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...