Was Plato decadent?

Was Plato decadent? That is the question I present to you all. Now, let me give you my own opinion, or answer to it.

Plato was ascendant. True, he is not a wise man, but a lover of wisdom; as aspirant to wise-man status. But who are the wise men? Are they the apex or another valley, another depression in the greek spirit?
Giorgio Colli goes into this matter in his book about the birth of philosophy. He considers the period prior to the sophist, the wise and finds the Oracle and the prophet who is the interpreter of the oracle. The sophist is the evolved interpreter of oracles…only, there is no longer a god behind the enigma but the enigma itself becomes humanized and takes on a competitive role between what once used to be interpreters of the divine enigma. the riddle that once was the death of Homer is now the more bening intellectual challenge of wise men.

The sophist is a decend from the initial role because before he played a role in an indirect chain that led to the god. He was once a prophet. When Heraclitus speaks in contradictions he was alluding to a higher reality of the gods beyond the contradictions of our world. But the later sophist Socrates and Plato describe, are proper nihilists who see nothing but the contradiction with no assurance in this of a nature, reality, essense, or gods. He simply plays a futile game, a point-less competition. He has lost that religious link and deals now in a reality that, by the rules of the game, does not exist, or if it exist, we cannot think it.

What is Plato’s Socrates in all of this?

Well, he is the attempt of a part of man to recuperate itself from the discomposition sophism has left it. The absurdity of Heraclitus and Zeno is not just eristic, but hints, just as an oracle. The absurdities of the sophist are just absurdities for the sake of winning an argument. Why? Because the enigma carries nothing with it, when before it was tied with Apollo, and enigmatic because of the god’s hostile nature and indirect ways of the far-darter.

Paradoxiacally, then, the new age is more advanced and this raises hopes, but at the same time, this same hopes thins the skin of the people who become more aware of their own condition, and see it less in a deterministic, fatal way and in a more optimistic way: people can learn and knowledge and truth can set you free.

Against this optimism is the absurdism of the sophist, the true decadent, who stand as an oddity, because they are seemingly unaware of the absurdities that their games led them to; absurdities that Socrates enjoys unmasking.

It is in the nature of man to raise above challenges, be it from Sphinxes, gods or even other human beings. We are problem solvers and not merely problem setters. The being that sets the riddle also carries the answer, be it god or man. Socrates still stand near the middle of this alley, but is closer to the prophet than to the sophist. Before the dialectic with men comes his dialectic with his god and his entire reason for discussing things with men is as part of a divine dialectic.

Plato is the continuation of that trend of the sophist, in that he is no prophet of a god interpreting the divination given by the oracle, but he is past the valley of games and has taken a serious approach to move past the contradictions of existence. He might not resolve the riddle of gods but resolves to find the truth, and that was, is, and probably will always be the true essense of the gods, or any other divinity. Not because they are truthful, but because they can be if you can resolve the riddle and find what lies behind.

So in my opinion, Plato sets out an optimistic enterprise for his student, a higher plateau than his sophists. Whether he does reach it or if he simply sets truth on it’s head, is open to opinion. Yet it is not without his legacy that we can even speak of the position he left truth in- upside down or otherwise. It is he who redirects our attention to that woman and her condition.

Without reading the majority of your post, yes Plato was more optimistic than the Sophists, but Plato’s optimism was also Nihilistic. His belief in an ‘otherworldly’, the perfect forms, the immortality of the soul, etc. were all signs that he was ill-constitued for living and preferred the idea of an otherworld because he was dissatisfied with life.
The Sophists are superior because they accept that this life is true life and do not look for optimism in lies.

Plato’s forms are not like the gods, but at the same time, the contemplation he offers is not relegated to the time after death, but this life. The separation between appearance and a higher reality is achieved by reason, not by a spirit wandering an other world after death.
In this sense he is as guilty of your charge as Heraclitus and Parmenides.

The rest of the sophists are not superior, because looking for some supreme concept, a generalization beyond exception does not imply a rejection of this life. At least I don’t see it in his conception of a philosopher-king. What could be more worldly? His “outerworldiness”, as you see it, seems to me as just the means to set up actions in this world. Contemplation of the Good, the Forms etc has a political- this world- agenda.

As ever my compliments to Omar on a thoughtful post. This time though I’m going to disagree with you Omar!

(though it may just be that I haven’t “got it” or that I’m shooting onto other issues – what ever!)

Plato represents the first attempts of philosophy to break out of mythos (Homer etc) and into logos. Hence perhaps his hostility and attempts to distance himself form “the lie” of the mimetic arts especially them old poets.

But he also represents another attempt to reach a compromise on the ancient ontological issue of “the one” v “the many”

I’m going to simplify and possibly parody the views of Heraclites and Parmenides here – to try and explain the dilemma.

(If I’m way off – feel free to slam me down!)

Heraclites – Everything changes – becoming is all
Parmenides – Everything is – being is all

(With H. mind you some possible compromise is offered especially in the image of the flame which constantly changes and flickers in appearance but remains a flame.)

H’s universe of constantly shifting particulars seems to offer no ground – no place from which philosophy or anything can theorize – a threat of absolute relativism.
It has no “firm ground” on which to base a philosophy.

In P’s universe – everything IS. This also covers things like “nothing” Nothing like everything else exists and is – this is the most fundamental character of everything.
So change and evolution and newness is ruled out. You cannot change because this would need movement through non-being, something that isn’t and if everything “is” then motion is impossible.
Zeno’s paradoxes were written to back Parmenides view.

Plato’s line is one of many attempts to arrive at some sort of compromise where both “change” and general “laws” can be accommodated.

His idea is that there is an unchanging realm of “forms” – somewhere above which is the ”real” Parmenidian universe and this generates templates for actual existing particular objects in our ACTUAL universe – the unreal “reflected” universe of becoming.
The shadowy world of perfect higher forms is the actual universe!

This view can be attacked on many levels.

  1. Russell (history of western phil) goes for some logic hits! One I remember is that say you have the form “man” and “woman” – do you not need a higher form “human” to describe them and that your hierarchies become infinite and there’s no “final” general form for all to refer back to.
    He has 2 other arguments but I’m darned if they’ll come to me.

  2. Personally I think Plato shows awful arrogance especially in his ranking of the imaginary universe of forms over the dirty reality of particulars and becoming. This is further reflected in his awful political scheme of the republic where the enlightened golden guardians form a sort of meritocracy controlling everything right down to selective breeding.
    This hatred for the body and conception of higher spirit, feeling etc has dogged us ever since especially in Christianity

  3. Thers’s much in the Nietzschian/sophist argument too. If you look around it is the powerful who rule, control the media etc etc – not the “wise philosophers!”

It is a changing universe of powers, strengths, forces and wills. And who says what is as important as what is said. Plato sort of concedes this too at many points in the republic – his parable of the boat – the stupid leading the stupid on the basis of sheer strength of will is the way things are. My opinion is that his shiny city/republic could actually be distinctly WORSE than what we have.

Finally an interesting alternative ontology is offered by Alan Badiou who I’m just getting to grips with. He’s some sort of ex Maoist/insurrectionist who seems to base a lot of his line on the power of interruption of “smooth” being by a radical event or gap (like a riot or revolution). In this justice, truth etc emerge with the event and are not shiny concepts above that we try to tend towards. He uses some mad application of set theory to preserve multiplicity but also have some sort of oneness – he also thinks new things can be generated based on what’s in the old and some sort of “forcing” procedure which seems to be almost throwing random darts at what you think the future might look like and it emerges as part of the process in some way.

The other weird thing is that he completes the circle in that he wished to bring mythos and poetry back into logos but only as a break or interruption – not as a substitute (as per Heidegger??)

This sounds like double Dutch because either I still don’t really understand him or because it is!!

But hoping to enlist some of my maths friends on the set theory end of it….

from Nietzsche’s “Twilight of the Idols”; “reason in philosophy, part 2.”

“I set apart with high reverance the name of Heraclitus. When the rest of the philosopher crowd rejected the evidence of the senses because they showed plurality and change, he rejected their evidence because they showed things as if they possessed duration and unity. Heraclitus too was unjust to the senses, which lie neither in the way the Eliatics (school of Parminedes) believe nor as he believed–they do not lie at all. It is what we make of their evidence that first introduces a lie into it, the lie of materiality, of substance, of duration. . . . ‘Reason’ is the cause of our falsifications of the evidence of the senses. In so far as the senses show becoming, passing away, change, they do not lie. . . . But Heraclitus will always be right in this, that being is an empty fiction. The ‘apparent world’ is the only one; the ‘real world’ has been lyngly added. . . .”

While I personally disagree with some of what N. says here, I think he accurately describes two basic concepts that have permeated all of Western philosophy–that of a static absolute and that of a dynamic, experiential awareness of reality. These concepts reemerged in vital opposition in writings of Hume, Kant, Neitzsche, Kiergaard and many others. Plato went for absolutes and gave credence to Christanity. Clement of Alexandria and Augustine both used Plato’s beliefs to substantiate otherworldy absolutism.

You’ve already answered your question and I agree.

For his times, philosophically speaking, Plato would seem to be an idealist of true form.

I’d like to know if you think Socrates is not decadent, though? He seems decadent to me.

Hello Kross:

— Plato represents the first attempts of philosophy to break out of mythos (Homer etc) and into logos.
O- That does not start with Plato but with the “wise” men, before him, like Heraclitus, for whom that logos meant so much. But his is not a philosophy yet, as it retains a sense of being prophetic.

— Hence perhaps his hostility and attempts to distance himself form “the lie” of the mimetic arts especially them old poets.
O- Plato is already at a distance from Homer, but while he would not be a raphsode, or teach about the gods, he is not like Gorgias. He believes still in a truth that lies behind the paradox. That truth is the divine. And further, if you follow his mouthpiece, Socrates, you see a believer in the interpretation of oracles; that is, Socrates has a divinity with whom he indirectly interacts as he attempts to discover the meaning of the enigma given to him by the oracle.

— But he also represents another attempt to reach a compromise on the ancient ontological issue of “the one” v “the many”.
O- This, and many other enigmas.

— Heraclites – Everything changes – becoming is all
O- Everything changes but change itself etc, etc.

— Parmenides – Everything is – being is all
O- He does come after Heraclitus and some might say agrees with him in the end, for both posit a definitive unity behind all apparent opposition in the world, but through different roads.

— H’s universe of constantly shifting particulars seems to offer no ground – no place from which philosophy or anything can theorize – a threat of absolute relativism.
It has no “firm ground” on which to base a philosophy.
O- No, not yet, because he still is alluring to a unity, the Logos, behind all change which contains all opposited. The Flux, it would seem, is not without direction::In differing it agrees with itself, a basckward turning connection, like that of a bow and a lire." that is Apollo, god of music, death dealer and prophecy. His attributes are contradictory- at the same time a god of healing and death dealer, but in him these atributes are reconcilled, because you cannot have one without the other. Oh, and by the way, he is not a prophet of Apollo, but of that which could well be called “Apollo” or “Zeus” etc.

— In P’s universe – everything IS. This also covers things like “nothing” Nothing like everything else exists and is – this is the most fundamental character of everything.
O- Not exactly. Nothing is not, so he would say that you could not speak of it less conceive it. What you think and conceive and speak is something, not nothing, for nothing comes from nothing.

— So change and evolution and newness is ruled out. You cannot change because this would need movement through non-being, something that isn’t and if everything “is” then motion is impossible.
Zeno’s paradoxes were written to back Parmenides view.
O- Or, in disobedience to his master, which is Colli’s view. Impossible is what “is not”, and in Parmenides view, the way to avoid. He speaks only about what is, that lies behind all the contradictions, which is Being. You cannot speak of what is impossible, nor conceive it, and certainly, what does occur with Zeno is a complete destruction of the discussion which not even Aristotle has convincingly refuted. But Zeno’s objective may have been the redirection of the attention of his audience back to the Hidden, by showing the inefficiency of reason. Like Wittgenstein after, it is an invitation to receive a mystical experience rather than trying to “learn” what can only come from an actual experience.

I don’t know why but this is a phenomenon that is repeated in other occasions where the mysterious is in danger of being reduced to a particular thing.
The Sphinx issues her riddle and would either kill who fails to resolve that riddle, or fall into an abyss if her riddle is defeated. Seems as if either our reason must be defeated in order that gods may exist or if our reason prevails, gods die.
Something in life seems to prevent the outright victory of reason. It is that chance, that chaos that still remains in the universe that challenges man’s reason ever more.
Even as Theseus is able to defeat the god, the Minutaur in the mids of the prision set by reason, the labyrynth of Daedalus, he is assisted by Adrianne, who represents that irrational- the wife of Dionysious. He, Theseus, is connected back to her by a line, his memory, that goes back to that which needs deciphering, like a dream.

— Plato’s line is one of many attempts to arrive at some sort of compromise where both “change” and general “laws” can be accommodated.
O- I agree, but he is not decadent as Gorgias, because he is an aspirant to create such a rapport, while the other sophist by Socrates are past even trying such high-minded goal. That is why I say that he is not decadent, because he is not a complete nihilist.

— His idea is that there is an unchanging realm of “forms” – somewhere above which is the ”real” Parmenidian universe and this generates templates for actual existing particular objects in our ACTUAL universe – the unreal “reflected” universe of becoming.
The shadowy world of perfect higher forms is the actual universe!
O- before we get to your folloing attack, I would just say that this opinion of Plato is in agreement with the greek mentality, and not a dacadent view. Heraclitus and Parmenides may not have been Homer’s or Hesiod’s defenders, but they still hold that division of the apparent, flux, changing and contradictory as a shadow of another world, like a version of Olympus, of the One, the Logos, The Good.

— This view can be attacked on many levels.

  1. Russell (history of western phil) goes for some logic hits! One I remember is that say you have the form “man” and “woman” – do you not need a higher form “human” to describe them and that your hierarchies become infinite and there’s no “final” general form for all to refer back to.
    He has 2 other arguments but I’m darned if they’ll come to me.
    O- I would not try to defend Plato’s theory because of the third-man-argument, but just say that his theory of forms, his epistemology is a means to an end…as perhaps all gods are.

— 2. Personally I think Plato shows awful arrogance especially in his ranking of the imaginary universe of forms over the dirty reality of particulars and becoming.
O- But that arrogance, that ambition is his ascendant rather than decadent nature. He may be wrong, sure, but my point was not whether he is right or wrong but whether he represents a descent of greek culture, a let-down, a comming down from a golden age. I see his very ambitious pursuit as evidence of his optimism.

— This is further reflected in his awful political scheme of the republic where the enlightened golden guardians form a sort of meritocracy controlling everything right down to selective breeding.
O- Plato is applying reason to politics. His opposite is the consumate politician, the rethoretician, who forgoes ever discussing what is right, but what he can persuade as being right. Whom would you rather have? In this condition, we would be rule by those who pander to the majority, the mob and it’s emotions rather than by rational needs, effective goods rather than apparent goods. What christians like Augustine took from Plato was this reasonable idea that what is actually good is not always by necessity that which you want. The people would surely vote for the legalization of dope, for example, but he would argue that that is not a good. They might vote for prostitution being legal. But is prostitution good because the majority wants it? Some candidate might be very popular and say that they will cut taxes. But what if that cut entails going further into debt? Or what if it entails exploiting other people? What is popular is not necessarly what is good: That is the idea of the republic.

— 3. Thers’s much in the Nietzschian/sophist argument too. If you look around it is the powerful who rule, control the media etc etc – not the “wise philosophers!”.
O- That would be equalizing power with media control etc, and forgets an important aspect of power which is power over one’s ownself. Just because someone controls the media does not mean that they are powerful. Indeed, they’re often linked to slugs or pigs, not overmen, but indeed, undermen.

But, Kross, I am not trying to defend Plato’s philosophy as true or as adequate for us or any other culture, but that he is optimistic in that proposition of his and not a nihilist or decadent, living his days licking the ground from fear of getting anything wrong. He defies his station; he declares from above as if he was still an agent of gods. Not a tyrant, I say, but a prophet with Word from high above. At least that is his perspective.

hello more or less:

— I’d like to know if you think Socrates is not decadent, though? He seems decadent to me.
O- No. Socrates is a true believer, but he did not leave us any texts and he preferred to hint towards something that the listener should be able to reach on his own through his soul. In that sense, I would say that he is the last of the true prophets- decipherers of divine enigmas.

O- I agree with Nietzsche, but that is the nature of interpretation. Interpretation closes gaps, adds lines, makes inteligible what is initially fragmentary and contradictory.
The oracle is enigmatic and irrational and thus it is in need of interpretation. The world too is enigmatic and challenges our reason to try to understand it. Our vision does not give us a complete account of what IS. It picks and chooses a limited view. Now our minds are naturally capacitated to finish the picture. same with reason and interpretation. I am not saying that such interpretations arrive at some higher ground and report on some higher being, but that our biology is such that such attemps are most natural to us.

When Nietzsche says: “‘Reason’ is the cause of our falsifications of the evidence of the senses”…“being is an empty fiction. The ‘apparent world’ is the only one; the ‘real world’ has been lyngly added. . . .” it is here also Nietzsche own reason, not his senses, telling him that such a thing is true. You are a set of sensations: Now you must resolve the riddle they present and interpret what they mean. Do they present the reality of only this world and the unreality of another? Not at all. Reason adds that. Do they present the falsity of this world and point to a real world? Not at all, again, reason adds that. So reason is a sword that cuts both ways depending on the sword bearer.