Thursday, April 16, 2015

Plato's Call for Philosophical Friendship

A major topic of concern in my so-called philosophical work is the problem of community. Philosophy is unable to exist without a community of thinkers in discourse. However, a community of discourse can be envisioned in many ways and it is important to consider which ones have been taken to be suitable for philosophy. Plato's work seems in great part to be concerned with this problem of philosophical community, and since I feel a kinship towards him as regards the problems philosophical community seem to face I will take him as a guide.
Plato frequently distinguishes between dialectic and debate (and their respective cultures) explicitly and through illustrating these different cultures dramatically. Plato continually affirms dialectic over debate. I see the culture of dialectic in Plato as concerned with truth, and as being a true philosophical culture.
In Plato, dialectic is not concerned with refutation but rather with the disclosure of truth. Discourse (logos) purports to disclose truth, yet it can fail. Socrates' method of dialectic (which even has more than one style) detects such failure by submitting the discourse to questions that seek the grounds of such disclosure. 
A typical result of Socrates' style of dialectic is that no ground is discovered in the discourse of the interlocutor. This does not mean that there actually is no ground, but at least that it is obscured. There are a number of different responses to being presented with the groundlessness of a position (as well as many ways to discover it), but they all seem to contain an element of confusion and a response to that confusion. 
If the grounds of a discourse are not brought to light through dialectic confusion results. Interlocutors deal with this confusion in a number of ways both positive (wonder, interest, friendship, &c) and negative (recalcitrance, filibustering, suspicion, &c). The confusion typical positive outcome suggest something like an anxiety about now knowing whereby one wants to know. This knowing or acknowledged ignorance is a genuine concern for truth where truth was understood as what was unable to be uncovered in the dialectic.
Much of Plato's writing seems intended to promote the positive responses to the confusion of dialectic and justify them over the negative responses. There is another way of reading the results of dialectic that wasn't clearly available or of interest to Plato: evaluation by rules of (more or less)formal logic. When one looks to the discussion with a view primarily to its correctness, one losses access to the work being done to attain to the ground of the discourse and instead only anticipates the errors that the interlocutor may stumble into.
The confusion that interlocutors fall into (in Plato and in every day discourse) is not primordially the result of the violation of rules. These days we are hyper-aware of logical rules. Rules of this kind only seem to emerge from diagnosing the ways a discourse can become confused and appear ungrounded. A discourse seeks to disclose something, and discovering its ungroundedness is essentially discovering the forgetfulness of what it was trying to show through the discourse. This kind of forgetfulness is not simply the violation of formal logic, but yet these violations - since they have a regularity - can be read out of the discourse.
On the basis of developing a more or less formal understanding of discourse there is a new attitude one can take that doesn't necessarily concern itself with disclosure but with keeping to the rules, and even playing within the rules. One can present a discourse that avoids those pitfalls and can be persuasive without being concerned with the truth (rhetoric), or introduce paradoxes that intentionally confuse (eristics). With these external guidelines there is the potential for a kind of sport of discourse; this discourse is not concerned with the truth, but with control, power and gain. The culture built around this type of discourse is that of debate or sophistry.
Plato seems to see the negative attitudes of confronting confusion in discourse as promoting or at least accompanying a culture of sophistry. Plato strives to illustrate the needfulness and grounds for true philosophical discourse. He clarifies that which awakens speech into its capacity to disclose: things. He also works out the presuppositions of these things in their capacity to be disclosed through discourse: forms (ideas). 
Plato continually illustrates the difficulty the lover of truth faces in being received with the right attitude. Socrates is continually misunderstood, both by the sophists he discusses with, and by his own friends. It hardly needs to be pointed out that this confusion about Socrates' attitude contributes to his own death, both in the source of his accusation of impiety and in the misunderstanding of his own self-defense.
There seems to be a prejudice against truth that naturally arises from fear and misunderstanding of the anxiety that is the call to the truth. One feels confused and feels thrown out of the truth, but the pain of falling out of the truth is also the invitation or interest of getting back in.
When one grounds philosophy in a system of logic one begins to forget the importance of discourse in its disclosing character, and the sort of community that is required for a discourse at all, let alone a discourse guided by a love of wisdom. Philosophy of this sort is more like sophistry and debate. It no longer concerns itself primarily with disclosing truth, and merely runs along the rails that will keep it from contradictions.
Logic has gained a standing that seems unassailable, and it is correct for logic to be unassailable within certain bounds. It is not appropriate to found the essence of discourse, the attitude towards truth or philosophy itself by this kind of logic.

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