Worlds Within Philosophy, Essay Example
Antigone’s defiance of Creon and her insistence on burying Polyneices has long been debated as to motive. On one level, she seems to be blatantly holding to natural laws which, no matter the position or needs of the state, must be obeyed. This gives great weight to her conviction, in that she seeks to honor the dead beyond any temporal considerations. It is also argued, however, that a primary source of her conviction is her incestuous love for her brother, and this is supported by Antigone’s declaration that she would obey Creon if anyone but her brother were the object (Barker 134). Nonetheless, it is important to more fully understand what Antigone means by “unwritten laws.” More exactly, it appears that her conviction, generated by elements she herself can only intuit, may defy reason as emphatically as she defies Creon. What is critical is that Polyneices is bound to her in a way that transcends state interference, and she is viscerally obligated to hold to this sacred responsibility. This is the true power of the unwritten law, certainly as it concerns Antigone. Unwritten, it also may not ever be written, in that its force relies on visceral understanding.
Socrates mirrors the depth of Antigone’s convictions in regard to unwritten law, in that he cares nothing for his own being as a consequence of violating the demands of the state. This is the core of the Apology; serving justice, as expressed and maintained by unwritten law, is paramount, and all other considerations are meaningless compared to it. At the same time, there is a critical difference between the two perceptions. Antigone is guided by a force she honors but is barely able to identify. Socrates, on the other hand, enjoys the luxury of probing the reasoning behind adhering to essential virtue, or unwritten law. He acknowledges, and in fact affirms, that people of sense fear do not fear dying, but the consequences of doing evil faced after life (McPherran 269). Plato’s Crito further adds to the contrast between Antigone and Socrates. In this, the latter is uninterested in escape from prison and avoiding death at the hands of the state because he is obligated to obey the state as he would obey his own father. This presents a philosophical dilemma, or conundrum; Socrates is motivated to follow the unwritten laws yet, in bowing to the state’s authority, he submits to an implied wisdom in it. His resolve to be punished, or at least comply with the dictates of the state, is not necessarily a simple surrender to potent social powers, but is based on an ethical principle (Howland 135). Imprisoned, Socrates is enabled to layer the ideological elements of his resistance and his compliance. Antigone, unconcerned with actual philosophy, is permitted to act without such complicating aspects.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from his Birmingham jail cell interestingly reflects both the complexity of Socrates’ position and Antigone’s implacable resolve. More exactly, he adds another element to the philosophical equation, in that refutation is his keynote. It may be said that the chief difference between Antigone’s and King’s stand is that Antigone’s is somewhat passive; her intent is not to violate the state’s laws, but to adhere to the unwritten, and the violation is in effect only a consequence. King’s letter, on the other hand, is more another part of a process begun by him, and one inescapably in the form of direct action and refutation of written law as unjust. This places him more firmly in the Socratic camp, and he refers to similarities with Socrates in the letter, citing the imperative for both men to challenge existing codes that do not conform to correctness (Lincoln 132). King is also far more forthright in his refutation than Socrates, because he initiates the action leading to his imprisonment in a manner anticipating it. This is, then, an adherence to unwritten law, or justice beyond the justice of the state, determined to assert itself in direct challenge. Antigone, and even Socrates, bring on the response of the state in ways not necessarily within the compass of their actions. All three honor a sense of unwritten law as determining the greater course for mankind, yet in manners revealing differing levels of intent and commitment.
Confucian perspectives on humanity have endured for long centuries, examined and reinterpreted to meet the environments of cultures in place. The philosophy is both legendary and fundamental, and what renders Confucian thought so universally attractive lies very much in its ancient view, or assessing, of humanity itself. In a sense, Confucius holds to an unwritten law, in that he insists upon an intangible essence of the humane as essential in guiding human action. This is the core of Confucius, in fact, in that all worthy social norms arise from people being true to this innate humanity (De Bary 117). It may be understood that this quality of humaneness as promoted by Confucius contains within it properties of empathy, inherent morality, and a sense of fitness in behaviors that serve true, individual needs by means of taking into account the needs of others. Gentleness, more than anything, marks Confucian theory; it is a philosophy founded on humanity observing the value of peaceful and respectful conduct. Its parallels to Christianity have, not unexpectedly, long been noted.
While being humane is an internal and largely visceral state in Confucius, it is one nonetheless reached through discipline and effort. Confucius literally redefined the term, “gentleman,” as it was established in his own culture. He removed from it automatic associations with birth and station, and instead presented it as an attainment all could reach (Rainey 42). Throughout his writings, there is an insistent refrain on the necessity for each man to strive toward such a state of being, which is the highest status any man may achieve: “Let your scholarship be that of a gentleman, and not like that of common men” (Confucius 81). This path is not easy, yet Confucianism steadfastly maintains that no other course is proper. In parable after parable, masters instruct disciples as to the imperative of study, both in academic scholarship and of the ways of the spirit, to create this humane persona of the gentleman. When all people devote themselves to this ideal, then, the society must function as a representation of the humane. Confucius envisioned humanity as a kind of evolving construct, in which individual pursuits of elevated character combine to create a perfect society. While Confucianism in regard to leadership is largely viewed today as paternalistic (Witzel 357), there is nonetheless an emphasis on leadership as remaining a service function. The family unit, for example, is integral to Confucianism, and the father must be honored. At the same time, the honor is then reciprocated, and the paternalism is rendered more a framework for a complete reciprocity of consideration and respect. This family model transfer to governmental forms, in that the paternal agent, or leader, both assumes authority and earns it by a consistent display of an awareness of responsibilities. In the Confucian ideal, in fact, it is impossible for a man to become even a successful merchant without first becoming a true gentleman (Fan 196). “The great man is catholic-minded, and not one sided” (Confucius 48). As the merchant depends on their own degree of humaneness to ensure commercial progress, so too does the state official rely on the same formula, in order to be worthy of the rank and functions. In the Confucian canon, leadership is dedicated to only those activities which promote the well-being of all, and Confucian leaders invariably seek to employ diplomacy and negotiation, rather than engage in any military conflict (Allen 202). It must be noted, or reinforced, that Confucius by no means disregards social and political frameworks within a society. These are necessary and inevitable processes and platforms for any to flourish. At the same time, however, the distinction in Confucianism is that there can be no appreciable varying of human, or humane, concerns, depending upon positions occupied. This is, again, the core of the philosophy, in that the ordinary citizen is no more or no less beholden to striving for the state of being a gentleman than is the state official. More importantly, as all adhere to the pursuit, the society is inherently a mirror of the individual dedications to the humane.
While it is difficult to assess the Tao of Lao Tzu in basic terms, this is essentially a philosophy that seeks to simplify. In the Tao, which is a path, abnegation itself is a core principle, and more is gained when more is abandoned. Paraphrasing one part of the teachings of Lao Tzu emphasizes this conviction: rivalry and conflict between men in avoided when all men, despite levels of ability, are equally honored; dishonesty and thievery are eliminated when greater value is not attached to earthly articles; and emotional and mental disorder is forestalled when desires are not inflamed (Tzu 2). These and other discourses guide the Tao disciple on the path, but the reality of the Tao is that its essence is largely undefinable. The foundations of it are not unrelated to either Christian doctrine or Confucianism, yet it less dependent on codes of conduct and behavior. In the Tao, the way is known chiefly when the way is embarked upon and achieved.
This presents, not surprisingly, challenges to those seeking a more direct means to nearing the philosophy. Typically, defined codes at least surface in even the most recondite philosophies, yet the Tao virtually insists on a dismissal of such things. Its teachings may echo the devotion to true scholarship as expressed in the Confucian ideal of the gentleman, but it is by no means as accommodating in instruction or guidance. The Tao of Lao Tzu, in fact, asserts mystery as the cornerstone of its being, and mysticism has frequently undermined the value of the philosophy. Mysticism, or a deliberate pursuit of the ineffable, tends to not sit well with modern philosophers in particular. It seems specious because it refuses to validate itself. This view, however, may be answered by an analogy to music, and certainly so by Taoists. If two people, one a musician and one not, hear a song, it is likely that the non-musician will perceive only the individual notes, while the musician will hear a distinct melody. This is, in fact, the crux of the Tao, in that the question arises: is there actually a melody to be heard? The answer, usually, is yes. To the non-musician, the idea of a melody in this case is “mystical,” yet the thing exists (Smullyan 19). Viewed in this manner, enlightenment through the Tao is a very real experience, and it is no invalidation that it can be known only through the process of the actual experience. There are, again, ethical and moral “signposts” of the Tao, but they serve only to indicate, and not dictate.
In regard to an application of Tao in government, the critical factor to consider is that, certainly in the typical ways rule is conceived, it is antithetical to governing. Government is about order and some form of social progress as viewed by the government, yet the Tao is centered on an abject simplicity. Government seeks to offer people more, while the Tao demands that they are served better with less. In some arenas, the Tao is seen as coercive, or a means to oppress a society through deprivation. The philosophy, however, runs contrary to such ideas, for it holds that “more” corrupts, and distances the person from the true self (Kohn, LaFargue 111). Chuang Tzu, famed disciple of Lao Tzu, takes the contrast even further, in that his Taoism is more insistent on mysticism bordering on the magical (Zhuangzi 7). For a ruler to endorse the Tao, the ruler must essentially abandon the role itself, or conduct it in such a way that the society is governed in a manner removed from virtually all governments known to man. In Tao, there is no gain save that of the inner self and governments typically have ambitions in more worldly directions.
This then goes to how a true Taoist life could be incorporated in the society of today, and the answer is not a great deal more encouraging. If today’s world is typically avaricious in commercial and social arenas, this is more a matter of degree, enabled by technology and globalization, than character. More exactly, societies and cultures have long embraced acquisition as a means of attaining happiness, and the Tao is utterly removed from such pursuits. This is not a philosophy that me be marginally adhered to; it requires denial of the temporal. This being the case, it is virtually impossible to imagine the Tao as existing in modern societies, for to do so requires a radical absence of what those societies exist to provide.
For centuries, Socrates’ idea of what wisdom actually is has been debated and reexamined. What is interesting here is that, in reading Plato’s accounts of Socratic thought, Socrates himself relies on a kind of ideological ambiguity. In simple terms, and answering any overt question, Socrates perceived wisdom to be something other than an accumulation of insight and/or abilities to comprehend meaning; it was for him most emphatically self-knowledge. This simple reality, however, has generated much of the debate, and seemingly because that quality of self knowledge is not appreciated in purely Socratic terms. It is, first and foremost, elusive. It is so hard to come by, in fact, that Socratic teachings are misinterpreted. For example, Socrates asserts that no man willingly does bad, but only because he does not truly know himself. This creates reactions of disbelief, because many link conscious intent, often at the heart of bad conduct, with knowledge of the self (Wilson 46). Such a reaction, however, ignores that elusive quality; for Socrates, poor conduct must translate to a gap between the self and the truth of the self, no matter the choices made, and this is frequently missed. Then, the ambiguity is established because, as is evident in the Dialogue, Socrates believed that wisdom could best be reached through conversation and argument, which equates to a reliance on others (Wilson 111). This reflects Socratic method generally, in that a thing must be known before anything may be properly done with it, and interaction is here the path to knowing. Ironically, then, self-knowledge is attained when the self interacts, and opens itself to challenge.
The Socratic method in seeking wisdom is also interestingly revealed in the Apology; more exactly, Socrates’ actual idea of what wisdom is becomes better defined. On one level, his definition of it lies within its pursuit. Caring for wisdom translates to esteeming it, and this is a kind of wisdom of itself (Benson 20). Validated by the oracle, Socrates believes himself to be wise in the sense that his own wisdom, as that of any man, is inadequate to the wisdom of God. He may pursue self-knowledge but he, like any mortal, can do no better than near the object. He may also examine the efforts of those around him, and assess his self-knowledge by means of comparison (Benson 22). The elusive, then, is given a more pragmatic shape in Socrates.
Pragmatism applies in contrasting Socrates and the sophists. He was largely considered a sophist himself, as he esteemed knowledge and virtue above worldly concerns. Then, he reflected at least partially the relativism of sophists, certainly in his efforts to reconcile affairs of mortals with higher aims. However, Socrates had no use for pervasive relativism. Then, ff anything separates Socrates from the sophists, it is his refusal to regard financial gain as acceptable in teaching. Many sophists earned large amounts through teaching (Wilson 74), and this was a practice Socrates disowned. It also clouded efforts to pursue the ultimate reality, which is self-knowledge. Famously, Socrates held that the unexamined life is not worth living, and within this single remark lie his ultimate realities. The first of these is that examination must be ceaselessly conducted, in order to better understand the nature of the true self and its place in society. The second is that the true ultimate reality is both an idea and a genuine reality, in that it exists in the form of a faith based on reason, and leading to divine authority which renders the actions of man negligible (Bodri 6). Whether or not the ultimate reality could be known or attained, the existence of it as an idea inescapably minimizes the realities as generated by humanity.
In a sense, the paths toward truth as pursued by Creon and Haemon may be seen as representing the futility of man’s efforts to create good based upon human realities. Each is a man committed to exercising his sense of duty and virtue, as each undergoes extreme conflict in accommodating these ambitions to their worldly surroundings. They modify or stand firm, then compromise and shift again their perspectives, caught up in the inevitable relativism of the dramatic scenario. It is likely Socrates would have little patience for either man’s efforts, save as they represent an apparent struggle of the inner self with the external world. Only Antigone herself echoes Socratic thinking and method, and this occurs chiefly because she, like Socrates, is determined to set aside outside influences, and obey the promptings of the self she cannot even justify. This reinforces somewhat the Socratic creed regarding the unexamined life, if obliquely. More exactly, Antigone upsets the order. Her life has meaning by virtue of her insistence on examining, or at least refuting, the dictates of Creon and the state. In broader terms, this leads to a vastly significant benefit of the examined life; it brings the individual nearer to what is central to their being, which must be as well an approach to an ultimate truth.
In Plato’s Crito, the inner voice of Socrates is established, and through this presence other aspects of the philosopher may be revealed. The voice is, for Socrates, real, to the extent that he hears it and it eclipses all other voices. Then, the voice has an actual form, as it belongs to the Nomoi, or laws, and it may be argued that the most important role it plays is that it disallows other influences (Cavallo, Chartier, & Cochrane 49). This role, of course, is reinforced by the nature of the voice’s presence, which is accepted by Socrates as being an ultimate authority. More exactly, as the voice resounds from the self, it must then reflect shades of wisdom, or self-knowledge. Then, what the voice generates is the conflict that promotes a further pursuit of wisdom. As the voice issues commands not in keeping with external realities, and as Socrates openly obeys its injunctions, the voice is the “gadfly,” spurring him onto a better grasp of self-knowledge as it irritates and confounds that external world.
Socratic methods of inquiry, inherently relying on intense examination and evolution of knowledge through interaction and comparison, are both favorable and otherwise in regard to the Athenian democracy of his time. Unjustly accused of being anti-democratic, Socrates nonetheless was by no means a supporter of the government (Wilson 55). This is hardly surprising; it is unrealistic to expect that any philosopher may overtly embrace a system of government, as philosophy exists largely to question, than to assert. At the same time, it seems ironic that democratic ideals then forming diverged increasingly from Socratic thinking, if the process was also inevitable. On one hand, democracy is centered on the interests of the individual, or self; on the other, it remains a government, and as such must incorporate systems and structures both pragmatic and removed from any pursuit of an ultimate reality. This divergence actually informs the presence of Socrates as representative of the philosopher. More modern philosophies, it is true, adopt more concrete belief systems and espouse actual societal constructs, yet the nature of philosophy must be to probe. No better definition suits Socrates, as his work was devoted to the necessity of relentless examination.
Plato’s Republic, conversely, leads the philosophical charge, and before its time, in addressing political concerns with ideological and spiritual ones. This is philosophy, largely derived from Socratic methods, in place to address the needs, if not existence, of a society, and Plato employs a variety of techniques to achieve the result. In this dialogue, for example, great lengths are gone to, to identify just what is real and what is usually deemed real by virtue of comparison. To think that the absence of pain creates a real pleasure is to be mistaken, and to attribute reality status to that which is perceived by contrast (Plato 192). In Plato, very often an imposter is identified as a reality through the mechanism of the individual assigning it the status. Good in Plato is subject to much of the same relativism. In discussing drink, for instance, Plato points out that thirst itself, relative to drink, defines the “good” drink, when the quality of goodness may exist apart from that criterion (Plato 91). Something of the same analysis infuses the dialogue regarding knowledge and opinion. As opinion is not actually about a thing, but rather a reflection of a thing, Plato is careful to differentiate it from knowledge. The latter is concerned with being, as opinion is not. Opinion nonetheless is a consequence of knowledge, and thus has merit, so Plato poetically sums up its status as being darker than knowledge, yet lighter than ignorance (Plato 120). In a sense, knowledge must remain apart in Plato, as a wellspring from which belief and opinion are created, and in no way responsible for these creations.
The cave in Plato is not so much a myth as it is an allegory. It presents an arena in which the philosopher’s journey may be undertaken, as gradations of knowledge, or light, come to him as he moves through it. On another level, and going to the actual text, the Socratic dialogue presents an idea of people chained to a wall in a cave, and who believe that the shadows of themselves they see on the opposite wall have real forms, or are manifestations of other realities. It is the philosopher who is equipped to exit the cave and understand the truth of the reality. It seems, in fact, that the Republic is as determined to validate the role of the philosopher with the state as it is concerned with promoting the most idealized state. To that end, Plato focuses on other concepts regarding reality in the shape of Forms, in an apparent effort to identify finally that which is illusory and that which is real. This intent notwithstanding, Plato cannot identify the Form of the Good, much as an early astronomer could not explain the forces governing the solar system, yet knew them to exist because of their consequences. More exactly, as other Forms express some degree of worth or goodness, these degrees must derive from a greater Form. Most interesting in the discussion of Forms is that, as every thing known has a Platonic Form to it, the Form itself may be alternately known as an essence of being. The Form is beyond the substance, even as the substance owes its existence to the form.
Plato is equally analytical and probing in his treatment of the soul’s structure, insisting that this is a tripartite entity within man composed of the rational, the desirous, and the spirited or passionate (Plato 93). This structure is both reminiscent of the tripartite nature of the state and presumably instrumental in its creation, as the state must be an extension of the human. More problematic for Plato is whether the soul may act as a single entity, rather than be motivated by one of its components. Lastly, through discourse and the metaphor of the ring of Gyges, Plato undertakes the type of affirmation likely inherited from Socrates, his master. The golden ring of myth, in fact, provides a morality assessment, in that the consequences of its theft by the thief, then endowed with great fortune, are the point of debate. Glaucon holds that man is unjust whenever he has the opportunity to be so, and that this equates to no justice as inherently residing within man. Through Plato, Socrates argues that this point of view still relies on concepts of reward and punishment, even when the thief escapes society’s justice, and the true injustice then occurs because the thief denies the truth of his soul in the theft: “Justice in her own nature has been shown to be best for the soul in her own nature” (Plato 212). Morality, then, like Forms, answers to and derives from an unchanging criterion.
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