Wednesday, May 22, 2013

P{ost|ro}logue on Cephalus

image by LMRitchie
As you may recall, I had a series going for a while developing some thoughts on the character of Cephalus in Plato's Republic. The original intention of this series was to demonstrate and explain clearly some features of dialectic that would be helpful for someone trying to read the Republic. I see that as a matter of fact I had nothing clear and helpful to say. Rimwell's response especially indicates how far I was from cogency.

Let me start again with a few theses I would like to defend and develop:
  1. Cephalus and his sons are individualistic progressivists, not traditionalists
  2. Cephalus is morally engaged, if philosophically complacent
  3. Socratic irony is collaborative, not adversarial
  4. Dialectic is inclusive in intent, if exclusive in effect
I want to develop these theses against the background of some typical strains of interpretation: 
  1. The standard reading, according to which:
    1. The much-repeated and never-demonstrated premise that "helping friends and harming enemies" is a core precept of traditional Greek morality. 
    2. The narrative according to which prior to Plato, virtue is conceived externally, in terms of canons of behavior.
    3. The interpretation of Socratic irony as a clever argumentative tactic.
  2. The Straussian tradition, according to which:
    1. Interpretation of Plato depends on an interpretation of Socratic irony, and an exposition of the genre of Platonic dialog (a thesis I endorse).
    2. Socratic irony is a practice of treating different kinds of people differently (a thesis which Strauss advances on the basis of a reading of Xenophon, and tries to apply to Plato).
    3. Cephalus represents ancestral piety.
    4. Philosophy as advocated by Plato opposes itself to piety and tradition.