Ok, picking up on the trail of Justice again, having in the last post passed the first sparks of the West in Homer's Iliad, and Aeschyles' Orestia, I'm going to take a look at some of the drawbacks of hasty 'reasoning' being passed off as Justice, in two plays by Sophocles.
Sophocles, the Athenian playwright, 496 BC-406 BC, in his Oedipus plays, gives us a classic examination of the pitfalls of calculative thinking (as opposed to reflective Reason, think of it as Reason-lite), which you might look at as a stimulus and response approach to reason, rather than a deliberate, principled, approach to reflective thinking and responding, and the tragic results they lead to.
I've read these plays over the years, several times over, and have passed through enjoying the simple narrative of the plays at the surface level, and gradually have worked my way deeper into the meaning available within it; I think I've worked my way passed the next deeper levels populated by saps like Freud, and I flatter myself to think that I've managed to sometimes dive deep and touch the drain at the bottom of the deep end, before having to rush back to the surface, lungs bursting to draw breath, and I think along the way I've passed beneath a common interpretations claimed by many thoughtful people, people I respect, who see them as chiefly portraying courageous Hero's of deep character and conviction, standing up for Reason and Natural Law.
True as that is... I think it also leaves much still on the table still, much that is necessary for a good diet, certainly for one that we might hope to build stronger bones and muscles in our sense of Justice.
"To Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. So when in time a son was born the infant's feet were riveted together and he was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. But a shepherd found the babe and tended him, and delivered him to another shepherd who took him to his master, the King of Corinth. Polybus being childless adopted the boy, who grew up believing that he was indeed the King's son. Afterwards doubting his parentage he inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself the word declared before to Laius. Wherefore he fled from what he deemed his father's house and in his flight he encountered and unwillingly slew his father Laius. Arriving at Thebes he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made their deliverer king. So he reigned in the room of Laius, and espoused the widowed queen. Children were born to them and Thebes prospered under his rule, but again a grievous plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was consulted and it bade them purge themselves of blood-guiltiness. Oedipus denounces the crime of which he is unaware, and undertakes to track out the criminal. Step by step it is brought home to him that he is the man. The closing scene reveals Jocasta slain by her own hand and Oedipus blinded by his own act and praying for death or exile."
In this play, we see the final day of Oedipus's rule, it's utter collapse, and the collapse of his entire world and self conception, in a True Tragedy - a dramatic catastrophe brought upon a character of great stature, and not by means of his vices, but by means of his virtues... misapplied. In this play, as summarized by it's opening argument (above) Oedipus, learns of an impending doom the God Apollo has pronounced upon him, that he will kill his Father and marry his Mother, and thinking that he can solve that issue, he quickly by runs away from home, so as to be physically unable to kill his Father or marry his Mother.
Problem solved. Right?
Well... first off as smart as a guy Oedipus is, as is demonstrated by his 'answering' the riddle of the Sphinx (there's quite a bit to be delved into in that alone, but this isn't the place. Bummer), when told by one of the deathless Olympian God's that his fate is to do something horrible... is it wise to think that you can simply exit stage left, and escape what the Gods have apparently fated for you? I mean, maybe an American in Junior High Lit class can be excused for suggesting that course of action, but... Oedipus? The aswer is NEVER one of places and things, but of choices. He lived in ancient Greece, he was raised on stories of people seeking to escape their fates and thereby running smack dab into them... what was he thinking?
Better yet, what wasn't he thinking?
He wasn't, in Thomas Sowell's words, thinking beyond square one. What he does in this situation, is that he takes a classic shallow, sophistical (and the Sophists were a major and rising concern of his time, Sophocles was said to have had Pericles in mind), seemingly 'sensible' reaction to events (our American term 'pragmatic' would have been a word and term I suspect Sophocles would have found very useful). What he does do, is to calculate his best course of action based upon appearances, in the way that a hand cranked adding machine might; He gathers and inputs X number of rumors, adds to those Y quantity of facts glimpsed, and divided by 1 divine forecast (which he accepts on its face without examining or considering other possible interpretations), and crank, crank, crank cha-ching, out pops his answer - simply fly off to Thebes to escape his fate.
He repeats the same process when accosted by a charioteer's procession, crank, cha-ching 'kill 'em all' and don't bother taking into account any recent pronouncement of the Gods which you might have become privy to, nyah, no worries. He repeats the process yet again with the riddle of the sphinx - perhaps demonstrating battery power rather than mere manual cranking power, but deterministically all the same, he merely runs it through a 20 questions grey matter computer, and 'solves' the riddle. And yet one more time, he repeats his impressive calculatin' skills when the prophet Tieresias attempts to tell him he should slow down, not jump at his first inclination, think things over, but Nooo, Oedipus loudly denounces Tieresias and declares that nothing will stop him from solving the mystery of Apollo's displeasure with Thebes.
The complete lack of self reflection, of any deeper intellection, especially from one damned with such a horrible fate, is breathtaking, and it resonates across the millennia with the invincibly ignorant smarts of today's 'reality based community' of leftists and new atheists (whom Sophocles would readily have labeled 'sophists'). I mean, if you don't mind the insult to Oedipus, can't you just imagine Algore in his place, overhearing a prophecy 'They oceans will rise because of glowbull warming'? "wull obveeusslee we neeed to chaAange the climutt oursalevs". (Psst! Al! Read Oedipus Rex! That strategy doesn't work out well!).
I did a brief post on this play in one of my first posts on this blog three years ago,
"Did he ever investigate the reason for his deformity? Did he ever ask of his 'parents' (whom here stand in for, and signify a somewhat deeper level of underlying truths and principles) the reason for the scars upon his ankles? Did he ever delve any deeper into the mystery of his 'Fate'? Had he been someone who had paid attention, and sought deeper wisdom, he would have discovered the truth - and in so doing, Possibly might have changed his stars, but Tieresias knew that the Gods & Fate knew their subject, knew that he would plunge in disregarding all custom, disdainful of any and all deeper meanings in favor of a glib solution, and so guaranteed -- his Tragic fate. Oedipus and those like him, would say that his Fate was determined by the Gods, but the Gods only understand that their subjects who suffer from Hubris, will react based on the surface appearance of things; they will not delve deeper into Truths & Principles - the realm of the Gods, the Hubristic will instead attempt to set themselves up as Gods, daring to think that what is apparent to their eyes is all that needs to be known and is in their direct control. The Gods don't determine mens Fate, they just know the results that must follow from those who place appearances above, and in opposition to, the deeper truths of Life.
The scars upon his foot? psh-posh, they're just scars, signifying nothing, implying nothing, able to reveal no Truths of any importance whatsoever - facts are merely facts, and are integrated no further into life than that which their appearance seems to show. In the same fashion, Oedipus "answered" the riddle of the Sphinx:
"What goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening"Oedipus' answer was "Man. As a child he crawls on all fours, as an adult he walks upright on two, and as an old man, he hobbles with a cane". But as with his other solutions, it is a superficial answer, and entirely misses the deeper truth. Babies do crawl on all fours, they are 'in touch' with themselves they see and do what they do - if a lady is fat, they ask why, not realizing the question may be rude. As a fresh faced adult, they are are standing upright, their eyes looking up and away, less in touch with the earth, with reality, easily stepping into holes with their gaze raised high, or overlooks the dangers before them. As an old man, he does walk with a cane, his eyes are cast lower, still seeing far, but also now taking in the ground upon which he carefully walks, walks with the aid of a wooden cane signifying a support fashioned from nature, by his mind, to connect him more steadily with, and so better supported by, the earth - he is not just old, but Wise. What other courses of action might he have considered, if a deeper meaning than his glib reply, had entered his considerations?
Oedipus, in solving the riddle of the Sphinx so swiftly and glibly and sweeping up all glory to himself as a result, unintentionally gave the Sphinx the last laugh, as this man, this leader, armed with easy answers, brings about a doom that will destroy himself, his family, and his community.
Had Oedipus simply paused, questioned, considered, discussed matters, he might have, if not escaped his fate, he might at least have met it with more dignity. Of course, if that was his nature, I suspect the prophecy of the Gods would never have been made in the first place.
"Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes, in defiance of Creon who rules in his stead, resolves to bury her brother Polyneices, slain in his attack on Thebes. She is caught in the act by Creon's watchmen and brought before the king. She justifies her action, asserting that she was bound to obey the eternal laws of right and wrong in spite of any human ordinance. Creon, unrelenting, condemns her to be immured in a rock-hewn chamber. His son Haemon, to whom Antigone is betrothed, pleads in vain for her life and threatens to die with her. Warned by the seer Teiresias Creon repents him and hurries to release Antigone from her rocky prison. But he is too late: he finds lying side by side Antigone who had hanged herself and Haemon who also has perished by his own hand. Returning to the palace he sees within the dead body of his queen who on learning of her son's death has stabbed herself to the heart."
In "Antigone", Sophocles looks at the same situation, but bumped up a notch. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, hears the pronouncement of Creon, and without further consideration or discussion, she takes it upon herself to bury her brother... again, she see's what is 'right' and must not be violated, and that is that. No need for persuasion, argument, etc, just act.
Many have made much of her 'natural rights' speech, but although I agree with that passage given in MY context, I don't believe that Sophocles meant it in the same way in His context. Similar to how many of our age typically see Aristophanes' plat "Lysistrata" as an anti war play, keeping in mind the disdain Greek men typically had for Women, it is far more likely that he meant the play as mockery of those shallow thinkers who thought that something as charged and interrelated as War, could possibly be resolved by something so simplistic as wives holding back conjugal favors from their husbands. It is not an Anti-War play, but an anti anti-war play. Antigone see's a problem, she quickly concludes not only that defiance is called for, but that mature debate is uncalled for. Yes she is brave, and stands up for her convictions... but how substantial are her convictions, and how well does she actually serve them? Does she understand the orders of the Gods regarding burial of the dead... or, perhaps with her father's errors in mind, his disdain for tradition and preference for 'smart' answers, did she just latch onto their laws with no further thought?
The fact that Sophocles thought mature discussion could have changed things, is, I think, shown by how little discussion was needed for Creon to have, in order to realize that he'd made an error, and seeks to resolve it. He's too late of course... all the people who should have maturely discussed the matter were disinclined to for one reason or another, the young woman Antigone, his son Haemon, young and smitten with her, his distraught wife; they were all either too immature or passion filled to do so, and they too acted rashly, and as a result, killed themselves.
I do think Sophocles makes a very strong point that there is such a thing as higher, Natural Law, Antigone states that correctly, but I think his deeper message is that simple 'take scenario "A", connect to idea "B" and produce result/cause "C"', is something which only the young, passionate, distraught and hubristic, would be foolish enough to dare doing. If you are seeking wisdom, it requires engagement and discussion, coolly and Reasonably.
So what does this tell us that is useful in our investigation of the Western concept of Justice?
For one thing, an action that is seemingly sensible on the surface, when considered in a broader, deeper context, those shallow and knee-jerk reactions, far from resolving such situations, tend instead to inflame them, exacerbate them, and lead to disaster (in it's most literal meaning - separation from a guiding star).
Judgment, a key factor in rendering Justice, must be rooted in a far broader context than simply those things which appear on the surface to be 'good' or 'deserved' or 'fair' or 'justified'... when we do so, our results, like Apollo's oracle Teiresias recognized, are determined by those shallow considerations and are eminently predictable. Like Oedipus, your desire to avoid and escape your fate, will be precisely what causes you to bring your deepest fears into a self fulfilled prophecy.
Merely dabbling with principles, treating them as perceptual objects that can be used without reflection, reasoning and political discussion, is little better than Oedipus's thoughtless flight and shallow calculations. Matters must be considered, weighed, discussed, and then acted upon... anything less, will only guarantee that considerably less than what is possible, will be the most that can be expected.
How do you go about doing that? How is it possible to do that? It obviously isn't simply a matter of being concerned, motivated and deeply committed - you've got to look long and hard for two people more concerned, motivated and deeply committed than Oedipus and Antigone were in their situations. And it isn't simply a matter of intelligence, again, Oedipus demonstrated a sharp intelligence in deciphering the riddle of the Sphinx, and Antigone is well aware of the consequences of her actions, she didn't just blunder into her confrontation with Creon... so what more than character and wit is required, and can reasonably be expected of a normal person?
ALL men by nature desire to know
This is how Aristotle began his investigation of first principles, his investigation into what underlies reality and our ability to know it,
"ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things."But as important as the senses and curiosity are to man, Aristotle keeps them in perspective, it is quickly followed up by
""Again, we do not regard any of the senses as Wisdom; yet surely these give the most authoritative knowledge of particulars. But they do not tell us the 'why' of anything-e.g. why fire is hot; they only say that it is hot.Knowledge of those principles and causes, how to detect them and keep your thoughts and actions in align with them, and to reflect upon them in your daily life, engaging your thought in this way, is what helps you from unintentionally bringing about the doom you sought to avoid, or from needlessly sacrificing yourself to a cause that could have been resolved through such reasoning, and how to not only know the difference, but to foresee the difference.
At first he who invented any art whatever that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to recreation, the inventors of the latter were naturally always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all such inventions were already established, the sciences which do not aim at giving pleasure or at the necessities of life were discovered, and first in the places where men first began to have leisure. This is why the mathematical arts were founded in Egypt; for there the priestly caste was allowed to be at leisure.
We have said in the Ethics what the difference is between art and science and the other kindred faculties; but the point of our present discussion is this, that all men suppose what is called Wisdom to deal with the first causes and the principles of things; so that, as has been said before, the man of experience is thought to be wiser than the possessors of any sense-perception whatever, the artist wiser than the men of experience, the master worker than the mechanic, and the theoretical kinds of knowledge to be more of the nature of Wisdom than the productive. Clearly then Wisdom is knowledge about certain principles and causes."
Some key insights of Aristotle, we have let stray to our detriment.
Principle of Non-Contradiction
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article,
Aristotle says that Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) is one of the common axioms, axioms common to all the special sciences. It has no specific subject matter, but applies to everything that is. It is a first principle and the firmest principle... PNC does not function as a premise in any argument... PNC is not a rule of inference. Aristotle says that it is a principle which “is necessary for anyone to have who knows any of the things that are” (Metaph IV 3 1005b15). It is no mere hypothesisWhat does all this mean?
Aristotle explains that, given its peculiar status as the firmest first principle, PNC is not susceptible to demonstration. A demonstration is a deductive argument. If PNC could be deduced from another premise, then that premise would have to be a firmer and prior principle, so PNC could not have been the firmest first principle. Aristotle also says that if PNC could be demonstrated, then everything would be subject to demonstration, which would lead to an infinite regress. Therefore demonstration is ruled out, and one must be wary of reconstructions of Aristotle's discussion in terms of ordinary deductive arguments. Anyone asking for a deductive argument for PNC, as Aristotle points out, is missing the point, or, rather, is asking for something that is impossible without using PNC. You cannot engage in argument unless you rely on PNC. Anyone who claims to reject PNC “for the sake of argument” is similarly misguided.
Given the impossibility of deducing PNC from anything else, one might expect Aristotle to explain the peculiar status of PNC by comparing it with other logical principles that might be rivals for the title of the firmest first principle, for example his version of the law of excluded middle—for any x and for any F, it is necessary either to assert F of x or to deny F of x. Instead, Aristotle defies others to find a prior principle (Metaph IV 4 1006a10–11).“It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect” (with the appropriate qualifications) (Metaph IV 3 1005b19–20).
The second version is as follows: “It is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be (Metaph IV 3 1005b24 cf.1005b29–30).”
It means that there are some things, Axioms, which simply ARE. They cannot be proven logically (gasp! There are things outside of logic? Someone get smelling salts for Sam Harris), because you have to use them in any attempt to prove them, they are below and outside the realm of logic!
Ayn Rand summed up the implications of Aristotle's first Principle of Non Contradiction in a way that is a bit more accessible for us moderns in these Axioms:
1. Existence Exists
2. What exists, exists as something having Identity - it is what it is, no matter what men might wish to the contrary
3. Consciousness is the faculty of perceiving what is
In other words,
- There is no way to discuss what exists, or does not exist... without reference to 'existence'.
- You cannot discuss identity, or something's lack of identity, without reference to Identity.
- You cannot discuss consciousness, or anything outside of consciousness, without being conscious of the reference to consciousness!
They simply ARE, they are axiomatic,
- Existence exists,
- What exists, exists as some thing,
- Consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which is.
It means that the universe exists independently of Man's mind, is prior to Man's mind, and that despite Men's wishes to the contrary (and Descartes, Rousseau, Kant...), it is what it is.
What does Athens have to do with Justice?
Why are such brandy and slippers philosophical subjects of any relevance to our lives, or to any of the political perils such as we are in today? It matters because, while this may sound pointless at the outset, there is not a single theory, not a single proposition or policy of the Left which can withstand the onslaught of Aristotle's axiom, and it's implications as identified by Ayn Rand. Leftism, and all things leftist, is rooted in the denial of identity, the denial of non-contradiction, and most of all, the denial of consciousness, of man's nature; of Man having a specific and definable nature, and it is the doubt of this beginning in the modern age, by implication, with Machiavelli and Hobbes, but more explicitly with Descartes, and then flagrantly with Rousseau, Kant, Peirce, Marx & Dewey.
That denial of man's nature and his ability to know reality, has led to rivers of blood a hundred million corpses strong, and it all began from the attempt to deny what Aristotle tried to make us aware of nearly three thousand years ago.
A Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian Culture
It's common in Conservative circles to hear the first half of that dropped when speaking of our Culture, and it is, IMHO, a dangerous omission to make. Without Aristotle, and the rest of Greco/Roman culture, it is unlikely we'd have a concept of Justice at all, it is also unlikely that there would even be a 'Judeo/Christian' culture to speak of. For those Biblically minded readers who start at that, I don't mean it dismissively, but they'd do good to recall that the original New Testament was written in Greek. The growth of the early Church is inseperable from it's Roman structures - even the Pope, the Pontificus Maximus, was taken from the title of the traditional spiritual leader of Rome. And for those who focus on the 'Judeo' portion, would do well to recall that the Jews were so thoroughly Hellenized, especially in Alexandria, that the Septuagint needed to be written because the majority of Jews at that time knew more of Greek, than Hebrew.
Did Aristotle make errors in attempting to apply his Axiom? Yes, he did. Did he make errors in applying his rules of Logic? Yes. Did he make some over broad assumptions in his politics? Definitely. So why pay attention to him these thousands of years after his bones have rotted into the dirt of Greece? Because his ideas, not the mistaken use of them, but his ideas in themselves, have provided us with the tools to discover what was right, helped us to discover what made sense and how to verify it, he supplied us with the method to determine what was Just, and unjust - he, more than any other, regarding all that we in the West have gotten right, he made it possible for us to get it right.
In the first series of posts on Justice, I looked at how the ideas of Descartes, Hume & Rousseau, laid the basis for the positions of the left which have eroded the foundations of Western Civilization. Well, without the likes of Aristotle, there would have been no foundations to erode; there would have been no Cicero(the importance of his thought to our Founders ideas is difficult to overstate), there would have been no Aquinas, there would not even have been a Bacon (though he'd resent admitting that), and there certainly would have been no John Locke, and so no Sam Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison - in short, there would have been no America, had Plato not taken a precocious junior genius from the boondocks of Stagira, Aristotle, into his Academy, 2,500 years ago.
If you don't want to take my word for it, try that of John Adams, who
"... responded indignantly to an accout fo Frederick the Great's dream, in which HOmer and Virgil returned to Earth to burn their works in frustration at the superiority of Voltaire's writings. Adams grumbled:"His adulation of Voltaire is babyish. He knew nothing of Homer or Virgil. He was totally ignorant of the languages of both"... "In 1807 he quoted from Juvenal's Satires(10.265) regarding Aaron Burr:"All Divinities are absent if Prudence is absent." By then Adams' library contained the complete works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Tacitus, Sallust, Livy, Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Ovid Lucretius, Cicero, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius..." [from "The Founders and the Classics", Carl J. Richard]We are a Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian Nation, that is true, and without the first half of that term, the 2nd half would have been unlikely ever to come to pass, certainly not in any way recognizable to how we know it today.
The Founding Fathers modeled our government, and our ideas of law and citizenship, heavily upon what they found best in the cultures of Greece and Rome, and without them, we would not be who we became. Which, IMHO, is the main reason why the classics were Target #1 of the Proregressives educationista policies - they worked tirelessly to dehumanize the Humanities, to 'eliminate the classics from all curriculum'! Which they pretty much had succeeded in doing by the early 1900's.
Our Founders education was centered around a knowledge of Greek and Latin, of not only imbibing Homer, Virgil, Plutarch, Cicero, but of arguing propositions in disputations before the class with other students, and against their Masters. That method, the Scholastic Method (derided today as exercises in 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin'), meant that Teachers had to actually understand their subject, and how it integrated with other subjects - the modern practice of of merely prepping for a PowerPoint presentation of a subject matter they knew little better than their students, would not have been possible in the schools and colleges of the Founders era (if you can find a copy of "Education Of The Founding Fathers Of The Republic -Scholasticism In The Colonial Colleges" by James Walsh, get it, or you can find it online here, it is an excellent description of this).
We can see the results of that around us today, with uninspired students of uninspiring teachers, neither teaching nor learning anything worthwhile or well. In schools today we are drilled in facts and disintegrated details in order to acquire useful 'skills', but it does not compare with an integrated view of life, a worthy life centered around attaining Virtue, and engaging in disputatious argument as a chief tool for learning and understanding not only that particular subject at hand, but its dependence upon the other subjects in the curriculum, and for the purpose of not merely acquiring 'skills', but of learning to learn how to attain a life worth living.
The former 'educational' method, is suited only to calculations of 'fairness' and 'equality', while the later is concerned with achieving an Education which will be concerned with Justice in nearly every respect.
Next post, a glance into Aristotle's Logic and Politics, and their continuing relevance to our understanding of Justice today.