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RE: [existlist] Clarities, or, let's learn Homer together

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  • Herman B. Triplegood
    Louise: This is an interesting perspective on the role that dialectic would play in Homer. I would have guessed that Homer s intention was to juxtapose debate
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 8, 2005
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      This is an interesting perspective on the role that dialectic would play in
      Homer. I would have guessed that Homer's intention was to juxtapose debate
      and action, using the formulaic line to point out that in the face of
      endless debate it is really action that finally and ultimately matters. His
      use of the formulaic, as you have pointed out, however, may be more subtle
      than this.

      I take a great interest in the development of the idea of dialectic in
      Plato's dialogues. There is a distinct difference between the dialectical
      method employed by Plato in his earlier dialogues, where the emphasis is
      upon a more axiomatic approach. Definitions are laid down, and conclusions
      are developed from those definitions through the give and take of the
      dialogue more or less by means of deductive reasoning. Eventually, Plato
      came to regard this as an inadequate model of dialectical discourse and
      turned toward a concept of dialectic that was less axiomatic, emphasizing
      the interplay of the contractive process of collection and the expansive
      process of division employed toward the goal of the gradual clarification of
      the, at first, obscure idea, once again, through the give and take of the

      The critical turning point for Plato in this movement from a
      definition/deduction model of dialectic to a collection/division model of
      dialectic is to be found in the Parmenides.

      For a more direct treatment of the importance of the give and take process
      that must go on between the interlocutors involved in dialectic, the
      Protagoras is an instructive read. There, Plato distinguishes the lecture
      from the dia-lecture (both words contain the Greek root legein meaning to
      lay down a thesis or claim), or dialectic, quite dramatically. The sophist,
      Protagoras, considered by many to be as brilliant as Socrates, insists upon
      the monopolization of the dialogue through the presentation of a series of
      extended lectures. Socrates challenges this, insisting that Protagoras keep
      his remarks brief enough, and succinct enough, to allow for a meaningful
      exchange of ideas. Eventually, as Protagoras at first vacillates back and
      forth regarding compliance with Socrates' wish, then pushes on with
      sophistic brilliance into another extended lecture, Socrates excuses himself
      from the interchange and remarks upon the importance of the willingness to
      truly engage in the dialogue for the purpose of arriving at the truth, not
      merely for the purpose of winning the argument.

      John Stuart Mill also has some interesting things to say about this
      willingness to engage in his essay, "On Liberty" where he talks about
      freedom of discussion and readiness for discussion.

      The stereotypical model of dialectic that I learned about early on was that
      dialectic is essentially a movement from an initial thesis, through an
      opposing antithesis, culminating in a higher synthesis. I believe that this
      is a more recent and overly simplistic model of dialectical discourse. If we
      take the later Plato to heart, and observe closely how the dialectic moves
      in his later dialogues, in particular, in such dialogues as the Sophist and
      the Statesman, we see a movement from initial obscurity toward clarity by
      means of a systolic/diastolic heartbeat of collection and division.

      I would propose this kind of model of dialectic as something worth
      expounding upon yet further: that dialectic is a movement from an initial
      state of anti-thesis, meaning a relative state of obscurity and uncertainty,
      toward a goal we can call the thesis, the clear exposition of the idea, by
      means of a process of dialectical syn-thesis that involves both collection
      and division, and, most importantly, involves a conceptual synthesis of
      ideas shared, in community, by the interlocutors engaged in the dialectic.

      Give and take becomes, here, significantly important, and both collection
      and division, essentially, synthesis and analysis, in the strict
      argumentative sense of these terms, become essential components of the
      greater syn-thesis that is the clarification and communication of the
      underlying idea arrived at in a state of participation among interlocutors.

      The Rubic's cube is a fine analogy to use for illustrating the subtlety
      involved in this more complex definition of the dialectical process. The
      initial state, the anti-thetic state, is the chaos represented to us by the
      jumbled up puzzle that beckons our efforts to solve it; it is the initial
      obscurity of the idea. The thesis, the goal, is to establish the ordered
      solution of the puzzle, to get the colors all oriented to their proper
      faces. But, you see, this goal does not really represent where the knowledge
      is truly gained. The knowledge comes to us, syn-thetically, as we continue
      to try to solve the puzzle, and, along the way, we learn, either
      intuitively, or explicitly and reflectively, a great many things about the
      practical application of mathematical group theory to the process of solving
      the puzzle.

      What is really important, then, about this model of dialectical discourse,
      is not what we end up achieving, in the way of certain knowledge, or noesis,
      at the end point of the process, but what we learn about the process of
      reasoning along the way. The meat and potatoes, here, is in the journey of
      the discourse, then, not merely in its goal. With this different
      interpretation of the dialectical process in mind, one can then revisit the
      Platonic allegory of the cave, for instance, and see it in a new light, from
      a uniquely different perspective than has hitherto not been seriously
      entertained by most scholars of Plato. This process model of the dialectic
      also puts us in a better position to correctly assess and more clearly
      understand the Socratic method of discourse that runs throughout the
      Platonic dialogues with its incessant give and take of questions and
      answers, and it gives us a clue as to what Socrates really meant when he
      characterized himself, in the Apology, as an intellectual midwife.

      Lastly, this deeper model of the process of dialectical discourse puts us in
      a position to better appreciate how it is that the dialogue format that
      Plato uses is not mere rhetorical window dressing for a systematic doctrine
      that is, essentially, put in the mouths of the interlocutors in the
      dialogues. Rudolph Weingartner, in his little book, "The Unity of the
      Platonic Dialogue," remarks on how surprising it is to him that a great many
      Plato scholars, some of them highly respected for their knowledge and
      understanding of Plato's substantive arguments, still tend to miss the
      greater syn-thetic unity that is hidden within the movements of the
      dialectical processes within the dialogues, and among the dialogues of
      Plato, precisely because they dismiss this dialogue format as, essentially,
      irrelevant rhetorical window dressing for a pre-conceived orthodoxy.



      From: existlist@yahoogroups.com [mailto:existlist@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
      Of louise
      Sent: Tuesday, November 08, 2005 7:13 AM
      To: existlist@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [existlist] Clarities, or, let's learn Homer together

      Our English word, 'dialectic', derives from the verb, 'dialegomai',
      meaning, 'to go through, to debate'. The Iliad is poem in the Epic
      tradition, composed for oral recitation, hence including as one
      distinguishing feature what is called the formulaic line, repeated
      word-for-word in different contexts. Take this for example:

      alla ti ee moi tauta philos dielexato thumos;

      but why doth my heart thus converse with me?

      This occurs in book 11, l.407, when Odysseus speaks in soliloquy,
      after Diomedes has pulled an arrow from his [Odysseus'] foot.

      Again, the same line, at 21.562, when Agenor is faced with Achilles.

      Hector reproaches himself likewise, at 22.122. Later in that book,
      at line 385, Achilles says the same words, this time not to himself
      only, but aloud to the Achaeans around him, after the killing of
      their great foe, Hector.

      In Martin Hammond's translation, the words are rendered,
      but what need for this debate in my heart?

      What a good question. How more directly to approach philosophy than
      this?? The body is preparing itself for action, in the midst of
      high emotion, fear, anger, grief, many mingling conflicting feelings,
      presented by what we reify as the mind, in interior speech, until that
      mind is ready to make the decision. After the warrior asks himself
      the question, a courageous or other decisive action follows.
      Dialectic is the precursor to action, providing some kind of guarantor
      that the action will meet the prevailing valuations of his kinsmen or
      other communal group. Well, these are my latest thoughts, anyway. I
      have believed for a long time that our societies are chaotically dying
      for lack of such dialectic. Inside the individual.


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