Tuesday, July 5, 2016

With Plato’s Protagoras in a bathtub

Yesterday I wrote in my post: ‘in preparation for my preceding blog-entry I read the whole Protagoras aloud … it is from this Protagoras freshly deposited in my subconscious that I draw the posts on my blog related to the theme.’

I was unhappy with ‘this Protagoras freshly deposited in my subconscious’ as soon as I posted the entry, but I let it be, for any correction involves reflection on the way in which that, which passes into our sub-conscious, exists there, and this is no easy thing, for we can have any notion of it only through the way in which our subconscious expresses itself in our consciousness.

I went for a walk with my dog. To my mind came a passage from the first book of the Republic where Socrates discusses justice with Polemarchus. The latter defines justice as the art of ‘doing good to friends and harm to enemies’ (332d). Socrates asks who would be better in doing so concerning health, a just man on account of the art of justice, or a doctor on account of his art of medicine? After a few similar examples he asks what is it, for which justice is useful. Polemarchus answers that it is useful when it comes to dealings with money. So Socrates asks, when it comes to ship-building, who is better qualified to use money well, a ship-builder or a just man on account of justice? So Polemarchus suggests that justice is most useful ‘When you want a deposit to be kept safely (Hotan parakatathesthai kai sȏn einai).’ – Socrates: ‘You mean (Oukoun legeis) when money is not wanted for use (hotan mȇden deȇi autȏi chrȇsthai), but allowed to lie (alla keisthai)? That is to say, justice is useful when the money which it supervises is useless (Hotan ara achrȇston ȇi to argurion, tote chrȇsimos ep’ autȏi hȇ dikaiosunȇ)?’ (333c7-d1, tr. B. Jowett)

Then came to my mind a passage from Alan Wood’s biography of Bertrand Russell, in which he speaks of Russell’s ‘conscious use of the unconscious mind. He came to learn by experience that, if he had to write something difficult, he should think about it as hard as possible for a few hours or days, and then “give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed underground”. Months later he would return consciously to the subject, and find that the work had been done.’ (p. 50)

Just before going to bed I wrote on my computer the title of my ‘next’ post: ‘Being together in Plato’s Protagoras’, in which I would discuss the sunousia (‘being-together’), inadequately rendered by C. C. W. Taylor as ‘conversation’ in his translation of the dialogue.

This morning I did my usual physical exercise and then took my usual bath. And as I was lying in the bath, Socrates’ sunousia – his ‘being together’ – with Protagoras began to unfold in my mind in its entirety, as a whole, and in detail, as Socrates narrated it to his friends, my mind passing from one scene to another. It could thus come to life only because it had been alive in my subconscious ever since I presented it there through my reading the Protagoras aloud.

So what is the way the Protagoras exists in my subconscious? It went all ‘in’ in the Greek, but in my bath it came all ‘out’ into my consciousness in English. It must exist there in the ‘form’ beyond any ‘form’; beyond the form of Greek in which it went ‘in’ and beyond the form of English in which it came ‘out’. It went ‘in’ by way of my visual brain centre, and simultaneously by way of my auditory centre (I many times had to correct myself when I read this or that word wrongly, reread this or that sentence when I did not understand it on my first reading), and by way of the motoric brain centre that controls the activity of vocal organs. As I was reading the text, my consciousness must have been in constant ‘touch’ with all these brain centres, and on that basis generating my understanding of the text. But again, this understanding was only partially generated by my consciousness, for the sentences passed through the narrow straits of my consciousness into the subconscious, and the understanding of the text was generated in the interaction between the conscious and the sub-conscious mind.

I don’t know of any better way of keeping my body in good condition than doing my morning exercises, every day going for a walk with my dog and cycling almost daily on my bicycle. And I don’t know of any better way of keeping my brain and my mind in good condition than are my daily trips into the world of the Ancient Greeks.

Here I must correct myself, for there would be a better way, if only I could find a man or a woman, men and women, who would join me on these trips once or twice a week. So let me end with a passage from the Protagoras, which often comes to my mind.

Socrates: ‘Protagoras (Ȏ Prȏtagora), please don’t think that I have any other aim in our discussion (mȇ oiou dialegesthai me soi allo ti boulomenon) than to get to the bottom of the problems that always puzzle me (ȇ ha autos aporȏ hekastote, tauta diaskepsasthai). For I think that Homer certainly has a point when he talks of (hȇgoumai gar panu legein ti ton Homȇron to) “Two going together (sun te du’ erchomenȏ), and one noticed it before the other (kai te pro ho tou enoȇsen)”. For somehow we all do better that way (euporȏteroi gar pȏs hapantes esmen hoi anthrȏpoi), whatever has to be done or said or thought out (pros hapan ergon kai logon kai dianoȇma). “And if he notices it alone (mounos d’ eiper te noȇsȇi)”, he immediately goes about looking for someone to show it to (autika periiȏn zȇtei hotȏi epideixȇtai), so as to have some support (kai meth’ hotou bebeiȏsȇtai), and doesn’t stop till he finds someone (heȏs an entuchȇi). It’s for just this reason that I (hȏsper kai egȏ heneka toutou) had rather have a discussion with you than with anyone else (soi hȇdeȏs dialogomai mallon ȇ allȏi tini), for I think that you are best able to examine (hȇgoumenos se beltist’ an episkepsasthai) the questions that it is right for an upright man to consider (kai peri tȏn allȏn peri hȏn eikos skopeisthai ton epieikȇ), especially questions about excellence (kai dȇ kai peri aretȇs).’ (348c5-e1, tr. Taylor)

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