Undeceptions: Plato

If you're a regular reader of AVI's page, you know he's got a series called "Undeceptions" going. It's well worth your time. Since we've been doing a lot of Plato here, I thought I'd take a moment to bring forward the argument from the Lesser Hippias.

One of the things that Plato had to do in his work was to convince the people of Athens to rethink their judgment of Socrates. They had executed Socrates for corrupting the youth of Athens, after all, and Plato wanted to build his Academy on the principle of furthering Socrates' work. That would be a dangerous thing to do if people still considered that kind of work a sort of corruption, especially in an age when the people were empowered to kill those they thought of as corrupting influences.

There are several approaches Plato adopts towards this end, but one of them is this rather playful dialogue. Socrates is often likened to Odysseus (whose name means something like 'troublemaker'): a clever, strategic thinker who can talk even those who proclaim themselves wise into knots. Hippias is a Sophist at the height of his fame and power during this dialogue, and is readily convinced to proclaim himself the greatest of calculators and thinkers. Socrates and he undertake to debate whether Achilles or Odysseus is the greatest of Homer's heroes. 

Socrates begins by convincing Hippias to accept that a liar is a better liar if he lies voluntarily than if he lies involuntarily. This is a relatively simple argument: a mathematician who can arrive at the right answer, but intentionally provides the wrong answer to an enemy, is a better mathematician than one who isn't actually capable of working out what the right answer is anyway. Both give wrong answers, but one of them is demonstrably a better mathematician. So too a liar who understands the truth, but is manipulating for his own reasons, is better than one who is telling an untruth because they aren't capable of seeing the truth -- or admitting it to themselves. 

Having gotten Hippias to agree to this basic principle, Odysseus proves to be the better man according to Socrates:

SOCRATES: [Y]ou say that Achilles does not speak falsely from design, when he is not only a deceiver, but besides being a braggart, in Homer's description of him is so cunning, and so far superior to Odysseus in lying and pretending, that he dares to contradict himself, and Odysseus does not find him out; at any rate he does not appear to say anything to him which would imply that he perceived his falsehood.

HIPPIAS: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Did you not observe that afterwards, when he is speaking to Odysseus, he says that he will sail away with the early dawn; but to Ajax he tells quite a different story?

HIPPIAS: Where is that?

SOCRATES: Where he says,—

'I will not think about bloody war until the son of warlike Priam, illustrious Hector, comes to the tents and ships of the Myrmidons, slaughtering the Argives, and burning the ships with fire; and about my tent and dark ship, I suspect that Hector, although eager for the battle, will nevertheless stay his hand.'

Now, do you really think, Hippias, that the son of Thetis, who had been the pupil of the sage Cheiron, had such a bad memory, or would have carried the art of lying to such an extent (when he had been assailing liars in the most violent terms only the instant before) as to say to Odysseus that he would sail away, and to Ajax that he would remain, and that he was not rather practising upon the simplicity of Odysseus, whom he regarded as an ancient, and thinking that he would get the better of him by his own cunning and falsehood?

HIPPIAS: No, I do not agree with you, Socrates; but I believe that Achilles is induced to say one thing to Ajax, and another to Odysseus in the innocence of his heart, whereas Odysseus, whether he speaks falsely or truly, speaks always with a purpose.

SOCRATES: Then Odysseus would appear after all to be better than Achilles?

HIPPIAS: Certainly not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Why, were not the voluntary liars only just now shown to be better than the involuntary?

Hippias now tries to argue that you can't be a better person by being better at something evil, and accuses Socrates of being troublesome and dishonest (i.e., a troublemaker, like Odysseus). Plato is re-explaining Socrates by example, showing him to be an analogue for a Homeric hero involved in a kind of combat -- a duel of ideas, which he is winning like Odysseus won more practical combats, and in a way that makes him subject to the same criticisms as Odysseus.

Socrates says something I often think of at this point, which is worthy of any of us who are disagreeably inclined to speak our minds even when no one else aligns with our thinking.  "My deficiency is proved to me by the fact that when I meet one of you who are famous for wisdom, and to whose wisdom all the Hellenes are witnesses, I am found out to know nothing. For speaking generally, I hardly ever have the same opinion about anything which you have, and what proof of ignorance can be greater than to differ from wise men?"

What proof indeed?


ymarsakar said...

I doubt Socrates liked to be portrayed in such a fashion. For Socrates, the "Straight line" was a matter of principle, even unto death of the body.

Plato believed Socrates should have chosen escape, the path of least resistance, as Plato prioritized Socrates' life. Socrates' daemon, his inner spirit and god, prioritized his mission, his Straight attitude towards life, and his integrity. Honor he had not, as Athens was human and humans are betrayers first of all, and sinners second.

Plato's path of the subtle, the covert, or the "crooked" was not Socrates', although he chose to honor the memory of his mentor father as much as he could by making his opponents look stupid.

Counter: We don't look stupid!

Y: Not yet at least.

ymarsakar said...

Plato is re-explaining Socrates by example, showing him to be an analogue for a Homeric hero involved in a kind of combat -- a duel of ideas, which he is winning like Odysseus won more practical combats, and in a way that makes him subject to the same criticisms as Odysseus.

One of the traits of Socrates, which can be seen in both my own avatar here as well as Trump, is the Principle of the Straight line.

People with this Aries type archetype, do not go around problems. Which is to say, they will criticize their own nation's problems directly and frankly, even if it makes them unpopular. And so long as they survive, at least, their points will have merit and be found to be popular amongst the young, sorta like Jordan Peterson's following and charisma. As a mentally ill person that is mostly functional, JP is perhaps a good analogy for many people looking for role models to overcome their personal problems in the days of man.

Thus Socrates would have far more likely criticized both A and O, plus Homer. Which is why he wasn't necessarily popular, so to speak, to the Assembly. He is a wanderer, with no home to call his own, and no culture or national patriotism to constrain his internal impulses.

Trump does this by calling the very election and fabric of America, into account and criticism. Whether he is attacker or defender, depends on your pov.

The premise that A and O were national heroes and good or better... would in itself be first questioned. Are the wise truly wise? Are national heroes, truly national heroes? Is your Nation and Republic, Grim, actually alive or has it been dead long since?