Monday, January 31, 2011

Almost Finished with the Prep Work

Okay by Monday we shall finally be moving into Hellenistic philosophy proper. I will start by finishing up my lecture on Aristotle and its developments after his death. I will then move onto Cyncism. So be sure to have read the material on Cyncism in Blackboard.

Have a nice break guys and please keep posting your musings on the lectures!
Dr. Layne

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making a Happy Life

I think the final semester of college is difficult for everyone who experiences. It is not just a hard year because of academic but this final semester poses some difficult decisions to future graduate. I am in this situation right now and have found that I am not the only one facing a quarter- life crisis. This is a time when I am expected to be prepared for an adult life thanks to the training I have received in school. My classes in Middle Eastern politics, however didn't prepare me for the kind of questions I find myself trying to answer. Who am I? What do I want to do with my life? How am i going to feed myself? What makes me happy? What do I need to do to be a good person in this world? Who do I want to spend my life with? How do I want to spend my life? With all of these questions piling up and the pressure mounting, it is easy for me to loose sight of my happiness and give in to the insecurity. After a particularly overwhelming day today, I was surprised to find Aristotle addressing the subject of happiness in tonight's reading. Aristotle argues that we take actions and that these actions must be caused by something and that this cause of all actions is the chief good. Thus if all of our actions are driven by the good, and living well and doing well brings happiness, the chief good must be happiness. Aristotle argues that while different people will argue different definitions of happiness but all argue that living well results in being happy. With this established, Aristotle defines happiness as being self- sufficient because it "makes life desirable and lacking in nothing." In other words, because happiness is enough to make life desirable for an individual, it is the final and most essential good.

These are the two points that made the deepest impression on me: 1) happiness is living a good and virtuous life and 2) that happiness in itself was sufficient to sustain life. In this way Aristotle reminds me of my mom. She has always said you have to make yourself happy, it won't just happen. Aristotle doesn't think someone is just born happy but rather happiness requires determination to live in a certain and once this is achieved, happiness will sustain the individual throughout life. Maybe this is why college students about to graduate feel so much pressure. We are know responsible for our own lives and consequently making our own happiness. Happiness, therefore, is not a gift or a happenstance, but rather a consequence of individual actions. Aristotle's argument makes the individual responsible for his or her own happiness and therefore empowers the individual.

The Unmoved Mover

One of my favorite Jesuits, James Martin, wrote in one his books (I think it was his autobiography) about his undergraduate experience learning Arisotle's Metaphysics. Sister Louise French taught the class at Loyola Chicago for all the novices, and he recounted the story of how he learned about the unmoved mover.
He told of how, one day in class, they were all told to make a circle. They subsequently were told to extend their arms out to each of their neighbors. Sister French then dictated this one rule: if you are tapped, then you must tap the next person. So if someone were to tap my right hand, I would have to tap the next person with my left. It is no surprise that with this one rule, nothing happened. This is how she explained Aristotle's unmoved mover. This mover is necessarily outside of the constraints of other objects in the world. So for this experiment of Sister French to work, there would necessarily need to be something outside of the circle to begin the causal chain.
When it came time to have his cumulative exam, not just of the course but of his entire undergraduate education in philosophy and theology, one his questions asked to explain Aristotle's doctrine of the unmoved mover. He blurted out, "The untapped tapper!" All of his examiners looked puzzled, except for Sister French who replied, "Good," and promptly proceeded to the next question.
Sister French has since passed on, and James Martin was so gracious to her that her wrote in memory of her for America Magazine. But this scene is forever embedded in my mind, both for its relevance to philosophy and relevance to my desire at the time to soak up anything he wrote.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Facebook Philosophy

This is a conversation that took place between my little brother, his girlfriend, a lot of random people and myself. The full conversation is on Facebook so I had to copy and paste it here. In the copying and pasting of this philosophical argument I have omitted the comments made by all others except my brother, his girlfriend, and myself; I don't know if the other people would appreciate me posting their ideas in a public place based on principle (For some reason people post things on Facebook thinking that it is a private page. But, how can it be a private page if said page is in a public domain? This is something we should all think about.). This is actually quite ashamed because some of the other individuals contributed great ideas to this argument; the few individuals that had anything intellectual to say. But I digress, the post and my response if found bellow: ______________________on _____, January ___, 2011 at 6:48pm

While having a huge debate with my friend about the importance of art based on a quote from the famous novel "the Picture of Dorian Gray", i came to a realization. The book quotes "The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless." In Baileighs defense, she agreed with this proclamation. Out of instinct as an artist, i was against it. Now that Ive had time to reflect, all art IS useless. Though, the meaning of it is beautiful. I see beautiful things in this world all the time. I feel them in my heart. The important question is: what is beautiful to you? Its painful sometimes. Its unexplainable. I often think "Why is everything so damned beautiful?!" So much, it just hurts. People are art, aren't they? People, like everything else beautiful, are useless. Who or what in society defines importance? Who or what sets the standards for beauty? Yes, art is pointless and irrelevant. Its the concept of everything beautiful, though, that matters to me. As i sit, listening to a piece of ART called "A river flows in You", almost exhausted from emotion, I now know my own feelings towards art. Do you?

Sara Rodriguez:

You have stumbled upon one of the questions many philosophers have debated about for centuries. Beauty: is beauty based on a personal opinion or is everything that is classified as being beautiful on that way in of itself? I think that in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde is analyzing beauty in two ways: one way through the readers perspective, which you could also twist and say it was Hallward’s perspective, and one through Dorian’s. Dorian sees beauty as being a Form (or Universal) meaning that there is one things that all beautiful things share in common; a sunset, an abstract painting, a flower, etc.--all these things have one aspect of their being that makes them beautiful. Dorian believes he is beautiful because of the way that he looks; he has perfect 'symmetry' and both his parts and whole persona are Beauty. Hallward, or the reader, can see that Beauty is only in the eye of the beholder; the reader knows Dorian’s true self, the deeds he has done, the words he has said, and the way he has behaved. Hallward originally saw Dorian as a beautiful being and after he was corrupted by the opinions of Wotton he began to see him as a horrible and ugly individual because even though his outer shell was still intact his inner soul was decayed. Hallward is criticized by Wotton for his inaccurate representation of Dorian only because Wotton believes as Dorian does; that he, Dorian, is still beautiful. This is because Wotton himself is decayed.

As for the rest of your questions. I don't think art is pointless, look at Dadaism, Surrealism, and the art of the Renaissance. It was inspired by real life; art was an outlet of emotions, a way to record history, a way to keep time. As for today’s so called 'art' I cannot make a statement on. I think that today art has been mass produced to fit the non-existent wants of the consumer; it is rare to find true art in modern times. People can be art; depending on how you define art and can be beautiful depending on its definition as well. And that it beautiful to me might not be beautiful to you but that is the 'beauty' of esthetics.

My Brother:


"How", you may ask, "does this have anything to do with what we went over in class?" Well, I'm not sure if it does. To be honest I had this conversation a while back and that day in class we were going over the idea of Forms in three of my classes. So, when this conversation presented itself I was more than happy to jump in and tell her what I thought I knew about the idea of Beauty.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

the one and the many

I really like the concept of the one and the many, or the one over the many.  

This summer I traveled to Costa Rica with a group from Loyola, and one place we visited was a school called Earth University.  At the front of the school there was a sign that said EARTH in giant capital letters.  We played a game in which we tried to find as many words as possible using the letters in the word “earth.”  We found words such as “ear”, “heart”, “art”, “eat”, “hear”, and several more.  I thought it was neat that all of the words we found in the word "earth" were representative of things that are found on the actual earth.  "Earth" was the one, and the words we found constituted the manyThe one and the many was demonstrated both in the spelling of these words, and in the actual things they represented.

Another way to think of the one and the many is in terms of one's feeling a city.  If you think of a town or city you've never been to and know nothing about, your feeling of that city might be considered in terms of the one.  You think of it as one name, as one dot on a map.  But when you think of a town or city you've lived in and actually experienced, you probably think of much more than just a small dot.  When you're there or even just when you think of its name, it feels like more than just a single entity.  You think of people, music, streets, festivals, parades, schools, trees, restaurants, sidewalks, signs, sidewalks, and much more.  You think of the experiences you have had there, and how the city has affected you.  You feel it in terms of the many.  


Every article I have read so far has been applicable to my life. In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics he adresses several things such as Justice, Pleasure, Virtues, Happiness, and Friendship. Aristotle broke friendship down into three parts: friendship of utility, friendship based on pleasure, and friendship based on goodness of character. Aristotle explains the first two types of friendship is based of superficial qualities. However, a friendship based on goodness of character is a genuine . These friendships tend to be long lasting. Recently I got into an altercation with my friend over something. The friendship was questioned during the altercation. We both after a long discussion realized our friendship was based on goodness of character. Neither one of us tried to gain anything from one another and we are both equals. Often the problem with peoples friendships are that they are in it to gain something or use one another for entertainment.

Gentner-What would Aristotle say?


I have just begun to read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1. Within the first few pages, Aristotle discusses happiness, and what constitutes the good. Something that Aristotle begins with is a brief discussion of politics, which I find to be especially relevant to what is going on in the political spectrum today. When I think of politics today, I instantly think CORRUPTION. Why is that? No matter what political affiliation, I would guess that at least 90% of local, state, and federal politicians have ulterior motives. Sad to say it, but it's true. Today, Chris and I ate lunch together, and he was telling me about this group called, "The Family." I was unable to find any reliable information regarding this group (Chris, maybe you could provide a link in a comment if you get the chance, or just share some of your knowledge), but, basically, it is a group of people who are hired from within the White House. This group appears genuine in their desire for involvement, but they have ulterior motives, and they also have a lot of influence from within. Regardless, it is not only the politicians who are corrupt, but I would like to argue that the public, through a lack of education regarding what is going on in society, coupled with a love for drama, has created a world in which politics can not honestly be taken seriously. I do not generally watch television, but the only time that I have ever seen anything regarding President Obama on TV are times when what I am watching is completely irrelevant to anything in politics. What do I hear? I hear about the president's new puppy, or I hear about what dress Michelle Obama wore to some dinner the other night, or I hear about how Obama is going grey. Oh how will he deal with this one?

How does this relate to Aristotle's Ethics? On page 2, Aristotle argues that government, namely the "political sciences" must be studied and enacted within cities and/or states. Aristotle believes that politics are necessary to promote good for the many. He argues that there are certain goods which trump others, and the good of the state trumps the good of the individual, which is why there is a need for political regulation-to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Sadly, our society has lost sight of that. Today's political realm is closer to Sophistry than democracy. Politicians use rhetoric in order to persuade us instead of attempting to properly represent their people so as to promote the good. This is something that I believe both Socrates and Aristotle would be appalled to see.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Philosophy Blog 1.24.11

Actual Platonism

Disclaimer: I will use Socrates and Plato interchangeably throughout my notes. For me, these two are one in the same as far as this lecture is concerned. Plato is the changing voice of Socrates, Xenophon aside. 

We've been beating around the bush for a little while now about Plato. This backdropping is a good thing. Where does Socrates stop and Plato start? How can one resolve Plato's apparent contradictions regarding the soul? Cheesecake? Without a sense of the spirit of the times one can quickly become confused. Xenophon and Xanthippe do not sound so dissimilar. 

My central thesis for this blog is that before Socrates' philosophy was fundamentally different (second sailing). Today as well as in ancient Greece, people derived pleasure from dissolving boundaries. Take a rock concert, there is a point--within light and sound--that one is less of an individual; and it feels good. The collective takes over. This ca be a very enlightening experience under the right circumstances too. On the other hand, the herd can take on disastrous consequences.  

Socrates was radical in that he was drastically individualistic. He wasn't continuously right, didn't always abandon faith, nor did he successfully avoid a state of perplexity (aporia). But for students today, Plato's (Socrates') various accounts show his willingness to explore the notion of the idea from various perspectives. So many centuries later it is important to note that Plato's thought was developed. Even at the very end, for Socrates, 

"Whoever of us prepares himself best and most accurately to grasp that thing itself which he is investigating will come closest to the knowledge of it."

What was wise about Socrates was that he knew that he didn't know anything. He turned from an old tradition, gnothi seauton, "know thyself" to olda ouk eidos, "I know that I don't know." Socrates sought out to question statesmen, poets, and craftsmen. using the sophistic elenchus, he never refuted others theses, rather, he showed people that they didn't understadn how to arrive at their own deepest convictions without contradicting themselves; and that the result was people did not want to learn of their ignorance. Instead, they were just mad at Socrates. Having a coherent personality is an accomplishment in philosophy. To become the person you would like to be. 

Socrates reinvents the elenchus as a tool to reject the traditional notion of the established order, but more importantly to seek the Truth. As I stated earlier, Socrates is the first to admit he knows nothing but simultaneously he attempts to stay true to his DAIMONION, which knows something, 

"the safest answer that such a belief is absolute is the safest answer [he] can give to [himself] or others."

A daimon is a lesser deity, like a god. It never tells him what to do but it always stops him when he is about to make a mistake (the Greeks didn't have a word for conscience). In this daimon, Socrates is replacing the collective decision making of the polis under a more individual sense of self. His method of thinking becomes a hermeneutical device.

Web of Ideas

Disclaimer: Hermeneutics is Gadamer, see Truth and Method.

Ideas are falsely through of as individual entities. On the contrary, for Socrates, ideas are regulative in nature; they refer to the most basic structures of patterns of intelligible meaning that lend reality whatever intelligibility it has. In Plato's language, it is in reasoning if anywhere that any reality becomes clear. You can't see the Good, the Beautiful with your eyes or grasp them with your bodily senses; but language certainly exists. 

It is through induction that we can reason. Similiar events cause similiar effects. So induction is the basis of all our thoughts--to use induction to simplify induction. And control produces the illusion of freedom. 

Cause ---> Effect

(no necessary connection)

For Plato, ideas are not discrete individual entities--Plato rejects this in Parmenides when a, "young" Socrates is refuted (3rd man argument) this is too close to atomism and leads to problems. 

The One and the Many

Being able to recognize that things are different at all recognizes sameness. 

1 + 1 = 2

[The 2 as a unit (or whole) is also a measure of one.]

Justice is both one and many insofar as we can never say what justice is without relating it to the many other ideas which either make it up or of which it itself is a part of the Good. We can't grasp numbers (justice) with our hands but in our "construction of them" they are not illusions but have a reality and even seem to belong to reality, distinct from the indefinite. 

3 + 5 = 8

(It isn't know thyself but knowing thyself)

By the real world application of the forms we can come to know them.

"There is likely to be something such as a path to guide us out of our confusion, because as long as we have a body and our soul is fused with such an evil we shall never adequately attain what we desire, which we affirm to be the truth...No sensible man would insist that these things are as I have described them, but I think it is fitting for a man to risk the belief--for the risk is a noble one."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Beauty of Death?

When discussing why philosophers desire death, Socrates mentions that when one departs with the body, one is hoping to go to a place where the gods (who are certainly better than him) and good men reside (perhaps, but maybe not). Consequently, it is foolish for someone who is wise, to shrink from the face of death. Why should anyone fear good company? Therefore, philosophy prepares one for death in which a being tries as best as possible to deny the body's desires and live accordingly to the soul. Thus, as one is still alive one cannot completely purify, or "attain" self-knowledge, because the body plagues the soul with its lusts, desires, needs, and distractions. As the soul is detached from the body (in death), is when it can truly gain self knowledge. Living as the mind does is the highest form of knowledge.

This concept of death in the Phaedo strengthens my own religious beliefs about death. I agree with Socrates' idea of trying to live as someone who is free of the body. I translate this as not indulging in anger, greed, and pride. As a slave of anger one is bound by overwhelming feeling, which does cloud the rationality of human beings-anger destroys and distorts reality. Greed engenders selfishness which in turn breeds poverty, corruption, imperialism, and inflation. Pride is a disease of the heart which inflicts its victim quietly and unnoticed preventing one from seeing the beauty of humility. Humility is a principle trait which forgives and gives generously, which sees past oneself, which submits willfully because this is its freedom. This is like living without the body. This is easier said then done, but when one is equipped with a way to achieve death peacefully and completely, then one can approach life with a plan. But maybe, even, the best laid plans of mice and men do not work.

Notes 1/21/11

We began our discussion in class on January 21 by going over what was mentioned in the previous class. During this time we made a correction to the analogy of the cheesecake (I’m hoping that I’m saying this right but if I’m not feel free to correct me). Imagine that there is a cheesecake sitting in front of you. If you want that cheesecake and it eat, then you are not temperate or virtuous. If you want that cheesecake and but don’t eat it, you’re not temperate or virtuous either. An example of the true virtue of temperance is when you have that cheesecake in front of you and don’t want it at all because you know that it is important to eat the right foods. This review led into a discussion on virtue ethics. We mainly talked about Plato and Aristotle saying that they were both concerned with human rationality. Plato judged ethics on the way that your heart and mind reasoned which was different from the way Aristotle judged ethics in one respect: Aristotle considered not only the reasoning of the mind and heart but the actions that you performed. We established that in accordance with the philosophy of Socrates, as written by Plato, that the most virtuous man could also be the most unvirtuous man because in order to know what true virtue is, you must also know what true evil is. Therefore being truly virtuous entails both knowing about virtue and applying it to your everyday life. We also touched a bit on Kantianism. All we really said was that in Kant’s view the only thing that is good is the will; the outcome doesn’t matter as long as you had good intentions. After our discussion on ethics we transitioned into talking about the Pre-Socratic philosophers.

There is a lot of Pre-Socratic dialogue in the Phaedo. One example of this is the argument presented by Cebes that just because the soul exists after the body doesn’t mean that it lives forever; it can wear out and become tired. This is what I understand from Cebes’ defense that precedes the analogy of the weaver. Socrates then makes a defense to the argument by stating that he started his philosophical career by dabbling in natural philosophy (Pre-Socratic Philosophy) but found it to be less than he expected; they were, like all others, concerned with material things. Because of Cebes’ argument and Socrates’ defense it is important to know a little about the Pre-Socratics. Thales, the first philosopher, believed that everything was made up of water; this was an analogy attempting to strengthen the metaphysical statement that all is one, or that everything is united. This statement seemed to be the theme of Pre-Socratic philosophy because Anaximenes, Pythagoras, and Heraclitus all claimed that everything is united though, in different forms. Anaximenes claimed that all is air and that quantifiable measures of air make things different. Pythagoras claimed that everything is united in mathematics and that this unity is immortal; everything, even the soul, was made up of an infinite number of parts. (It is important to note that in the Phaedo, Socrates is speaking to Pythagoreans.) Heraclitus believed that the origin of all things was in flux; that everything is constantly changing and that the change is what allowed everything to exist. Anaximander, another one of the Pre-Socratics had a slightly different philosophy. He believed that we can’t know the origins of all things and that any attempt to know is an injustice. The thing itself is always escaping and all that is definite will pass away. Anaximander’s big theory was that the origin of all things was in the material indefinite. Parmenides, also a Pre-Socratic he believed that the origin of all things was in ‘the being’. He more specifically stated that the intelligible is real and therefore it is. The grounds of being make the world what is it so if you think about it, of natural philosophers or if you don’t, it exists. Empedocles believed that being is heterogeneous in number and kind. He believed in four concrete elements: water, fire, air, and earth, which mixed together and formed all other things in existence. As previously stated, Socrates doubted the practices because he didn’t find their reasoning stimulating. He then began to explore the work of Anaxagoras, who believed that everything is in everything; more directly he believed that all things that come into being are made up of the same substances which things already in existence are made up of. Socrates was disappointed by this because he believed that Anaxagoras believed differently. He left the natural philosophical movement in an attempt to find reason. The break he had from this movement is explained in the Phaedo and known as the Second Sailing. The other movement which we talk about before we were dismissed was that of the Atomists. The other Atomists, such as Democritus, believed that things were made up of atoms that were all qualitatively the homogenous and quantitatively different. They also believed that everything was chance, random, binary; made up of chance combinations of atoms. Because of this no gods or minds arrange the universe, we can only figure pleasure to be good, there is no teleology, and there is a relativism of values: what is good for me might not be good for you. After going over the philosophers we moved on into a review of the previous slides presented in class.

The review consisted of going over the slides on Platonism 101 where we talked about various aspects of the reading. One thing we talked about in great detail is how Plato assumes that you believe in the forms and how no discussion that he has can take place if you don’t: you will first have to be convinced of the forms. We also talked about this quite some time before we realized that we only had seven minutes of class lefts and we were shown how long the Phaedo text was and encouraged to read the rest when we ever got a chance. I hope that these notes are as accurate as possible. I did my best to interpret what was going on but if it seems that I might be wrong on something feel free to correct me.

DISCLAMIER: I hope that these notes are as accurate as possible. I did my best to interpret what was going on but if it seems that I might be wrong on something feel free to correct me.

In preparation....

Until recently, I have only ever been able to view death as an instant moment in the time of someone's life. Never have I been able to put into perspective the thought of having to prepare oneself for an oncoming end to their life.

What goes through a person's mind when their life has been given an expiration date?

Socrates approached death calmly, it would seem, viewing it as a coming enlightenment of the soul. We are not all Socrates though. Sometimes we do not have the freedom of time to accept death with open arms and an open mind. However, when we do... how will we handle our death?

My roommate recently experienced an uncle passing away. I found his situation to be interesting. Originally, this man was given about 6 months to live. Then something dire, that I cannot recall, occured and he had only days to live. Within those final days, my friend called me several times for support. He had never seen anything die before and was terrified with what that would be like to watch , if he happened to be in the room. Thankfully, my friend never had to experience that. His uncle was discharged from the hospital and sent home. There, he was able to fill out his final moments in this life as he saw fit. And what does he do? He watches Godfather I-III twice, eats his fill of hamburgers (as he was denied them in the hospital), and sat in view of his beloved orange grove. What went through his mind when he was given his expiration date? How did he prepare his mind for death? Was he simply happy with how life had gone up to that point? Did he not think that his cancer was robbing him of any precious moments to come? Life experiences missed out on? Did he wonder where he would go? Or was he happy to just be, until he was no more?

Returning to my roommate's terror in the possibility of watching someone die, honestly, what would it be like to watch a soul leave a body? I find the whole idea as terrifying as my roommate did. The entire experience caused him to question the possibilities of the immortal soul and life
after death. Do they exist? This question was at the forefront of his mind for the beginning of this semester, and mine as well.

Another friend of mine witnessed the life of Errol, the recent victim of the shooting outside Friar Tuck's bar, pass from this world. Not the moment of death, mind you, but saw him before and after he died in the arms of the bartender who held his head in her lap during his final moments.
He said the experience put into perspective his own mortality as well as the immortality of the soul.

I personally have a strong belief in the immortality of the soul. If I weren't seeing out these eyes that I have, what eyes would I be looking out of?
When bringing in the Cyclical argument addressed in Phaedo, questions come into mind. If the soul brings life into a body, can one soul be individual from another soul? Is the personality of an individual imprinted upon a soul and passed on in some way? Or is a new soul formed upon conception?

Some songs that were thought provoking during the course of this blog...

Long Time Traveller
The Wailin' Jennys

This is a soung about passing from this life to the next. Where do souls go?
First verse:

"These fleeting charms of Earth, farewell , your springs of joy are dry. My soul now seeks another home, a brighter world on high."

What Is A Soul?
M Ward

I couldn't find a recording of the song online, but I attached the lyrics. Essentially, questions about the nature of the soul are addressed here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Child With the Mind of a Philosopher

This is Pythagoras as imagined by the Honors Students of Destrehan High School (my old high school)

I work downtown everyday at an after school weekend program for children; it's a way to keep them entertained and exposed them to different studies- for example: violin, guitar, visual arts, drama, gymnastics, and etiquette. The only requirement for the children to enter the school is that they need to be potty trained. You can not even begin to imagine how exciting it is to teach these children. For, each day is different and new issues arise constantly. Today, I was to teach etiquette something my adorable little second graders absolutely hate; they think I'm just trying to get "the girls to like the boys" and that would be impossible because boys "are weird". Walking into class, I found myself in the middle of a fight my twins were having, these seven year old girls were fighting, I was told by one of their more 'talkative' classmates, was about numbers.

"YOU'RE LYING" V. was screaming at her sister "One plus one is two!"
"Nah-ah" replied M. so loudly that everyone in the room stared. When she heard this she giggled at herself, twirled her hair around her tiny index finger, and said as fast as she could could possibly say, "R. told me that his older brother told him that one plus one equals two because his teacher told him!" This comment was followed by a sticking out of the tongue. When I was halfway in the room and about to call everyone to attention I was interrupted by the girls. "MISS SARA!" V. and M. screamed in unison then one of them said" Mi papa me dijo que te pregunte a ti because he couldn't answer me when I asked que si one plus one es two! Wait no it's my turn to talk. Miss Sara, she won't let me talk!!!" then "sdufweuhyfjkheuiihqaijsjed". As one girl screamed in English, the other in Spanish, and the room began to fill with the sound of laughing and howling children. It was then that I thought of Pythagoras; one of the well known Pre-Socratics.

Pythagoras is no stranger to me. We constantly talked about him in my high school Calculus class. My teacher is obsessed with him and the idea that one isn't a real number: she would always tells us that the world of mathematics would be different if we would listen to Pythagoras. After talking about Pythag, as I like to call him, in class on Friday I started to think about how not only mathematics would be different but how the world would be different if we had accepted Pythag's logic. I can understand how Pythag can believe that there is an immortal unity in numbers; I mean numbers have been around since the creation of time and will continue to be until the end- even if humans didn't always acknowledge them. There is one of me, there is one of you, I have to two feet, there are three trees outside the window, and the list only continues. The idea of the number is immortal and infinite. This is why when Pythag said that all is numbers I automatically though,"Yeah, that makes sense." How could you not? You can't deny that everything around us, everything we say, everything we do, in someway has a number. There are so many words in this passage, each letter has a number assigned to it, and so on and so forth. The only thing I questioned was the idea that the soul was composed of numbers. I thought that the soul couldn't possibly be composed of numbers because you can't see it's quantity, you can't see if it's made up of anything, and you can't even feel to see if it might have a texture that has value. Then, thinking about it I realized that numbers can be the soul because like numbers the soul is just there. It's a creation of human kind. It's abstract. It's infinite. It's immortal. I don't know if I truly grasp the concept completely but I have my whole life to try to figure that out. All I got from the discussion we had over Pythag was what you see written here and a worn out eraser.

Whether I understood Pythag or not I can say with all confidence that the argument was settled when I responded, "I don't believe in numbers. They're like the boogieman that is supposed to live under your bed. So I can't answer whether or not I think one plus one is two or if one plus one is three. All I can tell you is that not that I'm in college I realized that it doesn't matter anymore." This stopped the argument because they didn't know what to say to that except, "When are you going to teach us when to eat right?"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Virtue and the Flourishing Life

Contemplating Plato’s account of virtue, I wondered whether it would be more virtuous to overcome desire, or to simply not have the desire at all. We all consider the man who has overcome desire more admirable than the man without desire. In fact, most would even find the man without desire blander than the other. Is this the way it should be though? If the latter person is indeed more virtuous, is he not more laudable?

This all builds up to my biweekly meeting with my spiritual director: he is what I consider to be one of the wisest people on Loyola’s campus, and a man of exceedingly great virtue, not just in my opinion, but from anyone who I have met that knows him well. He is a man of little desire. There is no desire to overcome. I, on the other hand, come in to him and talk about how hard it can sometimes be making the best decision. Who is more laudable? It is my opinion that He is, but what I find is that he is content with or without the praise.

Perhaps we praise those who actually deliberate because they are the ones that need the praise. An already virtuous person does not need to be reminded that the decisions made are virtuous. On the other hand, the person striving towards virtue does need to be reminded that the virtuous decision is good, because the goods from that decision are not immediately recognized. A happy life, not in the modern sense, but in the sense that it a flourishing lifestyle, does not arise immediately from our decision. It arises from the continual striving for the flourishing life.

"Suicide cannot be considered an end of life for which I should be the unique foundation. Since it is an act of my life, indeed, it itself requires a meaning which only the future can give to it; but as it is the last act of my life, it is denied this future. Thus it remains totally undetermined. If I escape death or if I "misfire," shall I not judge later that my suicide was cowardice? Will the outcome not show me that other solutions were possible? But since these solutions can only be my own projects, they can appear only if I live. Suicide is an absurdity which causes my life to submerged in the absurd." - Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

Socrates' bit on suicide reminded me of the above passage.  Here is what Socrates had to say on the subject:
" most things which are evil may be accidentally good, this is to be the only exception (for may not death, too, be better than life in some cases?), and why, when a man is better dead, he is no permitted to be his own benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another...  There is a doctrine uttered in secret that man is prisoner who has not right to open the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not understand.  Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs.  Do you not agree?"

Socrates and Sartre both frown upon suicide, but for different reasons.  One major reason that Sartre frowns upon suicide was that he believes that death in general takes all meaning away from life, but Socrates believes that there is something even better after death if is prepared for it as a result of practicing philosophy.  Socrates' reason for not supporting suicide has to do with respect for the gods, while Sartre's reason has to do just with one's own life.  Socrates is unsure of why he believes that man "has no right to open the door of his prison and run away" as he says that it is a "great mystery," while Sartre never discusses man's "right" to do so.  Socrates expects there to be something else after life, while Sartre does not.

I was hoping to find some interesting connections between these viewpoints, but am having trouble.  Maybe I missed something, and maybe someone else can find some(?)

( )

As I left class this morning, I began to consider Socrates the man instead of Socrates the philosopher. I wonder what it was truly like for Socrates, hours before his death, to be immersed in philosophical dialogue with friends. Postulating on ideas such as the immortality of the soul, the correspondence between pleasure and pain, and the undeniable existence of forms. Socrates' friends seem sincere in their love of Socrates, but the man of Socrates is never allowed to shine through this dialogue...we are simply met with the philosopher. Maybe we know the man through the philosophy, but if identity is defined by multiplicity, perhaps we are left with a "symbolic" Socrates instead of a "real" Socrates. The subject, Socrates, is endowed with unshakable authority concerning philosophical and ethical inferences. He is substantiated through philosophizing, which may be the greatest fear of all philosophers. This fear could represented through irrational logical assumptions like, "As long as I continue talking about all of these ideas people will listen to me, and as long as people are listening to me I exist." Soon the man behind the philosopher is lost and the general notion of Philosophy becomes an agent the philosopher attaches him/herself to, similar to becoming an appendage on the ass of Philosophy. An example of how a subject attaches to an abstract ideal: a judge who acts as the tangible manifestation of Justice with a capital J sheds light on how the other (defined as radical alterity and incongruous uniqueness mediating our relationship with other subjects-that which mediates semblance within our world and relationships-symbolic order) acts through him/her (feminists have no sense of humor, so I should just be gender inclusive right?). On the one hand, the judge may be a miserable, lonely, bitter corrupt individual, but once the robes come on the person is transubstantiated into something other than him/herself. The individual's words become Justice, just as Socrates' words become True.

The way we are posited into abstract roles raises questions on how considerations on the good and true, what is ethical and just, and any ideas concerning universals are engendered. The way we form identity is a life long process starting in childhood. Children are paced into singular affiliations well efore they have the ability to reason about different systems of identification that may compete for their attention. What ethical duty do we have towards reason? Is what we consider ethical contingent to the singular attitudes and environment we assumed, or were assumed for us, in childhood?Childhood acts as a basis for ethics--but how do alienation, culture, and ideology influence our future ethics without representing ethics at all. Ethical consideration born from ideology--void of ethical substance. The ethical experience seems relativistic while ideologies seems to be culture and location specific.

The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. It makes me wonder how well we can know Socrates the man instead of Socrates the philosopher. Roberto Bolano sums up this feeling rather nicely:

"They could read him, they could study him, they could pick him apart, but they couldn't laugh or be sad with him...."


In the early hours of this Friday morning I finished up that which I had not yet completed of the Phaedo. And as I had done the morning before after finishing Twelfth Knight for my late Shakespeare class, I took out all of my inquiries and the ecstasy of reading great works on my girlfriend. Although yesterday involved my attempts at recreating the brilliant prose of the great Bill Shakespeare, this morning I started to question her on beliefs with regard to the soul, body and afterlife. I explained to her the idea of opposites, and as Simmias and Cebes agreed with Socrates after explanation, she too started following me. But one thing she would not grasp, probably due to dogmatic upbringing in Evangelical fashion, was the idea that death and life are results of each other. She claimed to not believe in reincarnation, so I decided to favor her beliefs in trying to describe that the life she lives is a result of others passing, and how God decides to bring people into the world is evidence that this life results from death. Does this make sense to anyone else? I'm sure I could have worded it differently, but since God is life and death, according to some beliefs, and if he fashioned life for each person and also death, then the theory of opposites holds. It may not be direct reincarnation of a particular soul, but if all souls are part of, or the creation of, an omnipotent being, then there is some connection from death to life. Or maybe I'm making no sense?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pleasure after Pain

This week I had a conversation with a friend of mine about a break up they were going through. Honestly reading the Phaedo and understanding the relationship between pain and pleasure helped me give advice to my friend. Socrates described pleasure as the feeling after pain. He used the analogy of chains as a bond and how it hurts, and when the chains are released you feel pleasure. Socrates was using this analogy to refer to death. I assume being in prison and in a state of unhappiness is the pain. And death is the release of pain. I used this story to describe the break up. My friend was in pain and the relationship was a state of unhappiness. The breakup, which is the death allows for a pleasure of a new beginning. Like death, it is just a form of the beginning of life.

Perserving the soul through communal memory

I found this reading particularly difficult to get through after loosing a friend on Monday night. For the last couple of days, I have been thinking on the subject of death and the consequences of an individual's passing. Therefore it is interesting to contrast my own personal beliefs about death and the soul and that of the Phaedo's soul, which is immortal, reoccurring, and ever existent. Like Socrates I am unsure what comes to an individual after death, but I am sure about what happens in their absence. My community gathered to mourn the passing of my neighbor, Errol. At least a hundred people came to be with one another in our grief and confusion and it got me thinking about how the Phaedo talks about the soul. At the very beginning of the Phaedo something Socrates said really struck me. He argues, "I am cofident in the belief that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls have a better portion than the evil." For me, death is the final frontier. Put me in a box or an oven, I won't know the difference because I believe death is the end of each of our individual existences. But after Errol's (or as I call him Scooter's) wake last night, I started to think maybe Socrates has teased out something essential about the souls of the deceased. Last night, I watched the living spring from the dead. In his families sadness, in our sadness as friends, we sprung to life at Errol's death. Even though our emotions are anger, sadness, and despair, they define us as the living. While it is not what Socrates is arguing, I would say that the way death results in emotion, which enlivens the living is a way that "the living spring from the dead." Socrates continues by saying that "the souls of the dead are in existence." This is surely true as even in death, Errol still controls and affects the world of the living. Because the memory of Errol lives within those who knew him, he never resigns to death. Finally, Socrates argues that "good souls have a better portion than evil," and again I must agree with Socrates. Those who were good in life remain longer in the living world. The more individual you touched in your lifetime, the longer your memory will be preserved and cared for. Errol touched many lives and this is why his death brought many mourners. His spirit is alive in us.

I know that I am bastardizing the argument that Socrates is making here but his teachings on death very easily lend themselves to this argument. There is something immortal about the soul and whether it is physical or metaphorical the dead living amongst us. Those that are left behind in the living world give life to the dead through their memories and in this way souls are immortal.

Gentner-The Validity of Temperance

After talking in class briefly about Socrates' notion of temperance, and especially after having read the section in the Phaedo which is written about temperance, I have been doing a great deal of thinking regarding the subject. I am extremely bothered by the notion that having temperance is a contradiction in the sense that being temperate first involves being intemperate. One can not abstain from alcohol without having first experienced the desire, and Socrates felt that simply avoiding taking a drink was not, in itself, as impressive as having absolutely no desire to drink in the first place.

While I agree that an alcoholic ultimately never having a craving for some booze is great in theory, I don't think that this is a realistic approach to temperance. I, contrary to Socrates, find validity in the virtue of temperance. I am impressed by a man or woman overcoming his or her deepest desires because I see strength in their actions. Where is the strength in someone denying a drink who did not have a desire for that drink in the first place?

On the other hand, I can see how, ultimately, "training" an alcoholic to overcome those desires once and for all would the the ideal outcome of practicing temperance. In practicing and training one's will, which requires a great deal of strength, an alcoholic could possibly overcome that desire absolutely. Would Socrates give merit to someone who was able to do this, though?

Notes 1/19/11

Brian Pena

Notes 1/19/11

Hellenistic Philosophy

One of the main topics of discussion from this 2nd Wednesday class dealt with the philosopher’s preparation for death. In the Phaedo, Socrates states “that man who has really spent his life in philosophy is naturally of good courage when he is to die and has the strong hopes that when he is dead he will attain the greatest blessings in the other land.” Philosophy is suppose to be something that one takes part in up until the moment of death, for if that person maximizes their time in philosophical thought and discussion there is no need for fear during death.

Dr Layne then gave the “cheesecake” analogy, which I will try to explain in the best way possible (DO NOT TAKE AS DOGMATIC, OR WITH REAL CERTAINTY FOR THIS IS ONLY MY UNDERSTANDING). In order for someone to avoid a given, such as the desire for cheesecake, fully they must first have experienced its sensations, but eventually overcome the desire or fear, depending on the situation. This elimination of fear/desire is temperance and virtuous.

So when Socrates is speaking to Simmias and Cebes about their grief over his eventual consumption of hemlock, he shows them that he has no fear of death and neither should they, for if they pursue philosophy until their dying day they too will understand what it is not have virtue and temperance. He reiterates to these two that death will be far greater than any life, for that which give the power of thought in man will give even greater reasoning and understanding in the afterlife.

The Phaedo is a middle dialogue, which is more poetic than the earlier or later works of Plato. The Early are more focused on questions of piety and virtue, and the later are more in line with the ideas in the Sophists. This piece is similar to Alcibiades I with regard to its dialogue, Q&A format, and also its recognition of the importance of self knowledge, “know thyself: see thyself.” It also recognizes that material goods have nothing to do with who a person truly is.

Research the Pre-Socratic Philosophers

Dear Class,

For Friday be sure to finish up reading the Phaedo and if you have time do some light research on Pre-Socratic philosophy. Come to class with a general familiarity of the Pre-Socratic philosophers (e.g. Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus). After we discuss them, we will return to a discussion of the Phaedo and the importance of Socrates' Second Sailing as both a unique turn away from the activities of some of the Pre-Socratics and an embrace of others. We shall end with a discussion of how to understand Plato's Ideas that will likely be carried over to Monday.

Dr. Layne

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Oriental Soul

So, basically, who are you? Well, you might say that you are the ideas that you have, or the feelings that you feel, or the sensations you receive from the world. You are a certain lump of matter with a certain appearance, sound, and set of behaviors.

And yet all these things are changeable. Your ideas, your sensations, your appearance, the very stuff of which you are made are constantly being turned over. What is there to unify them? What is it that really makes all these fleeting things you?

Well, Plato would say there is an underlying form or soul or self, in an abstract sense beneath the layers of physicality, of sense-experience, of ideas and memories, that is a constant. And in Hinduism a conception of this sort of pure self, called the atman, was held to be the ultimate reality of a person, and indeed, itself just a part of the ultimate reality which was Brahman.

Opposed to this idea is the Buddhist anatman, which says there is no unifying, underlying reality to the self. You are in fact this succession of appearances, sense experiences, ideas, memories, etc.. You are a part of the inevitable and constant changing of the entire world, both causing change and being caused by change. You are an aspect of the interdependent arising of all things, and your sense that there can be had any meaningful permanence, or the grasping after permanence is wrong and harmful. What is more, grasping after even this sense of unifying identity, of an underlying permanent thing which is you when all of the things that we otherwise say are you have fled, is wrong and harmful.

Plato is Hard

'The Phaedo is a platonic dialogue concerning death and the existence of the soul. The dialog is set up as Phaedo’s recollection of the conversation that took place with Socrates shortly before his death. In it, Socrates remarks that the philosopher should look forward to death and that philosophy is the practice for death. Later in the dialogue, it will be argued that this is because after death the soul will be able to freely reason without the wants and needs of the body. This leads to a dialog where they attempt to prove the soul’s existence.'

But the whole thing had to be translated! And Plato is especially hard to translate. Do we really know that what we are reading is what he meant for us?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Independent Standards

"And suppose that you were going to steer a ship into action, would you only aim at being the best pilot on board? Would you not, while acknowledging that you must possess this degree of excellence, rather look to your antagonists, and not, as you are now doing, to your fellow combatants? You ought to be so far above these latter, that they will not even dare to be your rivals; and, being regarded by you as inferiors, will do battle for you against the enemy; this is the kind of superiority which you must establish over them, if you mean to accomplish any noble action really worthy of yourself and of the state."

I find this segment very interesting. Socrates is advancing upon a point which I have considered crucial in any proper system of ethics. This precept is independence. Although Plato does not fully develop this idea, the direction he is heading is clear. I will flesh out his metaphor to better understand what he appears to be aiming at. If one’s life is a ship, then one’s consciousness would be the pilot—that which decides upon the general course it will take. Now in his question, Socrates asks “would you only aim at being the best pilot on board?” Perhaps no one on board is competent to pilot the ship. Then what does it mean to be the best of them? If all one aims at is to beat others, then one’s mind is subordinated to the minds of others. One is blindly accepting another’s standard of value—one would be a second-hander. At the beginning of the dialogue, Alcibiades is not concerned with being the best he can be. He is not concerned with knowledge or ideas. He is only concerned with other people—how can he control them? How can he be better than them? How can he appear successful to them? I believe that what Plato was encircling, without ever stating explicitly, is that Alcibiades should have been concerned with achieving, and nothing else. Not to beat others, but to live up to his own potential.
Now what Plato does write is that instead of trying to out do those who are on your own team, one should find the greatest individuals who are in opposition to one’s self. Instead of being the best captain on one’s ship, one should be the best captain on the sea. This is perhaps one step away from expelling altogether the notion that’s one’s sense of value, one’s self-esteem can come from how others view you or how one views himself in relation to others. There appears to be an element of the good life which must be self-generated, for one cannot call it “self”-esteem if it does not come from within, but rather from others. The bottom line is that each man must make his own decisions, steer his own ship, and his decisions will be made based on the knowledge which he possesses. Each man must rely on his own thinking, since it is impossible for another to acquire knowledge for him. This is independence: self-sufficience of the mind. Socrates attempts to show Alcibiades that true knowledge must be actively acquired—discovered on one’s own, or learned from another. Socrates attempts to show Alcibiades independence.

"Stumble"ing Upon Philosophy

"We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one."
-'The Cab Ride', Thylacine's Lair

I've been Stumbling from one internet sight to another for the past two hours in an effort to entertain myself on this cold January night. I had honestly forgotten about this writing assignment until I Stumbled upon this quote by an unknown author. The author is a former cab driver who twenty-two years ago was asked by an elderly woman to drive through out the city to places of her youth; she wanted to remember all the good times she had in her childhood and relive the most important experiences of her life- her time in this world was soon coming to an end. In this tale the narrator tells of the good-temperament of this woman and how she had excellent character for, despite her situation, she still managed to keep a smile on her face and enjoy her life at that moment.

The conversation which took place between the narrator and the elderly woman reminded me of the conversation Socrates had with Cephalus in book one of The Republic. Here Cephalus tells Socrates that old age has brought him, "[...] great peace and freedom [...]" and that old age is not what brings woe to individuals but rather woe is brought upon by their character. I agree with the words of Cephalus because I have seen many examples of this in life. Many people considered mean, grumpy, cantankerous, difficult, and so on and so forth act this way because of the fashion in which they interpret the events that take place in their lives. According to Martha Beck ,in her article for O Magainze, entitled Why Are People Mean?, people act the way they do in any situation because of the way they think that the world is viewing them. For example people become angry, because they believe that the world is 'out to get them' or that they simply have 'bad luck'. Martha also states that people's reactions should not be anchored to the words, actions, or looks they receive from others but to their own beliefs about the event. I agree with Martha when she says that "authorship is key to surviving these [ or any] experiences [...]" and that "[...] every living person has the power of authorship when it comes to composing our lives[...]." I use these terms grumpy, mean, etc because they are characteristics usually associated with the elderly but it is not just the elderly that misinterpret actions or words, the youth do it as well.

Alcibiades in the Alcibiades I foolishly believed that he knew how to run, or advice, a government even though he has not done so before or that was ever taught how to do so. This is because he misinterpreted his situation. Alcibiades is acting like an intelligent student coming straight out of medical, law, or graduate school that thinks that they know everything about their practice because they have read numerous books on the subject; what they don't know is that all the reading and book work they've done amounts to nothing in the real world- school work doesn't give you the practice that comes from experiences. It was Socrates who informed him of his faults and told him that there is no reason that he should believe he knows how to govern a state in the same way that he doesn't know building or sailing . Alcibiades, like the elderly woman, showed good character and in the end he was able to give up his ignorance to follow Socrates on the pursuit of excellence.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Notes for Friday, January 14

History and Major Themes of Hellenistic Philosophy

Focus on Socrates

Xenophon - "If I don't reveal my views on justice, I do so by conduct"

-actions speak louder than words

Justice may not be something I can give a concrete definition of, but I know it exists, and I can exemplify it

The Art of Living

Justice, Virtue, and the Good always in excess, only in life can truth emerge

-not denying their existence, just that you can never perfectly contemplate them

Socrates/Alcibiades Relationship

Socrates loves Alcibiades for his mind, not his body

Alcibiades is only concerned with philosophy around Socrates

-returns to the libertine lifestyle when not around Socrates

- Socrates is erotic for the soul

- To be in love with Socrates is to be in love with love

Socrates profession of ignorance – skepticism

Conceit of knowledge is the worst kind of ignorance

Methods of Refutation – paved the way for logic and rhetoric in Hellenistic Philosophy


Socrates is being as honest as possible – the irony/deception comes from someone’s interpretation of Socrates

Minor Socratic Schools

Antisthenes – precursor of Cynicism

-contemporary of Socrates

-virtue is something practical, can be taught

-once aquired, cannot be lost, the goal life

-the sage is then self sufficient, since he has the wealth (true greatness) of all men

Cyreanic School

Aristippus (435-355 B.C.) Precursor of Epicurus

-pleasure is the goal of life (bodily gratification)

- a smooth movement, as rough movements produce pain

-scorned math because it didn't account for the good or the bad

Hegesias affirmed that pleasure is the goal of life, but it is unattainable

Megarian School

-chiefly concerned with dialectic and eristics

Paramenides - unity rather than multiplicity is the world

The Heap and the Bald Head paradoxes

Later Megarians were largely renowned for their interest in dialectic and would influence Stoic logic

Major Socratic Schools

Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lycecum, Zeno's Stoa

Like other minor schools the philosophers of the Hellenistic age considered the metaphysical and speculative developments of Plato

-searched for a middle path - understood that ethics could not be established without a metaphysics

Identities of Teaching Method

Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism

Followed Socratic tradition of "molding citizens" via making them philosophers

-mastery of speech via dialectical exercises

-govern others and themselves via living dialogue between master and student

-considered dogmatic, rhetoric, aporetic

The conceit of knowlede, o woe!

In Alcibiades I, Socrates asks Alcibiades: "Do you not see, then, that mistakes in life and practice are likewise to be attributed to the ignorance which has conceit of knowledge?" I have to say this statement resonates profoundly with my perspectives on, or faults with Indian society and culture. I am an Indian born in the States, by the way. Let me establish a setting - ah, the dinner party. Your dad's friend's wife swears that she cooks the best Tandoori chicken (a popular red, spicy chicken dish) known to man. My mom politely asks this woman- who is new to the culinary scene- if she needs any help, and the reply is a confident: "No, no this is my forte." Then, her mother chimes in and boasts that the daughter has created many a masterpiece. Well like any appreciative guest, you look forward to sinking your teeth into the succulent, and well seasoned bird. As the wife graciously presents her "gastronomical wonder" before us, we see that it appears red, aromatic, and well done. You take a bite-wait for it-and much to your surprise the chicken is still pink and well, half raw. It also is overly salted and the spices are used in the incorrect combination and proportion, setting the preliminary stages of heartburn and or salmonella. All you can do is smile, look for your napkin, and pretend to just wipe your face, while spitting out the abominable horror. You stop eating and the hostess asks why you are full, and you wistfully reply that it was so good, that one piece was enough to send you to heaven. This produces the intended and expected visceral response: a gigantic smile on the host's and hostess' face. Poor fools. Poor us. The only thing to ask is: oh me, oh my, what bad fortune has befallen me?

This could have been easily avoided, and you think to yourself that your mother offered to help, which was polite but also very intelligent on her part. Sure enough, after we had reached home and abundantly medicated ourselves with Pepto-Bismol, our mother had said that she was expecting this, because many young Indian wives bluff about their "savvy" cooking skills. In reality they might not even have touched raw meat, but just happened to tune into a Indian cooking show. What idiocy. Oh the conceit, the audacity. In essence, I had been the victim of a deliberate crime. People, people understand that cooking is just not theoretical it is also very much practical. Now I understand and appreciate why my mother has commanded me to learn how to cook Indian food, so that in the future many digestive tracts will remain healthy.

Practicality in Hellenism

Something that strikes me as odd is the amount of practicality that Hellenistic philosophy. Most of the philosophical thinking started on the practical side of philosophy. The search for the good life is the primary concern on their metaphysics.
But that kind of thinking today does not go on today. Today, science takes precedence over philosophy, and the search for the good life is largely replaced by scientism. With the pragmatism brought on by Quine after "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," its curious that no single school of thought has developed similar to this Hellenistic model.
I think its speaks a lot about modern culture that only science is regarded as containing useful knowledge, and something like insights into what makes a person's life go best are largely ignored due to lack of respect towards ethics brought on by early analytic philosophy.
Another curious aspect of Hellenistic philosophy is the completely different mode of discourse for talking about ethics, and I noticed this in Aristotle and Plato also. For them, what is right and wrong are secondary questions, if the question arises at all. Contrast that with modern ethics, which only answers what is right and wrong. It is no accident, then, the modern ethics failed when scrutinized by Logical Positivism. Logical Positivism can analyze statements that try to claim rightness and wrongness, but when discussing what makes a person life best, or what is the highest form of happiness, Logical Positivism cannot intervene.
I think, based on my initial reactions to Hellenism, I can say that modern ethics would be much better off discussing ethics this way. Utility and duty could still have a place, but a more important question would be asked in ethics.

Class Synopsis Format

Okay just to clarify the form of the class synopsis paper. Please do not just write your notes from the power point. You must write a short essay formatted paper (about 1 page), post this on the blog and also turn it into the safe assignment area on BB. You must be able to show me that you not only wrote down the material discussed in class but also that you understood it and if you didn't understand, you need to ask questions. Even if you did understand you also still need to pose questions to the material. Now the five minute review at the beginning of each class should be bulleted and quick but not the material here on the blog. You need to show me that you digested the material rather than merely throwing the material back up.

Dr. Layne

Questions to be thinking about for Wednesday

So I believe we are reading the Phaedo now (don't worry we will still be talking about the Alcibiades I as well) but make sure you come to class with you opinions of what the text is about. In other words, what is the dominating problem which all parties are concerned with and why? How does Socrates solve that problem and finally what conception of philosophy does Socrates advance? Why do you agree or disagree with this understanding of philosophy?

Dr. Layne

The Paradox of Socrates

One of the over arching themes of the Alcibiades is the idea of just and unjust, and how we come to form a true conception or genuine knowledge based on two seemingly subjective abstract notions. This raises the question of how we learn to interact with and form judgments based on vague understandings of universal concepts. The other as that which we learn through seems to be one of the follies of ignorance and a main point Socrates exposes to Alcibiades. The concept obfuscated by Socrates' persistent question brings about an introspection and ultimately persuasion to re appropriate ones philosophy. I got the impression that Socrates truly believed in transcendental norms that apply to ideas such as just and unjust, but in his questioning he also demonstrates the elusive nature of these ides. A unified sense of being instead of a contradictory hypothesis of multiplicity is at the core of Zeno's paradoxes to prove Parmenides' idea of Being as One, this view still functioning as a key idea in contemporary views such as Heidegger's ontological approach to b/Being.

Zeno's paradox of Achillies and the Tortoise is an analogy that fits perfectly within the Alcibiades. It seems that both Socrates and Zeno enjoy playing with purely logical reason that disagrees with our most immediate experiences of objects around us. In Zeno's paradox he presents us with a subject object relationship which we all experience through goals, desires, and various drives. When you begin to learn an instrument you typically have the drive to learn more, or maybe you just quit, but once the drive to get better becomes normative, the object of our desire is something that we continually approach yet is also always at a distance--you can always get better or learn more. The aim of attaining knowledge of just and unjust combined with the goal of understanding coordinates our search for knowledge. The aim is the thing we intend to do or path while the goal is the destination. I interpreted Socrates' questions as to what is just and unjust as a way to show that the way we follow our path to attain knowledge and the judgments we hold during our aim is that thing that truly generates knowledge. The aim itself becomes the goal for those striving for knowledge, but if we live through the other, which may or may not engender ignorance, the subject will experience the same fate as Achilles trying to acquire the Tortoise. The nature of knowledge can be interpreted as a constant movement along this perpetual aim/goal loop.

Random Thought: Zeno's paradox is meant to be known as "impossible" but its possibility is realized in fantasy space. Branches of psychoanalysis give rise to understanding our learned desires through our fantasies, which we can trace back to Zeno and Socrates.

Philosophy Bro

Really funny blog, you can hook it up right to this one too so that you can see updates.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Alcibiades and America

Socrates spends pages outlining all of the activities at which Alcibiades would be useless. To paraphrase:

S: Do you know anything about shoes?

A: No, that’s why we have cobblers.

S: Do you know anything about horses?

A: No, that’s why we have equestrians.


Until finally Socrates is left to ask the final big question: well then Alcibiades, what are you good for? This is an excellent question and one that I don’t feel like we contemplate very often. Other than the occasional existential crises that come maybe after college or around your 50th birthday, I wonder how much quality time the average person spend developing self- knowledge by questioning one’s strengths and weaknesses. AsI watched the news after reading Alcibiades, I began to think of all of the ways American devalue self- knowledge. I keep hearing politicians say, “the American people want…” as if unaware that they are but one individual. I started to ask the news pundits, “what is your purpose?”

I ask: “Do you gather the news?”

G. Beck: “No, that is why we have journalists.”

I ask: “Because you report on crime, are you an expert in criminal psychology?”

K. Olbermann: “No, that is why we have criminal investigators.”

I ask: “Because you report on war, are you an expert in field tactics?”

W. Blitzer: “No, that is why we have generals.”

Until finally I asked, what is your purpose? So much of my reality is determined by these people whose expertise are looking thin on camera and pronouncing difficult names correctly. Talking heads decide what news we hear, what questions are being asked, how topics are delivered, and in what light to process information, and yet they are experts on nothing of value. Unable to realize their own strengths, people like Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann “teach” others subjects about which they are uninformed. And then finally, America’s uproar over the innocent Representative from Arizona being shot I think really presents America’s lack of self- knowledge. Appalled by the internal violence that took place last weekend, we have poured over t.vs. and newspapers and yet I rarely see a tear dropped for the many victims of the decade long war America has been raging in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Alcibiades, America has been long told how rich and noble and beautiful and free it is as a nation and now it seems unable to look within to determine its strengths and faults. This is why our culture cannot tolerate intellectualism; we cannot tolerate finding out what we don’t know.

As an individual it is important to self-question, to assess one’s own knowledge. Hubris, and maybe because it accompanies passion, is an affliction of the young. Maybe this is why America seems so struck with the kind of hubris that Alcibiades exhibits. We are a young nation and need a wise old philosopher to show us the way.

Alcibiades and Socrates Duke it Out... the Intellectual Way

After reading the dialogue between Socrates and Alcibiades, I have come to the belief that Socrates was challenging the origin of Alcibiades' knowledge in addition to the source and merit of his political power. Socrates seemed bothered by the fact that Alcibiades was living a life that, while it may have been full of material wealth, was lacking spiritual and emotional truths. Socrates challenged Alcibiades, throughout the dialogue, to think in ways other than he had been previously taught or conditioned to do so. In the very first pages, for example, Socrates inquires about Alcibiades' sources of knowledge, asking how Alcibiades had come to know certain truths or virtues. Furthermore, Socrates challenges Alcibiades on the issue of justice. He provokes Alcibiades to speak of how he came to know what is just and unjust, seeing as Alcibiades judges matters of war and peace on a daily basis as a higher member of the state. Additionally, Socrates and Alcibiades dialogue about cheating, the need for proofs in knowledge, the virtue of courage versus its adverse-cowardice, and spiritual matters such as heaven. Overall, however, I was under the impression that Socrates was basically challenging Alcibiades' political power, as previously mentioned. Although Socrates did not directly claim that Alcibiades was not worthy of the material wealth or power that he had acquired, I was under the impression that, as Socrates seems to do in most of his dialogues, he was attempting to provoke a higher level of thought within Alcibiades, ultimately requesting that he attempt to live a better, more virtuous life.

JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY… PLEASE HELP ME!!! I had difficulty understanding what Plato meant when he claimed something to be expedient. I did some research, but I have yet to come up with a definitive definition relevant to the dialogue between Socrates and Alcibiades.

Jared's First Thoughts on the Intro to the Text

When reading the introduction to the text, the reader grasp a understanding for the origins of Hellenistic Philosophy. What caught my attention was the many misconceptions behind Hellenistic philosophy, as well as beginnings of Philosophy. Many skeptics of Hellenistic Philosophy believed it only answered ethical questions. Other questions were, Was it more monarchic rather than democratic. Moreover, The origins of philosophy came out of the movement of the Hellenistic Period with Alexander. This movement and change is similar to changes in society with things such as the civil rights movements. It formed and changed minds and civilization. The skepticism of the Hellenistic Culture is also similar to how many are skeptical of Socialism and Communism. People have these preconceived notions that are actually false and slightly irrational.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Question for Class # 2

So we did some history today, discussed the fact that their were four/six major schools in philosophy during this period: Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, Epicurus' Garden, Zeno's Stoa as well as the trends of Cynicism and Skepticism. We ended by talking about the Alcibiades I and some of the information about the authorship of this dialogue and its major themes. For next class I want to know what issue predominates throughout the entirety of this text? Furthermore, who is this guys Socrates? What characterisitics and worldviews does he bring to this dialogue with the young Alcibiades.
See you Friday,
Dr. Layne

Monday, January 10, 2011

Question for Class #1

So what do you think Hellenistic philosophy is? What do you hope to learn from the Hellenistic philosophers?

See you soon,
Dr. Layne

Tuesday, January 4, 2011



Class Time: MWF 10:30-11:20
Instructor: Dr. Danielle A. Layne
Classroom:       Mercy 201                                                       Office Location: Bobet 448a
E-mail:                             Office Hours: T/TH

Texts: Primary: Long, A.A. Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. University of California Press. Second Edition 1986. Blackboard Texts: Available under the category of Course Material.

Course Description: Surprisingly there is more to ancient philosophy than just Plato and Aristotle. In fact while often neglected Hellenistic, Middle Platonic and Neo-Platonic schools of thought have far reaching consequences on the history of philosophy. All of these traditions from Cynicism to Stoicism, Epicureanism to Skepticism as well as Neo-Platonism and early Christian philosophy remain relevant for any student of philosophy. What may be peculiar to the schools of late antiquity is its insistence that philosophy was not simply a discipline or a science to be studied. Unlike the current methods of philosophy, for the ancients philosophy was a training or way of life, meant to purify and cleanse individuals from the anxieties that cause misery. In some sense it can be described as a therapy for the soul and thus to be an Epicurean was wholly different from being a Kantian. To be an Epicurean meant you dedicated your entire life to the practices that manifested your philosophy. Here, philosophy was always at the service of life and thus as we shall see over the coming weeks Hellenistic philosophy can be seen as both an ethical and spiritual movement which still (in)forms the question of how best to live.


Course grades will be determined by participation, written assignments and 1 presentation.

·        Participation (25%): Determined by 1) class discussion and 2) the class blog at

1)      Class Discussion: Each day sections of the text will be assigned and I expect that all of you will read each text with great joy and enthusiasm. However, just in case you ever feel deterred from such splendid activity, the incentive becomes the threat of having to actively answer questions related to the text in class each day. If you have not done the reading assignment, then your ignorance of the text will become obvious to both me and your fellow classmates. How humiliating, I say! Thus to ensure that you read, participate and avoid horrible embarrassment, in each class students will be given 1 question to answer, helping navigate and focus the assigned reading. Your answer must be at least three sentences long and written well.

o       EVERYONE MUST COME TO CLASS WITH THEIR ANSWER. I will then call on one person during the lecture and ask them to read their answer before the class. Example Question: Can we call Medea a hero? Why or why not? Example Answer: Since Medea’s actions arise from a simple desire to get revenge, one might recoil from deeming her a hero. In fact when she murders her own children, many immediately associate her with villainy. Yet, regardless of this, Medea was victimized by Jason and by refusing to be passive to his betrayal she expresses a strength of mind and courage to act that is worthy of admiration.

2) Class Blog: EVERY WEEK YOU MUST POST 1 BLOG about the material of the class and how it relates to current events, your life or any other issue that you feel relates to the course. That is, you are more than welcome to post comments on the movies or tv shows you watch, the politics you follow, the job you have ANYTHING just so long as it “fits” the current theme of the class. For example when we are reading the Apology you can simply blog on your reaction to Socrates. Also, say you come across an article about a person being unfairly put on trail, you may wish to post the article and tell the class about it relates to the material. You may also earn points by commenting on others blogs, i.e. debate about the issues, ask questions etc. When I discover a particularly good blog or debate I will read/discuss it in class.

·        Writing Assignments (30%): There will be 1 class synopsis paper and 2 short papers essays assigned in the semester.

1)  Class Synopsis Paper: Today there is a sign up sheet going around the class. Here, you are putting your name next to a particular date. On that date you become the class secretary and you must take the best notes of your life and then write a one page summary of the day’s lecture, discussions and questions. You will then be required to post this summary on the blog before the next class. At the beginning of the next class you will need to turn in a hard copy to me and I will also ask you to remind the class of the major points of the previous lecture.

2)      Short Paper Essays: The topics of the papers will be discussed in class but the nuts and bolts are that these papers must be 3 full pages and written in Times New Roman 12pt Font.  You will be graded on spelling/grammar, ability to explain the argument, and proper citations. ALL STUDENTS are urged to SUBMIT ROUGH DRAFTS OF THEIR PAPERS TO THE WAC LAB, located on the first floor of Bobet HALL. I will be given an evaluation of your work from the tutors there and will take their comments into consideration when I grade the final versions. Final papers must be UPLOADED TO THE BLACKBOARD ASSIGNMENT AREA!!!

·        Pop Quizzes (20%): 10 quizzes (roughly one a week) on the reading assignments throughout the semester

·        Final Exam or Paper  (25%):  This exam will be in a short essay format.  We will review prior to the exam and I will provide study questions to aid your preparation. In lieu of the exam you may choose to write a 6 page paper on an approved topic (perhaps combining your 2 short paper essays).

Blackboard and BLOG: Many of the readings are only available on blackboard. Moreover, you are all required to post on the class BLOG at In light of this, all of you must familiarize yourself with using online tools. To get started with BLACKBOARD go to and click on the Blackboard icon located in the upper right hand of the screen. Your Blackboard username is the same as your Loyola e-mail username. If your Loyola e-mail address is, your Blackboard username is just iggy (in lowercase letters). If you do not know your Loyola e-mail address, you can find it under the "Personal Info" section of your LORA account. Password: Your password will be 6 characters long, consisting of the first two letters of your first name, lowercase, followed by the last four digits of your SSN. e.g. Mary Smith SSN xxx-xx-3456 the PIN will be ma3456 (lower case) If you have questions about Blackboard, you may: Visit the Learning Commons desk at the Monroe Library or call the 24/7 Blackboard assistance numbers at 1-866-562-7278. To get started on the CLASS BLOG go to and create an account. You should have received an invitation in your account to join the blog. If you do not have a google account, it will demand that you sign up for one. Sign up for a GOOGLE account using your address and be sure to make your username your real name so that I know who is posting. If you already have a google account under a different name, please create a new one with your account so that I may be able to identify you.

WAC Lab: WAC administers a writing center and electronic classroom in Room 100 Bobet Hall where students can conduct Internet research, draft papers, consult with writing tutors, and revise their work. The writing center makes available a library of print and online resources for writers, including discipline-specific guides to college writing, dictionaries, handbooks, grammar guides, style and citation guides, and other resources. For more information about WAC and WAC services, contact Robert Bell at

Disability Services: A student with a disability that qualifies for accommodations should contact Sarah Mead Smith, Director of Disability Services at 865-2990 (Academic Resource Center, Room 405, Monroe Hall). A student wishing to receive test accommodations (e.g. extended test time) should provide me with an official Accommodation Form from Disability Services in advance of the scheduled test date.

Academic Dishonesty:  Your written work must be your own. I have absolutely no tolerance for any kind of cheating and/or plagiarism and, to be sure, I am constantly fiddling on the internet and checking up on all my students’ work so if you cheat you will be caught. Also to be clear, the Loyola University Bulletin follows Alexander Lindley and defines plagiarism as “the false assumption of authorship: the wrongful act of taking the product of another person’s mind, and presenting it as one’s own” (Plagiarism and Originality). They also turn to the MLA Handbook and similarly define it as  “Plagiarism may take the form of repeating another’s sentences as your own, adopting a particularly apt phrase as your own, paraphrasing someone else’s argument as your own, or even presenting someone else’s line of thinking in the development of a thesis as though it were your own.” The Philosophy Department’s Policy requires that every case of plagiarism receive all three of the following sanctions: 1) A report of the incident to the Department Chair and the Associate Dean; 2)  A zero on the particular assignment; 3)  A failing grade in the course.

Late Assignments:  Late assignments will not be accepted unless you receive concrete permission from myself. If you are unable to hand in an assignment and you know in advance, then you must contact me at least 24 hours prior to the deadline. 

Emergency Evacuation Procedures: It is Loyola University’s policy that classes continue during evacuations and other emergencies. In the event of a long evacuation (more than two days), students are required to check their Blackboard accounts within 48hours. Here I will post updates to the class and adapt assignments for online grading.

General Policies: 
  1. Your attendance is expected in all classes as class participation is 1/5 of your grade. Every time you are absent you are hurting not only this grade but your overall average. MORE THAN 5 ABSENCES WILL RESULT IN A COMPLETE LETTER SCORE DROP. For example if you have an A- and were absent 6 times you will receive a B-.
  2. The lectures will be based on the assigned readings, therefore you are expected to have read the material. Come to class prepared to take notes and ready to answer and ask questions.
  3. Laptops in class are to be used for note-taking purposes only.  If I catch you doing anything else with them (e.g. surfing the web, updating your Facebook profile), I will ask you to leave class.
  4. Turn off your cell phones when in class. NO TEXTING!
  5. Lastly and perhaps most silly of me, I expect that everyone come ON TIME, READY (NOT HALF ASLEEP), and dressed appropriately (NO PYJAMAS or BUNNY SLIPPERS). If you cannot do this, then do not come at all!
If you are falling behind in the course, or are earning a below average grade, I strongly encourage you to stop by my office to discuss your work in the class. I will be happy to address any questions concerning the material and I always love helping students. I am good at it. So even if you think it is impossible, just come and we can figure things out.
Week 1 : What is Philosophy in Late Antiquity
Reading: Long 1-13, Plato’s Alcibiades I
1/10     M         Introduction to the Course and Discussion of “Why Study Ancient Philosophy?”
1/12     W        Themes: Happiness, Philosophy and Learning How to Live
1/14     F          The Figure of Socrates 
Week 2:          Plato
Reading: Plato’s Phaedo
1/17     M         HOLIDAY NO CLASS
1/19     W        Plato and the Academy            
1/21     F          Plato and the Destruction of the “Second Voyage”
Week 3:          Aristotle
Reading: Metaphysics Book I and Nicomachean Ethics Book I
1/24     M         Plato and Aristotle.
1/26     W        Aristotle
1/28     F          Aristotle and the Peripatos

Week 4:          Cynicism
Reading: Diogenes Laërtius Book VI Part 2
1/31     M         Diogenes the “Dog”: Parrhesia, Autarcheia and Apatheia
2/2       W        NO CLASS
2/4       F          Dostoyevsky, A Contemporary Cynic?

Week 5:          Epicureanism
Reading: Long 14-69, Diogenes Laërtius Book X   (Letter to Herodotus, Letter to Pythocles, Letter to Menoeceus and Principle Doctrine), Cicero Book I De finibus
2/7       M         Epicuras, the Founding of the Garden, and the Revival of Atomism
2/9       W        Ethical Pleasure?
2/11     F          Epicurean Virtue and Friendship

Week 6:          Roman Epicureanism
Reading: Lucretius De Rerum Natura, Book III and V
2/14     M         Philodemus, Lucretius and the fact that Death is Nothing to Us
2/16     W        The Truth which eases Pain: Rejection of Caring Gods
2/18     F          Epicureanism through the Ages: Newton, Jefferson and Dawkins

Week 7:          Stoicism
Reading: Long 107- 209, Diogenes Laërtius Book VI and Epictetus’ Encheirodion
2/21 M             Zeno, Foundation of the Stoa and the Tripartition of Philosophy
2/23 W            The Logic and Physics of the Stoa
2/25 F              The Ethics of the Stoa and how it relates to Data on Star Trek

Week 8:          When in Rome: The Slave and the Philosopher King
Reading:  Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations
2/28 M             Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius
3/2 W              Marcus Aurelius
3/4 F                Contemporary Stoicism: From Spinoza to the Gladiator to AA!

Week 9:           Mardi Gras

Week 10:        Skepticism
Reading: Long 75- 106, Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Skepticism Book I
3/ 14                Pyrrhonian Skepticism
3/16                 Academic Skepticism
3/18                 Contemporary Skepticism: From the Doubt of Hume to the slippery slops of relativism/nihilism in Nietzsche

Week 11:  Eclectics and Middle Platonism
Reading: Long 210-231
3/21                 Panaetius and Posidonius
3/23                 Philo of Larissa to Antiochus
3/25                 Cicero, From Certainty to Probablism

Week 12:  Neo-Platonism
Reading: Plotinus’ Enneads Book I 1, I 4, I 6, I 7, VI 9
3/28:                Plotinus and The Second Second Sailing
3/30:                Plotinus and the Soul
4/1:                  Plotinus and Happiness

Week 13: Proclus
Reading: Proclus’ Commentary on the Alcibiades I sections 1-3 and Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides Prologue
4/4                   Differences and History
4/6                   Double Ignorance
4/8                   Reading a Text: Neo-Platonic Hermeneutics

Week 14: Philosophy and Early Christianity
4/11                 The Apologists: Justin Martyr (Optional Reading: Dialogue with Tyrpho, First Apology)
4/13                 The Apologists: Tertullian (Optional Reading: On the Soul 1, 4, 5 and 6)
4/15     Augustine         (Reading: The Happy Life)                                                         

Week 15: Holiday

Week 16
4/25 M Holiday
4/27 W            Augustine (Reading: The Happy Life)
4/29                 The Decline of Philosophy as a Way of Life

Final Friday May 6 2011 11:30-1:30pm