The "Theology of Spongebob," see part 1, as well as the Allegory of the Cave, see the Republic, stand both as excuses for our adopting Socrates's account of knowledge and values, an act that begs for an excuse, and as the basis for our subsequent responses to that commitment. The fact that the Allegory or my Theology serve both as excuses for our commitments and as explanations of our reality, upon which subsequent philosophy has been built, is the great tragedy of history.
Our commitment to Socrates is a tragedy because it has caused great suffering that need not have occurred. It need not have occurred because there is an argument, I'm saying, provided by the Teacher of Righteousness, which provides an account of things that, for example, does not pander to the worst in people.
Our commitment to the Socratic account of knowledge and value causes suffering by making people think conflicts need be resolved by force, e.g., the employment of violence, stealth, and deceit, because argument as its alternative, on this view, is futile.
As I've discussed before, Socrates promotes the idea that reason, as the basis of knowledge and values, is a matter of logical argument. The Teacher's account, on the other hand, promotes the view that knowledge and values are not just a matter of logic, or of rhetoric, but of both. Another way of putting the Teacher's position is to say reasoning is a matter of contending points of view. The virtue of the Teacher's view, as opposed to that of Socrates, is that on the Teacher's view conflicts can be resolved by argument.
The point of making my analogy between our lives and the lives of characters in Bikini Bottom in the theology of Spongebob is to show how by accepting the Socratic account of knowledge and values we are led to understand reality in terms of my Theology, or the Allegory of the Cave and its facsimiles, such as the Dream Argument, the Evil Genius Argument, the Argument about Brains in Vats, and so forth.
Though all these, (what shall I call them?), pieces of philosophy, are touted as arguments promoting a cause, like Plato's theory of knowledge, or Descartes's skeptical doubts about knowledge, or the modern skeptical challenge, I'm saying they all stand in the same way as my Theology. Each is in one way an excuse, in that they argue it's O.K. to adopt the Socratic account of knowledge and values despite its toxic implications. We are being reassured our commitment is alright because, on these views, we have no way to effectively object as we only seem to have lives.
Looked at in another way, they are not arguments promoting a position on an issue, an issue about which people might have disagreements. They are arguments which ask us to assume the Socratic accounts of knowledge and values, and accordingly, the Theology or the Allegory and their like-minded explanations, provide accounts of what reality is, explanations upon which one may go on to dispute what on their terms knowledge and values must be.
I have tried to raise the issue of just what goes into the Allegory of the Cave that we should think it is an account of knowledge. Why should we think that knowledge involves a distinction between the cave dweller's experience of the shadows and a hero's experience of the forms? For many reasons, I've thought the Allegory has been attractive, not because people so much think life is an illusion, but that their commitment to logic is so strong, or their fear of death and desire for life after death tempts them.
In challenging Socrates, one may seem to be trying to throw out reason, and to somehow advocate irrationalism. One might think that if one challenges the accounts offered us by philosophy's icon and poster boy, aren't I advocating we get rid of the goose that lays the golden eggs. This is far from my intent. My trouble with Socrates is that his view of reason as being a matter of logic, I believe, is the source of skepticism and nihilism. The resolution long sought for the problems of philosophy, and the secret to basic religious questions, on my view, is to see that we can do better than Socrates by adopting the Teacher's view of reason.
I want to support my argument by first going into more detail about how my Theology works, and hence, clarify my reading of the Allegory.
Remember, I have suggested that we can understand the Allegory of the Cave as a serious proposal for how we should understand our lives, and too, as a starting point for how to understand knowledge and values, by making the same suggesting about life in Bikini Bottom. That is, our lives are just like the lives of characters who live in a children's cartoon. This analogy, I'm saying, is like Socrates's suggestion in the Republic, that our lives are just like the lives of people chained up in the Cave, forced to experience nothing but the shadows and echoes of objects they cannot see but are carried in front of fires that make those shadows. The technology is different, but the effect is about the same.
I want to consider two questions, one is,
"What do we have to be thinking about our own lives that we should not be able to distinguish them from cartoon characters,"
"Given we are wanting to accept such a comparison, how does the story about Spongebob and his friends in Bikini Bottom help us solve epistemological and moral questions?"
As for the first question, we have to adopt a view of our lives which eviscerates from our lives the understanding we have of knowledge and values, the purpose of argument, the meaning of words, the place of power and its prerogatives, and whether there is any value to the kind of life thereby described. We have to adopt a view that makes all these things problematical.
I say this because I expect Socrates's initial arguments for his view, the view that knowledge and values were a matter of logic, met with rejection. Remember, the first implication he drew from his account was that if our understanding of our lives is in terms of logical arguments, so that the words we use are terms in those arguments, then because such terms have no meaning, all of us, even experts, do not know what it is we are talking about. That is, Socrates relies on the fact that his account makes life based on knowledge and values, in general, but dissent, specifically, impossible. People would have said, to such talk, that they knew from their own lives that there was knowledge and value, that arguments worked, and that life was worth living. That is, they had loved ones worth defending from tyrants. The people of Athens who had just fought a brutal civil war against tyrants based on their dissent, were not about to give up that ability because of Socrates.
The purpose of Socrates's Allegory was to undermine this opposition. He argued, in the Republic, that the people of Athens were wrong to object to his account of knowledge and values on the basis of the experience of their lives because, on his view, they do not have knowledge and values as they suppose, as they only seem to have lives. He argued, whatever they wanted to say went on in their lives could not be used to back up their own account, or to undermine his account, because the nature of our lives and what it included was just the issue in question.
Furthermore, Socrates wanted to argue that the problems the people of Athens had weren't about what Socrates said about dissent or the nature of leaders and government. He was only a messenger telling a story about the nature of reality. That is, he was saying, if people have complaints about whether dissent is possible, or whether they should be lead by philosopher-kings, they should dispute the message and not kill the messenger. They should take it up with the Gods who make people fall down, water wet, or the sun come up in the east.
Socrates bullies people into adopting his account of reason, where he claims knowledge and values are a matter of logical argument, by getting them to accept his excuse for doing such a thing, the excuse which says that his account is O.K. because really, we only seem to have lives. The people of Athens didn't have to accept this Socratic argument. However, his argument that reality only allows this, or that, attempts to appeal over the heads of his audience to the complexity of reality. Socrates here relies on the fact that people do not claim to know about reality, and would defer to the philosophers as experts who claimed they did.
The fact is, however, deciding the issue of whether his account of reason is accurate does not depend upon an accurate account of reality. First of all, Socrates's account of reality is very much dependent on adopting the account of reason which he is promoting and is at issue. Second, disputing his account of reason is rather a matter of locating and evaluating an alternative account of reason. The pertinent question is whether we should reject Socrates's account for another better account.
Socrates answers the first question by getting us to see no difference between our lives and the lives of Socrates's Cave dwellers, or the characters in Bikini Bottom. Socrates does this by getting us to adopt his primary account of knowledge and values as a matter of logic. On this view, knowledge and values are impossible, arguments are futile, the terms of logical arguments are determined by the powerful, and life so described is not worth living. In other words, our lives amount to as much as the lives of the cartoon characters we might see on children's television, e.g., things at the mercy of cartoonists.
The second question follows the first. Once we know what we have to do to believe my Theology or Socrates's Allegory, we can pretty much see what my Theology or the Allegory have to do to answer epistemological or moral questions. The idea is, after Socrates gets you to give up the family cow for magic beans, let's say, how can those beans keep you from getting in trouble from your mother.
In my Theology, knowledge and values can be understood in many ways. Maybe we want to accept the idea that knowledge is about what we see or experience of the world. This would amount to examining our experience to see what of it truly reflects the reality of Bikini bottom. Maybe, as an alternative, we want to point out that such an account is relative to everyone's experience. No one person is in a position to see it all, for example, even Spongebob. Instead, one should remember that our lives are wholly determined by the cartoonist who draws the characters and puts the words in their mouths. Knowledge is, therefore, a matter of determining what are the words and experiences coming from the cartoonist creator, and what might be called artifact, or false thoughts and experiences, that does not come from the cartoonist creator.
The similarity between my Theology and the Allegory can be seen when we note that a Socratic Hero carries a message about what exactly is the truth and the Good from outside, where exists the real stuff, or the cartoonist, to us inhabitants of the Cave where only shadows for us exist.
In other words, we should read the philosophers about how knowledge is obtained despite the illusions of sense upon which our arguments are based.
Epistemological or moral problems like skepticism or nihilism are creatures of our commitment to the Socratic account of reason, the account which makes knowledge and values a matter of logical argument. The solution to these problems does not involve an examination of the terms of my Theology, Plato's Allegory, Descartes's dream argument or Evil genius argument, or the business about brains in vats. Instead it involves refusing to be bullied into committing ourselves to Socrates's account of reason. If we refuse to accept his account of reason as a matter of logic, then we would not be inclined to accept my Theology or the Allegory of the cave. We would see right off that our lives are nothing like those lives of his Cave dwellers or my denizens of Bikini Bottom.
In further support of my claim, I want to point out that philosophy has been ignored in the wider world. That is, when people debate the great and small issues of the day, they consider their differences, their interests, questions of who benefits, the goals in mind, and so forth. None of this, seemingly, waits upon the solution to philosophical problems.
This is a fact which I believe supported John Cook's claim that if he could only show where the empiricists went wrong in their long chains of argument, he could eliminate philosophical ideas from the world. We wouldn't thereafter have to be bothered with them at all.
The problem with Cook's view of philosophy is that he makes it sound as though no one has ever read or paid attention to philosophers, much less believed or adopted in their own lives anything a philosopher ever said. Cook makes it sound as though religions, politics, and life in general, could go on pretty much as usual without philosophical ideas.
I think this cannot be. People listened to Socrates, for example. On my view, Jesus Christ is a Socratic Hero. Without the idea of the Allegory of the Cave I don't believe you'd be able to continue Christianity. On my view, the interminable squabble between liberals and conservatives is a function of the general adoption of the Socratic account of reason as a matter of logic. So long as there is the general acceptance of that view, politics will never resolve conflict.
So, for example, a liberal or a conservative might argue that their debate has nothing at all to do with Socrates. No one says they follow the teachings of Socrates, or even any of his immediate pupils in Plato or Aristotle. They may reject the notions of philosophers altogether. All that interests them, they may say, is the fact that their opponent rejects their view, and that such a rejection cannot be explained by any reasoning. Most likely, their opponent is motivated by hate or envy.
Rather than argument, liberals and conservatives say they must resort to various kinds of force, or, what amounts to the same, gentle persuasion. What's more, even if they consider arguments on the issues of the day, as in war and peace, abortion, taxation, the rearing of children, resource depletion, and so forth, the philosophers like Socrates have nothing much to add.
The claims made here on behalf of liberals and conservatives against the advice of philosophers ignore the role Socratic commitments have played in their disputes. So, philosophers may not be experts in modern issues of war and peace, for example, but Socrates has provided liberals and conservatives their understanding of argument and reason. The fact that their opponents and arguments in support of their positions are thought irrational without investigation of their claims is an artifact of Socrates. This, by the way, is the lesson learned from the myth of Gyges.
Philosophy has been ignored because people involved in interminable debates involving survival have been more interested in us doing as they say rather than having us pay attention to what they do. If we would look at the fact that liberals and conservatives, for example, do not evaluate each other's arguments independently of their conclusions, we would see the Socratic commitment here discussed is ignored at our peril.
The Theology of Spongebob is a caution that we cannot ignore the arguments of philosophers like Socrates without coming to a bad end, an end against which our only hope can be that a God appears upon a chariot carting us off to safety.
As the Teacher would advise, however, it's better to refrain from selfishness in the first place, than to plead for salvation from its consequences once our selfish deed has been done.