#14: Socratic honesty and Platonic betrayal

The chief difficulty of logic stems from the ideological nature of language. Dealing only with truth, with internal consistency, logic models the essence of the thing but not its existence. Its existence can only be modeled by the whole map of it, which means not the image of an air-tight circle floating in space, but a map of the whole ensemble within which it is constituted and constituting and including the word-things of its negative space. This is to say that, pretty obviously, logic has the structure of a fiction. Without any sanction from Truth, logic draws maps that are true and thus ideological. If Socrates is special because he testifies to nothing and is thus made to disappear (he is exceedingly massive or evolutionarily unfit relative to the whole ensemble), analytical philosophy is special because its formalism testifies to _everything, _i.e. anything one feels like putting in the place of all those _P_s and _Q_s. This first of all serves as an excellent illustration of the difference between honest, radical philosophy and bourgeois, collaborationist philosophy: the difference between producing things in the service of truth as opposed to producing truth in the service of things.

But second of all, conceptualizing the difference between Socratic and analytic philosophy in this manner, is an extremely provocative way to cap on both ends the history of what is called Western civilization. In the figure of Socrates, this history begins with an explosion of intellectual energy the unlimited and relentless nature of which obviously threatened the whole ensemble of falsely constituted “things” on whose backs the Greek polis rose to such clarity. As soon as the radical honesty represented by Socrates is betrayed by a Plato, whose endlessly provocative, stimulating, and subversive negotiations with Socrates’ executioners are, nonetheless for all of that, negotiations with executioners. When a teacher gets murdered for being honest and the indignant student’s response is to start an Academy, the jig is up. Everything is in place for that peculiar ensemble of institutions that prides itself on producing so much truth and beauty at the cost of so much dishonesty, murder, slavery and exploitation across the earth. After the Academy, it is not long until we get Aristotle, the syllogism and a thousand and one additional betrayals of the Platonic vision, itself already a betrayal. From there, Western civilization is nothing more than a little bit of primitive accumulation, a few false starts, and then finally the society-wide institutionalization of betrayal: what is called capitalism. Today, lo and behold, at the world-historical height of global capitalism, the discipline of philosophy is dominated by analytical philosophy, where everything that currently exists is true.

Arguably, Plato’s philosophy can be read as an effort to establish and protect a space for radical honesty. Immediately, this would be the function of the Academy. In the longer term, Plato would have radical honesty installed, via the philosopher-king, in the seat of political power itself. So it is not a matter of indicting Plato, for we are all guilty, dwelling in his place halfway between Truth and murder; the point is to see how and why anything other than absolute and revolutionary honesty is betrayal. If philosophy wishes to be anything, it must be a radical honesty that seeks to accelerate all existing things into itself, testifying to the truth of nothing currently existing, effectively chewing up everything in order to make some new ensemble of things; otherwise, it is nothing apart from commerce, just another form of dishonesty and collaboration with all of the past, present, and future horrors taking place across the globe.

Cite this post: RIS Citation BibTeX Entry

Murphy, Justin. 2012. "#14: Socratic honesty and Platonic betrayal," http://jmrphy.net/blog/2012/09/12/31367032446/ (April 24, 2017).