Friday, April 15, 2016

Plato's Gorgias, Entry 3

I noticed in part of the argument that Socrates mentions that goodness of something is due to the 'presence' of goodness, badness due to the 'presence' of badness. He uses this to defeat Callicles. Now, this is all in translation, so I don't know how close 'presence' is to the actual Greek word. But you can't hear this and not think about Derrida. Callicles admits Socrates is right about all of this presence business. Is the fact that I found this line of argument questionable that I'm some sort of crypto-postmodern? I agree that the point where Callicles could stop losing the argument is by refusing to admit the 'presence' stuff.

But if you don't buy the presence stuff, you disagree with both Callicles and Socrates. Callicles is a moralist in the same way that Nietzsche is. I'm sure that using the word 'moralist' here may seem strange, but if you think about it, there is a kind of ubermench-ish morality in play here. The problem is the presence of the ubermensch, or the possible presence of the ubermensch. If the ubermensch is notable by its absence, not its presence, the whole thing falls down. The ubermensch is itself a kind of logocentrism(yeah, FU, Nietzschians, if you don't like it!) -- running around like Diogenes wondering where the ubermensch is, what a load.

Socrates is right when he points out to Callicles that the many, who Callicles derides as weak, get together, they are stronger than the ubermensch, and Callicles realizes it. Nietzsche just didn't like the fact that Socrates won this part of the argument. I know that Nietzsche admired Plato for inverting everything, preferring the snub-nosed philosopher for Achilles, but I'm sure he felt that the heroes of the Iliad and the tragedies were more moving.

I get that. Achilles and Agamemnon are so mighty. Compare them to, say, Humbert Humbert, a pathetic villain. Think this is a bad comparison? Think again. Think of the plot of the Iliad, what precipitates it -- and you should watch any movie with the great James Mason. How our society has changed, our values, the gulf that separates a novel like Lolita from the Iliad; trace this over time and realize Socrates played a role -- who knows how big? -- in this. How much is Humbert Humbert the shadow of Socrates?

There is also an obvious phallocentrism, or phallogocentrism, in this whole thing that I could go off on for some time. Nietzsche himself was horrible in this regard. People like to credit Plato with allowing for women philosopher-kings, but it was pointed out to me by a professor that Plato did not think this was likely, and pointed to the treatment of Xanthippe as more emblematic here.

I'm glad the gulf is there, between us and Agamemnon and Achilles, and that it is growing ever wider, I hope. Relativism, while it seems to be akin to Callicles and Nietzsche, is not. Relativism does not heroize Achilles, or, say, Hannibal Lecter, or Dexter, anymore than it sees universality in the Golden Rule. We relativists have our values, and feel them deeply, but we know they are not the inevitable products of dialectic.

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