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Existence within Seasons of Change

Wish You Were Here

Given the intensity of moral corruption that had crept into Athenian culture, especially in the eyes of Plato, it seems that a season of change was in the air. For Plato, as we know from previous posts, this change represented a shift away from Athenian democracy and his perception of an excess of freedom. In his dire pursuit of accomplishing this change, Plato would utilize the pain of Socrates’ death as a catalyst to light the spark of his passion, become a philosopher, and go on to create his divine philosopher king led utopian society of order and control to overcome corruption. 

Simultaneously, he’s faced with yet another layer of the same old fears of loss and change [“Wish You Were Here”, Pink Floyd]. However, this time, instead of trying to overcome it himself as he had to do with the loss of his beloved teacher / mentor / friend Socrates, he would have to put his method of dialogue and his interlocutor Socrates to the test. To see if he could influence an audience’s definition of corruption and their corresponding desire for change. And to see if he himself could paint a persuasive enough picture that would galvanize others into believing that they too could overcome their fears of loss and change through his divine utopian system. Because regardless of the period of time or culture, virtually all humans share these same deep fears. Given this, Plato seems to be striking the perfect chord, near the very core of the human psyche. 

Further, as we know, in this painting Plato is also depicting rhetoric as a knack that tends to produce a breed of human with a mindset that, more often than not, emphasizes selfish competitiveness and is primarily concerned with winning. Yet, he himself is actively engaging in the art of persuasion. In trying to tap into the emotions of his audience and hopefully shift their beliefs to be more in line with his own. 

This seems to be where Aristotle takes his familiar middle path and thinks there is really no one way of banning or even censoring rhetoric, because in the end, even his master Plato is engaged in it. Regardless of style, whether it be competitive via rhetoric or cooperative via dialogue (or other), the human art of persuasion will remain. Hence, Aristotle, although agrees with Plato in that corruption is operating at an excessive level and requires some type of fundamental change, he also believes that another methodology should be employed to handle the job. Another method that will ultimately be better for both the individual and the polis.  

Modern Memory Overload

In thinking about our current times, we have storage for everything. Closets, garages, and storage units full of mostly junk that we’ve somehow deemed to be of value. This even extends into the virtual online realm. My fucking google drive storage is already at the warning level and they want me to purchase more. Everything seems to be overflowing. We just can’t seem to let things go. Instead we actively seek to preserve our memories, regardless of the physical / mental / emotional cost. We actively seek to avoid change, for fear of potentially losing something or someone near and dear to us. 

And we will go to great lengths to cover up anything that could potentially jeopardize what we currently have. Anything that could result in some type of perceived negative or bad change. We will also resort to lying and deceit in order to protect what we deem to be good, even if we do not fully know what is truly good ourselves. For some people, their entire character is a facade, an emulation of what they believe to be good within society. They project this out into their work lives to appear as if they are “good people.” While simmering just beneath the surface, is a monster of deceit.

Further, our competitive natures as humans seem to subconsciously emerge at times when we sense that someone else is excelling and leading “the good life.” In these moments there is also a tendency for some to become deceitful, to try to prevent someone else from reaching “the good life,” for that means the possibility, by default, that they themselves are not leading “the good life.” The pull toward the desire for any perceived power and control runs deep, and is extremely strong. It makes sense why the Sophist’s would desire this. It seems to simultaneously elevate pleasure and alleviate pain. 

And why not, is the world really a better place if we all tell the truth, all the time? Won’t the subsequent risk of losing something or someone that we hold dear be something that we have to endure regardless? Isn’t change inevitable? Why not then have a little power or control to help take the edge off of this painful reality? 

Or perhaps we are afraid that we may even lose ourselves? That, without our supposed prized storage of infinite items which seem to spark our memory and unite us with our own souls, we could lose whatever little power we truly do have to try to control the inevitable seasons of change. Even if our memories are distorted and the seasons of change contain vast amounts of lies and deceit. 

Layers of deceit. Mountains of lies. How do we proceed, knowing their depths? And, in knowing that loss and pain are assured to occur within the seasons of change. At times, the ascent up this mountain of enlightenment seems to become excruciatingly steep. Given this, with each new height reached, we must take extreme caution to triple check our equipment, ensuring we are properly fastened and secured. For if we lose our grip and make a mistake, a certainty in this life, perhaps we will only fall so far. 

Somehow, we must try to understand, so that we can try to live again [“Try”, Joda].

The Distinction: Universal vs. Individual 

At this juncture it is critical for us to consider one of the most important yet fundamental distinctions in all of human thought. This revolves around the question of our perception of how we view ourselves and the world around us. Of which, the distinction to be made is one of the universal versus the individual. A greater understanding of this distinction will help us to better contextualize the flow of philosophical thought throughout history, starting with the ancient Greeks of Aristotle and Plato all the way up until our current time. 

This is also significant in that we are going to be using this distinction as a tool to help us analyze the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle as they pertain to change. We could’ve mentioned this distinction from the very onset of Aristotle and Plato… but it seems to me most pertinent to delve into it now. 

So, what exactly are we referring to by universal and individual? 

We’ve stated before that Plato’s ultimate truth lies in the subjective future, in a scholastic divine realm beyond ours, within the world of forms. For Aristotle, this is indicative of Plato emphasizing the universal in terms of theories and ideas as well as generalities. Similarly, we’ve also stated that Aristotle’s ultimate truth lies in the objective present, through science and within nature. This is where Aristotle believes the emphasis should be, on the individual via specific things and facts as well as particulars. 

Kaleidoscopic Levels of Existence

If we take the distinction of the universal versus the individual and we try to analyze it to determine what does or does not exist we can gain some very valuable insight. For some reason I like to imagine if each Aristotle and Plato had their own kaleidoscopes. And they are sitting together after a full day of class sessions at Plato’s Academy for a discussion, trying to get one another to look through their kaleidoscope of existence… to see the world through their perspective. Plato might say look into my kaleidoscope, “you can see that men may come and go via the never ending cycle of birth and death, but man, the idea of man remains. Just as (when you twist it this way) in the world of forms wherein the idea of a tree or a rock or a cloud exists as our categorical point of reference so that we can recognize all of the other variations of trees, rocks, clouds. So too does man exist, on a greater plane, so that we can recognize him amongst his subtleties.” 

Aristotle might say, “Hmmm, that’s very interesting. Yes men do come and go, and yes the idea of man could prove useful in theory, but we must live our lives within the confines of the earth and its playing field. If you look closely into my kaleidoscope you can also see a tree and a rock. And you can also see a man sitting under a tree reading a book with his sack of olives and tools placed upon the rock. And if you twist it this way you can also observe the white wispy clouds and golden sunlight just above the tree as well as a small patch of grayish white mushrooms in the grassy field right next to the rock. All of these things have individual attributes when you observe closely enough, and all of these things exist within the full landscape of nature. Most especially, the flesh and blood that is man. With air in his lungs and blood flowing through his body. Hence, the idea of man existing as a conception within our minds, outside of the world around us, may be a useful tool, but it is not reality.”

Natural Extensions of Plato’s Psychology

Plato then seems to say, “yes, let’s talk about reality… let’s talk about men existing on this earth.” For in Plato’s perspective, there are three key categories of men that stem from the universal man. Just as there are certain types of rocks and trees and clouds on the earth, so too are there certain types of men on the earth. Further, if the universal man is the main point of reference, it is not personality traits that make men unique, it is their core psychological drives. It is their raison d’etre, or reason for existence. 

Hence, Plato identifies three reasons for existence for men including desire, emotion, and knowledge. These are key human behaviors that he has determined as having a scientific connection within specific areas of the physical human body as it exists on this earth including the loins, heart, and brain. Meaning that men, and their behaviors, are naturally ruled by one of these specifically interconnected physical – psychological driving forces. 

With desire, men are continuously striving for material goods and possessions. They seek a life of luxury based on an appetite for earthly sensual pleasures including the best food, drink, and sex. Essentially, these men strive everyday with an endless goal in mind of possessing that which they do not yet possess. Given this, Plato believes that these men are naturally endowed to thrive in industry. In producing the goods necessary for men and a society to exist. 

In Plato’s time, it seems quite easy to make the connection between the second reason for existence, emotion, and the battlefield. For war was seemingly constant. The Greco-Persian wars, followed directly by the Peloponnesian wars as well as countless other battles. A lot of the emotion in men was translated onto the battlefield. You’ve got to have an abundance of heart to be willing to grit and grind through this life as well as the courage and passion to find the inner strength just to face your supposed enemy. In all, these men are in search of victory and they seek, above all else, power. 

Let us notice that these first two groups of men exist within states of extreme competition. Competition for resources and for power. Further, these two groups of men are highly susceptible to corruption. Of using any means to obtain their ultimate goals of wealth and power. 

This is where the third group of men steps in. For their reason for existence, according to Plato, is to act as the moral compass and police of the first two groups of men. To try to reduce the levels of corruption amongst them. And to try to help ensure justice within his utopian system. These men are the philosopher guardians. They naturally seek knowledge and, most of all, truth. 

Finally, let us notice the obvious. That each of these types of men extend directly into the three classes of men within Plato’s utopia. If you fail the first test, then you are naturally men fueled by desire and belong within the working sphere of production and industry. Fail the second test and it is emotion that defines your nature and you belong on the battlefield. Pass each test and you have the opportunity to become one of the few men capable of leading. Men fueled by the search for knowledge and truth. With each class of men thus being defined by their reason for existence. 

Plato’s Utopian Test

For Plato, in addition to his accusations against the great Pericles, it seems he witnessed first hand at least some form of corruption during his time traveling after Socrates’ death, especially when he served as essentially the hand to another King, Dionysius I of Syracuse. This was Plato’s chance to help guide the supposed philosopher king out of the cave so that he could catch a glimpse of the wondrous world of forms that lay beyond and, in doing so, proceed to implement the harmonious balance of Plato’s utopian system. 

Dionysius most likely shared Plato’s epic vision. But when it came down to the dirty micro level work of actually rooting out corruption, I’d venture to guess that he probably didn’t think the same rules should apply to him (or his family and close friends for that matter). He was a King after all. And not all Kings, or leaders in general, have the fundamental belief that they are human and make mistakes. That their actions could even be considered flawed, let alone corrupt. 

This is most likely one of the key points where Dionysius and Plato failed to see eye-to-eye. Because in the end, Kings have historically pretty much done whatever the fuck they want, and ultimately, they have not really given a shit what other men, even men of Plato’s stature, think. Ultimately, Plato would not only be fired, but sold into slavery by Dionysius, most likely for some type of insubordination, only to seemingly be rescued by his Athenian philosophic brethren. Thus, adding to the many layers of Plato’s skepticism in his writing of “The Republic” and the creation of his utopian society, as well as to his overarching emphasis on the only truly authentic and good things in life existing in the universal.  Beyond the realm of humans on earth, in the divine world of forms. 

Plato’s Soul Cleansing Antithesis

But, why did Plato’s attempt to implement his utopian system fail, really? Let us analyze Plato’s utopian vision using the Hegelian dialectical model, under the microscope of Aristotle. And let’s start with an emphasis on the changes taking place between the thesis to antithesis during his current moment in time. 

  • Thesis – Current status of Athenian Greek culture within the political sphere of democracy, contains what Plato believes is an excess of freedom, corruption and inequality ===> 
  • Antithesis – Major change into Plato’s utopian system, divine order controls freedom and roots out corruption while simultaneously re-establishing equality. Yet, this also sacrifices freedom and creativity. ===> 

As we’ve previously discussed, Plato’s connection with the Spartans runs fascinatingly deep. His utopian system first seeks to overcome the thesis of Athenian Greek culture and its now extraordinarily high level of corruption. Plato seeks to do this through an emphasis on eugenics and preserving the innocence of children by bringing them up in a society wherein their parents and their “old” ways are no longer part of the equation. Instead the children can start fresh, and begin the process of having the purity of their already innate knowledge be naturally drawn out or expressed through a state run education system.

It’s as if to say, once a person is exposed to corruption or has experienced it, then the status of that person’s soul is forever tainted. It can never quite be returned to its original state of cleanliness and purity. Because ultimately they cannot be unexposed or de-experience it. Therefore, they have lost the innocence of their soul due to some form of corruption. Hence, eugenics must be employed to ensure the soul’s innocence remains intact.

The next phase of his proposed antithesis is to establish a new level of equality. One that recognizes his understanding, at least to some degree, of the pain in being subjected to slavery. Wherein, because each of these children has had their innocence preserved, they are then eligible to become a leader within his utopian system. And whereby each child, regardless of their originating gender, culture, race, and citizenship, has the opportunity to become a guardian. The opportunity to become a philosopher king. 

If we recall, this type of equality being embedded within a society is directly opposed to Aristotle’s scientific version of truth and the “good life,” which lies rooted in competition. Entrenched within an ultimate hierarchy via the great chain of natural causes that then extends into the leadership of humans with the classification of a free, wealthy, privileged, educated male Greek citizen as being the most fit. This allows for a type of superiority to settle in. Whereby others that do not fit this initial criteria are either barbarians (from outside Greece), slaves, or women. Essentially unfit for leadership for various other reasons in which they’ve been deemed to be inferior. 

Back to Plato, in executing these first two key elements of his utopian system, the third can then subsequently take place to ensure that corruption is eliminated at its source. Whereby the source, as we’ve discussed, is namely that of rhetoric and anything else that causes an extreme arousal of the emotions, especially art and music. Given this, these things are to be censored or even banned, and the people that engage in them are to be warned, thrown in jail, or even sentenced to death depending upon the perceived severity of their transgressions. 

Finally, in eliminating corruption, excessively high levels of freedom are also controlled. Because in the end, Plato wants conformity. He wants people to remain harmonious and pure. He wants universal justice. And he also wants unity. Having too much freedom means the ability to think and act differently. It means taking risks that could jeopardize the innocence of the soul, the equality of the people, and result in corruption of the system. 

A Synthesis of Divine Conformity and Unity

After the series of changes within the antithesis has been successfully implemented, then, ideally, the fruits of the labor will be recognized in terms of having an efficient society that is equal, pure, and ordered. Hence, the result of the changes within the antithesis will eventually produce the following synthesis:

  • Synthesis – Having established harmonious balance via universal justice and a belief in the possibility of the “good life” via the world of forms, divine conformity with the ultimate godly truth inherent within Plato’s utopian system is now expected. 

However, once equality, peace, and order has been established, then what? What happens after Athenian democracy has been overtaken in favor of Plato’s utopia? If we recall Plato’s noble lie, his myth of the metals, there is an expectation of conformity rooted in a fear of the Gods. Hence, in essence, once you’ve gone through the rigors of Plato’s system and been assigned to your natural place within it, there are no further changes to your place within it. No mobility. No flourishing. You have one opportunity. After that, he wants divine unity. 

To ensure this divine unity, Plato’s utopia seems to envision a soulless assembly line of workers. Essentially machines. Machines that, when functioning optimally, act as cogs in a big wheel. Cogs that don’t show emotions. That don’t question the system or their celestially assigned place within it. And that subsequently each fit harmoniously within their supposedly natural positions of his utopian system. All to make the wheel of society spin, fluidly, without too much effort and too much resistance.  

The Poetry of Permanence – Nothing Changes

Let us try to dig a little deeper into this ideology, that nothing ever really changes. We already know about Heracletius and his belief in constant change, in impermanence. Specifically, his thought that a person can never step foot in the same river twice because the waters are always moving. And Plato agreed with Heracletius to an extent, in that flux is true in the world that humans reside in, the world of the human senses. But there was also a competing belief at this time. A type of metaphysical belief in oneness, unity, and permanence that stems from another highly influential pre-Socratic philosopher named Parmenides. 

Often referred to as the “father of metaphysics,” Parmenides was not just a philosopher, he was also a poet. However he supposedly only wrote one poem, an epic entitled, “On Nature,” [I swear, everyone wrote a piece called “On Nature” back in the day… you’ll soon see what I mean, hahaha:)]. And of this poem, only fragments remain, the original was never found. Further, the fragments are laid out within the ancient works of a slew of other philosophers and writers, including Plato himself. The impact of Parmenides upon Plato was so great that he in fact titled one of his dialogues “Parmenides.”

The central theme of this particular dialogue revolves around Socrates having lengthy metaphysically layered discussions with Parmenides about the efficacy of Plato’s World of Forms. With Parmenides challenging its validity and integrity, and Plato seemingly using it as a means to assure others that his metaphysics were sound. With the soundness being strengthened by the ultimate approval of Parmenides and his underlying belief in oneness. 

Plato seems to intend on reconciling Heraclitus’s constant change, via the world of science and sense perception, with Parmenides and changelessness, via his metaphysical world of forms. Yet, if his utopia were realized there would also be a changelessness that takes effect in the human world we inhabit in terms of what we can or cannot do in our lives. There would be restrictions and limitations placed upon us

This idea of permanence for Plato is further revealed when we couple it with his massively influential experience after Socrates’ death with the great Pythagoras. Whereby Plato’s mind was first imbued with the thought of mathematics and geometry as being the absolute heavenly truth. Plato then went on to insert certain aspects of this into the rigorous testing process for the true philosopher king. Wherein if they demonstrated an understanding of mathematics they could then escape the cave and see the divine truth beyond its walls. 

Then, once they’ve escaped and seen the divine geometric and numeric truth of the world of forms, they are able to see the finality of it. Hence, they come to understand that nothing ever really changes once they’ve reached this point. That the world is naturally as they should be. A reflection of a universal idea that is the world of forms. 

This would be subsequently and directly reflected in how Plato wishes to proceed after the synthesis of his utopian system is finally accomplished. He wants to sustain it ad infinitum. With as few changes as possible thereafter. Culturally, this meant extreme censorship. No new music, no new plays, and most importantly, no one challenging his utopian system after it was implemented via the venomous snake of rhetoric. 

Thank you for joining me on this philosophic journey!

Next blog post: Fearful Imitations of Life, Higher Truths within Reason and Emotion

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