INTERVIEWS WITH THE FAMOUSLY DEPARTED
Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato
Today, we welcome the Greek version of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Three (3) guys whose last names have been forgotten. We start with old-man Socrates, born in the 400’s BC, a philosopher (Hey it’s better than farming) and teacher of Plato who fortunately took notes before the Gods socked it to Socrates with a little poisoned hemlock. Plato was born in Athens. He gave up his dream to be a politician and instead started a philosophy school called the Academy, considered by many to be the first University. Joining them is Aristotle, who was born in Stagira and studied at the aforesaid Academy for twenty years. Aristotle taught Alexander the Great (who couldn’t be with us today) and later started his own school, the Lyceum. Sadly, well for Aristotle, Alexander the Great kicked the bucket early. Aristotle was then charged with impiety though some suspect the real reason was the Athenians, who were conquered by Alexander, were a little miffed and took revenge on Aristotle. Aristotle died in Chalcis. They’re rejoined with us now.
WRR: So America claims to be the best Democracy. Other countries are trying to become democratic – even if we have to force it on them. What say you?
Plato: Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike. (The Republic)
WRR: So what do you think of our country’s elections?
Aristotle: It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences. (Rhetoric. II.1395b27)
Socrates: If I tell you that I would be disobeying the god and on that account it is impossible for me to keep quiet, you won’t be persuaded by me, taking it that I am ironizing. And if I tell you that it is the greatest good for a human being to have discussions every day about virtue and the other things you hear me talking about, examining myself and others, and that the unexamined life is not livable for a human being, you will be even less persuaded. (Quoted in Plato, Apology, sct. 38). Speech to the court, while on trial on charges of impiety and corruption. Socrates was explaining why it would be impossible for him to go into exile and keep his opinions to himself. The paraphrase of his pronouncement, The unexamined life is not worth living, has become a Socratic dictum.
WRR: Any different takes on simplicity. Perhaps why the Democrats won in 2008?
Plato: Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity (The Republic- Book III)
Aristotle: Hope is a waking dream. (Lives of Eminent Philosophers)
Socrates: Every pleasure or pain has a sort of rivet with which it fastens the soul to the body and pins it down and makes it corporeal, accepting as true whatever the body certifies. (Phaedo, sct. 81, Plato)
WRR: Any practical lifetime advice?
Socrates: Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. (Unsourced)
Aristotle: The appropriate age for marriage is around eighteen for girls and thirty-seven for men. (Politics VII.1335a27)
Aristotle: One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy. (Nicomachean Ethics I.1098a18)
Aristotle: With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it.
WRR: Wow! Nothing like hogging the floor, Aristotle. Let’s see what the other two guys in the room have to say. How about how to handle man’s scariest emotion – Fear?
Socrates: The fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretense of knowing the unknown . . . and no one knows whether death which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. (Plato’s_Apology_,29a-b).
Plato: Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him? (The Republic – Book III)
WRR: OK. Ari, I know you’re dying to say something about fear too?
Aristotle: He who has overcome his fears will truly be free. (Quoted in Florilegium) by Joannes Stobaeus
Aristotle: To the query, What is a friend? “His reply was A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” (Lives of Eminent Philosophers)
Plato: Friends have all things in common (Phaedrus)
WRR: Is that all?
Aristotle: When people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they need friendship in addition. (Nicomachean Ethics VIII.1155a26)
WRR: Which brings us of course to justice?
Socrates: I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good (As quoted by Plato, Crito, sect. 44).
Plato: The judge should not be young; he should have learned to know evil, not from his own soul, but from late and long observation of the nature of evil in others: knowledge should be his guide, not personal experience. (The Republic)
Aristotle: The law is reason unaffected by desire. (Politics III.1287a32)
WRR: Care to add anything Socrates?
Socrates: A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.
(As quoted by Plato, Phaedo, sct. 68c-69d).
WRR: Pretty intense. And laughter?
Plato: A fit of laughter, which has been indulged to excess, almost always produces a violent reaction. (The Republic – Book III)
WRR: So, There’s this new Television show called the Philanthropist, Kind of “Who wants to be a millionaire” for people too lazy to even make the phone call. Have you seen it?
Aristotle: Any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy. (Nicomachean Ethics II.1109a27)
WRR: Did the stimulus package work?
Plato: I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.
WRR: Supreme Court justice?
Plato: You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters. (Laws)
WRR: So I heard this Roman saying (do you guys cavort with any Romans in the afterlife?) – A sound body in a sound mind. Any preference?
Plato: Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind. (The Republic – Book VII)
Aristotle: Even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer sight to almost everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. (Metaphysics I.980a21)
WRR: So you dudes were all famous writers who lived in the age before the Great American Novel. Let’s try a few questions on Writing. Read anything good lately?
Plato: Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only. (The Republic)
WRR: That’s seems a little harsh. How about you Aristotle?
Aristotle: But the greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances. (Poetics 1459a4)
WRR: And if you were to try your hand at the Great Greek Novel?
Aristotle: A whole is that which has beginning, middle, and end (Poetics 1450b26)
WRR: Agree or disagree Plato?
Plato: The beginning is the most important part of the work
(The Republic – Book II)
WRR: And your thoughts on Poetry?
Socrates: So I soon made up my mind about the poets too: I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled them to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.
(As quoted by Plato, Apology, sect. 21).
Aristotle: Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular. (Poetry 1451b6). Let me also add. For the purposes of poetry a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility. (Poetics 1461b11)
WRR: And what of the difference between fiction and non-fiction?
Plato: Whenever, therefore, people are deceived and form opinions wide of the truth, it is clear that the error has slid into their minds through the medium of certain resemblances to that truth. (Plato, Phaedrus, sct. 262).
Plato: Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them. (The Republic – Book III)
WRR: Aside from becoming a physician, what’s the prescription for financial wealth?
Plato: All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth; and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service. (Plato, Phaedo, sct. 65c-66e)
Plato: When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income. (The Republic – Book I)
Aristotle: The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else. Nicomachean Ethics I.1096a5)
Socrates: Oh dear Pan and all the other Gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him. (Socrates’ prayer, Phaedrus, 279)
Socrates: Often when looking at a mass of things for sale, he would say to himself, ‘How many things I have no need of!” (As quoted by Diogenes Laertius)
WRR: Moving on, William Penn remarked in Fruits of Solitude that Where wisdom has wit to express it – now there’s the best orator. Was he right?
Aristotle: Wit is well-bred insolence. (Rhetoric. II.1389b11)
WRR: Care to comment on what Aristotle said?
Socrates: Well I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know. (Apology, sct. 19).
WRR: Interesting, no idea what that means, but interesting. Well I’m afraid I’m running out of time. Something you guys have plenty of. Anything you’re dying to say before we sign off?
Aristotle: Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time. (Physics)
Socrates: The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows. (As quoted by Plato, The Apology). Say, got any more of that fruit punch?
WRR: Anything more upbeat and cheery?
Socrates: Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live. (As quoted by Plutarch)
WRR: Well, great talking to you guys. Socrates, here’s that fruit punch you wanted. It has a little kick to it.
Joe practiced law in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 14 years and designed large scale databases for AT&T for five years. He currently works for NextLevel Web Strategies, a legal marketing firm based in Princeton, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received his J.D. from George Washington Law School and he has a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Drexel University.
Joe’s book, Philadelphia Originals, was released for publication by Schiffer Publishing in 2009. The book shows that the unique styles (how Philadelphians paint, sing, practice law, tell a joke, cook) of Philadelphia’s most notable professions can be traced back to the perfect complement of the spiritual William Penn and the practical Benjamin Franklin.
His second project. Philadelphia Before You Were Born, is a study of the last time Philadelphia newspapers used artists for all their illustrations. It was published in 2011.
Joe’s many other published writings include a humorous look at book clubs for the Bucks County Writer and the literary stages of a baseball season for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also writes the Interviews with the Famously Departed Column for the Wild River Review.
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