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another angle on cosmos

March 12, 2009

At the tail end of prosecuting his interlocutor Callicles, who has scorned his offer of friendship, balked at his refutations, and threatened him with murder, Socrates withdraws for a moment from the struggle of argument, having won something like the moment of calm perception that an exhausted warrior receives beside the ongoing fray, seeing the potential futility of his efforts set within a more abiding scale, and as he does so he reveals an alternate view of the world, one whose appeal has already possessed his heart:

To me, of course, this seems to be the mark on which we must set our eyes throughout life, devoting and constraining all our own actions and those of the polis toward the single purpose that justice and temperance dwell in anyone who would be truly happy. One should not allow his desires to become wanton and undertake to fulfill them, leading the life of a pirate – an illimited evil. You see, such a person would be friendly with neither another human being nor a god; he would not have the power of acting in common, and without acting in common can be no friendship. Wise men say, Callicles, that acting in common and friendship and self-restraint and orderliness and justice hold heaven and earth and gods and human beings together, and on account of these they call this whole an ordered beauty — a cosmos — my friend, and not a disorder or wantonness. But you do not seem to me to apply your mind to these things, even though you are wise concerning them; it has escaped you that a geometric equality holds great sway among gods and humans, but you think it is necessary to overreach others. You see, you are careless of geometry. So be it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. rainscape permalink*
    March 12, 2009 6:40 pm

    If you’re looking for more reasons to read the Gorgias, Nalin Ranasinghe’s got a new book on the dialogue called “Socrates in the Underworld”. I don’t have it, haven’t read it yet, but I will.

  2. Finny permalink
    March 14, 2009 10:02 pm

    Nalin Ranasinghe. Saving the world one book at a time. And I’m pretty sure he only has two books.

  3. rainscape permalink*
    March 17, 2009 3:26 pm

    “What sort of speech begins with the recognition that the conversation has failed?”

    I wanted to give this (along with other reasons) as an example of the scenario I was trying (and failing) to articulate last fall. In this scenario, the failure of a speaker’s effort – an effort that up to this point seems determine the meaning of a conversation relative a certain goal of longed for persuasion or reconciliation – opens a deeper significance, a deeper communion to those who choose to hang on to it; it sounds in and reveals the wider forum in which it has indeed already been secretly speaking.

    The pressing ends (demanding our heart and will) that govern our relation to the immediate, historical city collapse, and at that very moment an encompassing “city in speech” is revealed.

    Hence my question of October, which I hope can now sound a little bit clearer:

    “What city begins where the city ends?”

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