Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pursuit of the Good and the Noble Lie in Plato’s Republic

In Plato’s Republic, a dialogue between Socrates and several other thinkers concerns itself with the definition of justice on both a personal and socio-political level.  In doing so, the discussion is sidetracked to investigating The Good.  In this discussion, Socrates states that “every soul pursues the good,” a statement that conflicts with the other Platonic theory that social order must be gained through a “Noble Lie.” The puzzle is that if everyone pursues good, why is there any need for the Noble Lie?   
The existence of the Noble Lie leads modern readers one of two contradictory conclusions. The first is that the desire to know The Good is not as universal as Plato infers, thus making the Noble Lie a necessity in order to keep people from deviating from its pursuit. The other conclusion casts a more devious light on Plato’s entire philosophy, because if people really do pursue the good, then the Noble Lie implies that Plato’s ideal Republic is a façade disguising an institution of caste strictures, brainwashing, and totalitarianism.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Variations on a Theme: The Nature of Change and its Role in the Cosmos

Change (chānj) v.t.
1, make different; alter.
2, replace by another; substitute.
3, give and take reciprocally; exchange.
--v.i. become different; pass from one condition or state to another.
n. 1, alteration; modification; transformation.
2 substitution; exchange.
3, variety; novelty.

What exactly is change, and how does it function and interact with the rest of the universe? Since the answer affects any subsequent theories on the universe, its substance and organization, this is a question that occupies a significant part of Presocratic thought. Within the individual philosophies of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Zeno, theories of change and how it interacts with the universe are not so dissimilar, in that change is only a variation on a single theme.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Language, Value, and "Troilus and Cressida"

In any work, the intentions of an author influence how that text is read and applied to everyday life.  Because of this, William Shakespeare’s intentions in writing Troilus and Cressida, what his message about language and the debate between inherent worth and intrinsic value, are particularly important to how we understand the play’s characters and their actions, and interpreting the underlying meaning is perhaps the most elusive aspect of an already ambiguous text.  

Throughout the debate within the play of these two methods of valuation, Shakespeare demonstrates that language is a creative force, for good or bad. It is a way of perpetuating certain concepts of how people are valued, and that one’s perceptions of reality—especially the reality of identity—can be made into an illusion through the manipulation of words.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Speaking Out No Matter the Cost: Chretien de Troyes' "Erec et Enide"

One of the most pivotal and mysterious parts of Chretien de Troyes’ Erec and Enide is the vow of silence. The vow of silence is the source not only of physical conflict—Enide’s breaking her vow introduces Erec’s fight scenes—but also moral and emotional conflict between the husband and wife.  As a plot device the vow illustrates the relationship between Erec and Enide in not only peaceful, but also dangerous circumstances. In this way the story Erec and Enide shows the conflict between true, self-sacrificing love and the expectations of fulfilling chivalric codes of honor.

There isn’t necessarily a premeditated reason for the vow of silence. However, investigating its possible functions is important in order to understand the plot as a whole. Although typical romance cycles are by nature cyclonical and disconnected, this Chretien de Troyes romance is atypical in that other parts of the story are interconnected with the vow of silence. Enide’s first words are what cause Erec’s anger, and her enforced vow of silence is a consequence of this action. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Deceitful above All Things: Condemnation of Human Nature in “Young Goodman Brown” and "The Mysterious Stranger"

The works of both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain critique the moral conventions of not only historical societies, but that of their contemporaries. Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” and Twain’s unfinished novella “The Mysterious Stranger,” for example, make grim judgments on innate characteristics of human nature. Although their individual aspects differ, both works demonstrate humanity as naturally depraved, hereditarily corrupted, and without any hope of breaking this futile cycle of sin and hypocrisy. Despite the differences between the works, therefore, they communicate a common message about the status of human “civilization” throughout history. 

In “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Mysterious Stranger,” an ignorant young human comes into contact with a devil-figure and experience supernatural incidents. The protagonists are naïve in their preconceptions of humanity’s moral and social uprightness, while the devil-figures show the protagonists the diabolic character traits in human nature. Through interactions with these supernatural entities, both Hawthorne and Twain illustrate how humanity is so corrupt, even the devil himself “in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man.”