Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Philosophobia, or blinded by theory [ Gorgias 484b ff. ]

A reader accuses me of closet philosophobia, abusing not just the Stoics, but all of their “philo” confreres/rivals, who alike speculate freely on the nature of happiness and virtue. Though I like the sound of that epithet being thrown at me, “Phil the Philo(so)phob”, I must plead against the charge. Here for the sake of comparison is a true specimen of philophobia. I have edited out most of the sex and violence to keep my G rating:

“These things are true, as you may determine, if you will leave philosophy behind and go on to more important things. For philosophy, Socrates, if pursued in moderation and at the proper age, is an attractive accomplishment, but too much philosophy is the ruin of human life.”

Can philosophy be the ruination of a man’s life? Callicles has much more to say.

“If a man, even if he is a good man, carries philosophy into his mature years, he becomes necessarily ignorant of all those things a gentleman and an honorable man should know. He is without experience in matters of law. He knows not how to speak to other men in his dealings, public or private. He knows nothing of pleasures and desires and human character in general. And should he try his hand at politics or business, his performance is ridiculous…”

The man who persists with philosophy becomes useless and incompetent on the stage of practical affairs. Is that it?

“He also becomes effeminate. He flees from the places of business and the marketplace where men distinguish themselves. He creeps into a corner for the rest of his life and talks in whispers with yhree or four admiring youths, but never speaks out like a citizen in any satisfactory way.”

The study of philosophy is a good thing in the education of the youth, but then, when one becomes a man and turns to important things, it becomes a ridiculous and unmanly to persist in such games to the neglect of real affairs. Men devoted to philosophy, Callicles concludes, have no power to help themselves or others, especially in times of real need. What good are these unmanly men?

What more could we add to Callicles' denunciation? It is, I think, a masterful potrait of a man and a mind set that regards a devotion to philosophy, as personified in Socrates, as a shameful wrong-turning. Socratic elenchus so outrages him that he confesses that it makes him want to slap Socrates. Callicles is not-in-the-closet philosophob. At our peril we fail to understand him and the mindset of many others like him.


Blogger Bill Vallicella said...

Your point is elusive, Phil. You imply that while Callicles is a philosphobe, you are not: "I must plead against the charge."

But at the end you write, "What more could I say?" which suggests that you agree with Callicles.

So who, if I may ask, is the reader who accuses you of closet philosophobia?

8:08 PM  

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