Here Lies Theory, May It Rest In Pieces

Fig 1: The Disembodied. (With apologies to Futurama.)

I was excited and somewhat relieved to read “After Theory: From Textuality to Attunement with the World” by Kurt Spellmeyer this week. It was quite validating to hear him rail against the rarified atmosphere of theory and try to elevate the lived, bodily experience of “the People”. I found particular delight in his endeavor to embody language, to re-incarnate The Word as something spoken by flesh-and-blood people. The otherworldly idealism of Plato, as translated through the substance dualism exemplified by Descartes, seeks to elevate humans to disembodied minds, subjects that can dispassionately consider the world around them. (See Fig. 1.)

This clean distinction between mind and body may at first seem ennobling; and many people, even non-religious people, cling fervently to the idea that there is some true self that isn’t burdened by these faulty senses and flimsy, fragile bodies. And yet, as freeing as this idea may seem at first, it can only lead to a devaluation of the body as such; if the body can’t be relied upon to give us accurate information, then what good is it to an intellectual person?  Continue reading “Here Lies Theory, May It Rest In Pieces”

Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Culture

One of the chief things that one notices about Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine , particularly in contrast to Aristotle, Plato and Cicero, is that he is speaking explicitly about teaching the Bible, rather than the idea of rhetoric in general. 

St. Augustine
One of the earliest known images of St. Augustine of Hippo, from about 100 years after his death.

This is largely because the Greek writers, like Aristotle, Cicero, and Plato, were all pagans (through no fault of their own, obviously, but ignorance was clearly no defense to Theodosius) and their writings were therefore verboten to the Christian peoples of 4th-century Holy Roman Empire. 

As part of his edict to eliminate paganism from his godly empire, Theodosius also cut off all state funding from centers of rhetoric. This meant that Christian preachers needed guidance, a new text that would help them execute their task to preach the Word of God to all peoples. Enter: Augustine of Hippo.  Continue reading “Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Culture”

Black is the New White: Martin Bernal Examines Greek Historiography

Black Athena Statue

The central argument of Black Athena by Martin Bernal, that Greek culture (and, therefore, so-called “Western” culture) had roots in the Levant and in Asia and Africa, and that these roots were obscured in the 18th and 19th centuries by simple racism, is compellingly stated, and appeals to a liberal mind accustomed to seeing suppression and institutional racism. Furthermore, the instances which he finds (like the similarities between Hebrew and Greek language) seem to offer a plausible enrichment of the heretofore accepted concept of the conceptual divide between East and West. 

So I can easily accept his premise; and in fact, it’s not the first I’ve heard of consistent contact between the Israelites and the Greeks. Nor is this the first I’ve heard of the deep racism which led many 19th century historians to make specious claims. However, Bernal makes some assertions to support his thesis that mitigate his credibility. Continue reading “Black is the New White: Martin Bernal Examines Greek Historiography”

Aristotle vs. Gorgeous Gorgias vs. Socrates

Gorgeous George
Archival footage of Gorgias and Socrates locked in debate over the nature of rhetoric.

I’m kidding about the photograph, of course; Socrates wasn’t that pretty. That’s actually wrestling legend Gorgeous George and his wife, Betty. But it seems appropriate to use a wrestler to introduce a post about ancient Greeks, not only because of their famed love for the sport, but also because Gorgias, Polus and Socrates, as quoted by Aristotle and described at length by Bernard Jacob, are engaged in a sort of grappling, even if it’s only in the ring of ideas. And by Jacob’s account, Socrates engages in some sly and underhanded techniques to discredit rhetoric as an art. 

If Socrates is looking to dethrone rhetoric from its lofty place in Athenian regard, and Aristotle is writing a treatise about how to properly understand and practice rhetoric, where do they differ? Why does one disdain the study and the other laud it? It seems that Aristotle is coming at the topic from a purely theoretical standpoint, trying to define a science of rhetoric; and as such, he sees it as an amoral tool, one that can clearly be used to promote to common good, or one that can be used only for personal gain, at the expense of the community. Socrates, however, is coming at the thing from a sort of a posteriori stance; having seen and heard rhetors aplenty throughout his life, he has come to the sure knowledge that rhetoric is only ever used for base flattery. For this reason, he proclaims that rhetoric cannot be an art for, as he says, it cannot describe the causes, the essential nature of things. Continue reading “Aristotle vs. Gorgeous Gorgias vs. Socrates”

On Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”

Fig. 1: Lookin’ a little pasty there, Mr. Aristotle! Don’t get out much, do we now?

Some thoughts on my reading of Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Aristotle talks a great deal about enthymemes, and doesn’t really explain them too deeply; which is a problem for those of us unaccustomed to the term. He does, however, make clear that they are a subset of syllogism. For example, he says that “the enthymeme must consist of few propositions, fewer often than those which make up the normal syllogism.” He then goes on to point out that an enthymeme may omit propositions that are widely accepted, much like the linked-to example.  Continue reading “On Aristotle’s “Rhetoric””