Arguments, What Are We to Appeal to?

Hi guys, sorry for the sporadic posting during the summer, I promise to pick up and be regular once again.

What I wanted to talk about today was the rather chilling examples of rhetoric that I see around the Internet these days. I have no problem with advertisements (an argument against that can be made, though), but I would very much hope to keep arguments about serious issues on the intellectual level, with arguments that appeal one’s reason and because of their facts/evidence and logic, not meant to aim for one’s emotions or ones that outright diffuse the point at hand and redirect to something else.

As a Platonist, I value conversation very much. According to Plato, one can only reach wisdom through dialogue, so it is very important for me to see that, as a country and as a planet, we keep our discussions with each other light, but at the same time serious when they need to be and aimed at taking and giving away wisdom, instead of just rhetoric being thrown in all different directions.

Of course, there is a major problem with having such conversations, where people focus on the exchange of knowledge instead of simply getting one’s position across (or even winning the argument at all costs). The rather huge problem is that it forces people the think. We, at least in the US, but I am sure this is a world-wide problem, are very opinionated people. However, every now and again there is some pesky little moron who asks us why we hold a certain position and we usually have no answer ready for them. In other words, we are ready to take sides, but not ready to answer why we have chosen a particular side. I noticed, working with kids this summer in a camp, that a lot of the more “jumpy” kids were simply never talked to about reasoning. I remember one child who had gotten into an altercation with another boy of a different cabin and was about to be sent home, except for me putting my behind on the line for him, whom I talked to about the importance of asking “why?” inside one’s head before taking action. Knowing that I was all that stood between him and his parents being called, he gave it a try. He was exemplary for the rest of the week and, when he came back four weeks later for another week, was, just about, a changed man. The problem is we need the same therapy for adults, too, perhaps not just with acting, but with thinking in general.

I am not into conspiracy theories, so I will not start making claims about why or how we have come to this sad state of a daily lack in logic, but I will say that it clearly gets people to do things quickly. Thinking takes too much time and people actually inform themselves before making a decision. It is much easier to make people into donkeys and put a spiritual carrot in front of their face, so they’ll walk whichever way you want them to. Who are the people who place the carrot in front of the donkey? It depends on yourself and yourself only, but it is no secret that it has been statistically proven that the advertisement industry is doing better than ever and that’s saying a lot, seeing how advertising is the oldest profession in the world (“You see this apple? You want this apple! The price is entirely affordable, just one soul!”). I don’t know when the cutoff point between “Let’s use rhetoric to get people to buy our products,” and “Let’s use rhetoric to get people to buy into our ideas,” is, but I am more concerned with how to end it than with how it was started.

A perfect example of the people who say they are against abortion, but would not want to impose their views on someone else. This seems to be a twitch to gratify both sides of the debate, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers with one swift retort, but that sentence makes no sense. The principal argument of  pro-lifers is that abortion is murder, whereas the principal argument of pro-choicers is that abortion is not murder, so someone saying they are personally against it but do not want to impose their views on others amounts to basically them saying that they are against murder but don’t want to impose their views on others, which is utterly illogical. Imagine how you would feel if someone said (way back in the 1800’s), “I am against slavery, but I would not like to impose my views on others.” How illogical! It basically reduces the issue to taste, akin to saying, “I am against the production of Mountain Dew, but I would not want to impose my views on others.” Either there is a huge lack of logic in that statement, or there is something seriously wrong with that person’s comprehending skills.

At any rate, let me get to the point of this post. As we all know, the presidential elections are going on this year and there are many people who are really looking forward to the debates that are bound to happen (as if they forgot the silliness of the series of past debates during the Republican Primaries). Yet, in listening to a few of the past ones (each for a short amount of time, so as to ensure my sanity being preserved) I still long for just one candidate to make one concise, logical argument that elicits a concise, logical rebuttal. Instead, all there ever is is rhetoric and sophistry. I highly doubt that the Lincoln-Douglas debates or any other past debates in our country’s history were of the same sort, nor would people approaching any issue in that manner before be ever even nominated to run in a presidential election, but I digress.

Lastly, two concrete instances that inspired me (in part) to write this post.

Rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric

First, this image that I found online. It is quite clear that it is targeted at the feelings we have (the feelings we hopefully have) when we see old ladies, which is gratitude and a willingness to help out, perhaps because they remind us of our own grandmothers. However, these feelings need to stay out of the debate about whether the US should legalize gay marriage. It matters very little as to whether the first NY gay couple is two ladies in their golden years or two 18 year-old men, the issue of whether gay marriage should be legalized as a whole should stay clear of specific examples, especially if the point or the punchline has nothing to do with the issue at hand. I do not think anyone arguing against gay marriage that is worth listening to has ever argued that gay couples pose an immediate threat to us in any way, but rather that gay marriage as an institution poses a problem. Going by the logic of the above image, the correct response by someone arguing against gay marriage would be to post a picture of two men who work out and are gay (commonly referred to as “bears”) and say that that particular couple does pose a threat to us all. But, of course, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that such generalizations are nonsensical and silly. If anything, the above image weakens the position of the person arguing for gay marriage more than in strengthens it.

The second is a pamphlet from Planned Parenthood in NYC. I post a link to it hopping that someone will come on and say that it is a hoax, because it is simply disgusting.

Planned Parenthood Pamphlet

I found this on one of my friends’ wall and I could not read all the way through it. As I said, I hope someone can tell me that this is a hoax, because the ideas put forward by this pamphlet teach, if anything, to avoid discussion rather than to engage in it, which I can do nothing but sneer at, because it sounds like the tactic that only the side with the losing argument would use (i.e. you will never see the stronger army going out of their way to avoid a weaker one). That being said, I think that there are a bunch of good arguments for abortion made by philosophers and other intellectuals which, though perhaps may not conclusively give an answer to the issue of abortion, at least focus on giving logical reasons for it and elicit logical responses, whereas the guide given here is nothing but a horrific call to just dodge the question whenever you get a chance.

Jesus and Plato

Hey everybody, sorry for the long absence. I have been working as a counselor in the middle of the wilderness, so there was no chance for me to post a blog entry. However, I’m back now and that’s all that counts.

I opened the admin page today for the first time in a while and I noticed that one of the most recent searches was “was Jesus a Platonist?” For the record, you opened the doorway to me speaking about Christianity this time, so I must oblige. Of course, I must make a few comments on the phrasing of the question before I give my two cents about it. I have a problem with using the verb “was.” At some point, one of my philosophy professors gave a pop quiz (it did not end up being graded) which asked to list the ten greatest men alive. The point of the quiz was not to really find out which ten men students found most worthy of recognition, but whether they would remember that Jesus Christ is, in fact, a living man alive even today. So, that being said, I will set out to answer whether Jesus is a Platonist or not.

Of course, in order to answer this question, we must first define our terms. Namely, we must explain what we mean by “Platonist” and what we mean by “Jesus.” Among these terms, the first is way easier to answer than the second. In the most rudimentary sense, a Platonist is a person (a philosopher if we want to be technical) who aligns himself with Plato’s philosophy/metaphysics/ontology/psychology. In other words, a Platonist is a follower of Plato (getting right to the heavy stuff, aren’t we?). What that means in a deeper sense is far more difficult. Those familiar with the Platonic corpus would know that there is a very obviously missing dialogue to the Statesman and Sophist duo, namely a dialogue about the philosopher. Unless we want to say that either Plato died before he could finish up the trio or otherwise that the third dialogue is mysteriously lost to us (in the same way the “Holy Grail” is lost), there is only one solution to where the third dialogue of the set must be, that is, the whole corpus. The idea is, “What makes a sophist a sophist?-Let me look at that dialogue,” and so on and so forth, but, hopefully, what makes one a (Platonist) philosopher is the whole Platonic corpus, otherwise Plato owes me many wasted hours.

Of course, as is true of any profound work, there is a very stark difference between reading it and understanding/living it. I have met people that have a much more detailed knowledge of everything that Plato wrote and can readily quote things that I need a little bit of time to find in Plato’s writing, but who have not even begun to understand him. This is not to say, but the way, that I am the end all be all of understanding Plato, but I am not “out there” either. I have always found (and I have an earlier post on this) the section in Phaedrus where Socrates talks about the dangers of writing very intriguing and believe that it is one of the points to understand in order to understand Plato. Esentially, one of the points made is that writing, unless the living, breathing Socrates, cannot defend itself, so it can be used incorrectly. The obvious question then is why Plato would put that in his writing. The answer which I offer to the table is that the Platonist reader is to not simply read the text the same way they read most other books, but to have Socrates talk to them. I believe the overall goal of the Platonic corpus is to make the reader into a little Socrates. That is why the dialogues move from Socrates disproving the arguments of his opponent and not coming to a definition (the dialogue ends with negative knowledge), to Socrates coming up with a definition of the thing being examined in the dialogue, to Socrates appearing as a minor character to not at all in the dialogue. By the end, at the third stage of the dialogues, the reader himself is invited to step into Socrates’ shoes and evaluate each speaker’s arguments.Then, a Platonist must be a person who has read and understood the Platonic dialogues, which have not only taught him Platonic philosophy but also the ability to form and evaluate logical arguments.

Now, the hard part. Who is Jesus? For myself, I can guarantee you that I am by no means qualified to answer that question. I wonder whether whoever was looking for an answer took Jesus at His word for who He was, but I, for my part, will. For the purpose of this post, we will define Jesus Christ (that is, to distinguish from any other Jesus, I hope that the person who search was looking for an answer regarding this Jesus and not any other) as the Son of God, (begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, true God of True God, of one essence with the Father…), and as “the Way, the Truth, the Life.” (John 14:6) This second addition may be surprising to some, but it is absolutely necessary to answering the question before us. The first shocking thing that Christ points out in this quote is that He is “the Way.” What does He mean by “way?” The only logical conclusion is that He is the Way to Salvation (which Plato defines as riding in harmony with the chariots of the gods). Second, He says He is “the Truth.” It is rather shocking to see here that truth is identified as a person rather than an abstraction. Plato may have argued that this was a category confusion, since truth is not a living being but an act (congruency with ultimate reality), but in the Timaeus, there is a puzzling point made about a God that existed before all else (the Alpha and the Omega principle) and that created everything, called the Demiurge in that dialogue, but “the Good” in the Kaliopolis, where all Forms (and thereby all truth) are rooted. So, it is not unreasonable that (after much dialogue) Plato may agree that Truth could be a living Being. Finally, “the Light.” If one is familiar at all with the Gospel of John they will realize that the light is often a metaphor for Christ as wisdom and revelation, so we will take “Light” to mean just that.

Having defined those terms in that way, it is clear that Jesus cannot be a Platonist. That would be like asking whether an ocean was a puddle. However, it seems that there could be a connection between the two nonetheless.

Let us reverse the question. Was Plato a Christian?

In the direct sense, obviously not. Seeing how Christ was to be born three centuries later, Plato would need a lot of foresight to be a Christian. Clearly, there is no line in all the Platonic corpus which says, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” but then, there is no such line in the Old Testament. In a deeper sense, I would argue the positive position. Is Plato a Christian? Sure, he did not know it, but if we are to believe that Plato sought the truth in earnest and had being in harmony with the Divine as the goal of his life and Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, the Light, though Plato was most certainly blindfolded, he was walking down that Way, sharing in that Truth, and being enlightened by that Light.

That being said, the fact that there is a very deep connection between Platonism and Christianity is not that surprising. Of all ancient philosophies, Platonism shares the most things with Christianity, while Christianity reveals points which make philosophy as a whole far more important and meaningful (for example, in the Phaedo, where Socrates identifies rebirth as the act opposite to death, which means that we get unlimited tries to becoming one with the Divine, Jesus Christ reveals that the opposite of death is, in fact, the resurrection of the body, whether for eternal bliss in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell being the result of how well one has joined with the Divine). It is quite easy to call Platonism (among other things) natural theology, i.e. a science which discovers what can be found out about the Divine through reason alone, not through revelation, to be completed and expanded by revelation, or “the unveiling of the veil” as St. Paul puts it. The combined power of Christianity and Platonism has produced some of the most beautiful works of the Fathers of the Church, starting with St. Justin the Philosopher (known in the West as Justin Martyr), to St. Augustine, to the Cappadocian Fathers, and so on and so forth.