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Category: Socrates

The inferiority of changeableness

by Andrea Elizabeth

From Kierkegaard’s exposition on Plato’s Phaedo in The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, p. 73:

Now, the soul has the greatest similarity to what is divine, immortal, rational, homogeneous, indissoluble, and is ever self-consistent and invariable; whereas the body has the greatest similarity to that which is human, mortal, irrational, multiform, dissoluble, and never self-consistent (p47). But here we come to an equally abstract view of the existence of the soul and its relation to the body. To be more specific, this view is by no means guilty of tangibly assigning the soul a specific place in the body, but on the other hand it does disregard, and completely, the soul’s relation to the body, and the soul, instead of moving freely in the body produced by it, continually tries to sneak out of the body. […] That the soul is not compounded is quite admissible, but as long as there is no more explicit answer to the question in what sense it is not compounded and, in another sense, to what extent it is a summary of qualifications, the definition of the soul naturally becomes totally negative, and its immortality becomes just as langweilig (boring) as the eternal number one.

Here I assume he is comparing the soul to Absolute Divine Simplicity or the One. Earlier he talked about all the virtues being many but ultimately one, but I’ll leave that for now, except that it is relevant to the discussion in Phaedo about how one’s acquisition of the virtues affects one’s afterlife. There is a part at the end of Phaedo that talks about the unvirtuous soul, though remaining a fully intact soul, is pretty much shunned in the afterlife. The idea that an individual soul can be shunned by other souls seems to place the soul more in the realm of the particular, or diverse, or many, than the universal one. Perhaps the virtuous souls are absorbed by the abstract, and as Kierkegaard surmises, the negative One, and the unvirtuous ones are left to their diverse independence. I can see the appeal of licentiousness in that case.

The problem with the ever shrinking amount of abstract forms in the ascent of the hierarchy to the One is that it has trouble reconciling and maintaining the many. In the essence/energy distinction, the many are retained, but in order to do this the proper Ordo Theologiae must be assumed. Instead of going from essence to activity to person, person is the starting point who determines activities according to nature, unoriginate in the Father’s case, created in ours. A person is many and one. A person has a vast amount of energies which enable him to eat, think, gaze, etc. all at once. There is one human nature, which Yannaras explains in the link, and I think says is more about how we are and do the many things in a personal way. An individual is one person who has a human will to choose the different activities, good or bad. If God is seen as an essence first, then reducing His component parts into one poses problems, the first being boredom to Søren and me. His essence, beyond beingly being as Dr. Jones says (see the St. Dionisius category), is the mode in which He personally moves, but stays immovable, which gets us back to Kierkegaard.

The supposed superiority of the soul is due to its immutability compared to the body’s being subject to change. Likewise a soul that is governed by a passionate body harnesses itself to changeableness and does not achieve a good end in the afterlife, even if it of itself does not change, however that may be. St. Maximus says that it must attain a habit of virtue – virtue achieved not only internally, but through the body. A properly governed body positively affects the everlasting stable soul. Thus it can be said that in some respect, in that case, the body shares in the soul’s stability. This is the point in unGnostic theosis. The body comes to partake of unchangeableness. This is why many bodies of the Saints remain incorrupt.

In the above I am borrowing the idea of the immutable soul from Plato. While I believe the soul has a beginning, I agree it doesn’t have an end. The above doesn’t depend on the idea of a stable soul that doesn’t change and which is not in and of itself affected by the body, but can also be applied to the notion that a person – body, soul and spirit or whatever three parts you want to say make up a human person – was created to achieve a state of unchangeableness. “Ever moving rest” as St. Maximus calls it. Adam in the Garden was yet to attain it in that he was immature and needed to develop stable maturity even before he sinned. He had a gnomic will that had to deliberate in a less than omniscient state. God, even as Incarnate Son, does not have a gnomic will, in that He is omniscient and doesn’t have to blindly choose between good and bad options. He knows all the good options for sure. In partaking of His nature by grace (we will always have a human nature but can be joined to God’s divine nature through His communicating energies), we can attain a conscious stability which extends to our human bodies as illustrated above.

If one does not achieve theosis in this life, then their body at the final resurrection, I suppose, will be unused to being joined to a dispassionate soul, or at least to God’s kingdom. Even if the soul is not dispassionate, contrary to Plato, I think that with the removal of sinful options that one is accustomed to will cause torment in the soul and the body. This lack of options is not due to their being none but One, but due to there being no sin in heaven. This has been explained as the existential state of hell by some. I have heard from western sources that there is sin in their idea of a physical hell, but how that brings suffering I’d have to look more into.

As far as the soul seeking to go in and out of the body, before death there is a demonic way that can occur, but there is also a Christian way. Many saints while still living have trans-located, but their appearance in other places was not disembodied. I do not know the nature of their being in another place at the same time other than that. It appears though that we are created to partake of a certain amount of divine omnipresence.

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Death and Dying

by Andrea Elizabeth

How sad the death of Socrates. He passively received perceived deliverance from his earthly bonds by power of the authority of the state. To continue the contrast that was begun in the comments of this post:

A person who dies a “natural death” at old age hopefully has lived a holy life in communion with God so as to receive eternal blessedness. Though his body be weary, I believe he will still anxiously await reunion with it in the final glorious resurrection.

A person who suffers an early death by disease, accident, or murder to me is given an extra grace due to their not having the opportunity, through no fault of their own, to develop and practice the habit of repentance and holiness throughout the usual length of days, which for some reason is enough. One should learn obedience through all seasons of life, even old age.

A person who suffers an early death through a mistaken notion that escape from earthly, bodily struggle will bring relief will have a much harder time of it in the afterlife. I don’t know enough about toll-houses or hell to comment further on this. Nevertheless, may God have mercy on their souls.

A person who suffers death at the hands of the state or even an individual for crimes truly committed hopefully can find enough remorse and repentance before they die to be like the wise thief who was crucified with Christ.

I usually consider that my death will be described in the first two statements. Perhaps humility is learning to have the fear of the third and to consider myself deserving of the first part and conformed to the last part of the fourth.

A well-tuned instrument

by Andrea Elizabeth

The online MIT version cut off the ending so I had to find another version of Phaedo. There keeps being a “Next” button at the bottom of very long pages, so I don’t know how much further I have to read. Before I lose my train of thought or give it unwarranted precedence in interpreting the rest of this dialogue through that lens, I better dispense of it by writing it down before I proceed with the rest.

Socrates is right that the soul has to recollect knowledge, but wrong in that the soul knew this knowledge or existed before it was born into a body. Bodies and souls are generated together. The recollecting part I believe has to do with being made in the image of God, which did pre-exist created beginnings. What we “remember” or intuit with our reasoning mind and perceptive heart has to do with our many logoi which are uncreated energies that come from the Logos, which are kind of like DNA, if I understand them correctly, as well as hopefully inspiration, or communication with God by grace.

Simmias finally made a good case for the proper, respectable union of the body and soul in this section:

In this respect, replied Simmias: Might not a person use the same argument about harmony and the lyre-might he not say that harmony is a thing invisible, incorporeal, fair, divine, abiding in the lyre which is harmonized, but that the lyre and the strings are matter and material, composite, earthy, and akin to mortality? And when someone breaks the lyre, or cuts and rends the strings, then he who takes this view would argue as you do, and on the same analogy, that the harmony survives and has not perished; for you cannot imagine, as we would say, that the lyre without the strings, and the broken strings themselves, remain, and yet that the harmony, which is of heavenly and immortal nature and kindred, has perished-and perished too before the mortal. The harmony, he would say, certainly exists somewhere, and the wood and strings will decay before that decays. For I suspect, Socrates, that the notion of the soul which we are all of us inclined to entertain, would also be yours, and that you too would conceive the body to be strung up, and held together, by the elements of hot and cold, wet and dry, and the like, and that the soul is the harmony or due proportionate admixture of them. And, if this is true, the inference clearly is that when the strings of the body are unduly loosened or overstrained through disorder or other injury, then the soul, though most divine, like other harmonies of music or of the works of art, of course perishes at once, although the material remains of the body may last for a considerable time, until they are either decayed or burnt. Now if anyone maintained that the soul, being the harmony of the elements of the body, first perishes in that which is called death, how shall we answer him?

The problem with him is that he denies that the soul lives after the death of the body. The song dies with the instrument. I got a little confused when they talked about the soul being incapable of being less than a soul and so was incapable of being disharmonious or unvirtuous. This seemed contradicted by Socrates saying that a soul’s passionate bodily attachment makes the soul less capable of a blessed life in the hereafter.  It is a good statement, however, against total depravity. God’s image retains its goodness, even if we have to develop a habit of it.

Still, the descriptions of dispassion seem worth heeding if one keeps in mind the correct priorities of the soul over the body in cultivating temperance, and through the grace of God, a glorified body.

The body is a source of endless trouble

by Andrea Elizabeth

Kierkegaard devotes the next section of The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates on Plato’s Phaedo, so now I’m reading that. This is going to be a long haul which I feel compelled to pull and be pushed by. Yesterday afternoon after our strings class, which since November has been supplemented by a weekly private teacher btw instead of just the Abeka 2nd year tapes and music, and after listening to more David Garrett music, I was inspired to play some of the harder piano pieces from my youth, namely “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” from Amy Grant’s Age to Age album (the prelude is adapted from a Bach fugue) and an intermediately difficult arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D (Garrett has a nice arrangement of it too). Something about his technical accuracy and speed, along with expression, which shows that he has a very connected brain, made me more precise than last time I played those selections. Which reminds me that I get the same energetic but controlled feeling from Bach’s Inventions 13 and 14. But I get pretty tense when playing these difficult pieces. Just like lately when I play Age of Empires, this tension now causes my back to spasm, so today I’m having to take it really easy because of back pain. I read yesterday that when David Garrett was 15 that he really hurt his back and shoulder when recording a Paganini (the most difficult to play violin pieces) album. He said that Julliard was a good experience in that he started over so as to learn posture and relaxation techniques. It’s been about 4 years now since my back first spasmed causing me to be bed ridden for a week. For some reason it got a lot better during Lent this year so that I could finally do full metanoia’s all the way to the ground. Yesterday was a real set back. I think the original injury has multiple causes including poor body mechanics and muscle strength when lifting patients as a young nurse, pregnancy, epidurals, and 4 years ago, extreme tension with extended family over our conversion to Orthodoxy. It’s psychosomatic. I have to purposefully limit the stress I let myself get under nowadays. Still I hope to get back to those Bach pieces.

Plato and Kierkegaard are currently giving me that energetically controlled and precise feeling of rightness, without the muscle tension. Not so much in their conclusions which I like to critique here, and which are much better of course in the Church Fathers, but in their methods. So without further ado,

In Phaedo, Socrates has been condemned to death and is planning his suicide. Of course he has to argue the merits. This statement has a point, but I hope he gives another side of the argument later so that I wont have to.

And when they consider all this, must not true philosophers make a reflection, of which they will speak to one another in such words as these: We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?

Kierkegaard on the Symposium

by Andrea Elizabeth

In The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, pgs.41-52, Kierkegaard unpacks Plato’s Symposium very helpfully. He passes over the first more concrete dialogues pretty rapidly, and visits the doctor’s – my favorite – a little longer than the others before dwelling on Socrates’ contribution. The doctor talks about the higher and lower elements of love, the physical and heavenly, dwelling together. He takes a less oppositional stance to so-called opposites such as hot and cold. In love they are united together as seasonal weather is throughout the year. Each has its place. I suppose the use of dialectics in this dialogue is the type that divides and categorizes like a prism does with light.

When he gets to Socrates’ discussion of love being desire for something it lacks, he expands on his premise that Plato moves from the concrete to the abstract. The abstraction is described as ironic negativity. Through the use of ironic negativity, in Socratic (Platonic?) relationships the lover becomes the beloved. He is initially the lover because his force of character is at first extroverted, but when pursued becomes introverted, withdrawn, and hidden. He is complete in himself with a type of fullness that is described as love.  This love is non-possessive and indiscriminate. I’m thinking it could be described as dispassionate and detached.

But is it Christlike? Socrates on one hand withholds himself, but on the other he is present and engaged. Socrates leaves his followers frustrated and wanting more. They may at some point catch a glimpse of his glory, but then they spend the rest of their time struggling to get inside again. When some Orthodox Fathers speak of God’s essence, they use terms of hiddenness. Was it St. Dionysius who said that God is like a setting sun, you are forever going after it, but it keeps disappearing behind the horizon. He gives you enough to want to pursue, but you’ll never catch up to him.

I wonder if irony is a good term to use about the Incarnation. God became manifest to us in a tangible, present way. He healed his followers and they went away rejoicing, not frustrated. Theosis brings peace and contentment. Mary was pursued and filled, not sent empty away.

Reading update

by Andrea Elizabeth

Having now finished Homer’s Iliad, and Plato’s works on love, The Symposium and Phaedrus, I have a few observations.

Homer puts forth love as the most compelling motivating factor. Achilles doesn’t fight on account of his love of Briseis and then does fight for love of Patroclus. Hector gets favors for his love of the gods, and his parents are worthy for their love of him. The loss of a loved one motivates most of the action in this story.

The Symposium presents several dinner party contributions for honoring love and Phaedrus begins by saying one is better off without it. I didn’t find Socrates’ defense in Phaedrus as compelling as the tributes in The Symposium. He seems bored with it and then goes off into what makes effective rhetoric, which I skimmed through. I did appreciate his one self-criticism that he didn’t use enough illustrations though.

The taken for granted attractions of homosexuality were very surprising and icky. When they were first introduced in The Symposium I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt by rationalizing that if men are stronger and usually advance further on single tracks than women then in one’s quest for perfection one would appreciate men, even if one was a man. This can be supported by Christ being male and that Eve represents a removed part of Adam. He gives  a nod to women in saying that sometimes particular women exceed particular men, but that just makes those particular men look bad as if they weren’t living up to their superior potential. Ok, while I’m getting worked up more than when I read it I’ll go ahead and complain that when Achilles is giving out prizes, oxen and cauldrons are 1st and 2nd place and a female slave is 3rd! When Plato is glib and matter of fact halfway through The Symposium about the homosexual act, I gave up trying to understand. And as usual in these types of classic literature, attraction to women is considered a weakness. Having a chip on one’s shoulder is passionate, so rant over.

After watching PBS’s rerun on their Frontline show on Mormonism the last couple of nights, I’m thinking that rocking cradles and domestic (not 5 star) cooking is a fine enough role, and men who don’t indulge their weakness can have all their prizes. I wonder, however, why Mormon women are more likely to be depressed than other American women even if polygamy isn’t sanctioned by the church anymore.

Speaking of men who overcame their attraction to women, now I can get back to Kierkegaard.

Solovyovian Dialectics

by Andrea Elizabeth

Preliminary Solovyovian question: He seems to use the type of dialectics where synthesis between two opposing bodies is achieved. One criticism I’ve heard about this type of synthesis is that it makes compromise the goal. I’ve been an extraneous party to a court-ordered mediation session where that did not work out at all. But I consider this to be because one person was honest and trustworthy and the other wasn’t. That would be an unequally yoked situation that we are warned against. The example Solovyov in Transformations of Eros is explaining is between the Sophists and the Traditionalists. When Socrates is involved, the two parties are no longer fighting each other but are united against a common enemy. Their synthesis comes about by ignoring their points of disagreement. But once their enemy is vanquished, so it seems their unity would be. Socrates’s synthesis is drawn from both of their systems. He cafeteria-style picks and chooses the merits of the Sophists and the merits of the Traditionalists, while pointing out that the followers of both systems are pretty inept. His new system seems like a compromise between two other systems, but if the two opposing systems are based on invalid segregations of thoughts, then pulling out the gold from both rocks is not compromise, but salvage.  The gold is presented as Truth. I wont get into the allegation of Platonism at this point. I’ll just say that I think there’s some gold in Platonism to be mined as well. 🙂