This is the only internet site where you will get a comprehensive and integrated perspective on how Greek Philosophy and Christian Revelation came together to form Western Civilization and why the West is on the verge of collapse today. I welcome you if you are a first time visitor! Please check out the Table of Contents. I publish two posts a month of original material.
Musical artist Joni Mitchell once said, “Music comes from the muses, and not other musicians,” illustrating that the concept of the muse is alive and well in modern times. Many would say that she was speaking figuratively, but was she?
Music comes from the muses.
This leads us to the question: where do poets and musicians get their inspiration? In fact, we get the word “music” from the word “muse.” This is the operative question in Plato’s dialogue, Ion. Before dismissing the concept of the muse, we should read Ion.
And what did Plato think about poets and artists in general? In his dialogues Laws, Republic, and Phaedrus, he discusses poets, but only incidentally in relation to other matters. What is fascinating about “Ion” is that it is the only one of Plato’s dialogues where he directly addresses the issue. Consequently, we gain deeper insight into his perspective on the matter.1Ion is the world’s oldest surviving book on art theory, and it holds implications for how we view art and artists today.
This is the final installment of a four-part series on Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He is the man who achieved with a pen what the nuclear arms buildup of the 20th century could not do: bring down the mighty Soviet Union. I left off in POST 83 discussing Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ideas about the spiritual poverty of Western materialism. (Italics below added for emphasis.)
Solzhenitsyn proved that the pen is mightier than the sword, for his writings were instrumental in toppling an evil superpower. If you would like to start at the beginning, see Post 81. Click the link to read his speech in its entirety.
Just as Solzhenitsyn agitated the Soviet Union with his criticisms, so he agitated the West with his critique of the United States during his 1978 Harvard address. This is Part 2 of that address. See Post 81 for background and discussion of Part 1.
When I was growing up, in the midst of the Cold War, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) was a household name. Older readers, like myself, will remember his name. Younger readers, tragically, have never heard of him.
He was known for being the Soviet dissident who spent years in a Soviet gulag for a simple critique of Stalin and eventually wrote his famous Gulag Archipelago, which recounted the harsh, miserable existence in a Soviet labor camp, shedding light on the evils of the Soviet Communist system. Because of that, he was one of my childhood heroes. Beginning in 2009, Gulag became required reading in Russia. 1 The Gulag Archipelago has sold tens of millions of copies. 2 His writings were significantly responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.
In 1978, he gave his famous Harvard Commencement Address, which did not go very well. Americans naively thought that Solzhenitsyn, a natural political and cultural critic, would spare them the scrutiny he had dished out to the Soviets. They were wrong. His critique of America during that speech is even more relevant now than it was over forty years ago. A link to his speech is provided below.
Despite all of our technology, the Greeks were, in many ways, wiser than we are. We should not mistake knowledge for wisdom, for we have much more knowledge. They were wiser for many reasons, but especially because they recognized that human beings have immortal souls, something that we have lost today. This is the subject of Plato’s Phaedo.
Many people think about the afterlife on a regular basis, while others avoid the subject. But coming to grips with our mortality is essential if we are going to have any sort of meaningful life. This is what Plato’s Phaedo is all about. After all, as the saying goes, if you don’t know how to die, then you don’t know how to live.
Phaedo deals with the remaining hours of Socrates’ life. As such, there is much we can learn from it. The contrast above is stark and represents what Socrates accomplished in his death: turning the West from a violence-based culture to one of reason. On the right, we have the famous Greek hero Achilles, whose death was truly a tragedy. On the left, we have the famous Greek philosopher Socrates, whose death was truly heroic.
Achilles represents an age in Greek history when men could only aspire to greatness by aspiring to glory in war. The ancient Greeks termed this kleos. Any kleos that Achilles gained in battle was to know avail, for the brooding, angry warrior ended up in the shadowy existence of the underworld.
Socrates, by his death, taught us that there was a far superior way, the way of virtue, or arete. Socrates sought to exercise reason in the face of evil and injustice, not returning evil for evil. This made him virtuous. By doing so, he set the West on a better, but not perfect, trajectory. This lasted until the French Revolution, which set the way of violence once again as the primary means of controlling populations through the all-powerful nation-state.
By studying Socrates’ death, we can hope to learn the difference between arete and kleos. If we can do that as a culture at large, then there is hope for the future. If not, then the West will descend into a new Dark Age that characterized the Greek Homeric Age. Homer collected stories about Achilles and others during that time and passed them down to future generations. Maybe Socrates can show us a better way.
Since the beginning of human history, nations and empires have risen and fallen. We live in interesting times, when the United States Empire and even the West itself appear to have collapsed. Western Civilization will lose the progress it has made in a few decades if things continue as they are.In light of these events, my Easter post this year deals with the death and resurrection of the nation of Israel.
Can a common, uneducated slave do complex geometry without ever learning it? This is one of the questions in Plato’s Meno. Plato was hoping that the answer to this question was yes, for that would give hope to slaves everywhere.
This and other unusual aspects of the dialogue make it one of Plato’s most interesting and thought-provoking dialogues.