Wily Socrates # 6 — Central Passage

With today’s installment of Plato’s Ion, we reach what may be the single most critically important passage in the entire dialogue, at the mid-way point in it.

You remember that Socrates had just finished quite an oratorical performance, the first of two long speeches – centered around an extended “epic” simile, no less. We’ll pick him up here again as he concludes that first speech, to the effect that the poets are not “in their right minds” and not “possessed of their senses,” when they are singing their evocative and inspired words, but are instead ecstatically possessed by the Muse, and under the guidance of the inscrutable gods. (Read Rick’s summation.)

This Socratic “explanation” of how poetry is engendered – although it is without benefit of ratio-nal or elegantly proportioned (logikos) thought – finds a great reception from Ion, who is moved and persuaded by Socrates’ rhetorical excellence. (In fact he is quite “en-thused,” from en-theos.) The rhapsode doesn’t seem to realize (yet) that if this notion of mind-less inspiration were to be extended to himself, as the interpreter of the mind-less poets, then he would be definitively deprived of an ike. Ion could no longer claim that he wins his rich prizes by exercising a formal art, a legitimate cognitive activity, with its own subject-matter, methodology, orthotike, and elegant consistency as “a whole art.” (After all, Socrates is not scrutinizing Ion as a public entertainer, nor even as an actor in our modern sense, but with respect to the rhapsode as a public educator of a citizenry.)

If poetics originates with “inspiration,” however honorific this might seem, the literary ike would fail to meet the standards Socrates has been developing in this dialogue for determining the genuine ways of knowing available to the human mind, through the new philosophical project Plato has in mind, based upon a critical and dialectical mode of thought aimed at elegant formalizations of various kinds of things. Rhapsodike (or epiipoietike) could never be included within a liberal arts curriculum, that unique enterprise undertaken for the first time in the West in Plato’s Academy, during the decades following Plato’s writing of the Ion.

So let’s see more of what follows the first speech, and consider why it is so significant, vis-à-vis the new mode of education for citizens, through the arts and sciences:

Socrates … in this way God would seem to demonstrate to us and not to allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, nor the work of man, but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst poet he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?

Ion Yes, indeed, Socrates, I feel that you are; for your words touch my soul, and I am persuaded that in these works the good poets, under divine inspiration, interpret to us the voice of the gods.

Socrates And you rhapsodes are the interpreters of the poets?

Ion There again you are right.

Socrates Then you are the interpreters of interpreters?

Ion Precisely.

Socrates I wish you would frankly tell me, Ion, what I am going to ask of you: When you produce the greatest effect on the audience in the recitation of some striking passage, such as the apparition of Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, recognized by the suitors and shaking out his arrows at his feet, or the description of Achilles springing upon Hector, or the sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam – are you in your right mind? Are you not carried out of yourself, and does not your soul in an ecstasy seem to be among the persons or places of which you are speaking, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or whatever may be the scene of the poem?

Ion That proof strikes home to me, Socrates. For I must frankly confess that at the tale of pity my eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end and my heart throbs.

Socrates Well, Ion, and what are we to say of a man who at a sacrifice or festival, when he is dressed in an embroidered robe, and has golden crowns upon his head, of which no one has robbed him, appears weeping or panic-stricken in the presence of more than twenty thousand friendly faces, when there is no one despoiling or wronging him – is he in his right mind or is he not?

Ion No indeed, Socrates, I must say that, strictly speaking, he is not in his right mind.

Socrates And are you aware that you produce similar effects on most of the spectators?

Ion Only too well; for I look down upon them from the stage, and behold the various emotions of pity, wonder, sternness, stamped upon their countenances when I am speaking; and I am obliged to give my very best attention to them; for if I make them cry I myself will laugh, and if I make them laugh I myself will cry, when the time for payment arrives….

“I am obliged to give my very best attention…” – to what? To the emotions on the faces of my audience. In these exchanges, Socrates introduces the issue of the “effects” on human persons of the rhapsode’s actions. He also evokes from Ion an indication of the telos or formal “end” or “goal” Ion always bears in mind to in-form his actions. Therefore, these exchanges constitute, I believe, the pivotal moment in the dialogue, and its moral center.

It seems to me that here, for a instant, the mask of the acclaimed prize-winner slips, and we are given a brief glimpse of what lies behind the splendid costumes and the “noble” and “beautiful” appearance of Ion. Such a glimpse as this, however, is what the crafty “angler” Socrates has been fishing for, ever since he observed, back in his opening speech, that “adorning the body” and “appearing as fine as possible” are “fitting” requirements of the rhapsode’s art.

Up until now, Ion has probably appeared to you the “innocent babe” one of you (“theory kid”) described him as being – a little lamb whom Socrates has “wrapped around his finger,” with his shifty and even unscrupulously invalid argumentative techniques. After all, Ion of Ephesus merely blundered mildly into this inquisition, and in the end he will be allowed to blunder out of it and continue blithely on his way – off to the great Athenian competitions in rhapsody, where he will win again, perhaps, and be amply rewarded for all his pains. In any case, he will depart from Socrates just as undisturbed in his sublime self-approval and in his touchingly childish eagerness to display what he can do as he ever was.

Plato’s Socrates will treat Ion quite gently, in fact, compared to his treatment of other would-be educators (some of the Sophists), who are tested and exposed in later dialogues. (But not every paid teacher of rhetoric will be pilloried, and Plato will honor many old teachers and mentors in the dialogues, including the distinguished mathematician Theodorus in Theaetetus, and of course, Socrates himself.)

So let’s see how Socrates angles for Ion’s unwitting confession, and why this confession seems so culpable to Plato, in light of the new vision of the arts and sciences that was instigated by the historical figure of Socrates himself.

Socrates begins by asking Ion to “tell me frankly” about the effects of his performances upon Ion’s own mental condition, when he is on stage, absorbed in reciting and enacting a striking passage for his hearers, and “producing the greatest effect” on them:

…when you produce the greatest effect on the audience in the recitation of some striking passage, such as the apparition of Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, recognized by the suitors and shaking out his arrows at his feet, or the description of Achilles springing upon Hector, or the sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam – are you in your right mind?

“Are you in your right mind?” appears to be the main thematic point of this inquiry, but appearances can be deceptive. Let’s not miss the new threads appearing in the close weave of Socrates’ unique artistic practice, dialect-ike, whose own telos is always to prod those of us who willing to engage in it with him into re-educating ourselves, most of all in re-educating ourselves about who we are. (Not for nothing was the historical Socrates associated with the Delphic injunction: “Know thyself.”)

The new threads entering the dialectic are those of “the effect” of the ike on the citizenry, and the question of one’s ultimate telos in pursuing the ike. What effect does Ion’s mimetic activity have upon his own state of mind, and what are the “greatest effects” he produces in his audience?

Whenever a structure of language is invented and evaluated in terms of its effects on its addressees, we are dealing with the Greek art of rhetoric, “whose end (telos) is in the hearer.” So we are looking here at the question of rhetorically effective language itself, and Plato and Aristotle will despise the Sophists because they employ their rhetorical expertise not with regard to the truth, but only to persuasion, being quite willing to “make the worse appear the better cause” (as in John Milton’s pithy phrase). Ion responds, quite “frankly” enough, that “at the tale of pity my eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end and my heart throbs.”

Now Aristotle, in the brilliant thought-work of his Poetics, will return to the issue of evoking “pity and fear,” of which Ion speaks here. Contra the Platonic Socrates’ arguments, here and in the Republic, that the mimetic poets irresponsible stir up and pander to the mob’s emotions, and thus encourage the “less worthy” part of the soul (the pathe or “passions” as opposed to ethe, or the settled and enduring ethical principles and habits of the higher faculty of the mind), Aristotle will point out that an excellent tragedy exercises and educates the emotions, by effecting “a cartharsis of pity and fear.” Thus poietike can exert an important civic function, Aristotle maintains, in relation to the passions. (However, this is not Aristotle’s telos for poietike, as it is generally taken to be, but simply an important Aristotelian response to Plato’s suggestion of the civic irresponsibility of mimesis.)

If we turn to the three “striking passages” Socrates mentions, we will achieve a better understanding of what raises these philosophical concerns. First, Socrates alludes to the scene in the Odyssey when the hero reveals himself and begins to take his very bloody revenge upon the suitors (and the young women of the household who consorted with them). The massacre of all these young men touches off an inevitable blood-feud, one that threatens to bring the kingdom to ruin – except that Zeus and Athena decide to intervene at the last minute, imposing a deus ex machina resolution by forbidding the battle between Odysseus’s close kin and the kinsmen of the slain suitors.

Then Socrates mentions the shameful passage in the Iliad when poor Hector has given way to fear and has been pursued by Achilles around the city wall, until the goddess Athena tricks him into taking his stand. She then deserts him and leaves him to face the potent wrath of Achilles alone. Achilles proceeds to desecrate the body of the fallen Hector, in front of his family and the entire citizenry of Troy watching from the battlements, after their greatest and noblest defender has fallen.

Finally, Socrates cites “the sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, and Priam,” in their passionate and unrestrained lamentations of grief and despair.

In Plato’s mature masterpiece the Republic, Socrates returns to the question of the epic poets at much greater length than in Ion, and in Book 2 he contends that children ought not to be exposed – especially at a tender age when they are most “impressionable” — to the childhood stories commonly told then, the ones about “falsehoods.” What falsehoods? Adeomantes inquires. “I mean telling lies about the gods and heroes,” Socrates replies. For Socrates, the gods do not engage in deception and trickery, nor do heroic men give way to passion, or if they do, those are not the actions to be held up for public consideration. Socrates mentions the scene of Hector’s death and desecration at the hands of Achilles (a scene which also involves the treachery of the patron goddess of Athens).

Then Socrates makes a further statement: It is not just that the poets tell falsehoods about gods and heroes. This is reprehensible enough, of course, and ought not to form any part of early education in the ideal polis. But no, there is a further sin here, because the poet not only does so, but “he does it for no good cause.” For no good purpose or telos. So there are in fact two grave sins against truth adduced here. First, gods do not act this way, Socrates insists, and if our heroes ever do, we certainly do not wish our children to hear these acts held up in storied legend. The young should be told stories about divine justice and about how the “godlike” heroes act in self-possession and always for the good.

But secondly, the poets willingly tell such unworthy tales “to no good purpose.” Socrates means that literary mimesis of this kind does not serve any function beneficial to the polis. It is later, in Book 10, that Socrates develops the parallel arguments that when the mimetic poets stir up in us unworthy emotions, our own enacting of these emotions through our own mimesis (acting and recitation), will strengthen “the lower part” of the soul and encourage that to war against “the higher principle.” Here it becomes explicit that, in all these ways, such poetic mimesis is harmful to the polis – it has no good civic function. This is what Socrates means when he says the poet tells tales, and to no good purpose.

As I noted earlier, Aristotle counters confidently in his Poetics that, on the contrary, tragic drama, for example, exercises and trains the emotions, effecting a “catharsis” of potentially dangerous emotions (“pity” and “fear”), and enabling them to be re-integrated into the harmonious and balanced whole psyche. This is a notable point of contrast between Plato and Aristotle, but never forget that in Rep. 10, so very fascinatingly, as Socrates is banishing the mimetic poets from the heavenly Polis in the Sky, he begs at te same time that someone will reply to his charges and successfully defend the poets, that they might be readmitted to the city. Throughout the Poetics, Aristotle is responding to just such an invitation.

What about the “sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam”? They are also mentioned in Rep. 10 as examples of unrestrained and “womanly” emotional excesses unworthy of good citizens. Always, Socrates urged stoicism in misfortune, and at Socrates’ deathbed in Plato’s Crito, he sends the weeping women away and admonishes his male friends not to give way to grief: why should we resist this great good fortune – to the philosophical mind – the transition of a settled mind from this life to the next. (By the way, Socrates’ wife goes away lamenting, “Oh, Socrates, never again will you sit and converse with your friends.” This strikes me as a remarkably perceptive, affectionate, and generous expression of sadness, but Socrates is having none of it.)

And Socrates sees an addition problem here. If a man is to enact the sorrows of Andromache and Hecuba, he will need to assume mimetically the part of a woman, and this is specifically mentioned in Rep 10 as destructive to the stoical and “manly” habits of mind desirable in the citizens of the polis. Socrates would not want to see a citizen enact the role of a child or a slave, either. Here we are confronting the Platonic mind/body dualism that runs through Western history from Plato to Descartes and thence to the present day.Governed by the basic structure of the Platonistic mind/body opposition are the oppositions mind/passions, thought/emotions, male/female, adult/child, free man/slave.

[theoretical aside from jlb: But there is no sign of the mind/nature dualism introduced by Descartes in Plato and Aristotle, nor in Western Christian thought prior to the rise of science. The immanent/transcendent presence of formal elegance throughout all of nature, including human nature, was the third player and mediator. It provided for the inherent concentenaity between human knowing and the surrounding world, because human thought was a part of that same world. Formal elegance could run through the human mind because it ran through the entire cosmos and revealed itself in all ikes, as it did in geometry and arithmetic, music and astronomy, the numerical arts.]

Finally, let’s return to Odysseus, spilling his arrows at his feet. Socrates opposed the taking of revenge, perhaps the most shockingly counter-cultural thing about him in his day, although he was personally courageous and distinguished himself as a soldier in more than one campaign. He also defied an execution order issued by the council — made in the heat of the moment and later withdrawn – to carry out their political vendetta against a number of citizens. He simply went home instead.

So the three “striking passages” mentioned in Ion give us a very good idea of the kinds of objectionable “effects” that Ion’s “art” produced in his hearers. The rhapsodes moved their audiences to excesses of “womanly” pity and fear, and wrought these passions to the uttermost.. (Athens had given way to mob emotion and regretted it, when they had wiped out a colony, settled by Athenians, when it had decided to be self-determining, like Athens herself. Thucydides had attributed this shameful political decision to the absence of cooler heads effectively able to reason calmly and win the day.)

Clearly, Ion also enacted stirring examples of blood revenge, and scenes that involved divine treachery and misdeeds enacted by the greatest Achaean heroes. We ourselves have become much more supportive of a broad emotional and situational range, both in art and in entertainment, yet I think we can feel a certain sympathy for Socrates and Plato too, living as we do in the age of Fox News, the excesses of the blogosphere, and other semi-respectable forms of popular hysteria.

Plato and Aristotle were the first to dream of an education based on thoughtful and pluralistic investigations of many things, with a political telos of citizen formation in view. The new philosophical approach would oppose itself to uncritical acceptance of inherited assumptions (Bronze Age Greek tribal codes of blood revenge, for example, or popular acceptance of amoral “divinity”). It would be based on a commitment to disciplinary communities and the dialectical play of mind, carried on in pursuit of ideals of Form-al truth that would functioned as a critique of contemporary thought and practice. When Socrates first asked, “What is Justice?” and refused to accept the answer that it is whatever those in power say it is, he was opening the possibility of what would become ethics and politics, as the first liberal arts.

So thoughtful critique and re-examination of received opinion was half of what it was all about. The other half, though, was the thrilling new excitement of that communal pursuit of formal elegance that opened up within any ike – the transfiguring sense of deep contact with reality – that could come to individuals through participation in a discipline for the sake of its truth. Nothing else could empower a citizen to rise to the occasion, to rise above interests and pressures, with courage and integrity. Only this existentially transfiguring experience of the true, the beautiful, and the good, in those moments when the ike makes a genuine breakthrough, could accomplish this liberation, this personalist salvation.

So the arts and sciences would serve the good of the polis through the pursuit of truth in the disciplines,through the formation of citizens equipped for and experienced in thoughtful conversation from many disciplinary perspectives, and through the “existential” liberation of at least some citizens from simple greed and self-aggrandizement, for a principled service of higher things.

Simple greed and self-aggrandizement, I am afraid, are revealed in the center of the dialogue Ion as being the telos that energizes the activities of our “innocent babe,” the rhapsode Ion of Ephesus. But the word in-nocent means “not harmful.” I think we can see that for Plato what Ion represents is anything but harmless. We see Ion’s hawk-like vigilence, at every moment that he is on stage, is to read the reactions of the audience, so as to win their applause. Not only is Ion quite willing to stir up deep and even base emotions, but he does so “to no good purpose.” He is not thinking about the good of the polis or the best formation of its citizens: “I am obliged to give my very best attention” to their faces, “for if I make them cry, I myself will laugh, but if I make them laugh, I myself will cry, when the time for payment arrives….”

From the perspective of the new philosophical project, Ion has notably failed to manifest the desire to seek any ideal or higher formal truth. His mind is uncritical and self-serving. He wants to succeed, but he does not desire to examine why he is succeeding or what it is that he is succeeding for. He believes that money and fame are sufficient ends in themselves, and he accepts the judgment of his peers as vindication of his own worth. No voice of the God is whispering within him, as Socrates’ daimon does, asking him whether he indeed knows anything at all, or what he would most deeply desire to know, if he could choose freely. Ion does not even know that he is not free to choose, that he has not taken even the first baby steps down the long road to becoming a free person.

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4 Responses to “Wily Socrates # 6 — Central Passage”

  1. Rick Says:

    We continue our discussion of the art of being a rhapsode. A rhapsode is a “kind of thing”. Being a rhapsode includes having a skill, and a technique. There is a mental and intellectual component – the learning, selection, and composing of the poetry and the interpretaion, and a practical application of the mental, the actual performance before an actual audience. Being a rhapsode, like other fieds of endeavour, is something that can be, at least to some degree, taught and learned, and those sufficiently familiar with the art of being a rhapsode can judge whether a rhapsode is good as a rhapsode or bad as a rhapsode.

    In this passage Ion says; … I look down upon them from the stage, and behold the various emotions of pity, wonder, sternness, stamped upon their countenances when I am speaking; and I am obliged to give my very best attention to them; ….

    This passage more or less destroys any argument that there is no art of being a rhapsode. Note that this claims that, being a rhapsode requires that the rhapsode is “obliged to give” one’s “very best attention” to the audience. Just as to excellently cook a fish requires that the chef is “obliged to give” the “very best attention to” the particular piece of fish being cooked, for excellence a musician is “obliged to give” the “very best attention to” the music being performed, and a sandal maker is “obliged to give” the “very best attention to” the sandal being made if he is to make sandlas with excellance, so must the rhapsode, for excellence as a rhapsode, give the “very best attention to” the audience.

    In this passage Ion’s comments point out an error in the argument Socrates makes in the previous passage, that Ion and the other rhapsodes “do not speak by techne or by episteme”, and that being a rhapsode “is not an art, but … inspiration”. In the very act of giving his very best attention to the audience, of knowing that for his performance to succeed, that “if I make them cry I myself will laugh, and if I make them laugh I myself will cry, when the time for payment arrives…”, then he must be “in his right mind”. In order to give this attention, and thus to judge (and judge correctly) the “mood” and resonse of the audience and adjust his performance accordingly, requires a rationality, a kind of “detachment”. This is the mark of an expert, a skilled praticioner, not someone under “possession” or “inspiration” with a “a divinity moving you”. This ability to “give one’s very best attention”, and not get so caught up in the emotion, or the “inspiration”, that one cannot attend the the performance and cannot make judgements as to what need to be done to perform excellently, is a mark that Ion is “speak[ing] by techne or by episteme”, is “in his right mind”, and is “speak[ing] … by rules of art”.

    So even while Ion has his “my eyes are filled with tears” and his “hair stands on end” and his “heart throbs”, and he, as a part of his performance, “appears weeping or panic-stricken”, there still remains, behind the appearances, the ability to give give very best attention to the audience, and to judge the effect that the performance is having on the audence, and thus, he must “remain in his right mind”.

    —–

    Again we see the same basic error that Socrates makes throughout the dialog. Formality is the formality of something, of some human activity. As such, to be meaningful, it must be able to be applied to some actual human activity being actually performed.

    There is no art of sandal making apart from making sandals. There is no are of raft building apart from building rafts. There is no art of cooking fish apart from cooking fish. Similarly there is no art of being a rhapsode apart from doing what a rhapsode does. Just as the sandal maker must give his attention to the particular sandals being made, so, as Ion points out, must the rhapsode give his attention to the performance and the audience.

    Up to now Socrates has been erring in failing to acknowledge that a rhapsode, as a story teller (in a broad sense of that term), must tell a particular story, and cannot tell all stories, or rather cannot tell some “formal” story.

    Here the same basic error is made in a slightly different manner; a rhapsode cannot perform for some “formal” audience, but must perform for some particular audience, and must judge the performance, as it is performed, against the reaction of the audience to the performance, just as a cook must judge the cooking of a fish, as it is being cooked, against the “reaction” of the fish to the cooking.

    If the formality is to be meaningful, it must be applicable to the world; and not so abstract and such “ivory tower” theorizing that it looses its grounding in the actual existences and performances that are being formalized. There is no formal “art of hunting jabberwocks” because there are no Jabberwocks.

    Socrates seems to be, however, using the mere fact of the applicability of the art of being a rhapsode to particular poems by particular authors performed for particular audiences to argue that there in no art of being a rhapsode. But if this is so, then there is no art of anything, since any human activity has applicabilty to some particular cases; there is no art of cooking if the cooking of actual fish counts against there being an art of cooking fish.

    ——

    If we look at discussion above as to why the activity of being a rhapsode “seems so culpable to Plato”, we again see this error. The analysis there does not attack the formal activities of being a rhapsode, such as the learning of the material, the composing of a script, the performance before an audience. The analysis is directed not to the formal activity of telling of stories, but to the particular stories being told. Are there no stories – can there be no stories – that do not glorify the “shameful” activities of Achilles, or stories that present the the gods as not engaging in deception and trickery, and of heroic men not giving way to passion?

    The “falsehoods about gods and heroes” told by the poets, however, reprehensible, are characteristics of the particular poets and the particular stories they tell, and do not belong to the “formality” of being a poet, or to that of being a rhapsode. Just as some stories stir up “unworthy” emotions, so other stories can stir up “worthy” emotions”.

    —–

    The analysis continues to the “further sin” that the poet “does it for no good reason”.

    But is this true? One of the functions of rhapsodes given by Janet earlier was that of educator; in a comment in episode #1 she said “basically the rhapsodes were (must have been?) didactic. They used the epic heroes as role models for core Greek values …”. Is not educating the populace in core values a good cause? Here in #6 the post states “[t]he young should be told stories about divine justice and about how the “godlike” heroes act in self-possession and always for the good.” But “telling stories” is what a rhapsode does. If there are, and can be, such stories, then the rhapsodes can tell them. So, at the formal level, the rhapsodes do not act “for no good cause”, even if some particular stories they happen to tell are strories having a message to which Socrates and Plato disapproved. THis is the partiucalr, not the formal, and the cause for which they act, the inculcation of virtue, is a worthy cause.

    A disagreement over which virtues are “worthy” does not touch on the formal art of being a poet, or a rhapsode. An individual poet, or an individual rhapsode, can priase “unworthy” virtues but this is more a misuse of the art rather than an mark that there is no art.

    ——

    The post above accuses Ion of “[s]imple greed and self-aggrandizement”. This does not appear to be a competely fair reading.

    What is dismissed as “hawk-like vigilence, at every moment that he is on stage, is to read the reactions of the audience, so as to win their applause” is simply what is needed for excellence at being a rhapsode. A rhapsode that did not exhibit “hawk-like vigilence, at every moment that he is on stage, is to read the reactions of the audience” is not being an excellent rhapsode; a half-hearted performance with no regard to whether the performance is succeeding is, quite simply, a poor performance, a lack of excellence.

    The remarks claim that Ion is “[n]ot only is Ion quite willing to stir up deep … motions, but he does so “to no good purpose.” As noted above, as one of the forms used by the greeks to teach virtue, his actions are not “to no good purpose”.

    ——

    It is said of Ion that “[h]e wants to succeed, but he does not desire to examine why he is succeeding”.

    This is unlikely to be true. He is, as one of the best, surely working to “hone his craft”; to determine how he is succeeding as a rhapsode, to take that which works and repeat and improve it, and that which doesn’t work and replace it with that which does. Just as he tells Socrates how he must pay attention to the reaction of the audience to adjust the performance accordingly, to maintain his level in the field of being a rhapsode, he must also more generally examine the “how” of success in the other parts of being a rhapsode. such as the selection and composing of the material to be presented. This is all a part of excellence in the art of being a rhapsode.

    ——

    It is claimed that Ion “believes that money and fame are sufficient ends in themselves, and he accepts the judgment of his peers as vindication of his own worth.”

    Do we have enough to conclude this? Yes, Ion is full of himself (“I think that the Homeridae should give me a golden crown.”), but how can we judge ourselves, or rather our work? How can we know if we are acting excellently or poorly? Socrates talks about those who can properly judge being those who know the field of activity being judged – if I am working in a particular field, who then is to judge the quality of my work other than my peers? If my peers respect my work, come to me for advice, recognize me as an expert, etc; is this not evidence that, in all likelihood, I am acting with some degree of excellence? The “judgement of his peers” is, if not absolutely definitive, certainly is a good indication of the quality, or lack thereof, of his work, because, as Socrates argues, they are the ones who best know how to judge such things.

    When those whom we ourselves view as knowledgeable in our art come to admire our work in the art, what better evidence of excellence in our work in the art is there?

  2. Janet Says:

    Hi folks, I’ve been sorta busy this week with family stuff but shall return soon with the next Socrates post, et cetera. I think we can finish our trek through Ion in three more posts and then we’ll be in a position to discuss poststructuralism, as we review Ion and look at its rhetorical and poetic structures…. See y’all soon!!

  3. Cindy Says:

    I must reply to two points in this post. The first is the second of the rhapsode’s sins.

    “…that the poets tell falsehoods about gods and heroes. This is reprehensible enough, of course, and ought not to form any part of early education in the ideal polis. But no, there is a further sin here, because the poet not only does so, but “he does it for no good cause.” For no good purpose or telos.”

    I bristle at accepting that someone, anyone has determined “for no good purpose.” This implies two things: one, that the predetermination of no good purpose is acceptable, and two, that if a predetermination is made that a good purpose can be found, this justifies the first sin. Is it OK to make up faslehoods about gods and heros (and I speak entirely metaphorically here) if a good purpose can be found? And what if a simple majority finds this good purpose? Does it override the minority’s belief that there is no good purpose and therefore the action is not acceptable?

    This seems a slippery slope. Both that anyone holds the ultimate entitlement to bang the gavel and declare “no good purpose” and that those who may disagree are disenfranchised.

    * * * *

    Rick makes a strong case for measuring oneself against one’s peers in order to authenticate quality. In the case of the rhapsode (or anyone) is the existence, or lack thereof, of excellence in the performance entirely dependent on the audience? Can the performance itself be its own judge and jury? What if there is no audience during rehearsal and the rhapsode gives the best performance of his career, never to be repeated? Is this performance negated by the fact that no one saw it? Kind of a tree falls in the forest thing.

    This seems to be a central fault in our current way of thinking. That without external validation, the Good Thing cannot stand on its own. Or even the Bad Thing. Can we not (and did not the Greeks) believe in the existence of a Thing simply because it demonstrated existable qualities?

    Rick says, “When those whom we ourselves view as knowledgeable in our art come to admire our work in the art, what better evidence of excellence in our work in the art is there?” I would argue this is a dangerous and false reliance on evidence of excellence. Like taking a friend to a movie you aren’t sure she’ll like and only half watching it yourself because you’re spending so much time watching for her reaction, we are in danger of getting lost in the expectation (like Ion, who may then alter his performance at his interpretation of the audience’s reaction). Expectation, it seems, is what Socrates is catching Ion up on. Rather than the more pure for-the-common-good trajectory he seeks.

    Perhaps I’m being too pedantic, but of course, for me, Prison Gal, this all relates to the central thrust of my craft. If I may be permitted to generalize, the offender way of knowing is almost entirely reliant on that validation from peers. Our heart-pounding, tear-welling, hair-standing Ion is Mr. Instant Gratification and has no sense of either his own inner compass or the greater good. He plays to an audience, gets paid, goes to the beach. Will Socrates ever move him beyond this if he doesn’t want to be moved? If he has no interest in more than the discourse or exploration of movement? And why does Socrates invest such energy into Ion? To what end?

    Janet says, “From the perspective of the new philosophical project, Ion has notably failed to manifest the desire to seek any ideal or higher formal truth. His mind is uncritical and self-serving. He wants to succeed, but he does not desire to examine why he is succeeding or what it is that he is succeeding for. He believes that money and fame are sufficient ends in themselves, and he accepts the judgment of his peers as vindication of his own worth. No voice of the God is whispering within him, as Socrates’ daimon does, asking him whether he indeed knows anything at all, or what he would most deeply desire to know, if he could choose freely. Ion does not even know that he is not free to choose, that he has not taken even the first baby steps down the long road to becoming a free person.”

    What is to be done for Ion? I am immeasurably invested in an answer to this question!

    You’ve got me thinking now, Janet…

  4. Janet Says:

    Cindy, I too am “immeasurably invested” in the question of what can be done for the Ions of this world. What is it — that tiny flicker of a flame — that the teacher sometimes sees and can breath on and nurture into a steady flame? Whatever it is, Socrates sees it in the young Theaetetus, and so does the Eleatic Stranger, when in conversaton with Theaetetus, in *The Sophist* (the dialogue that purports to follow *Theaetetus*). Whatever that flicker might be, it never stirs to life in Ion, does it? Socrates seems quite “philosophical” about this; I never can be.

    It happens that I just read an interaction in *Mark* when, during another dialectical conversation, Jesus gazed at a rich young man “and loved him.” So Jesus said to him, “Sell all you have and come and follow me.” But the young man went away saddened, for he had great wealth. This was after Jesus had sent away many others away, when they had said that they wanted to go with him. These are the ultimately mysteries of volition and discernment, aren’t they, as concerns the mission of teachers with students?

    This entire subject reminds me of another more cautionary example. This is the famous comment made by the University of Chicago Plato scholar Leo Strauss about “the philosopher’s love” for those he recognizes “as the puppies of his breed.” His own student Allan Bloom also taught political science and Plato at Chicago, and both of these teachers seemed to have had in mind a certain nurturing of likeminded students — those who would share their elitist scorn for mere commoners and their idea that intellectual aristocrats were entitled to live off the fat of the land.

    In the end, they trained some of the leading political minds in the neoconservative movement and some of the key advisers to the current administration. It is fascinating to consider that this phenomenon grew out of what they interpreted as Plato’s esoteric teachings. Does Plato suggest that lying for the public good (or for the good of an unscrupulous elite?) is acceptable? What is the extent and the purpose of Socrates’ “fishy” arguments as he is working with Ion (and with us, his unseen audience)? We’ll have to come back to all these questions later on, when we are really in a position to ask the age-old question of “what Plato meant” in this dialogue, at least. More later!

    Also, Cindy, I see exactly why “the second sin” — of lying “to no good purpose” — makes you “bristle.” It reminds us all of puritanical objections to narrative art. Judging poiesis by the orthotike of politics is a very tricky and dangerous business. However, the very notion that art serves no good political purpose also at the same time (by the inevitable dynamic of dialectic) raises the possibility that perhaps “the lies of the poets” might indeed serve the public good.

    And this is what will be taken up by Aristotle, and from him, by the civic humanists of the Renaissance. You may remember that Sir Philip Sidney saucily replied to the age-old charge that poets are liars by quipping that “the poet nothing lyeth, for the poet nothing affirmeth.” Fiction, story, myth, archetype — these are all “lies” from a certain point of view, if they are viewed as factual statements. (This is why reading a Creation Poem as a science textbook is so tragically mistaken — we miss what is Really being conveyed by reducing this language to the merely actual.) If poetic “affirms” truth, it does so in an-other way from ordinary, merely expository truth-telling. (As we’ll see, Aristotle claims that as a way of knowing, poietike carries us closer to the Really Real than the techne of history does. How? Why? The real is more true than the merely actual. If I can help readers to see some meaning in the previous sentence — then my weblog will itself have “served a good purpose”! And I will have “restored a lost breathing” from an earlier age of thought.)

    More later, and thanks so much for your passionate commenting, Cindy!

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