Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Good | Plato

Here's a really interesting part of Plato's Republic.
It reminds me of Matt. 6:22-23, John, and 1 John.

... "(506c) 'Well does it seem to you to be just,' I [Socrates] said, 'to talk about things one doesn't know as though one knew them?'

'Not by any means as though one knew them,' he said, 'but certainly it's just to be willing to say what one thinks as something one thinks.'

'What?' I said, 'Haven't you noticed about opinions without knowledge that they're all ugly? The best of them are blind. Or do people who hold any true opinion without insight seem to you to be any different from blind people who travel along the right road?'
'No different,' he said.

'Then do you want to gaze on ugly things, blind and crooked, when you'll be able to hear bright and beautiful ones from others?...

I said... (506e) 'Let's leave aside for the time being what Good itself is, since it appears to me to be beyond the trajectory of the impulse we've got at present to reach the things that now seem to me to be the case. But I'm willing to speak about what appears to be an offspring of Good and most like it, if that's also congenial to you folks, or if not, to let it go.'

(507b) 'We claim that there are many beautiful things,' I said, 'and many good things, and the same way for each kind, and we distinguish them in speech.'
'We do.'

'But also a beautiful itself, and a good itself, and the same way with everything we were then taking as many, we go back the other way and take according to a single look of each kind, as though there is only one, and we refer to it as what each kind it is.'
'That's it.'

'And we claim that the former are seen but not thought, while the looks in turn are thought but not seen.'
'Completely and totally so.'

(507c) 'And by which of the things within ourselves do we see the ones that are seen?'
'By sight,' he said.

'And perceive the things heard by hearing, and all the perceptible things by the other senses?' I said.
'Of course.'

'Well,' I said, 'have you reflected about the craftsman of the senses, how he was by far the most bountiful in crafting the power of seeing and being seen?'
'Not at all,' he said.

(507d) 'Then look at it this way: for one thing to hear and another to be heard, is there any need for another kind of thing in addition to the sense of hearing and a sound, such that, if that third thing isn't present, the first won't hear and the second won't be heard?'
'There's nothing like that,' he said.

'And I don't imagine,' I said, 'that there are many others either, not to say none, that have any additional need for such a thing, or can you name any?'
'Not for my part,' he said.

'But don't you realize that the power of sight and being seen does have an additional need?'
'How's that?'

(507e) 'Presumably you're aware that when sight is present in eyes and the one who has it attempts to use it, and color is present there in things, unless there's also a third kind of thing present, of a nature specifically for this very purpose, sight will see nothing and colors will be invisible.'
'What's that thing you're speaking of?' he said.

'The one you call light,' I said.
'It's true, as you say,' he said.

(508a) 'Then the sense of sight and the power of being seen have been bound together by a bond more precious, by no small look, than that uniting other pairs, unless light is something to be despised.'
'Surely it's far from being despised,' he said....

(508b) 'The sun is not sight itself, nor is it that in which sight is present, what we call an eye.'
'No indeed.'

'But I imagine that's the most sunlike of the sense organs.'
'By far.'

'And doesn't it acquire the power that it has as an overflow from that which is bestowed by the sun?'
'Very much so.'

'So while the sun isn't sight, but is the thing responsible for it, isn't it seen by that very thing?'
'That's how it is,' he said.

(508c) 'Now then,' I said, 'say that this is what I'm calling the offspring of Good, which Good generated as something analogous to itself; the very thing Good itself is in the intelligible realm in relation to insight and the intelligible things, this is in the visible realm in relation to sight and the visible things.'
'How so?' he said. 'Go into it more for me.'

'With eyes,' I said, 'do you know that when one no longer turns them on those things to whose colors the light of day extends, but on those on which nocturnal lights fall, they grow dim, and appear nearly blind, just as though no pure sight was present in them?'
'Very much so,' he said.

(508d) 'But I imagine that whenever one turns them to the things the sun illumines, they see them clearly, and pure sight is manifestly present in these very same eyes.'

'In this manner, think of the power of the soul too as being the same way. Whenever it becomes fixed on that which truth and being illumine, it has insight, discerns, and shows itself to have an intellect, but whenever it becomes fixed on something mixed with darkness, something that comes into and passes out of being, it deals in seeming and grows dim, changing its opinions up and down, and is like something that has no intellect.'
'It does seem like that.'

(508e) 'Then say that what endows the things known with truth, and gives that which knows them its power, is the look of Good. Since it's the cause of knowledge and truth, think of it as something known, but though both of these, knowing and truth, are so beautiful, by regarding it as something else, still more beautiful than they are, you'll regard it rightly. (509a) And as far as knowledge and truth are concerned, just as it's right over there to consider light and sight sunlike, but isn't right to consider them to be the sun, so too here it's right to consider both of these as like Good, but not right to regard either of them as being Good; the condition of Good requires that it be held in still greater honor.'

'You're talking about a beauty hard to conceive,' he said, 'if it endows things with knowledge and truth but is itself beyond these in beauty, because it's sure not pleasure you mean [(505c) 'And what about the people who define the good as pleasure? Are they any less full of inconsistency than the others? Aren't they also forced to admit that there are bad pleasures?' 'Emphatically so.'].'

'Watch your mouth,' I said; 'but look into the image of it still more closely.'
'In what way?'

(509b) 'I imagine you'd claim that the sun not only endows the visible things with their power of being seen, but also with their coming into being, their growth, and their nurture, though it's not itself coming-into-being.'
'How could it be?'

'Then claim as well that the things that are known not only get their being-known furnished by Good, but they're also endowed by that source with their very being and their being what they are, even though Good is not being, but something over and above being, beyond it in seniority and surpassing it in power...."

(In the original Baird text, "Good" is translated as "the good." I've switched it over to make it clearer that they are really using the definite article to simply talk about one specific thing. The same phrasing is often used in the New Testament when talking about "the" Jesus.)

Need more Plato?

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