Lecture 14

Lecture 14


False relations with others in the second person are also exemplified by the phenomena of sycophancy and flattery. Flattery is the practice of praising or complimenting unduly or insincerely, of gratifying the vanity or self-esteem of someone to make him self-complacent, to make him feel honoured or distinguished. Here it is the self-estimation of the other that is pandered to in order to insincerely, and thus falsely, elevate them in their feeling of self-standing. The other encounters the world through my flattering words or lo/goi, which effect an uplifting of mood in the other and an accompanying exaltation or aggrandizing of his self-estimation.

Sycophancy is an extreme form of flattery and thus an extreme form of falsity in my dealings with another. As a sycophant, I am a mean, servile, cringing, or abject flatterer, i.e. a parasite, toady, lickspittle who toadies in attending to the other with servility from interested motives in order to gain some advantage from him. As a toady, I have lost all self-respect and made myself lower from base motives.

In their not so obvious and extreme forms, both flattery and conceit permeate and lubricate relations with others and social life as a whole. Being a social being implies always, no matter how latently, the concern (Besorgnis) and even anxiety with one's own standing vis-à-vis the other. We flatter each other's vanity if only to find favour with the other, to dispose them well toward us. Respect for the other and flattery are often indistinguishable, ambiguous. Respect for the other expressed in politeness can slip into the subtle attempt to boost the other's vanity. We also present ourselves to each other from our best sides, hint at our abilities in incidental remarks in order to show the standing of who we are. Such self-display is often indistinguishable from healthy self-confidence. Such ambiguity in our relations with others, such flickering between falsity and forthrightness is essential because to be a social being means being estimated by others. Who I am as somewho depends always and essentially on the other.

Aristotle on flattery in the Rhetoric

This is shown in particular by Aristotle's thought on the phenomenon of shame in the Rhetoric Book II, which comes after the treatment of fear (fo/boj) and confidence (qa/rsoj). It will be recalled that Heidegger famously took up Aristotle's analysis of fear and cast Angst in a key role as a fundamental mood in Sein und Zeit. Whereas fear is a mood concerning principally oneself, shame is a phenomenon explicitly situated also in the second-person dimension of human being. It is a feeling bad about oneself in relation to others.

e¦/stw d¯h\ ai)sxu/nh lu/ph tij h)\ taraxh¯ periÜ ta\ ei)j a)doci/an faino/mena fe/rein tw=n kakw=n, h)\ paro/ntwn h)\ gegono/twn h)\ mello/ntwn. (Rhet. II v. 1383b13)

Let shame then be defined as a kind of dejectedness or unease about a self-showing of misdeeds, past, present or future, which bear one into a loss of standing in the opinion of others.

Among the misdeeds which an individual can commit, Aristotle mentions flattery, which is characterized as "praising people when they are present, overpraising their good qualities and palliating the bad" (1383b30). Overpraising consists in putting another person's good qualities on display, in showing them off more than is their due. Its opposite, palliation, is a cloaking, a kind of glossing over and blurring (sunalei/fein 1383b30) which hides a person's bad qualities for the sake of their apparent good standing. A flatterer performs a bad act or misdeed because he distorts the truth of another in their standing as somewho, by either over-disclosing or covering up. Over-disclosure is thus also a kind of falsity which distorts how a person reveals himself of himself in his abilities. The over-disclosure and covering-up practised by a flatterer aim at enhancing the stand of another person, at placing them in a good light in which they can vainly enjoy their own radiance as somewho. The stand which someone occupies in second-person being is thus also a function of truth, understood as the disclosure of someone as who they are. Whoness is a kind of truth as standing presence in the dimension of second-person being, i.e. whoness is one's standing presence and definition in the eyes of others.

In feeling shame about his actions, the flatterer "feels downcast or troubled" (1383b13) about a bad action which would lead to a loss of standing in the eyes of others, to a standing outside their good opinion of him or to a)doci/a. In losing one's reputation, one is no longer held so highly by others and thus loses height and weight as a being in the second person. In being ashamed, I feel bad about myself but with respect to how others hold or would hold me to be in the light of misdeeds that could be attributed to me. The practice of over-exalting the who-stand of another or cloaking the blemishes of that person's stand (usually from self-interested or even base motives) is regarded as a misdeed, as bad, because it promotes a falsity. If whoness consists in showing off oneself in one's abilities, attainments, achievements, qualities, etc., such abilities, attainments, achievements and qualities should at least be shown in their true and balanced light. Moreover, modesty dictates that one does not unduly occupy the space of self-showing but remain content with shining quietly.

Plato on flattery in Gorgias

In his struggle against the sophists, those seducers by means of words, Plato accords a weighty role to the concept of flattery (kolakei/a) in the attempt to make clear what is wrong with rhetoric and sophistry. In fact, Plato talks of flattery and flatterers very often in his dialogues. The figure after whom the dialogue is named, Gorgias, was a famous rhetor, and Socrates carries on his dialogue with young men such as Polus and Callicles who are highly impressed by Gorgias and the power of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is characterized as a part of the phenomenon of flattery analogous to culinary skill ( o)yopoii/a 462e) which is defined to be flattery of the body. Rhetoric flatters the soul with words, just as music flatters it with pleasant sounds (501e ff). The aim of both rhetoric and music is to find favour (xari/zesqai 502c) with an audience by uplifting the soul into a good mood (h(donh/ 502a). In the case of rhetoric, the audience consists of the "citizens' souls" (tw=n politw=n ai( yuxai/ 503a). This makes rhetoric an inferior, imitative part of the art of caring for social being (politikh=j mori/ou ei)/dwlon 463d).

To be continued...

Posts: 25 | Location: Cologne, Germany | Registered: December 06, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
  Powered by Social Strata  

All posts, unless otherwise publishèd, are © their several authors.