Lecture 15

Lecture 15

In standard translations, politikh/ is rendered as Staatskunst or 'politics'. But what is politics? The Greek po/lij was not a state in the modern sense but an historical way of living together, gathered around the pole (po/loj) of a shared understanding of the world. Politics in the Greek sense has to be understood as the deliberative care for the issues that concern living together in intercourse with one another. In this deliberation on what is to be done and what laws are to be posited, rhetoric appeals in words to what is "always most pleasantly uplifting" (t%= a)ei\ h(di/st% 464d).

Plato refuses to accord rhetoric the title of an art (te/xnh), and calls it instead a mere empirical skill (e)mpeiri/a 465a) which "does not have any defining, insightful lo/goj at all" (ou)k e)/xei lo/gon ou)de/na 465a). For genuine practitioners of the technical arts, by contrast, "each has a view of their proper final work" (ble/pontej pro\j to\ au)tw=n e)/rgon e(/kastoj 503d) so that "what is worked on is given a certain definite shape like some kind of look" (o(/pwj a)\n ei)=doj ti au)t%= sxv= tou=to o\( e)rgi/zetai 503e). For the Greeks, te/xnh is a kind of knowledge which has clearly in pre-view what is to be brought forth and which guides the actions performed by the craftsman, etc. so that, bit by bit, the final look of what he has in view takes on shape. An empirical skill, by contrast, does not have such insight and works only according to rules of thumb about "what usually happens" (ei)wqo/toj gi/gnesqai 501b). The lo/goj of te/xnh is able to discursively define the final look of the work to be produced by specifying the cause for each thing (ai)ti/an e(ka/stou 465a) and knowing "what its nature or being is" (a)/tta th\n fu/sin e)sti/n 465a). According to Plato's assessment, such a defining lo/goj is lacking in empirical skills such as rhetoric.

Rhetoric is concerned with pandering to the moods of an audience in order to lift them and not with communicating insight. Whereas Aristotle understands flattery as a pandering to someone's vanity so that they enjoy their standing as somewho, Plato's understanding of flattery encapsulates more a pandering to others' desires rather than addressing their understanding. This difference in emphasis between Plato and Aristotle seems to derive from the circumstance that Plato concentrates his view on a tripartite conception of the human soul consisting of desire, passion and understanding, as outlined earlier in these introductory lectures. Aristotle, by contrast, is able to think through the social relations among people, i.e. he is able to bring the second-person dimension of being more into view.

For Plato, the human soul (yuxh/) or human openness to being "has to be curtailed" (kolaste/oj e)sti/ 527b) and bridled because its greatest part, i.e. its desires, tends to unbridledness (a)kolasi/a). The soul has to be "cropped back from what it desires" (a)f" w(=n e)piqumei= kola/zein 505b) so that understanding is established as the governing instance. Understanding, the logos, has the role in Plato's/Socrates' casting of human being of ruling it and guiding it according to what it sees and defines as good (a)gaqo/n) for human living. This is why in Gorgias, Socrates does not regard a rhetor or a tyrant as having "great power" (to\ me/ga du/nasqai 466e, 468e, 469e, 470a), since great power must properly be understood as great ability guided by the understanding of what is good. "Power is ... good, but to do what one likes without insight ... is bad." (h( de du/namij e)stin a)gaqo/n, to\ de\ poiei=n a)/neu nou= a(\ dokei= kako\n ei)=nai 467a) Someone who can do what he likes, including killing and banishing others, has only "little power/ability" (smikro\n du/nasqai 470b) because actions are done not for their own sake, but for the sake of some good (e(/neka tou= a)gaqou= 468b).

There is a polysemy in the Greek concept of du/nasqai which signifies not only brute political power (such as that exercised by a dynasty), and not only economic power by virtue of money and property (ou)si/a, Vermögen), but also potency, possibility, ability, know-how. A rhetor's or tyrant's soul is unjust (a)/dikoj) in the sense of being out of joint (a)/dikoj) because understanding is not in control. Understanding has to be rescued by sophrosyne from the unbridled urgings of desire. What a human being can do (du/namij, Vermögen), its striving (filei=n), must be given direction by understanding, which has the role of defining discursively the outlines of beings as such for the sake of shared human existence in the polis. Only then can a virtuous, i.e. properly manly, man come to stand.

Plato's Socrates damns flattery because it is a technique of gaining influence over others by pandering to what they want to hear instead of disciplining the other's soul in order that its internal relations and thus the individual's actions are just, in joint. The phenomenon of flattery itself must be understood as a skill in aggrandizing another's self-estimation. This self-estimation is the ei)=doj or 'look' or 'image' which an individual has of itself and is insofar the self-definition of an individual within the vertically ordered dimension of whoness. The self-definition is a self-image of what the individual is good-for (a)gaqo/n) in the sense of its abilities, assets, social ranking, power, etc.

Mutual eyeing of status as who: covert hostility

In any encounter between individuals there is a mutual eyeing of each other's presented looks or images as somewho. This eyeing is an estimation of where the other stands in the vertical dimension of whoness. It need not be explicit and is mostly always already implicitly understood and unarticulated. The mutual showing-off of who one is takes place most superficially and first of all in the image one presents publicly through one's clothes and stature. Even physical stature is always already interpreted, albeit inarticulately, as an aspect of who-standing. Such self-presentation is anonymous and depends only on average images of how one looks which are employed for self-definition. The neglect of one's outward look and appearance, too, is a self-presentation which shows off who the individual is.

To be continued...

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