Monday, 10 April 2017

Plato's Republic as Psychological Treatise

While the traditional view of Plato's Republic is that it is a political treatise discussing the best form of government, allegedly inspired by the disciplined, austere, oligarchic Spartan example as opposed to the decadent, undisciplined, democratic Athenian example, the Robin Waterfield edition of the work offers a different angle, to wit, that Plato's Republic is a psychological treatise recommending the rule of reason over the passions. 

Thus, the philosopher-kings are none other than the two sides of the neocortex, which enable higher brain functions, including reason, and that the lower you go in the ideal community, the baser the brain function, with the reptilian, basic survival mechanism at the bottom. 

The community as portrayed by Plato in his book is really an allegory for healthy psychology, where consciousness is unified and not led astray by emotionality taking over or basic instincts such as lust and survival counting for more than their fair share.

It seems to me that the work operates on both levels, i.e. a psychological internal level and a political external level, understanding as the mysteries-initiate Plato did that it takes knowing oneself and mastering one's inner kingdom to get a grip on the reality outside and the external kingdom of human society. 

Nonetheless it could be convincingly and respectably argued that a community where all are masters of themselves, unified and internally harmonious, has no need for 'philosopher-kings' because where all are internal monarchs, external anarchy manifests, i.e. where one and all is his or her own master, there is no room for capriciously designated leaders to rule others from on high with the effect of enslaving the latter. 

Nietzsche's Position on Morality in Five Paragraphs

To reiterate what I wrote in Amorality of Nature - Knowledge of Good and Evil, before moral evaluations are introduced into the mix, amorality, not immorality, is the rule, for immorality exists only in relationship to morality. Nature is neither moral nor immoral in this regard but amoral, i.e lies outside the concepts of good and evil. For example, it would be a gross anthropocentrism to regard a tiger eating its prey for food to be an 'immoral' act - the tiger's existence lies outside good and evil, not himself being a member of the human species.

The acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil in the Hebrew Bible introduced moral evaluations into the human kingdom, which therefore became removed from nature's amorality and essential balance, with the result that predatory conduct was regarded as immoral for the first time. In other words, immorality takes the place of amorality, that level of existence which lies, as philosopher Nietzsche would say, 'beyond good and evil'. 

The self-proclaimed 'immoralist' philosopher regarded the transition from amoral evaluations to moral ones as a decadent regression, even as early on as his book The Birth of Tragedy where he praises the Olympian gaze of authors like Aeschylus and Sophocles in contrast to the moral, human-all-too-human rationalism of thinkers like Socrates and Euripides, creating in his estimation neurosis and instinctual corruption within the human body, understood both individually and collectively. 

He claimed that moral evaluations as propagated by Platonism and Christianity lead to the advent of nihilism, the devaluation of the highest values manifesting in spiritual exhaustion. This is because he regards these evaluations as being at odds with reality which, for him, remains amoral, there being no such thing as 'moral facts', as he once wrote. His hope for the overcoming of nihilism, the increasing meaninglessness of and disgust with life, lied with creative individuals who would come to offer means of evaluation that do not pass moral judgement but instead apprehend and redeem the world as it is, not for how it should be.

It could be argued that philosopher Martin Heidegger saw himself in such terms, writing as he did a treatise on Being and Time, devoid of traditional moral value-judgements except in so far as he highlights the importance of care. Heidegger's antisemitism might even have something to do with the fact, as Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, that the moral worldview was largely a Jewish invention (suiting, as Nietzsche argued, the interests of the priest class since where there is moral responsibility there is moral culpability and therefore moral accountability to said priest class) and that, as we saw, this moral worldview removed us as a species from 'Being' and arguably paved the way for the nature-destroying and nature-altering technological universe we live in today. This is possibly what Nietzsche had in mind when he wrote in his Anti-Christ book that, unlike other peoples of the Ancient World, the Jews chose not between Being and Non-Being but 
"Being at all costs."
It remains to be seen whether a categorical return to amoral evaluations is a sensible idea and whether this might not simply lead to rampant social darwinism and political neo-feudalism with human misery on a mass scale as their direct consequence.