Monday, December 31, 2007

Selection 16 - Crito

Reference: Crito Wikipedia Entry

Source: Crito at Project Gutenberg

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Background: The third dialogue in the first tetralogy of Plato's Socratic Dialogues, Crito examines Socrates response to injustice.

Discussion: This is the only dialogue so far in which I feel slightly sympathetic to Socrates but even here that is tempered.

Visited in his cell by his friend Crito who urges him to escape Socrates refuses. His reasons - Answering injustice with injustice is wrong and laws, even when flawed, deserve respect from those who consent to be governed by them (As Socrates did when he remained in Athens upon reaching adulthood).

Those sentiments are ones I can identify with (although I may disagree with Socrates on what an injustice is and I reserve the right to attempt to have the law changed) but then he goes and bungs it up with his statement that the opinion of the common man means nothing because they are too ignorant to be allowed an opinion. A little bit of foreshadowing of the need for Philosopher Kings in the Republic maybe?

Actually since I think chronologically "The Republic" takes place first it may just be a re-expression of that view. Timothy Shutt who lectures on Plato at Kenyon College says in his Portbale Professor course "Foundations of Western Thought: Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans" that the government outlined in "The Republic" was essentially a fictionalized version of Sparta. Maybe that is what the Athenians meant by making "The worse appear the better"

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Selection 15 - The Apology

Reference: Apology (Plato) Wikipedia Entry

Source: The Apology at Project Gutenberg

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Audio: Librivox

Background: The second dialogue in the first tetralogy of Plato's Socratic Dialogues, The Apology is the recitation of Socrates defense of himself before the citizens of Athens.

Discussion: The Apology starts with Socrates introducing his accusers and relating the charges against himself. (Corrupting Youth, Not believing in the states gods and creating new ones, and making the worse appear the better). After this the dialogue divides into three parts.

In the first part of the dialogue Socrates immediately starts out by telling his audience that they aren't smart enough to judge him on the facts and that they will be swayed by his accusers and by others such as Aristophanes, who criticized Socrates in his play the clouds a number of years earlier. Claiming he will not try and convince his jurors with rhetoric, but with plain truth he then proceeds with his defense.

He starts his defense by relating the story of some guy who asked the oracle at Delphi if Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, and is told there are none wiser. He professes astonishment because he doesn't consider himself wise so he starts questioning people who are considered wise and finds out (and I am paraphrasing here) they are a bunch of dumbasses. Discovering this Socrates concludes that what the oracle was saying was Socrates may be an idiot but so is everyone else in Athens.

After insulting his entire jury Socrates then examines Meletus (one of his accusers) and gets him involved in the traditional dialogue, trips him up and like Joe Peschi in "My Cousin Vinnie" declares "I got no more use for this guy".

The rest of this section is just Socrates pointing out that if any youth were corrupted that it was as much society's and the parent's faults as his. Again not a moved designed to encourage love among the jury.

Of course he is found guilty, I mean how could they not being just a bunch of emotional morons incapable of rational thought, and that brings us to the second of the three parts.

In the second part of "The Apology" Socrates pushes even more buttons and proposes that what he does is more important to Athens than those they routinely consider heroes (athletes, politicians, generals etc.) and therefore they really should punish him by giving him free room and board. You know because they have had the pleasure of his company and his sharing his wisdom and all. Realizing that isn't going over real well he then proposes a fine of about $2500 (100 drachmae). That is also a bomb so his supporters up the sum to $75000. Also not a popular option and the jury votes to make him drink hemlock. (Although at this point I am betting that a few were holding out for stuffing a live racoon up his butt.)

After being told of the punishment the 3rd pase of the Apology begins and Socrates again calls everyone emotionally overwrought retards and tells them that they are just opening themselves up for harsher examination by others that will follow.

OK so that is the apology in a nutshell and I see why it is recommended. It show a Socratic Dialogue in action. It lays out Socrates basic beliefs and thus the foundations that others like Aristotle started from, but at the same time it makes me doubt the accuracy of the dialogues Plato relates. I want to be flip and say no real person in such a situation could possibly be that annoying but that isn't all of it. It is just that the dialogue feels contrived. I don't know if Plato made it up out of whole cloth (I doubt it because there is another account by Xenophon that talks about Socrates Apology) or paraphrased or what but it just feels off.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Deviation from the list - Euthyphro

Reference: Euthyphro Wikipedia Entry

Source: Euthyphro at Project Gutenberg

Audio: Librivox

Background: The first dialogue in the first tetralogy of Plato's Socratic Dialogues, Euthyphro examines impiety. As this was one of the charges against Socrates in the trial that eventually leads to Socrates death by Hemlock poisoning this is an important stage setter for The Apology.

Discussion: Euthyphro opens with Socrates approaching the court of the King Archon, I am not sure if it is to defend himself at a trial or turn himself in or what, where he meets Euthyphro who is there to charge his father with murder. They chat and it turns out that the basis of Euthyphro's charges against his father is that he acted impiously when he allowed a servant to die while being held for the death of another servant. Upon discovering this Socrates challenges Euthyphro to define piety so that he may properly defend himself at his trial. They argue back and forth for awhile and in the course of this Euthyphro offers three separate definitions:

1. Doing what is demanded by circumstances (i.e. prosecuting his father) - Socrates rejects this as an example of a pious act not a defintion of piety
2. What the gods approve of - rejected because the gods don't always agree on the nature of an act.
3. What all the gods approve of is pious, and what they all disapprove of is impious - rejected because the approval arises because the act is pious the act is not pious because of the approval.

At this point Socrates offers the defintion that an act is pious if it is just and morally good leading to the further clarification by Euthyphro that a just or morally good act is pious if it does honor to the gods. Socrates challenges Euthyphro on a couple of points here one being what do the gods get out of being honored. Euthyphro can't really answer and is called a dumbass by Socrates and he runs off to another appointment.

My question - Is Euthyphro really wrong? We obey the laws of God (or the gods) both out of fear and out of respect and we make our offerings to them for a reason. As Socrates points out the gods don't really need them. So whats the point? Well it's simple by sacrificing (whether it be a goat or a son like Abraham is ready to in Genesis) we show that the god is more important than ourself and that does them honor. The Greek myths clearly show the Gods were all about honor and even God in the Old Testament demands his sacrifice in the form of the Sabbath. When you have everything the only thing that can really matter is respect and that is what the gods get out of Euthyphro's definition of piety.

On a side note - I can see why the Athenians wanted to execute Socrates. He is kind of annoying jerk.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Selections 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 31 - The Socratic Dialouges

The next five selections are by Plato and are in a style calledSocratic Dialogues (as is selection 31 Cicero's De re publica).

The Socratic Dialogue is a style of writing in which a central character interacting with another investigates a moral principle. Generally an issue is decided upon and questions are asked forcing those involved to agree to certain assumptions and defend their point of view. One person or another eventually "wins" by making another contradict himself. The method is credited to Socrates and, as far as I know, in the dialogues written by Plato he always wins. (Of course given that Socrates was executed for making the worse thing appear the better maybe he didn't really win.)

Plato's Socratic Dialogues are interesting in that they appear to be dividable into tetralogies (one large work composed of four smaller works) that are I believe similar in structure and content. Selections 15 (The Apology), 16 (Crito) and 17 (Phaedo) are contained in the first tetralogy and along with Euthyphro describe the trial and death of Socrates. Selection 18 (The Republic) is in the 8th tetralogy and Selection 19 (Symposium) is in the 3rd. I don't know why the originator of this list didn't prescribe the complete tetralogies and I am trying to decide if I want to do all twelve works. At the moment I am leading towards yes. I'm kind of a dumbass and I need all the help I can get.

Another interesting thing about Plato's writings - although he writes as though transcribing a conversation with the exception of "The Apology" he is never present at the conversations. This has led some to wonder if he just made this stuff up and assigned his views to Socrates.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Selection 14 - The Frogs by Aristophanes

Reference: The Frogs Wikipedia Entry

Source: The Frogs at Project Gutenberg

Background: We already discussed Aristophanes background when discussing "The Clouds". The main difference in the background of The Frogs is Athens has just been dealt a major defeat in the Peloponnesian War and that is referenced in play itself.

Discussion:Generally I don't like this play as well as I liked "The Clouds". I found that it wasn't as funny both in content and in the manner in which it is presented. There just seems to be a harder edge here. There are a couple good moments of slapstick, not quite Three Stooges quality but still funny.

On the serious side Aristophanes continues his defense of the traditional ways, and given that the play won the contest I would guess that he had some support in that position, but I think we can agree that is a battle he ultimately lost.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Project Kalima - Bringing the Western Canon to the Arab World

The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage has announced a major project to translate major foreign intellectual works into Arabic. Since many of the works will be drawn from the Western Canon which is where many of the ideas of modern western democracy are derived from I just can't believe this is going to make Al-Qaeda happy.

Wouldn't it be cool if it lead to an Islamic Reformation and an Arabic Enlightenment?

The Abu Dhabi-based project, Kalima ("word" in Arabic), aims to publish 100 books in its first year and 500 titles a year by 2010, it announced yesterday.

The first 100 are from 16 languages, including Greek, Japanese, Swedish, Czech, Russian, Chinese, Yiddish, Italian, Norwegian, Latin and ancient Greek. Half the candidate titles are English.

Four years ago the UN's Arab human development report identified a lack of translated foreign works as an issue restricting Arab intellectual life. The UN report noted that Spain translates in one year the number of books that have been translated into Arabic in the past 1,000 years.

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"The rest of the world enjoys a wealth of domestic and translated writing, why should the Arab world be any different?" Karim Nagy, Kalima's Egyptian chief executive, said as the first titles were announced. "We can start putting Arabic readers back in touch with great works of world literature and academia, and begin filling the gaps in the Arabic library."

The selection process is designed to strike a balance between different genres, juxtaposing the works of classic authors with contemporary writers. Academic, business and educational material is also being translated.


Project Kalima Homepage

More

"The choices reflect what we consider are the real gaps in the Arab library," said Karim Nagy, the founder and chief executive of the project, which was launched yesterday in Abu Dhabi. "We shy away as far as possible from best-sellers."

The initial list does include Khaled Hosseini's blockbuster about Taliban-era in Afghanistan, The Kite Runner. But far more typical of its scope and focus are canonical classics such as George Eliot's Middlemarch and Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, or influential modern texts like Eric Hobsbawm's The Age Of Extremes and JM Keynes's General Theory Of Employment. There are also scientific masterpieces from the likes of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman. Recent books on the launch list include Lawrence Wright's history of al-Qa'ida and "the road to 9/11", The Looming Tower, and the memoirs of the retired US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan.

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Kalima is endorsed by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, and backed financially by the emirate's authority for culture and heritage. The authority's director-general, Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, said the Crown Prince saw the UN figures and "commissioned us to work to revive translation".

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However, as Mr Nagy admits, Kalima has deep-rooted obstacles to overcome. During the "golden age" of medieval Islamic civilisation, Moorish cities such as Córdoba and Toledo in Spain hosted an Arabic-based culture of exchange and translation that played a crucial part in preserving the Greek legacy of science and thought for western Europe. Following the Renaissance, which Arabic learning did so much to foment, colonial conflict and a breakdown of relations led to a sense of exclusion and estrangement from the West which fuelled Arab nationalism in the modern era.

With the help of literary figures from Isaac Newton to Albert Camus, Thomas Hobbes to Umberto Eco, Kalima aims to bridge this historical gap. Mr Nagy said he wanted to balance "catching up" with classics as yet unreadable in Arabic and "keeping up" with current trends and movements – 70 per cent of the inaugural list consists of books published since 1945.

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The Kalima project's first translations

The Acharnians/The Knights, Aristophanes

The Aeneid, Virgil

A Briefer History of Time, Hawking

The Complete Odes and Epodes, Horace

Greek Anthology, Archilochus, Alcaeus, Anacreon, and Simonides

Helen/Cyclops, Euripides

Poems, Du Fu (Tu Fu)

The Progeny, Sophocles

Galeni Opera Omnia/Corpus Medicorum Graecorum, Galen

Palimpsest, Archimedes

Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A Complete Translation of the Fragment at Diels, Various

Film Form, Eisenstein

In Praise of Folly, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno, Horkheimer

The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, John Maynard Keynes

Canzoniere, Petrarch

The Complete Essays of Montaigne Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Montaigne

Kokoro, Natsume Soseki

Middlemarch, George Eliot

The New Life, Dante Alighieri

Paradise Regained, Milton

Sonnets to Orpheus, Rilke

Troilus and Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer

Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Isaac Newton

Sidereus Nuncius; Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems; Two New Sciences, Galileo Galilei

The Ethics Of Spinoza: The Road to Inner Freedom, Spinoza

Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, Bruno

Leviathan, Hobbes

Logic, Hegel

Logical Investigations, Husserl

Art History: vol. 1, Stokstad

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, Lewis

Inside Music, Haas

Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier

A History of Architectural Theory, Kruft

Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy, Næss

The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics, Penrose

Godel, Escher, Bach (20th Anniversary Ed), Hofstader

The Age of Extremes, Hobsbawm

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Greenspan

The Birth of Europe, Le Goff

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, Watson

The Films in My Life, Truffaut

Freud: A Life for Our Times, Gay

Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, Saliba

The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Wright

The Struggle for Master of Europe, A J P Taylor

The Anatomy of Revolution, Brinton

Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition, Friedman

Competitive Strategy, Porter

Kafka on the Shore, Murakami

The Executive in Action: Managing for Results, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Effective Executive, Drucker

The Halo Effect and Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive Managers, Rosenzweig

Making Globalization Work, Stiglitz

The Middle East (Sociology of Developing Societies), Asad

Reading Capital, Althusser, Rancière

Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, Von Neumann, Morgenstern

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Hoffer

What is Globalization, Beck

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: vol. 1, M T Anderson

The Case for Literature, Gao Xingjian

Collected Stories, Singer

The First Man, Camus

The Higher Power of Lucky, Patron

The Inheritance of Loss, Desai

The Kite Runner, Hosseini

The Pickup, Gordimer

Pipi Longstocking, Lindgren

Selected Poems, Milosz

Something to Answer For, P H Newby

The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner

Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein

The Western Canon, Bloom

The Word, The Text, and The Critic, Edward Said

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Kurzweil

Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature; Discussion with Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Physics, Niels Bohr

Cellular Automata and Complexity, Wolfram

The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics, Zewail

Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA, Davies

Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature, Weinberg

The Eighth Day of Creation, Judson

Engines of Creation, Drexler

Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, Buss

The Feynman Lectures on Physics including Feynman's Tips on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition, Feynman

In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, Gribbin

On the Meaning of Relativity, Einstein

Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory, Planck

Punctuated Equilibrium, Gould

Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, Heisenberg

The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Dirac

The Scientist as Rebel, Dyson

Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 25th Anniversary Edition, Wilson

Uncertainty: Uncertainty, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science, Lindley

Difference and Repetition, Deleuze

The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan

The Future of Human Nature, Habermas

Il Segno, Eco

Margins of Philosophy, Derrida

Charlemagne and Mohammed: The Arab Roots of Capitalism, Heck


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Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is both interesting and disturbing

My review of "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf made the front page at Google. Considering Olympia Academy has an average daily readership of 0 (not kidding check sitemeter) that is unexpected and says something disturbing about the health of reading in this country.

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