Thursday, February 28

A Lone Wolf!

Of course, I prefer you in flesh and blood, as any man who is at all alive should. Surprised? As coming from a man who always wanted to go it alone, asked only one thing of the world, to leave him alone. How I prided myself on being a lone wolf! – fiery if not fierce. I regarded it as the hallmark of a man who was destined for great things: his genius. But excellence is not to be looked for in the mountains, or in the deserts, far away from the busy haunts of man, but right here, in the middle of this flesh and blood world which I have been despising until now. I have been given so much, so often, but I squandered it all away, not knowing that life is a gift from the gods who ask of us only one thing in return, that we live it to the fullest. A sinner, my sin was not against those higher gods who rule in the heavens but against the lesser gods of the hearth...

Thursday, February 21

A Philosopher and a Gentleman

"'Well, Socrates, we have plenty of leisure.' Yes, we have, and, after the manner of philosophers, we are digressing ... I mean to say that a philosopher is a gentleman, but a lawyer is a servant. The one can have his talk out, and wander at will from one subject to another, as the fancy takes him; like ourselves, he may be long or short, as he pleases. But the lawyer is always in a hurry; there is the clepsydra limiting his time, and the brief limiting his topics, and his adversary is standing over him and exacting his rights. He is a servant disputing about a fellow-servant before his master, who holds the cause in his hands; the path never diverges, and often the race is for his life. Such experiences render him keen and shrewd; he learns the art of flattery, and is perfect in the practice of crooked ways; dangers have come upon him too soon, when the tenderness of youth was unable to meet them with truth and honesty, and he has resorted to counter-acts of dishonesty and falsehood, and become warped and distorted; without any health or freedom or sincerity in him he has grown up to manhood, and is or esteems himself to be a master of cunning. Such are the lawyers; will you have the companion picture of philosophers? or will this be too much of a digression?

'Nay, Socrates, the argument is our servant, and not our master. Who is the judge or where is the spectator, having a right to control us?'"
(Theatetus. Plato.)

Sunday, February 10

The Philosopher's Touchstone!

"Callicles answers that Gorgias was overthrown because, as Polus said, in compliance with popular prejudice he had admitted that if his pupil did not know justice the rhetorician must teach him; and Polus had been similarly entangled, because his modesty led him to admit that to suffer is more honorable than to do injustice. By custom 'yes,' but not by nature, says Callicles. And Socrates is always playing between the two points of view, and putting one in the place of another. In this very argument, what Polus only meant in a conventional sense has been affirmed by him to be a law of nature. For convention says that 'injustice is dishonorable,' but nature says that 'might is right.' And we are always taming down the nobler spirits among us to the conventional level. But sometimes a great man will rise up and reassert his original rights, trampling underfoot all our formularies, and then the light of natural justice shines forth. Pindar says, 'Law, the king of all, does violence with high hand;' as is indeed proved by the example of Heracles, who drove off the oxen of Geryon and never paid for them.

This is the truth, Socrates, as you will be convinced, if you leave philosophy and pass on to the real business of life. A little philosophy is an excellent thing; too much is the ruin of man. He who has not 'passed his metaphysics' before he has grown up to manhood will never know the world. Philosophers are ridiculous when they take to politics, and i dare say that politicians are equally ridiculous when they take to philosophy: 'Every man,' as Euripides says, 'is fondest of that in which he is best.' Philosophy is graceful in youth, like the lisp of infancy, and should be cultivated as a part of education; but when a grown up man lisps or studies philosophy, i should like to beat him. None of those over-refined natures ever come to any good; they avoid the busy haunts of men, and skulk in corners, whispering to a few admiring youths, and never giving utterance to any noble sentiments.

For you, Socrates, i have a regard, and therefore i say to you, as Zethus says to Amphion in the play, that you have 'a noble soul disguised in a puerile exterior.' And i would have you consider the danger which you and other philosophers incur. For you would not know how to defend yourself if any one accused you in a law-court, - there you would stand, with gaping mouth and dizzy brain, and might be murdered, robbed, boxed in the ears with impunity. Take my advice, then, and get a little common sense; leave to others these frivolities; walk in the ways of the wealthy and be wise."
(From Jowett's summary of Gorgias)

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...