If I were writing my dissertation here, my thesis would be something like, "Salvation is a project of philosophy." The conflict I'm most interested in is between Socrates and the Teacher of Righteousness. The issues between them are many, complex, and as central to my understanding of things as I can imagine.
I came to Socrates and my effort to trash the man's ideas from my puzzlement over the work of my philosophy professors and their interest in ordinary language philosophy. I wanted to know why language was important to philosophers who were puzzled by skepticism. I wanted to understand the problem of epistemology. I came to the idea that the nature of logic was a central issue in understanding epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics. And soon, I looked to Socratic literature for clues about how logic and the problems of philosophy had been conceived.
Hence, I came to Socrates because Plato's discussions of his thinking were the most extensive, and I thought, the source for some understanding of logic. I was impressed by the contrast between rhetoric and logic and came to suspect that distinction played a central role in getting skepticism and nihilism going.
The important thing I wanted to see, in trying to understand Socrates, was who and what he might have been arguing against, and why. I was aware of how other philosophers had influenced Socrates and Platonic thought. However, I was dissatisfied with the major figures previously identified. I did not think they carried enough weight. I thought Socrates had to be about something more significant. His work had to be about questions about the meaning of life, how to live one's life, the role of the intellect and power in our lives, and the issue of suffering.
I have come to dispute the claim that Athens and Jerusalem are about different projects, one about intellectualism and the other about religion. I have been told that Western Civilization is based on the contributions of Greek and Judaic thinking. In a way, these two strands of thinking are supposed to be at loggerheads. The moral understanding of the world provided by the Judaic strand is supposed to contradict the humanist and more secular understanding of epistemology provided by the Socratic Greek strand. Over time, these two strands are said to come together in our Judeo-christian way of thinking. There is supposed to no longer be any conflict because we've somehow jiggered together these two lines of thinking to form one consistent unified position.
In light of this account of the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem, the claims of my dissertation will seem much like pissing in the wind. I'm supposed to grant the Judeo-Christian tradition is a unified foundation for the way we understand things, though it involves a certain amount of compartmentalism. Philosophy is about the thought of people, supposedly, and religion is about salvation, God, and reality and matters that are true despite the thoughts written down in books. So, the claim that salvation is a project of philosophy would seem to undermine the consensus about how things are understood.
Well, that is just my project. I don't believe in the distinction between Athens and Jerusalem. I don't believe anymore in the fundamental moral and intellectual worth of the Judeo-christian tradition. I am no longer impressed by Socrates.
I have come to this by being impressed with the thought that Socrates was engaged in a debate with a position that challenged his central claims about the meaning of life and how one should live it.
We are told that Socrates was an honorable man who cared deeply about the fate of mankind. He was interested in leaving us an endowment of good thinking practices, several good questions to ask ourselves, and a project involving figuring things out on our own. We are told that such values are disliked by the powers that be. In fact, Socrates died as a martyr to those values.
Hence, we are to think, bright minds will go where he went and beyond to make life better.
Unfortunately, the ideas he left us seem to imply that knowledge and values are impossible. Although Socratic method is supposed to be a way of coming to truth and right morals through argument and study, it seems that in our world, supposedly based on this Socratic method, arguments are futile. The philosophers I know are mostly exercised by words having no meanings in the sense we all should agree to them. Despite the argument that Thrasymachus was wrong, offered by Socrates, that our standards are not determined by the powerful, it seems they are. And so, in a world built by Socrates, it seems our lives so built could not be worth living.
And so, I'm willing to reject Socratic philosophy. But, one might reply, I might reject Athens, but that still leaves Jerusalem. I should not be so negative about the Judeo-christian tradition when it seems I've found fault with only a minor, though well publicized, part of it.
I think the distinction between Athens and Jerusalem as understood for the last little while is not the understanding that would have been common during the time of the second Temple in Jerusalem. At that time, the world was being colonized by Socratic ideas and whole cultures were being destroyed by Hellenist cultural imperialism. There were wars within Judea which, arguably, centered on the question whether one could be both a Jew and a Socratic. There were whole communities of Hellenized Jews.
One great issue between the Teacher of Righteousness and Socrates was about how to understand knowledge and value. Socrates held that knowledge and value were a matter of logical argument. This idea is at the bottom of the Allegory of the cave. Briefly, the meaning of the terms of logical arguments is a question. A logical argument is something like, "If p, then q. P is true. Therefore, q." All logical arguments are made up of p's and q's, and the question is about what these letters mean. Socrates's answer is that the meanings of such terms are, in general, a reflection of one's experience. Unfortunately, in this life, people's experiences are peculiar to themselves, and hence, the meanings of the terms of their arguments cannot amount to either knowledge or values. If one had access to what Socrates calls the "Forms", which represent a reality that everyone would agree with, then one's logical arguments, on Socrates's view, would lead to both knowledge and values.
The Teacher rejects this account of knowledge and value because it obviously makes knowledge and value impossible, arguments futile, and so forth. Basically, the point of Socrates's argument, from the Teacher's point of view, is to make dissent impossible, to make it impossible to determine justice, and thus, to make Judaism impossible. The problem with the Allegory, according to the Teacher, is that the failure of his account of knowledge and value is because he bases his account on only part of a distinction. The fact that he does not relate logical arguments to rhetorical arguments means his account will never amount to what it's purported to be. No account of reference will make it better. Instead of Socrates's account, the Teacher holds that knowledge and values are a matter of both rhetorical and logical argument. That is, a matter of contending points of view.
At the time of the second Temple, there was a fracturing of Judaic culture where people were asked to believe many conflicting things. The important debate, from my point of view, and the Teacher's, was that many Jews were asked to base their Judaism on Socratic thinking. So, before the destruction of the second Temple, there was a debate about whether Jews could be Socratic, and after the destruction of the Temple, there was a question whether there remained any Jerusalem different from Athens.
Unfortunately, the fact that there is a Judeo-Christian tradition and no serious discussion of the argument between Socrates and the Teacher itself supports the claim that most everyone's Socratic now.
I want to talk about the debate between Socrates and the Teacher in terms of a simple example. I think the story of Jack and the Beanstalk can illustrate the problem the Teacher has with Socrates, with Jews who follow Socrates, and with Christians who think of themselves as the intellectual and spiritual inheritors of both.
Remember Jack. He lives with his parents on a farm. The farm has not been doing well and his mother thinks that since their income has been poor through the year there will be a good chance the family will be hungry or starve that winter. She thinks some drastic measures must be taken. So, she goes to Jack and tells him he needs to go to town to sell the family cow. When he's sold the cow, he is supposed to buy enough food and other goods to be assured they will survive through the winter.
Jack goes to town with the cow. However, he returns having traded the cow for a handful of what he says are "magic" beans. The mother is shocked and in her anger throws the beans out the window.
I think this story gives a fair picture of the Teacher's problems with Socrates. There are two parts to this story for the Teacher. The first is that there was an agreement made or an understanding established between Jack and his mom about what he was going to do with the family cow. That is, he was supposed to take the cow and trade it for enough food and other goods to allow his family to survive the winter. It's important to see that Jack breaks this agreement, the promise he made, to do what his parents agreed would save the family.
The second point has to do with how Jack, then being bereft of prior commitments and understandings about what to do, was all on his own, apparently unwilling to listen to others. He then traded a valuable cow, not for food and other goods, but for what a sharp salesman told him was "magic" beans.
The story of Jack retraces the activities of Gyges, the example that Socrates uses to justify his account of knowledge and value. Gyges is a shepard who by fortune is given great power. He uses this power to go to town, to kill the king and queen of the country, and rule in their place.
Gyges too faces a question of survival. He is a shepard, after all. He lives from hand to mouth. He too faces a question about what to do with the advice and input of others. For example, how should he use his new found powers? For good? For evil? Well, instead of listening to his fellow shepard's or others in his community, he chooses to go off and kill the rulers of his country.
I believe the fact that the Teacher is so thankful and expresses gratitude to God in the Thanksgiving Scroll has to do with his understanding that that is what separates him from people like Gyges and Socratics in general. It is interesting to wonder whether Gyges as the isolated shepard boy is just a veiled allusion to Oedipus who also came from poverty to kill the rulers of a country to assure his survival. Turns out, though, the rulers of that kingdom were his parents.
The fact is, Both Jack and Gyges thought that in matters of survival they could not allow anyone else to tell them what to do. Neither could they keep their agreements with their parents about what to do. Nor could they be grateful to those people they were killing, be it to assure their own survival, though they had been the ones who raised them.
The second point becomes an excuse to justify the selfishness of ignoring everyone and everything else to pursue their own survival and comfort. Yes, it's nice that they are "magic" beans, but that's not what his parents agreed he would be getting.
And, yes, it is nice that Gyges gets to survive now that he has the power of invisibility. But, what he's done involves the ingratitude of killing his parents, his lack of mercy, and the suffering he caused. Well, anyone would do the same, says Socrates, but that just begs the question whether everyone is as selfish as Gyges.
I am about showing Socrates up for what he is. He's the anti-Christ. In order to justify his purpose in life, that is, the idea that it's about personal survival at the expense of others, he offers us excuses. Now, Jack had the excuse that he believed the sharp salesman that they were "magic" beans, and all of their troubles would be over once he was able to get the goose that laid the golden eggs.
Socrates offered us many excuses. He cloaked his ideas in sacred robes. Yes, he was getting messages from a powerful God. He was only looking out for the truth, after all. Then he persuaded us that we should adopt these ideas of his because they came wrapped in such pious and noble forms. My thought here is that then, like the horse that was made up to look like a Trojan religious figure, when the Trojans were persuaded to carry the thing inside, little soldiers came out at night, when people were least prepared, and destroyed them.
The argument for Socrates was about whether knowledge and values were about rhetorical argument or logical argument. He made a special effort to obscure the fact that his main opponent, the Teacher, would have argued that they were about both. Thracymachus, who was purported to be a champion of rhetoric, strutted around the scenery in the Republic, acting the stalking horse, to get us to think that Socrates opposed not only Thrasymachus's arguments but his claims too. In fact, however, Socrates held Thrasymachus's view that the powerful should determine values, as well as knowledge, but just thought this was done on the basis of logical argument.
The implications of this view can be seen in the dialogs where Socrates cannot determine what people mean by the words they use. They cannot tell their meaning because, on Socrates's view, the meaning of a word is only a reflection of our experience, and arguments made up of such meanings cannot amount to knowledge. Knowledge is a matter of getting acquainted with the forms.
There are other implications to his claim, though. One is that if there can be no knowledge or values that people can have, then they are in no position to dissent from the views and practices of the tyrants. You can't say that you know the murdering of your family and the stealing of your possessions is wrong, because knowledge and values, on Socrates's view, is impossible. This is a finding that the people of Athens, shortly after their civil war over the rule of tyrants, were not willing to tolerate. They saw the threatening nature of Socrates's ideas right away. He corrupted their youth with ideas that undermined the values their Gods stood for.
People saw right away that Socrates's view about knowledge and values being impossible conflicted with their own lives wherein they had knowledge and values. This response threatened to shut down Socrates's project before it could get anywhere. However, he came up with a supporting argument that not only excused a Socratic from paying attention to the views of others, that is, the request to be grateful or merciful, for example, but it also explained away the evidence that was so easily held up against his view. That is, the Allegory of the Cave tells us that there is only an apparent conflict between people's lives and the account of knowledge and values offered by Socrates. The conflict is only apparent because we only seem to have lives. Actually, according to Socrates, we are like prisoners in a cave strapped up so we can only experience the shadows and echoes before us. The real things making these shadows and echoes exist behind us and outside the cave.
In the same way we are offered the ideas that we might be movie goers velcroed into our seats and can only experience the films before us or the sounds from the Dolby speakers around us. Or, we might be brains in vats, or subjects of evil demons, or asleep and only dreaming we are writing, et al.
Like Jack's assurance that the "magic" beans were going to solve all his family's problems, the allegory of the cave is taken to tell us how our lives are now in the toilet, but with access to reality outside the cave, everything will be alright.
I have argued that Socrates's account of knowledge and values stand in opposition to an account promised by the Teacher of Righteousness. I have tried to show that a life built on the Socratic commitments is a life built on sand, so to speak. But I have also claimed that the religions are also based on these Socratic commitments and that therefore they too are corrupt. I have made that claim, but I know that there religions will want to reject my accusation.
So, for example, I imagine that one could argue that the Jews have always opposed Hellenism and its ideas. Jews have survived and with them their religion has survived uncorrupted by the notions that I have discussed.
Unfortunately, the business of Hellenist corruption is not easy to prevent. In fact there were many during the time of the second Temple who were glad to call themselves Hellenist. What's more, Jews did not agree on what the problem was with being Hellene. Some thought it was a great thing to learn about the world, and this was done through knowing the Greek language, or living in the Greek world.
The problem that the Teacher is concerned about wasn't about these things. It didn't matter to the Teacher, I believe, what language one spoke, but to what your life was committed. As for that issue, Even the Greeks were concerned. So, I take it the Teacher would have been as concerned about Socrates's ideas as the people of Athens were when they tried to reign him in.
There is also the fact that this debate between Socrates and the Teacher had gone on for a long time. I see the Republic was written in response to the Teacher's claims about justice that we see in the example of Abraham's rebuke of God over the immanent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham finds out that God is going to kill all who live in these two towns. He points out that everyone can't be justly accused of these crimes, and so he puts it to God, shouldn't even God be just? The issue, again, is whether one has to listen to sage advice. Whereas the Teacher would argue yes, the point of the Republic is to argue for no.
The debate can also be seen in the texts gathered together that are now known as the Hebrew Bible. So in the Book of Job the story is about why a pious man would suffer despite his never going against what he takes to be the will of God. He wonders, after everything's been taken, why God is punishing him.
The story tells us that God and Satan get together and try to get Job to curse God. Their plan is to have Satan make Job suffer by hurting his loved ones. The expectation was that Job will assume that since God is responsible for everything, he would also be responsible for the evil that comes to Job. Naturally, Satan expects Job to curse God for his suffering. So, Satan makes Job suffer. Job's friends at first try to comfort Job when he's hurting so much. But then, they argue that Job must have done something wrong to piss off God, and that he should stop it. They think, if he does what he's told, God shouldn't then punish him. However, Job complains that he's not done anything wrong. By his lights, he's always obeyed and been observant. Job can't continue to argue, however, because God tells him that his suffering is part of a larger scheme wherein there's a point to all the suffering. So, it may seem that God should be blamed for evil in the world, but this blame is uncalled for because people like Job cannot know the big picture.
From the Teacher's point of view, this story of a good God and a bad Satan is just another excuse for Job's being selfish in the first place.
Again, there are two parts to the story of Job that the Teacher would highlight. The first is the agreement Job supposedly made when he promised to live for justice, a promise I take it that comes with the commitment to the Judaic God, which calls for a concern for those who are crooks and robbers. That is, Job can't very well blame God for the fact that crooks and robbers stole all his worldly possessions and killed his family when they tried to protect them, when it was his responsibility to see to it that people were not in such need nor of a mind to resort to the sword to survive. It was up to Job and his loved ones to be their neighbor's keeper, to help them so they did not resort to such desperate means.
On the Teacher's view, bad things can come to good people, but that in itself is no justification to blame God or the people who have supported you for your suffering. Job's friends put forward the view that Job suffers because he doesn't do what God tells him to do. They think, if he would only obey, then his life would turn around. Job argues that he's not done anything wrong, he's always obeyed. He thinks sometimes that his punishment is unjust. The assumption here is that people have two choices, to either do what they want to do, or what God wants them to do. What they want to do is most always, on this view, instigated by Satan. And for this, Job is rightly punished.
However, there are, in fact, other things that one could do instead of just listening to one's own advice. Instead, if one was a ruler, one could listen to those in the community that argue that going to war with one's neighbor is likely to cause suffering and death to one's neighbors as well as one's own people. One might think that when thinking about women, you might listen to others and show mercy and respect. In a world of poverty, you could listen to others and show an interest in the welfare of the poor as well as one's own. These are all considerations precluded by the commitment to personal survival at the expense of others. These are all choices one could make without feeling one is coerced by a good God or a bad Satan.
The story of the good God and the bad Satan is offered in the same spirit as the Allegory of the Cave, or the bit about "magic" beans. They are ways of explaining away the conflict between one's commitment to a God that demands justice based on words and a commitment to personal survival through the destruction of words. That is, the writers of Job think anyone would do the same as Job and think of themselves first. That's just the way it is in this world. We have selfish needs. We are constantly tempted by Satan. And so it is easy and maybe natural to go against God's will. We have to persist, however, despite our suffering, so that if we just do what God requests, things will turn out alright.
The fact is, however, nothing can justify the suffering that one causes by refusing to listen to good advice, or by being ungrateful to those who have supported you, or by refusing to look at the evidence that distinguishes good from bad.
The Teacher's claim about knowledge and value cuts just as much against the reasoning and commitments within Judaism that advocate for selfishness as they do against arguments put forward by Socrates and the Hellenes. Bad ideas know no bounds, so to speak.
So, I have argued that the Teacher opposes both the Socratic Allegory of the Cave and the Judaic story of Job for their commitments to selfishness. Like the story of Jack and his "magic" beans, the Teacher believes Jack goes wrong when he breaks his promise to his Mom and goes off on his own. The fact that Socratics and Judaism offer excuses for their selfishness does not make it acceptable. The Teacher argues that people get hurt, in more ways than one, when the Jacks of this world refuse to consider good advice and go off on their own.
The Christians will point out that the Judeo-Christian tradition is more than just Socratic and Judaic commitments. Christianity is about the story of a powerful being who can save us despite ourselves.
The Teacher will argue that there is nothing else to Christianity than the story of a Socratic Hero understood in a world pummeled by a good God and a bad Satan. What's more, the problem for the Christians isn't so much that they may have a difficult time explaining their position without relying on analogies to the Socratic or the view of things described in Job. I believe the Christian's position cannot be explained except in Socratic and Job-ian terms, but they see there are problems in doing so. One problem would be that if their view lives by a philosopher, or some literary artist, then they can die by the same. Rather, the problem for Christians is that they are not explaining their position in terms of the Teacher's position.
That is, rather than in seeing, along with the Teacher, that love, for example, is not possible without words that have meaning, they have built themselves a position that argues words in this life are without meaning and so love is only possible in the next. Salvation comes in the next life because we are inexorably selfish in this one. Salvation is a gift of a messiah who visits and then goes away taking his salvation with him.
If there's anything that shows Christianity, as being about a Socratic Hero, is a work of the anti-Christ, then it should be its expectation of salvation in the next life. Proof should also come from the suffering that their selfishness causes both the Socratics and others.
The importance of salvation being a matter of philosophy is that salvation is not, therefore, a matter of faith. One should not be put in a position where people are made to suffer because of someone's faith that x, y, z is the case. You wouldn't walk through a hail of bullets having faith that you wouldn't be hurt. We should not be surprised, for example, that there's great conflict over matters of war and peace, life or death, and how one should live, when people bring no evidence or arguments to support their decisions except faith. The corollary to reliance on this faith is the presumption that faith is all we have to go on in this life, that the people one is contending with have no knowledge or values, that their arguments are futile, their lives manipulated, and in general not worth living.
The presumption that one's faith is all one needs in this world, where words are made powerless, is to commit oneself to a denial of the "holy spirit." On the Teacher's view, this noble spirit is our commitment to the principle of charity and necessary for the Kingdom of God to be brought about on this earth by words.
The defenders of Socrates are legion. At bottom, they all try to make us think that things will be OK as we can be saved from our selfishness. However, nothing can make right the suffering caused thereby. The Teacher of Righteousness tells us instead one should not be selfish in the first place.