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Category: Plato

“Alcibiades. He was the Golden Boy of 4th century Athenian culture. Pericles was his guardian, Plato his teacher. A fine athlete, a brilliant general, handsome, marvelously intelligent, popular, everything. A summation of the Golden Age. And what happened? He went bad. He was vain, treacherous, selfish, sacrilegious, debauched, dishonest, and a traitor twice over. His aid to the enemy during the Syracuse campaign destroyed Athens. Just about the finest product of the most notable civilization man has accomplished, and it turned out like that. This haunts me.” – Jack Gilbert (interviewed by Gordon Lish in Genesis West, Issue #1, 1962)

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Sophrosyne, which to the Greeks was an ideal second to none in importance, is not among our ideals. We have lost the conception of it. Enough is said about it in Greek literature for us to be able to describe it in some fashion, but we cannot give it a name. It was the spirit behind the two great Delphic sayings, ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Nothing in excess.’ Arrogance, insolent self-assertion, was the quality most detested by the Greeks. Sophosyne was the exact opposite. It meant accepting the bounds which excellence lays down for human nature, restraining impulses to unrestricted freedom, to all excess, obeying the inner laws of harmony and proportion.” – Benjamin Jowett, “Introduction to Plato’s Charmides

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“If there is no consciousness but only a dreamless sleep, death must be a marvelous gain. I suppose that if anyone were told to pick out the night on which he slept so soundly as not even to dream, and then to compare it with all the other nights and days of his life, and then were told to say, after the consideration, how many better and happier days and nights than this he had spent in the course of his life—well, I think that the Great King himself, to say nothing of any private person, would find these days and nights easy to count in comparison with the rest. If death is like this, then, I call it a gain, because the whole of time, if you look at it this way, can be regarded as no more than one single night.” – Plato, Socrates’ Defense (Apology) (trans. Hugh Tredennick)

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“I do not think that it is right for a man to appeal to the jury or to get himself acquitted by doing so; he ought to inform them of the facts and convince them by argument. The jury does not sit to dispense justice as a favor, but to decide where justice lies, and the oath which they have sworn is not to show favor at their own discretion, but to return a just and lawful verdict.” – Plato, Socrates’ Defense (Apology) (trans. Hugh Tredennick)

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“You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action—that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.” – Plato, Socrates’ Defense (Apology) (trans. Hugh Tredennick)

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One and the same

“The God of Plato and Aristotle, of Plotinus and Augustine, of Aquinas and Bonaventure, of Newman and C. S. Lewis; the eternal immutable, infinite, ubiquitous, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Being, Unmoved Mover, ens realissimum, whose existence is identical with His essence and who is without body, parts, or passions, is one of the sublimest achievements of the human imagination. He, not Yahweh, is the deepest mystery, for metaphysics (as His reluctant admire Nietzsche pointed out) is the subtlest psychology, the supreme fiction.” – George Scialabba, “God: A Biography”

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The view from without the cave

“Intellectual pioneers are rarely gregarious creatures. In their isolation they lose touch with those who follow the beaten paths, and when they return to the community they speak strangely of strange sights, so that few have the faith to follow them and change their trails into high roads.” — Morris R. Cohen, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XVI, Sec. 18

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Prisons as deterrents

“In punishing wrongdoers, no one concentrates on the fact that a man has done wrong in the past, or punishes him on that account, unless taking blind vengeance like a beast.  No, punishment is not inflicted by a rational man for the sake of the crime that has been committed–after all one cannot undo what is past–but for the sake of the future, to prevent either the same man or, by the spectacle of his punishment, someone else, from doing wrong again.  But to hold such a view amounts to holding that virtue can be instilled by education; at all events the punishment is inflicted as a deterrent.  This then is the view held by all who inflict it whether privately or publicly.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

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This will be on the test

“No one is angered by the thoughts which are believed to be due to nature or chance, nor do people rebuke or teach or punish those who exhibit them, in the hope of curing them; they simply pity them.  Who would be so foolish as to treat in that way the ugly or dwarfish or weak?  Everyone knows that it is nature or chance which gives this kind of characteristics to a man, both the good and the bad.  But it is otherwise with the good qualities which are thought to be acquired through care and practice and instruction.  It is the absence of these, surely, and the presence of the corresponding vices, that call forth indignation and punishment and admonition.  Among these faults are to be put injustice and irreligion and in general everything that is contrary to civic virtue.  In this field indignation and admonition are universal, evidently because of a belief that such virtue can be acquired by taking thought or by instruction.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

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Equality, entropy, and justice

“We mold the best and strongest among ourselves, catching them young like lion cubs, and by spells and incantations we make slaves of them, saying that they must be content with equality and that this is what is right and fair.  But if a man arises endowed with a nature sufficiently strong, he will, I believe, shake off all these controls, burst his fetters, and break loose.  And trampling upon our scraps of paper, our spells and incantations, and all our unnatural conventions, he rises up and reveals himself our master who was once our slave, and there shines forth nature’s true justice.” — Plato, Gorgias (trans. Woodhead)

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Comin’ to life, stayin’ alive

“Once upon a time, there existed gods but no mortal creatures.  When the appointed time came for these also to be born, the gods formed them within the earth out of a mixture of earth and fire and the substances which are compounded from earth and fire.  And when they were ready to bring them to the light, they charged Prometheus and Epimetheus with the task of equipping them and allotting suitable powers to each kind.  Now Epimetheus begged Prometheus to allow him to do the distribution himself–‘and when I have done it,’ he said, ‘you can review it.’  So he persuaded him and set to work.  In his allotment he gave to some creatures strength without speed, and equipped the weaker kinds with speed.  Some he armed with weapons, while to the unarmed he gave some other faculty and so contrived means for their preservation.  To those that he endowed with smallness, he granted winged flight or a dwelling underground; to those which he increased in stature, their size itself was a protection.  Thus he made his whole distribution on a principle of compensation, being careful by these devices that no species should be destroyed.

“When he had sufficiently provided means of escape from mutual slaughter, he contrived their comfort against the seasons sent from Zeus, clothing them with thick hair or hard skins sufficient to ward off the winter’s cold, and effective also against heat, and he planned that when they went to bed, the same coverings should serve as proper and natural bedclothes for each species.  He shod them also, some with hoofs, others with hard and bloodless skin.

“Next he appointed different sorts of food for them–to some the grass of the earth, to others the fruit of the trees, to others roots.  Some he allowed to gain their nourishment by devouring other animals, and these he made less prolific, while he bestowed fertility on their victims, and so preserved the species.

“Now Epithemeus was not a particularly clever person, and before he realized it he had used up all the available powers on the brute beasts, and being left with the human race on his hands unprovided for, did not know what to do with them.  While he was puzzling about this, Prometheus came to inspect the work, and found the other animals well off for everything, but man naked, unshod, unbedded, and unarmed, and already the appointed day had come, when man too was to emerge from within the earth into the daylight.  Prometheus therefore, being at a loss to provide any means of salvation for man, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gift of skill in the arts, together with fire–for without fire it was impossible for anyone to possess or use this skill–and bestowed it on man.  In this way man acquired sufficient resources to keep himself alive.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

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