He hears many interesting things, but, fleeting, they go almost as fast as they come; only death remains. Not even the reasons for all those deaths, or the names of the wars, or the approximate dates stay. Nothing but the pure and grotesque fact of so many deaths. Now as he looks into the past from the comfort of the future, time compresses, reality loses importance, and absurdity seems little more than mere words, words that not even use ink and paper anymore.
“Marriage was a profitable partnership, not a private debauch; it was a way whereby a man and a woman, working together, might be more prosperous than if each worked alone. Wherever, in the history of civilization, woman has ceased to be an economic asset in marriage, marriage has decayed; and sometimes civilization has decayed with it.”
— Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 44.
(A family composed of the father, the mother, and their children: a rare institution today.)
SUMMARY: Civilization needs morals as well as marriage, an institution that went a long way from the nationalization of women and the prevailing property-motivated polygamy, up to our current fashion of romantic monogamy.
“To get God out of Plato’s Form of the Good, you in effect have to do two things — drop an “o,” and add a personality (which was very shortly done).”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 9.
Plato’s World of Forms demands innate ideas, a soul separable from a body, mystic revelation and the disregard for the senses. While I admire Plato a lot, and greatly enjoy reading and thinking about his dialogues, I wonder how much more objective the world would be if he had never existed.
(Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.)
Although Leonard Peikoff (and Objectivism) disagrees entirely with Plato, he admits the genius of the philosopher. Plato was the first to gather all the “suggestions” that had been produced by the pre-Socratics and the sophists, in addition to all the teachings of Socrates in a coherent whole. In doing so, he created philosophy as it is, for better or for worse.
“Marriage began as a form of the law of property, as a part of the institution of slavery.”
— Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 26.
(Chinese woman exposing her “lotus feet”, a common practice of binding — and deforming — women’s feet during imperial China, from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. Legend has it that the goal was to increase the status and beauty of women.)
SUMMARY: Even after the advent of the state, the family continues to be the basic political unit of society, but the woman, whose position was central to the family, becomes increasingly subordinate to man as agriculture and property develop.
“A dog, for instance, likes a bone; he likes a number of bones. Now the question is: Why doesn’t it occur to him to start a bone store, or to start a science of bones, boneology, and ﬁnd out where do bones come from and how do you get them? And the trouble is the poor dog can’t get the idea of boneness, you see; he gets this bone, and then the next one, he forgot the ﬁrst one, and then the next one, and so on. And so his problem is he’s enmeshed in particulars and he can’t rise to universals.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 8.
(The “Universal Man”, by Gerald Gladstone. Socrates was probably not thinking of that when looking for a proper abstraction of man, but I guess it’s a nice mnemonic for the topic of universals. Original source: SimonP; CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the influence of Socrates in the history of thought. He taught Plato, who taught Aristotle; only that would show his importance, but, of course, he did much more. Most of what we know about Socrates, however, is through Plato’s dialogues, so the truth is we do not know much about him. Scholars tend to agree that the first dialogues represent mainly the historical Socrates, while the middle and the final dialogues represent Plato himself. Be that as it may, as a fictional character, a true philosopher, or just a man of character, Socrates has been teaching all of mankind for millennia. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This could be considered his motto; today it is mine.
“When to this natural basis of custom a supernatural sanction is added by religion, and the ways of one’s ancestors are also the will of the gods, then custom becomes stronger than law, and subtracts substantially from primitive freedom.”
— Will Durant, “Our Oriental Heritage”, page 26.
(“Execution of a Moroccan Jewess”, paint by Alfred Dehodencq, 1860. Sol Hachuel, 17, was decapitated by the false accusation of apostasy, that is, the resignation of her previous religion. Thirteen countries, even today, apply the death penalty for such “crime”. Yes, it’s 2019.)
SUMMARY: In the beginning, laws were customs, and man did not have individual rights, but with property, marriage and government, laws evolved, and the individual emerged.
“Gorgias, who was the perfect example of a 20th century skeptic transplanted into ancient Greece […] maintained three basic propositions: one, nothing exists; two, if anything existed, you couldn’t know it; three, if you could know it, you couldn’t communicate it. Now that is what you call skepticism.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 7.
(I don’t like modern art. But if we look hard, there might be something to learn from it. The steel sculpture “Protagoras”, by Charles Ginnever, could well be considered the concretization of a philosophic idea. The sculpture changes shape as viewers move around it, the play of light and shadow on its triangular forms giving life to the massive structure. “The senses deceive” I’d say is the message. But, now, try to imagine someone jumping from this malformed idea (because it’s not the senses that are wrong, but the concepts we generate from them) to the conclusion that nothing exists. Perhaps some of the federal judges working at the Burger building, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where “Protagoras” is installed, would like it to vanish. But to assert it never existed would be a bit farfetched. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what sophists like Protagoras and Gorgias did.)
The sophists have been branded throughout history as greedy and imoral teachers, but that’s polemics for a history course, or one on Plato and his obsession with them. Leonard Peikoff focuses instead on the ideas they put forth — even if their main idea is the negation of all ideas.
Clement (150 – 215) and Origen (184 – 253) were the great exponents of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, the “Fathers of the Church” who initiated the Patristic period and were enormously influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and in the attempt of synthesis with the greco-roman philosophy.
Bertrand Russell, in his “History of Western Philosophy”, introduces the second part of the book by saying that the Middle Ages is the history of “growth and decay” of the Catholic synthesis. He knows so well what is being synthesized that he forgets to say it. But now, as I reread portions of the book, I know that the synthesis sought was between faith and reason. My “Medieval Philosophy” teacher thinks that it has been successful. I, for one, can not imagine where he got that idea from.
SUMMARY: Man only associates with others for self-interest; it was war that stimulated a level of organization sufficient for the centralization of power into a government. The state is the result of conquest by force, of the substitution of kinship ties for domination, but is only maintained by the indoctrination of man, who allows himself to be indoctrinated — through family, church and school — to satisfy his interests.