Posts Tagged Plato

More overheard conversation

Sometimes, it starts to seem simple.

What does?

Everything.  All of it.


Yeah.  Sometimes I think I see the simple pattern of all the struggles that our common life together seems to bring.


Yes.  Let me explain.  I read the following sentences in a book:

 In what measure and by what means can individuals accept themselves as mortal without any imaginary instituted compensation; in what measure can thought hold together the demands of the identitary logic which are rooted in the Legein and the exigencies of what is (which is surely not identitary without becoming for that reason incoherent); in what measure, finally and especially, can society truly recognize in its institution its own self-creation, recognize itself as institution, auto-institute itself explicitly, and surmount the self-perpetuation of the instituted by showing itself capable of taking it up and transforming it according to its own exigencies and not according to the inertia of the instituted, to recognize itself as the source of its own alterity?  These are the questions, the question of revolution, which not only go beyond the frontier of the theorizable but situate themselves right away on another terrain…the terrain of the creativity of history.  [Cornelius Castoriades, cited by Dick Howard, The Marxian Legacy, 298-299.]

Say what, now?

Yeah, dense, isn’t it?  But what is the simple meaning?  To me, this  goes back to Aristotle, at least.  What is the good life?  It is the life that is best for us to lead.  How do we know it?  How do we learn it?  We learn it by watching others and forming habits.  But what if the habits we form by watching others whom society says are worth imitating, what if that leads us to vice, not virtue?  What if the whole society is corrupt?  Is there any hope?  Yes, because although moral virtue is very important, there is more to being a human than moral virtue.  There is what Aristotle calls intellectual virtue, which is being able to see what is—even past the habits and practices and institutions of our own society.  With those intellectual virtues, we always have access to the other, to the unexpressed, to the not-now visible possibilities.  Indeed, this goes further back, to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” in which the prisoner somehow slips his bonds (but how?) and gets out of the darkness of illusion and can see what is in its truth.  But the prisoner does not—cannot—live in this “realm” because he is human.  He needs his institutions in order to live.  Those institutions make life possible AND impossible at the same time.  To say this in a formula:  I am in society, but not wholly of it.  I carry my alterity with me.  I need the bonds of identitary logic to live AND I am always more and other than how that logic “identifies” me, how it turns me into a (mere) identity.

Perhaps that goes even further back to the very edge of thought:  the many and the one, identity and difference, analysis and synthesis.

Indeed, it does.  The truth is in the middle and the margin, in the in-between and at the edges.

But is what you claimed, right?  Is what you just tried to say simple?

Yes.  It is just that simple.

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Getting Up

Getting Up

When I think about the “Allegory of the Cave, from Plato’s Republic, I am first of all struck by what it must mean for the prisoner to get up. Why does the prisoner get up? At what urging? What could be the impetus for such getting up when one’s whole life there was never the slightest notion of ”getting up"?.

Socrates does not say, leaving us to ponder what could lead to such a momentous and inexplicable act. And why had the prisoner not acted before now?

Or is “act”really the right word? Is the getting up a choice the prisoner makes? Or is it something that happens to the prisoner somehow?

And what must that getting up be like? There never was up in that sense in the prior experience of the prisoner. The prisoner could not even have known there was an up.

How disorienting it must have been. How alarming, at least at first. And then to turn around. Around! A completely new orientation, one never before even conceivable. Imagine, if you can, what that must be like.


Getting up demands metanoia, a turning around of the mind, a reorientation. What brings this about? Necessity? But what is the force of that necessity, if indeed it is necessary? What demands that we come around to another heading?

The prisoner must somehow come to grips what is happening – the very realization that he (or she) has been a prisoner requires a turning around of the mind. What is it to come to realize that one has been a prisoner (of a kind) all of one’s life? What will this release from prison come to mean? How will the newly-released prisoner learn to cope with all the new experiences?


It seems such a simple thing: getting up. But what effects such a simple act (if it is an act) can have! And then: metanoia, turning around one’s mind (or having it turned around). What could be more under our own control than our minds, and yet such transformation seems always hard, almost impossible, and always at a great cost.

Can we get up? Will we?


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