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Ch. 2 - The Classical Conception of the Good Life

#16: Sept. - Oct. 2004 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Ch. 2 - The Classical Conception of the Good Life

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This thread is for discussing Ch. 2 - The Classical Conception of the Good Life. You can post within this framework or create your own threads.Chris "For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"
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PeterDF
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Aristotle & Bush, wisdom & stupidity?

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In this chapter Grayling starts by contrasting the ancient honour codes and hero worship of the earlier traditions of the Mycenaean civilisation, exemplified by Homer in his writings, with the culture-centred views which prevailed during the legendary Classical period of Pericles' Athens.I don't know about you, but it occurred to me that there was an interesting parallel here with the impending American election. How would a modern Socrates fare as a candidate? Someone who accepted that he "knew nothing", would get no further in the modern world than he did in ancient Greece (although I don't suppose he would be condemned to drink hemlock). Today, Socrates would be seen as weak and indecisive: the ultimate flip-flopper. But it's impossible to see Bush as a Homeric hero either (a Homeric hero would have been in the front line). The appeal of leaders like Bush (another example is Margaret Thatcher) is that they are perceived to have a clear vision and a simple ideology that everyone can understand. The obvious problem is that simple ideologies are bound to lead them to make simple-minded snap decisions, which have an even chance of being right or wrong. It is a sad fact that such leaders are seen as decisive and competent in the modern world, even if their decisions turn out to be wrong, as Bush obviously was about his decision to invade Iraq. In our country Mrs. Thatcher, is remembered by some as a great Prime Minister because she had a clear vision. This is so, even though her vision entailed the introduction of an unfair Poll-Tax (which led to her being kicked out by her party before the electorate got the chance) and the effective destruction of many mining communities who are still suffering to this day. How can someone who has a simple-minded vision, and determination, also be described as being very clever (as our press described her)? To me the expression: "simple minded" is a euphemism for stupid. The world is not a simple place; simple solutions are never going to be enough.Grayling says of Aristotle's view of anger: he... 'saw it as an emotion of great power and good effect if wisely directed. It is easy to fly into a passion,' he remarked, 'anyone can do that; but to be angry with the right person, to the right extent, at the time, in the right way, with the right aim; that is not easy.'It is only through the thoughtful pragmatism of Aristotle and the kind of examined reflection that Socrates promoted that an understanding of truth be approached and appropriate action taken. A good leader must weigh up evidence dispassionately and make the best decision based on the available evidence, taking proper account of the likely behaviour of his friends and potential enemies. How can this ever come from a simple predetermined ideology, which his enemies will probably completely misunderstand because they might come from a culture which doesn't understand it or want it. Edited by: PeterDF at: 11/7/04 1:34 pm
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Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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I think the, or a, primary component of the Socratic enterprise is an exchange of voices, or Dialogue. The Truth is arrived at by an exchange, interaction, wrestling, even combat of ideas. Furthermore, these Logoi are alive, active, and personal things- nothing dispassionate or aloof: the Logos grips and consumes the interlocutors.But, as far as Leadership qualities are concerned, Plato's Dialogues are precious examples of dismantling the mantle of 'Expert' status laid at the feet of Athen's "leaders".If there is anything worthy of the Socratic enterprise, it is this: there are no experts in human affairs, nobody knows the human experience in ways that others don't or can't share.More precisely, in democratic terms: ALL share in this predicament; thus MANY voices are needed to guide, direct, and sail this ship of fools called, "Humanity".And, as Socrates points out again and again, push far enough behind the veneer of Expert, or Leader, confront the staged performances that keep the Powerful in power...and you will expose just how simply ignorant they, and we, really are.And, as Socrates case exemplifies....do this enough, and you will find a cup of hemlock waiting for you. Or a Cross.
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Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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ShannonI agree with you that dialogue is a crucial tool for determining truth, but it seems that much of the political dialogue that we hear today is a sterile reiteration of the same old ideological positions. left versus right, liberal versus conservative, etc. etc This goes on ad nauseum without ever bringing any deeper insight.Socrates' dialogue was deeper and more corrosive (No one likes having their cherished ideologies attacked - hence the hemlock) It was about exposing logical inconsistencies and reducing an opponents argument to what can ultimately be known. Where I disagree with you - if I understand your position correctly - is in your assertion that just because a view is widely held that it somehow means it is more right than one which is only held by a few.Socretes and Plato were against the form of democracy that prevailed in Athens (they may have been predisposed to like the modern form more.)You are right that all leaders are human beings, and have the same susceptibility to error as the rest of us, so why the hell do people lay down their lives for them?
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Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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Quote:How would a modern Socrates fare as a candidate? Someone who accepted that he "knew nothing", would get no further in the modern world than he did in ancient Greece... Socrates would be seen as weak and indecisive: the ultimate flip-flopperWhat if a Socrates-type could be the Official Presidential Advisor? He/She would be nonpartisan, of course, and resistant to political influence one way or the other (could that be?) To foster temperance and patience in decision-making would be a good thing, especially with our current administration.
Y2Babel

Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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Quote:Where I disagree with you - if I understand your position correctly - is in your assertion that just because a view is widely held that it somehow means it is more right than one which is only held by a few. As mentioned in this chapter, Gorgias, who was a teacher of rhetoric, describes the two persuasions of using rhetoric: one, to impart knowledge and two, simply to persuade minds whether an issue is factual or not. Gorgias must have been a republican.
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Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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PeterQuote:Where I disagree with you - if I understand your position correctly - is in your assertion that just because a view is widely held that it somehow means it is more right than one which is only held by a few.This is not my view of democracy. I don't endorse a type of concensus-epistemology where truth is determined by committee, and I think Socrates would see such a thing as repugnant.My view of democracy, and where I see the Dialogue as essential, is the importance of keeping the powerful accountable, and each other too.The Socratic pathos shows that no person has any more or less legitimacy in the Dialogue...the only determininant is Reason, and it is an equal opportunity force in human affairs, not a respector of class, caste, or race.
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Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cross

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Quote:My view of democracy... is the importance of keeping the powerful accountable... the only determininant is Reason, and it is an equal opportunity force in human affairs, not a respector of class, caste, or race. But, do you see this as actually happening? Idealogically, it is the lofty goal upon which our country was built, but is it happening? To an extent, I suppose, otherwise we'd be under tyrannical control. I believe modern media tactics are perpeptuating political spin to a new level, thus allowing demagoguery to rise to new levels as well.
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Re: Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cro

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OF course I don't see the democratic spirit I describe here as actually existing in the political and economic structures of the USA.First of all, in the world of Business and Finance, the world of Croporate Industries and Stock Markets, there is absolutely no space for the democracy of accountability. On the contrary, the most cursory of examinations display profoundly oligarchic hierarchies of the most stringent forms of top-down control and domination...anything BUT democracy is what turns the engines of this Nation's economy.Then, consider the vast control these largely unaccountable elite sectors of the population have over the Electoral processes. Consider their domination over the Legislation of laws by way of highly skilled, thoroughly financed lobbyists- and don't forget the 'revolving door' from Elected Office to Corporate Board. Likewise, the Media are structured upon this same mentality and order of control...the Media are not controlled by Corporate Hierarchical Oligarchies- they ARE Corporate Hierarchical Oligarchies. They will produce what supports, furthers, entrenches, and maximizes Corporate Profit...and they will call it News.This, by the way, cuts across Party Lines, Democratic or Republican.So, you will NOT find the struggle for democratic legitimacy in the most powerful regions of American politics or economics for these reasons.
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Re: Re: Socrates, Dialogue, Democracy, Ignorance, and a Cro

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Vote vote vote!We only have 4 vote so far. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandella
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