January 27, 2019

WE ARE ALL DESIGNIST:

As Xenophon saw it: Brilliant leader, kind horseman and friend of Socrates: Xenophon's writings inspire a humane, practical approach to life (Eve Browning, 1/10/19, Aeon)

Xenophon also wrote down his remembrances of a local philosopher named Socrates. Those who know Socrates mainly through the writings of Plato - Xenophon's near-exact contemporary - will find Xenophon's Socrates something of a surprise. Plato's Socrates claims to know nothing, and flamboyantly refutes the knowledge claims of others. In the pages of Xenophon's Memorabilia, however, Socrates actually answers philosophical questions, dispenses practical life advice, provides arguments proving the existence of benevolent gods, converses as if peer-to-peer with a courtesan, and even proposes a domestic economy scheme whereby indigent female relatives can become productive through the establishment of a textile business at home.

Socrates' conversation, according to Xenophon, 'was ever of human things'. This engaged, intensely practical, human Socrates can be refreshing to encounter. Anyone who has felt discomfort at how the opponents of Plato's Socrates suffer relentless public refutations and reductions to absurdity can take some comfort in Xenophon's Socrates who 'tries to cure the perplexities of his friends'.

For instance, what could be more enchanting than a Socrates who solo-dances for joy and exercise, so unlike the Socrates we know from Plato? In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates asks the Phoenician dance-master to show him some dance moves. Everyone laughs: what will you do with dance moves, Socrates? He replies: 'I'll dance, by God!' A friend of Socrates then tells the group that he had stopped by his house early in the morning, and found him dancing alone. When questioned about it, Socrates happily confesses to solo-dancing often. It's great exercise, it moves the body in symmetry, it can be done indoors or outdoors with no equipment, and it freshens the appetite. 

Another surprising side of Xenophon's Socrates is shown through his encounter with a person who not only doesn't honour the gods, but makes fun of people who do. To this irreligious person, Socrates presents a careful and persuasive line of reasoning about the designed usefulness of all elements of creation. For humans and many other animals, there are 'eyes so that they can see what can be seen, and ears so that they can hear what can be heard', eyelids, eyelashes, molars and incisors, erotic desire to aid procreation; all these are 'the contrivance of some wise craftsman who loves animals'. And what about the cosmos as a whole? 'Are you, then, of the opinion that ... those surpassingly large and infinitely numerous things are in such an orderly condition through some senselessness?' Human beings even have the spiritual capacity to perceive the existence of gods, 'who put in order the greatest and noblest things', and 'they worry about you!'

Posted by at January 27, 2019 7:52 AM

  

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