoke to them the same concept.

    If we wish to be understood, then we must use the language as it is used in the speech community, or rather those in the speech community, with “which we wish to communicate.

    The word “real” is attached to a concept, and when our listeners hear the word “real”, it will invoke in them their own concept attached to the word. If the word “real” (as I would use it) means something other then “real” (as it will be understood) and “really real” (as I would use it) means something other than “really real” (as it will be understood), then I must find some other manner of expressing the concept I which to invoke, or simply be misunderstood.”

    Yes, all very true. Except.

    What Rick describes here is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the new story.

    Now we are more aware than at any time in known history that what Rick describes could also represent the conditions of possibility for moving from these conventional encoded meanings to new ones.

    Why? How? Because the meanings of “real” Rick points to derive from a context of formal relationships. In semiotics, individual signs take their identity from the system, and from the way each sign is contrasted with other signs.

    So as a theorist and teacher, I can take those intersubjective identities, those signs, and give them a new (old) context. Re-place them back into an older system of contrasts. I can give them new meaning (old meaning) by building a new system of relationships and contrasts.

    This is what artists do all the time. This is why art — visual art, verbal art, musical art, and so forth — are not historically cumulative and additive the way, for instance, physics is. The art of the neolithic cave drawings is superb art, and so it Chinese ink drawing and Michelangelo and De Koening. We can’t say our art is the best (though we did try) because it is ours and all history was leading to where we are.

    Yet physics can say that.

    Let me clarify that all artists work in a tradition and build on what went before and push the envelope in the present. In that sense there is accumulation and at times culmination. But we can’t say one great tradition is better as art than another great tradition, in our culture or in another culture. Great art is always great art in whatever time in history.

    Therefore Rick makes an exceedingly important point, from the point of view of physics, when he questions whether Aristotelianism wasn’t discarded for good reasons by the early classical scientists. Here’s what he says:

    “we cannot help ourselves but to think of Ernst Mayr’s critique of “essentialism” as a philosophical position that had to be overcome before biology could find its proper grounding as science built on historically contingent evolutionary development (I know this is controversial, but there seems to me to be a valid insight behind it).

    “We also note a point that Janet has repeatedly made, that the rise of science historically coincided with a rejection of the older philosophy of the high middle ages. Is this a historical accident, or were the two related in some way? Could it be that the philosophy of “Forms” is somehow inconsistent with science? Could it be that the rise of science necessited, and was a result of, the rejection of the old “Form”-based philosophical view of the world? Mayr’s argument would suggest so.”

    [Janet again] The “natural philosophers” of the 16th and 17th centuries, such as Bacon and Descartes and many, many others, certainly did think that scholastic Aristotelianism was inimical to the development of “the New Organon” (experimentalism and elegant mathematicization, as opposed to the old “organon” of Aristotelian logic so beloved by the middle ages).

    And they lived in the times and were best situated to move from where they were to the new science they desired to invent (it took centuries to formulate the scientific method and it is still highly controversial and enigmatic today, actually). They made the changes they thought were necessary.

    But now we have the actual experiement of science working itself out in the Modern West. And it has all sorts of unimagined and unintended outsoerkings and consequences. And the conditions of possibility evolve. And the pendulum swings way over in one direction. If things mean what they do in terms of their context, then their meanings must change over time. We always have to test and sift and sort and select and combine afresh. It’s always a new struggle.

    And it’s always time to re-assess. It’s always time to recoup the past. In Continental philosophy we are famous, at least among ourselves, for returning again and again to the originary beginnings among the Greeks to start over again, with what they were “really” about. And it is always a failue, in that it is always “some of them and some of us” in the mix of our new beginnings. (A Heideggerian paradox: a beginning is always a fresh return.)

    We cannot re-turn to another historical time and place. It’s too complex. We may be missing vital pieces. But we always try to do it anyway, because we always have forgotten things we need to remember, and our forgetfulness costs us dearly. So the “real origin” is impossible to return to and yet as originary as ever for thought. We’ve just spent 100 years mulling over “the end of philosophy” as well as its origins, and these have been enormously productive topoi for thought !

    Poststructuralism also offers a critique of medieval “essentialism.” With Mehr and with us it seemed necessary to do so at the time. But the times are always evolving and “science” and “medieval thought” — that is, our maps of these things, because when you are speaking of historical institutions, as opposed to physical systems, all we have are maps based on documentary evidence which are themselves maps to the “reality” or actuality of historical human phenomena. We are at three removes from reality when we begin.

    There is progress in science, and in some other areas of human experience, but we need to contest each assertion of progress, because in history, it is always true that one nail drives out another and that “new knowledge” drives out “old knowledge.” Both of which are largely blind to their own defects. (New knowledge always inevitably introduces a new ignorance.)

    I think this is the most exciting time for knowing we’ve ever been offered in the West (and probably in global history but that’s for others to report on) and never has our knowing advanced with such great leaps and bounds in every field. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, there are fascinating enigmas utterly essential to human survival and wellbeing.

    So why are our young minds leaving the fields of learning — and being so appallingly unsupported when they do pursue it? Why is coming-to-know so unsupported in general. Why are we fighting just for jobs and living wages? I have some things to say about this, where it is quite relevant, in the next Wily Socrates post.

  25. Rick Says:

    This Borges piece just seems relavant …

    Del Rigor de la Ciencia

    …En aquel Imperio, el Arte de la Cartografía logró tal Perfección que el mapa de una sola Provincia ocupaba toda una Ciudad, y el mapa del Imperio, toda una Provincia. Con el tiempo, esos Mapas Desmesurados no satisficieron y los Colegios de Cartógrafos levantaron un Mapa del Imperio que tenía el tamaño del Imperio y coincidía puntualmente con él. Menos Adictas al Estudio de la Cartografía, las Generaciones Siguientes entendieron que ese dilatado Mapa era Inútil y no sin Impiedad lo entregaron a las Inclemencias del Sol y de los Inviernos. En los desiertos del Oeste perduran despedazadas Ruinas del Mapa, habitadas por Animales y por Mendigos; en todo el País no hay otra reliquia de las Disciplinas Geográficas.

    Suárez Miranda: Viajes de varones prudentes, libro cuarto, cap. XLV, Lérida, 1658.

    On Exactitude in Science
    . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

    Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

  26. Rick Says:

    Janet said: “The third player is the elegant formality. The elegant formalities are in the world. They are the “reality,” being even “more real” than temporal actuality. (I think most scientists would accede to this if they thought about it in these terms, but maybe not.”

    There is no one single philosophical position that all scientists hold to. There seems to be a fairly wide range of possible philosophical orientations that are compatable with doing science. It may be that some scientists would be willing to accept that there is som “formal reality” that is “more real” than the “temporal actuality”. BUt I would think that would be a distictly minority position.

    It seems to me that the “temporal actuality” is what it is all about. The “temporal acutalities”, the “flux”, flows in certain channels we can “latch onto” in our theories about the way the world works, but I would not think that this means that there is some formal level that is “more real” than the “temporal actuality”.

    The “formality” is in the world in the sense that real existing objects behave in manners which admit to generalizations about there behaviors, but this appears to me to be a far cry from the reifications of these generalizations that are alleged to be “more real” than the objects and their behaviors that give rise to the generalizations in the first place.

  27. Janet Says:

    Rick says: “It may be that some scientists would be willing to accept that there is some “formal reality” that is “more real” than the “temporal actuality”. BUt I would think that would be a distictly minority position.”

    Rick, I’m talking about the equations. Or about whatever the equations are equations of. Don’t you think the general law of gravitation has some kind of priority or specialness with reference to the innumerable instances of its occurrence?

    If not, why do we bother with the equations? Why do we refine our “maps” so indefatigably? Why does QM keep working on the aporia of the collapse of the wave function?

    I simply assume scientists MUST view the maths as getting at something broader, more comprehensive, more enduring, than the instances those maths describe? For example, we have the “rationalists” and the “empiricists” in our tradition of British and American scientific philosophy. Isn’t the maths where these ontological approaches converge?

    At the very least, the equations confer predictive power upon us who possess them. Does that not indicate that they are maps to whatever is moving through time insuring the consistencies of the unfolding processes? The question of “time” is the deepest problem in Western philosophy, of course. But our human sense of the “now” seems to be both connected (to or retrospective to) the past and connected to (or projective to) the future — and our minds live in that constant judgment of what is going to happen next based on what has happened.

    Aristotle called this “Possibility”: the formal elegance that brings about the future in accord with the historical conditions of possibility we are in at the present (based on the past). This is why I keep insisting we are missing the dynamism of what’s going on in our Modernist formalisms today. We think of an equation as static, but it refers to and is tracing out something that happens through time. It has to be a map of something “more real” than that one piece or “frame” of that process that we note in an instant of time and in one local place, which isn’t “that process” at all.

    You see there are very good ratio-nal reasons for thinking of the formal as neither detachable from (for our knowing) the instances nor reducible to them (immanence and transcendance). The equation has a much more comprehensive and significant “reach” than any empirical instance, yet we couldn’t have a single empirical instance without it.

    If every physical state or process had its own unique equation, we wouldn’t be so busy looking for them, would we? We are looking for the elegance and power and beauty and truth and efficaciousness of the most simple equations that reach out and embrace the cosmos the most fundamentally and comprehensively.

    But again, these are qualities or attributes philosophically associated with ontological reality in it highest manifestations. These are the most real and therefore the most “divine” elements of the cosmos, in the Western philosophical senses of that word.

    I agree that scientists right now don’t think about it in these terms. I am re-naming, if you will, something that I think scientists do share with the Greeks but that is “whited out” by our emphasis on empirical reality and knowing it “empirically.” We aren’t really attending to the empirical at all — the concrete material flux. We are “abstracting away” to find the formalities (equations in physics) that govern the empirical where it is ordered and not merely accidental or contingent.

    I think the Greek description is much more answerable to the work done in science than ours, which conflates empiricist and rationalist themes in a most muddled and confusing way. We are just so used to thinking this way that we don’t notice how confused it is.

    I.E. the British “rationalists” argued the mind’s formulas and equations are real (and are in the world) and the empiricists argued that the actual world is real. Yet both simply treated the maths as the valid scientific result. Well, what are the maths? Is reality mental mind-stuff or material stuff? (Cartesian paradigm.) Are the maths in our minds only or in the actual world. The whole muddle is due to the erasure of formality that is in the world and traced by our minds, in my humble opinion, after decades of pondering all of this.

    Clearly, there has to be the third player! This problem of what is “real” as it derives from mind/nature dualism is utterly insolvable, in terms of this dualism, as 300 years of modern history have proven. This is why British rationalism dead-ended as it did.

    The “real existing objects [that] behave in manners that admit to generalizations” of which Rick writes are in their own right great realities and maybe the realities we should attend to the most, as in “living in the moment”? (?!) But science goes after the “generalizations” with a passion, a Greek passion! Do the general laws refer to nothing at all in the real world?

    Geesh, we had to work so hard in the Modern West to reduce nature to material objects that are inert, and to processes that are algorithmicly mechanized. But then we walk out into the natural world! Look at what has emerged out of fundamental physics. Didn’t that formal potentiality have to be there in the “inert” components and in “laws” of physics?

    It isn’t that I am superstitiously trying to “reify” the “generalizations”! It’s that the “res” (or “thing-ness” of things) has been reduced to brute actuality on the one hand and abstract generalization (equations) on the other, and this is woefully inadequate to address the much more dynamical and wholistic state of affairs we genuinely find in the natural world, which now inlcudes the human worlds it has produced.

  28. Rick Says:

    In contradistiction to Borges’ map above, Lewis Carroll, in The Hunting of the Snark, has a somewhat different
    map
    , decribed in the text as follows:

    He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
    And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

    “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
    So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    “They are merely conventional signs!

    “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
    (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
    A perfect and absolute blank!”

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