Greater Nowheres on October 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm
I found an interesting article about Plato on David Livingstone’s site while reading about the roots of alchemy for something that came up in the comments section of your latest show. The part I found particularly intriguing was this tidbit:“The subject of Persian or Babylonian influences had been a contentious one in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The subject currently continues to receive attention from several leading scholars, including Walter Burkert, and M.L. West. On the whole, however, the idea has yet to penetrate into mainstream circles, because of a xenophobia which insists on the unique “genius” of the Greeks. The most detailed examination of the matter had been conducted by the greatest of the last century’s scholars, Franz Cumont. His work, Les Mages Hellenisees, or the Hellenized Magi, a compendium of ancient sources on the subject, has received little attention in the English world, due to the fact that it has not been translated. This continues to mar criticism of his theories, as most critics have not read the brunt of his work. Scholars have usually dismissed the possibility of Persian influence in Greece, because of the lack of similarity between Zoroastrian and Greek ideas. However, what these scholars have failed to see, as Cumont has pointed out, is that those Magi the Greeks came into contact with were not orthodox, but heretics. The only way to reconstruct their doctrines is by accumulating the numerous remnants of comments about them in the ancient sources. By reconstructing these pieces, we find that Magian doctrines are far removed from, or even inimical, to orthodox Zoroastrian ones. Cumont discovered that these Magi practiced a combination of harsh dualism with elements of Babylonian astrology and magic, which composed a Zoroastrian heresy known as Zurvanism. It is in this strange recomposition of ideas that we find the first elements that characterized Greek philosophy. Another component which Cumont failed to identify though, was that of Jewish influence. The Magi cult of astrology and magic emerged in Babylon in the sixth century, precisely that era during which a great and prominent part of the Jewish population was there in exile. We cannot ascertain who was responsible for the introduction of these ideas, but the Bible itself identifies Daniel with one of the “wisemen”. Whatever the case may be, these ideas do appear in a recognizable Magian form initially among the Essenes, and more particularly in Merkabah mysticism, which scholars identify as the beginnings of the Kabbalah. There is little to examine the character of Jewish literature prior to the third century BC. Before that, it is in Greece were we find the elaboration of these ideas.” “Plato the Kabbalist”http://www.thedyinggod.com/node/105
Gary Geck on October 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm
Put yourself into Plato’s shoes in the 4th Century BCE. What was the paragon of political perfection? Egypt of course, which was ancient even to Plato. Egypt was ruled by philosopher kings of a sort. The priest-class was said to have had tremendous influence over the Pharaohs. Who was the Pharaoh, but the highest of the philosopher/priests (a god even perhaps to them). It is my belief that Plato’s ideal state was based on Egypt. Several times during the Platonic works, references to Egypt are made and all paint the ancient kingdom in the light of a wise and mature state. As he writes in the Timaeus from the Egyptian perspective, “You Hellenes are ever children”. Keep in mind that Egypt had been around for thousands when Plato was writing this. A remarkable feat for any culture. And even more remarkable was the fact that Egypt remained conservative and traditional throughout this time. Egypt was the place to go for learning and spiritual initiation. Plato must have believed that Egypt’s longevity was because of their love of wisdom (Greek: philosophos). Alexander the Great choose Egypt as the location for Alexandria for good reason. Plato was said to have visited Egypt seeking knowledge [McEvoy, James (1984). “Plato and The Wisdom of Egypt” Irish Philosophical Journal (Belfast: Dept. of Scholastic Philosophy, Queen’s University of Belfast) ] and then returned to Athens many years before writing the Republic. So you can imagine a critical view of the Athenian democracy (that voted to execute Socrates). In Jasnow and Zauzich’s The Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth (Otto Harrasswitz GmbH&Co. KG Wiesbaden 2005),“The-one-who-loves-knowledge” and Thoth (the god of learning and writing) engage in a dialogue. In fact the entire work is a dialogue. To me that sounds very familiar. This is one of many examples of possible arguments for the Egyptian influence on Plato. This “Book of Thoth” is argued by Jasnow and Zauzich to be the legendary Book that played a role in initiating the highest scribe/priests into what they refer to as “mysteries”. Their lengthy introduction argues this point. They even mention the striking parallels with the Greek “philosophos” but do not make any parallels to Plato specifically. When you look at the sections of the Republic that are so unappealing to the modern American political taste, I encourage you to keep an open mind in this light. Plato’s goal was the development of philosophy. He saw it achieved to quite an extent in Egypt. I feel that when we try-as Popper did-to apply our zeitgeist on to The Republic we are misunderstanding Plato’s goal. All of the above is very much my opinion (and it is highly debated), but it’s one based on years of studying Egypt and Plato. Which is what you asked for. I also do not think that a philosopher-king/queen (beneficent dictator) could exist today because there is no philosophical infrastructure to guide this king that would result in the longevity that Egypt proved. Unlike philosophy today, Egyptian philosphy must have been far more homogenous as well as popular and effective and perhaps even very wise. Unfortunatley, almost all research into these areas is highly speculative due to the lack of historical documents, but after many years of study you can feel some confidence in your opinions, so i encourage you to explore these topics for the answer. Check out a paper by a paper by Dr. Greg Moses titled By the Dog of Egypt! (1996, Presented at SUNY-Binghamtom) which is in a pre-publication form on the professor’s personal website. “By the dog of Egypt!” is a quote from Socrates in The Republic meaning to swear by the (jackal-headed) Egyptian god of judgment, Anubis. I was not aware of this paper, but he seems to have made a lot of the same points I did. Of particular interest are these three points that Guy Schultz correctly abstracts from Plato’s ideal state: 1. “philosopher-kings rule the docile masses”2. “a warrior class stands on guard”3. “and poets have been banished lest they corrupt the warrior class…”I would like to use Guy Schultz’s (3) points above to stengthen my Egyptian thesis especially where Dr. Moses’s paper specifically connects (2) and (3) to Egypt like so: 1. I have already connected this to Egypt, but it’s interesting that Dr. Charles Finch in his paper Still Out of Africa (1996) echoes my claim that the philospher-king of The Republic is based on the pharoah. 2. Dr. Moses cites how in the Timeaus, the Egyptian priest explains to Solon how the Egyptian society is divided into castes [quoting Plato]: “’In the first place, there is the caste of priests, which is separated from all the others; …[other castes listed out]… and you will observe, too, that the warriors in Egypt are distinct from all the other classes, and are commanded by the law to devote themselves solely to military pursuits.’”3. Dr. Moses cites how in Plato’s Laws, the poets and musicians of Athens have complete freedom to compose however they like, which leads to an art (poetry, music, paintig, etc.) that is not based on truth and virtue (thus defeating the very purpose of art to Plato). Instead, Plato paints the art of Egypt as being both lawfull and as immutable over millenia. It is not allowed to deteriorate. Plato paints ideal art (based on true principles) as a social good, but lawless art as one of the greatest social ills. Again, Egypt seems to be the origin of Plato’s aestetchics. Cited by Dr. Moses, Plato’s Laws explains that the Egyptians could not teach their young the advanced principles of their highest virtues and metaphysics directly so they made a fun form of play of them which was their music, poetry and art. This art, which had been th same for millenia taught them the patterns of virtue without them even knowing it. So the poetry, music and art of Egypt served as one’s earliest spiritual and philosphical development, in fun and graspable vehicle. [I’m reminded of Leibniz’s notion that music is the mind’s way of counting without knowing it.] Both Dr. Moses and Dr. Finch were responding to Dr. Mary Lefkowitz’s arguments against Egyptian influence on Plato and, more generally, on the roots of Western Civilization. Dr. Moses also describes some Platonic passages critical of Egypt as being ironic. This is a common quality of Plato’s complex writing style and all the more reason to avoid any hasty judgements of his dialogues. We should expect irony from the same author who offers the theory of forms in the Timeaus and offers the excellent attack on this same theory in the Parmenides [and it’s been debated which work was written first]. In defense of the open society, just because something is Egyptian does not make it right or best. I certainly do enjoy and defend intellectual and artistic freedom. But I must admit that it seems odd how “progress” in western philosophy, art and science has been marked by tearing down the systems of the past (postmodern philosophy, literature and painting come to mind). This is in stark contrast to Plato’s unchanging utopia which I have argued is heavily modeled after Egypt. The theme of a perfect (and therefore unchanging) soul as the model of the perfect state is a common theme in all three works (Republic, Timeaus, Laws), in a sense necessary laws versus material contigencies. Plato’s (often misunderstood) criticism of free (lawless?) culture is probably the best you’ll find. So one can see why Popper went after it so viciously. Egypt achieved greatness, but it was far from being an “open society”.As a side-note: The Republic is given so much attention, but I find Laws under-appreciated as it relates to understanding Plato’s ideal state and mature philosophy. I hope that gives some of you less well read in Plato the context to view the Republic. I hope you don’t make the logical fallacy of forcing modern sentiments on ancient thought…For example if you call Plato a communist, that is fine if you define a communist as someone who only requires public ownership or perhaps other definitions which use generalizations and universals. But to use the modern sense of ‘communist’ is a fallacy because with it is associated so many modern notions, events and philosophies from a diverse group of philosophers, economists, etc that Plato had no knowledge of in the 4th century BCE. This is the fallacy being made above by Jan and others. For example when Jan Irvin says “Plato’s republic IS communism” that implies they are one and the same. There can be nothing in communism then that is not in the republic and vice versa. But I have already demonstrated this is false from the POV that modern communism has much not in Plato. The reverse is even easier to prove: there is very much in Plato not in communism. The theory of forms that is often called “platonism” in philosophy and mathematics for example is opposed to the materialism of most communists and marxists. I do, however, agree that understanding history since Plato requires understanding Plato. As I have already mentioned Plato was the main vehicle to bring Egyptian and Pythagorean ideas into the modern world…Another logical fallacy made over and over above is confusing the form with the instances. Plato operates at the level of forms…that is concepts in general. To make the jump to particular instances like a given state or ruler goes against everything Plato says in his entire life’s work. I am afraid, however, our failed education system will not allow most people to even know what I’m talking about. The trivium won’t help either…it’s good but not complete…What we need are people to understand the form/idea from the instance of the idea….the abstract from the concrete and the power of abstract thinking…this is how Plato is liberating humanity….by liberating humanity from the concrete and instantiated and instead pointing towards that which is far more powerful….Still, the very first few seconds of this “talk” brought me back many years to memories of that time in my life when I listened to a very large percentage of Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy” audio version often while going about my daily tasks. The part on Plato all came back on the re-listen I gave it since you posted it. My problems with Duant’s book are detailed…this is why above I have it an OK score, I don’t reject it outright but have serious problems that I was only able to appreciate when I covered large portions of it…I will give you some insight into those below. In some ways, they are good memories because I learned a great deal and Durant’s flowery speech was enjoyable…Durant was a poet in my opinion more than a philosopher or historian. It took me a while to realize this. Poetry has the ability to makes things sound more believable and his books’ success is due to this. My main problem is that Durant is trying to repackage what he perceives as dry history and make it relevant to the modern zietgiest and the modern political environment. He’s trying to cherry pick (all histories are giant lies by omission..it’s the nature of the art of history!) what he thinks educated people need to know, as a executive summary, to make informed decisions about modern matters…this unfortunately colors everything to such a degree that he loses almost all contact with the actual events he was writing about. My other problem is just how executive his summary is. Even Durant admits that he is covering such a broad topic (all of human philosophy) that he is going to make a lot of mistakes. These mistakes start to become painful at some point….The best example of cherry picking history to make things relevant only to the modern zeitgeist is the section on Plato. 90% is dedicated to the Republic which is studied at a literal, pragmatic level. Durant himself alludes briefly to the lengthy points I make above. But doesn’t do them justice. Above, I write a several hundred line essay on why Plato was obviously talking about Egypt in the idealized state. Durant merely adds this as a one line footnote (“Plato was influenced by Egypt”)…that’s it?! Egypt was the intellectual Mecca of the ancient world which revolved around Egypt and that is all Durant has to connect it to Plato’s republic!? My post above is to fill in the gory details on this footnote and show that it’s actually a central thesis. No one has commented on that post above…as anyone even read it? Read the sources I cite? (about 9 posts up) I view Durant as misguided and caught up in the Voltarian-Newtonian mindset that I specifically pick apart (with many modern scholarly quotes that directly contradict Durant’s writings on Voltaire and Newton and the Enlightenment) in my video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W8fA0Z2cRE I am not saying, however, that it is wrong to believe there is a valid literal practical level to Plato’s Republic. Plato did advocate women’s equality with men (something Jan has attacked for some reason I don’t understand just because some feminists thousands of years later were confused), Plato did advocate statism and many of the other isms such as socialism if we use those terms as generally as possible. My point above was that we cannot use modern understandings of socialism and communism to Plato’s ancient world. Marxism is the clearest example of not fitting at all which, as I have stated, comes from the materialist end of the spectrum. Plato is on the far opposite idealist side. Every child with even a mediocre education should know that the Republic contained these things…Yet Plato’s massive life works are almost entirely sidestepped because Durant wanted to only focus on history which he could color with modern mentalities..he made this error over and over…The Laws, Timeaus are given a one line footnote as well..the other works not even mentioned…probably because Durant has not read them all in depth nor understood most of what he read.