Plato’s Phaedrus – A Political Pronouncement

Régis Alain Barbier

Captura de Tela 2014-02-23 às 23.15.34

The position of Socrates towards undecided people

1 Introduction

“Phaedrus” is an unequalled dialogue. It is long and takes place outside the city of Athens, by the banks of a stream, in a rustic place. It is a dialogue between Socrates and a young Athenian enthusiast, Phaedrus, who is in turn a friend of Lysias, a famous doxographer, a sophist and a speech-maker (writing “in order to”, “because of…” a writer for hire!). The young Phaedrus, enchanted by his friend Lysias’s speech, decides to read it to Socrates, wanting to share with the master a text he found extremely interesting, and also looking for an opinion. In this text, read by Phaedrus, Lysias praises and argues for the need to properly manage and calculate love, as a worthwhile source of pleasure, avoiding commitments, ties and excesses of passion. Socrates answers by showing that before talking about obvious things, which in this case would be avoiding the unrestrained disturbances of passion, it is essential to reach a definition of the subject under discussion in order to avoid the risk of ignoring essential aspects, thus introducing a long opinion about “the art of speaking well”: rhetoric. In the course of their walk along the River Ilisus, a memory, apparently occurring by chance, leads to an opinion about myths. So, these three well-defined subjects – love, myth and rhetoric – are the basis of the dialogue, leaving readers, commentators and editors uncertain and unclear about the unity of the “thread of the argument”. What, ultimately, would be the right sub-title for this dialogue: “on love”, “on rhetoric” or “on mythology”?

2 The adequacy of the dialogue

This dialogue of Plato’s deals with various topics that don’t seem to be related, giving the text a colloquial and random feel; which is somewhat surprising, given that neither Socrates nor Plato were given to everyday conversations. The search for the connecting thread of this dialogue, undertaken by several authors, has generated a plethora of creative ideas.

I wondered if it would be worth the time and effort to study “Phaedrus” in search of the overall meaning. Not being as prudent as I would wish, it didn’t occur to me that I would not find the connecting thread of the argument. I believe that translators who are sufficiently talented and serious serve the texts that they translate well, just as I believe readers to be endowed with the ability to understand the true meaning of the sentences, despite some doubts about the translation of a few words and expressions, references and meanings. Besides, I credit the ancient pioneers of this happy philosophical epic with enough intelligence not to have allowed the meaning of their texts to depend on the interpretation of one or two words, and to ensure the understanding of the broad argument, in its general outline and circumstances, rather as in those frescos where a few missing lines do not detract from the completeness of the images and the vision of beauty.

It occurred to me that in a thousand-year-old dialogue dealing with rhetorical clarity and the perfection of loving union, if the harmonious coordination of the parts was not immediately clear, this was certainly because it had been rendered obscure for the sake of prudence, or perhaps because in order to be clear, it demanded the acceptance of a premise that was inherent to the culture of times past, a general idea, previously present in the dialectical arc, but today subsumed into other understandings, concealed or vanished. To speak in praise of rhetoric and giving examples of the latter as an intelligible form, or – like another of the dialogue’s themes – to point to love as an élan that leads to divine unity, a mystical connection viewed as an eternal reciprocity of the soul and the body, brings the word and the underlying meaning harmoniously together in a discursive thread that, if congruent, cannot be broken and must signify wisdom, justifying the dialogue.

Therefore, aware of possible doubts regarding the full meaning of the dialogue, after looking over the text and noticing the three themes evoked in the narrative: love – in its various dimensions and aspects; myth – as something which is either piously accepted, doubted in a search for prosaic interpretations, or else placed within parentheses in the search for oneself; and rhetoric – the deep order and rules of oratory – after noticing these, nothing was easier than to ask myself in the form of a puzzle: in what possible universe do these subjects – love, myth and rhetoric – make up the essential requirements of narratives? In which cultural practice does one find these themes – love, sacred images and the word – entwined? Besides, the peculiarity of this discourse, which takes place outside the walls of the city, in a rustic setting described by Socrates as extremely beautiful and welcoming – including: a Platanus tree, the symbol of renewal, whose foliage covers the visitors in temperate shade; a flowery and perfumed chasteberry, the symbol of chastity; the refreshing banks of a stream and a source of clear water – all this reminds me of the songs of the poets who, in so many odes, praise nature as a cathedral. The stream, framed by grassy banks, becomes the boat which leads to a bower as sacred as an altar and, in the light of the noonday sun, the green choir of cicadas pours out celestial glory.

In my imagination I see the image of a temple; in this transported, almost delirious state, Socrates immediately appears as a universal priest advocating the cause of noble love, of virtue and of right conduct – a hierophant centred in the vault of the world, even though living within the walls of that city where the citizen accused of subverting the established order must be condemned to drink hemlock.

From the very start, the dialogue is destined to transform everyday steps, the steps of the city, into epics and giants’ footsteps: — “My dear Phaedrus! Where are you going and where are you coming from?” 227a. This giddy opening is matched by an ending gathered up in the altar of the heart itself where, in a final prayer, spiritual communion is invoked.

SOCRATES: Divine Pan – and you other gods of these places! Give me beauty of soul, inner beauty and make my external appearance harmonious with this spiritual beauty. May the wise man always appear rich to me; may I have as much wealth as a sensible man may bear and use! Do we have anything else to wish for? I believe I have asked enough. 279c

Phaedrus, like a believer before an intercessory priest, answers Socrates thus:

PHAEDRUS: Ask the same thing for me, since friends must have everything in common.

Socrates, perhaps resigned to the submissive attitude of the young man, closes the dialogue with a “let’s go, then!” which echoes in the wood like an “amen!”

Who can deny that this dialogue possesses a religious eloquence like that of a homily, a civil, pagan mass? There is no doubt: this is a devotional pronouncement, an oratory framed within an airy and critical dialogue, calling for a type of conduct and conviction, a manifesto with serious individual and social repercussions, an appeal for purification and renewal, a profession of faith! Plato’s “Phaedrus” is an exhortation, an oration which must necessarily inspire love and mythic poetry using discursive rectitude or doctrine, with additional metaphysical and mythological perspectives. This is how the theological and political unity of the dialogue is created.

3 The argument

Socrates, learning/teaching those who dare to think for themselves, reveals an existential project and advocates a type of politics whose goal is not in keeping with the attachment to and thirst for possessing and imitating that rules in the democratic city. But Socrates may not talk about the courts where he will be condemned: instead of repeating opportunistic commonplaces that are unthinkingly urged and obeyed, he prefers the dialectic of the probable, and guides and encourages aspiring people properly to direct their own thoughts and steps. Amused, he listens and talks to Phaedrus as if he is listening and talking to a young man rashly unaware that he is growing up between the great magnetic forces that determine the course of a delicate adventure. An epic where one is called to make one’s choice, either in favour of a substitute life attached to ephemeral and transient things, illusory powers, or on the other hand, to affirm full liberty by recognising that the roots of being drive deep into the unlimited and the eternal, beyond death and birth, a sacred space where opposites meet in a mysterious whole, which reabsorbs the ruptures of the dogmatic intellect into the great, luminous and dialogic circle of knowledge.

How, within these antagonistic acts-of-being, could there not be two foundations, two different paths, mythical goals, attractions, desires and types of eloquence? How could there not be heated dialogues where the commitment of the orators becomes manifest, pointing to and arguing over opposing directions? Intrinsic to the variegated nature of our spirits, similar starting points lead to varied paths and destinations, controversies which are made explicit in the trinity of subjects defined in “Phaedrus”. Is it not typical of democracies that there should emerge a dominant discourse and a corresponding mass of fellow-travellers who support the demagogues – and another isolated group of a few eccentrics who see light beyond the mists? Between them is a smaller group of the undecided who cannot discriminate, a seduced people that repeat phrases they do not understand, enchanted by the sounds and rhymes of prayers, an undecided people who cannot find their way, spinning, trapped within the walls of the city like fish in a net.

In the middle of this multitude, prudent and ironic, engaging in dialogues and examining things without direct exhortation, Socrates constructs new relationships, discriminates, separates and joins ideas into rules that he identifies and which then diverge, allowing a new spirit of deliberation to drift into the city, a guiding breeze. Because love of the Beautiful is his favourite subject, as if he was a stranger in this prosaic city, Socrates seems to speak from a parallel place, at the side of the road, from a resplendent river-bank whose geography he knows just as the rising stream knows the transformational creativity of the stream.

PHAEDRUS: You, although an eccentric man, are the most extraordinary man that has ever been seen. With your words, you give the impression of being a foreigner who needs a guide, and not the citizen of the capital. You rarely leave the city and it seems that you never go beyond its walls. 230d

Great, but ironic, the wisest man in Athens simply answers:

SOCRATES – Forgive me, my dear friend! I wish to learn. Regions and trees, however, do not wish to teach me anything, only the men of the capital teach me. 

4 Metaphysical definition and resulting dialectic

In this dialogue, Socrates leads the reader to infer and recognise that deep, essential philosophical concepts – whether known or unknown – provide the outline of a basic, vital potential, and lead to corresponding practices or ways of living. These may be internalised without examination and corrupted by contact with populous and multi-cultural social milieus, with dominant rituals and conventions, intense in a political and urban sense, all of which leads to compulsion. Or on the other hand, one’s way of living may be well examined, chosen with autonomy and responsibility, resulting in attitudes and positions that are apparently non-conformist, eccentric and transgressive in relation to what is unfocused and vulgar.

This axis of perspective – whether it is bourgeois, following dominant and popular historico-cultural ways of expressing and understanding things, symbolised by the democratic polis, protected behind walls; or whether it is different, following the path to what is essential, poetic and inspiring, running alongside the pure waters of a stream in search of bucolic riverbanks and the inspiration of the muses – these two axes are placed side-by-side in “Phaedrus”, where the two divergent existential programmes are given in theory and in practice, in an attempt to outline and respond to the question that underlies all philosophical enquiry: “How to live, justly, in harmony with the Cosmos and among one’s peers?” This then elicits the necessary arguments and positions that must be considered by reason, knowledge and vision – rhetoric, love and myths.

A triple act and appreciation of reason – right understanding, a clear vision and a precise definition of what it is to aspire, or to love – together make up the content and basic meaning of this dialogue. What is discussed and demonstrated is that existential positions centre on an understanding, a vision and a recognition of what is, made explicit in what is seen, in what is loved, and in what is spoken [1]. These result in ways of being and living, of doing and having, in existing, urbi et orbi, which may be examined and recognised as wise or illusory.

The “degree of memory” open to inspiration coming from the muses, daughters of Mnemosyne, an intuitive recognition – sensitive and qualified, inspired or visionary – of a loving relationship between the soul and the world or, in our current terms, a recognition of the witnessed and lived relationship of the mystery that is consciousness-existence – all this demands a clear and precise direction of one’s understanding. This implies a rhetoric rooted in a profound philosophical and poetic perspective, adjusted to appropriate attitudes and behaviour.

Perhaps one of the reasons for Socrates’s wisdom emerges from the way he describes human nature as a creative whole where body and spirit are coordinated in boundless reciprocity. In this way, he broadens the state-of-being’s guiding verbum, adding the notions of mystery and of phenomenon in an infinite circle whose centre is the moment – in this case, the vertical apex of the bucolic place marked by that great Platanus tree. In a few sentences, the extraordinary Athenian encompasses the Cosmos in the arc of his dialogue, from the beginning to the end, from the horizons of nature-being, the mysterious and original gap, to the most current and responsible limit of homo sapiens.

Only that which moves itself, never leaving itself, will never cease moving, and is, for other moving things, the source and beginning of movement. The beginning is something which was not formed, it being evident that everything which is formed, is formed from a beginning. This beginning emerged out of nothing, since if it emerged from another thing, it would not be the beginning. Since the beginning is something which was not formed, it must also evidently be a thing which cannot be destroyed. (…) As for the description of something as immortal, that is something which we cannot express in a rational way. We conjecture about it without having any experience of it, nor sufficient clarity that an immortal being would be a combination of a soul and a body that are united for all eternity. 246d

It is understood that existence and its paths – from the point of view of a living being that moves inside a narrative, a discourse, good or bad, to be criticised and corrected – take place either respecting or disrespecting Mythos, within a vision, an order, a Logos and a loving mood, which justify an Ethos, good or bad. To live well is to be an example of an organic, systemic relationship, a manifestation in which reciprocities – justly considered – point to an essential unity, a cosmo-existential dialectic which transcends the prosaic, everyday subjects of the city, where loving or not loving another, in whatever way, is to love or not love oneself, to understand and respect or not the existential experience in what it offers that is essential. 

5 The necessity and value of myths

How could a dialogue that highlights the just conduct of the virtuous individual minimize the importance of myth, an amazing poetic space where imagination itself and celestial things are diluted and united? One cannot construct a properly directed rhetoric without mythical signs, advance posts, flags of those who tread the paths of Olympus.

During their walk beside the stream in search of a place to converse, there arises an observation about the truthfulness of a myth connected with a place that lies along these banks – the myth of Boreas which evokes the spirit of the wind, symbolizing the power of the creative force. Socrates answers that if, like some learned people, he had lost any respect for myths, he would try to interpret these stories in concrete terms, associate them with rational and logical things, and historical events; which would, perhaps, be interesting; but, since individual myths are connected with the whole of the rest of mythology, it would require an impossible and unproductive effort. To try to give verisimilitude to these events using everyday logic suggests a wisdom that is somewhat obtuse and anachronistic, which does not help in the appreciation of life as it should be. Still walking along the banks of the stream, Socrates outlines in a few sentences the great, awe-inspiring myths, which are universally known, of those fables which refer to a plethora of gods – ancestral kings and queens linked to regional communities and traditions. These must be respected, but they do not demand the useless application of intelligence, which would involve devoting more attention to myths than to oneself.

Socrates reflects on the relationship between myth and reason in a subtle way, showing that he is considering the true meaning of myths, not being an unbeliever, but also aware that traditional stories must certainly be obscured in fables, and that engaging in self-examination to the point where one knows oneself as an essence – in other words, as a possible participant in a mysterious destiny – is certainly a more important task. The ideas of “appreciation” and “leisure” appear in the dialogue, suggesting existential options that value liberty, the disinterested, creative and free pursuit of prosaic goals. Exemplifying a more fitting vision for his immediate place and time, he looks into the eternal mystery and adds the myth to himself, opening the inner and private realm to the highest form of intuition. He says:

I have not yet become capable, as the Delphic inscription recommends, of knowing myself. It seems ridiculous to me that – not yet possessing this knowledge – I should start examining things that have nothing to do with me. These fables do not interest me and, in this sense, I accept tradition. It is not the fables that I investigate; it is myself. Perhaps I am a much prouder and more extravagant animal than Typhon, or maybe a more peaceful and less complicated animal, whose nature is part of a mysterious and divine destiny, but which is not filled with the smoke of pride…230a

The wise man does not scorn the most famous intuitions and stories that shade and enrich the rigorous doubts of a Utopian shore, like mosses born out of the poetic relationships between the clarity of reason and the shadows of the unknown – places where these hypothetical musings of the soul can be projected towards the depths of its potential.

Socrates is involved in surprising and enriching dialogues when he appropriates the “don’t’ knows” of his interlocutors – “I don’t know yet”, “I haven’t arrived yet” – expressing them in the first person alongside and in harmony with his final knowledge of the insuperability of the essential mystery; a teaching and a knowledge referred to by the fortune-teller as: — “he knows that he knows nothing”. 

6 Rectitude and rhetoric

In Plato’s “Phaedrus”, there is an examination of the qualities of love, of myths and of the art of rhetoric; the fundamental expression and nature of love is discussed; the appropriate behaviour when exercising desire; the art of conducting oneself well when faced with the need to act in pursuit of satisfaction. Since the search for happiness is a general anxiety, a basic guideline appears, both for the individual and for everyone who belongs to the community, the polis. The happiness of an individual cannot be the unhappiness of another, since friendship and respect, peace and harmony, are necessary components of the happy state; the longing, since it is general, suggests a destiny with social consequences. In other words, this is a programme, a policy in the search for the common good.

Just as intelligence cannot be separated from its component parts – reason, the ability to appreciate beauty, and vision – nothing can be understood (or undertaken) without motivation and desire. Various élans open a range of options, from simple, fickle tastes to intense loves whose nature captures or liberates depending on the discourses that examine and dialogue with them. How can one correctly assess the behaviour of an individual, or of a people, without at least considering a trinity of fundamental aspects: the appreciations and tastes that are nurtured; the rationality and congruency of the searches and discourses; together with the vision that guides destiny and its ends – that which legislates, judges and guides? In these terms, is it possible to examine basic behaviour without speaking also of: the expression of desire, of love; of the reason that exists in well-ordered prose;and of the images and paradigms that guide, of the myths and visions, symbols and meanings that connect the ephemeral to the process that lasts?

Is not the metaphor of the carriage (of life as a journey undertaken in a wagon pulled by a horse driven by a coachman) not a concise image of the driver who directs the dialogue according to his visions, reasons and appreciations, trying to balance the vehicle between two opposing forces that attract? Is not the image of rhetoric as a strongly-built animal or steed, with head, trunk and limbs, an excellent representation of the liveliness of the orator when he operates at full strength, articulates well-formed constructions and definitions, showing and outlining the path of love?

Animated with life and an intense light, imbued with enthusiasm and great virtues, Socrates does not send even a word or a sign into the air unless it is an arrow heading towards its target. An overview of this dialogue, in its context on the banks of the River Ilisus, illustrates and denotes the political position exemplified and justified by Socrates and reported by Plato. The friends are heading out of Athens, a city surrounded by walls, conquered by plutocrats served by demagogues who reduce the art of loving to a prosaic economic practice in search of the maximum benefit and the minimum expense, exalting the love of goods, of comfort, fame and power, to the detriment of what is Beautiful and true. The stream along which Socrates and Phaedrus walk goes round the city towards an inspiring meadow, a place dedicated to Achelous, the river-god of abundance, symbolising a purifying process in search of the wealth of the wise. But underneath his left arm, Phaedrus carries a frivolous speech which he thinks is noteworthy, edifying. Initially prudent, sometimes ironic and ambiguous, well knowing the reigning corruption and clashes, but living in the community, Socrates – accepting his friend’s desire to memorise this piece of oratory that he regards as magnificent – does not immediately demolish the speech, but sheds a low, veiled light, one which may deserve a few comments without harshly criticising the commonplace urban opinions shown in Lysias’s text. Immediately, in this scene – a path connecting the walled city with the countryside – and in the argument – discussing the good sense and meaning of desire — there appear two strongly-outlined arguments: an elevated and profound discourse, demanding wisdom, and an inferior and a vulgar path, scribbled in a senseless speech. Socrates, the dialectician, embodies the wise man, and Lysias, the demagogic logographer, the herald who defends a politics of possession and power, but stripped of love. The behaviours, principles and consequences of the two paths, are acted out in the dialogue, leaving each person with the responsibility of choosing and following one or other position.

In his initial response, somewhat embarrassed, his covered head symbolising the fact that he is offering a half-hearted opinion, lacking in inspiration, answering the insistent request of his friend, Socrates follows Lysias’s arguments, and finds the general meaning contained in this speech that limits itself to criticising senseless passion and praising the ways of reason, attempting to broach the theme of love, of Eros.

SOCRATES: What? Does the speech have to be praised by me and by you? Do we also have to affirm that its author said everything that was necessary, that each expression is clear, well-written and understandable? All right, I will do this out of friendship for you, even though I, in my incompetence, haven’t noted anything of the sort. 235a

Once Phaedrus’s challenge has been satisfied, and having answered and stressed the ideas about love, or Eros, stated and put across in Lysias’s speech:

 “(…) When desire which is not directed by reason squashes in our soul the desire for the good and directs itself exclusively towards the pleasure that beauty promises, and when it throws itself forward, with all the strength that intemperate desires possess, its power is irresistible. This all-powerful, irresistible force is called Eros or Love”. 238c

Socrates, ironic, gets up with the intention of making the return journey to the city. Phaedrus intercepts him, sensing that he has not said everything about the subject; then, as if returning to himself, suddenly receiving the intuition of his daemon, Socrates makes clear that, indeed, as he had said, merely by praising prudence, condemning passionate eroticism, he had not actually exhausted the subject evoked by Eros, or Love.

SOCRATES: – You brought me a horrible speech, (….) in a way, an impious one. Can there be anything more horrible? (….) Don’t you believe that Eros is the son of Aphrodite, and therefore a god? 242d

PHAEDRUS: – Without doubt. It’s what tradition says.

SOCRATES: – But this fact was not mentioned (…) Now, if Eros is, as he in fact is, a god or a divine being, he cannot be bad (…) These speeches sinned against Eros. Besides, their foolishness is comical (…) they are full of importance because they managed to delude a few naïve people and win their applause. (…) Before you come to suffer because of the offence committed against Eros, I will try to make my palinode, but with my head uncovered and not, as before, disguised. (…) this speech was not truthful when it said that, despite one’s having a lover, it is prudent to grant more favours to the one who is not passionate, because the former is mad, while the latter possesses discernment. This would be true if madness was only a bad thing; but, in truth, however, we gain great benefits from a madness inspired by the gods. 243a — 244a

This is where the wise man develops his argument satisfactorily: true, enthusiastic love must be guided by philosophy. What justifies a lucid life is the practice of love, which exercises itself fully when the state-of-being is guided through the attentive use of the word, or rhetoric, which must help him to discern and define the objects spoken about in dialogues, to differentiate what is just and virtuous from what is not, to be the instrument and vehicle of this search. Socrates embodies the philosopher exercising a duty: he criticises and corrects the subject matter, clarifies concepts, authoritative words and thoughts, so that those who want to listen and learn may be guided in the direction of what is just and true, regaining a noble, individual and communitarian destiny for the sake of a renewed political or civic dimension, which introduces and points towards the paths of harmony and of Beauty. 

7 Resulting implications

If he is endowed with sufficient intelligence, anyone who knows how to make a speech is responsible for understanding and acknowledging what he says, for guiding his speech, for recognising which cause he is serving, whether true and virtuous or not. Anyone who makes a speech about love and does not guide the listener towards the Beautiful and the sublime, but to a sharing out of ephemeral goods, powers and imprudent pleasures, knows for whom he is working and for what reasons; therefore, he cannot be compared in virtue, poetics or rhetoric with the person who carries on a dialogue or makes a speech to the opposite effect and tries to guide his listeners in a search for great existential realities, for truth and the good life, all well examined.

Those who, in the city, speak in favour of acclamation do not admire and/or despise speeches for their ability to convey truth or lies, but because they recognise the great value of arrogant oratory in increasing or perhaps reducing the power of the person speaking – a power confirmed by populist approval which is fertilised and inflamed by well-distributed flattery, praise and criticism.

If statesmen are reluctant to make speeches, it is not because they fear the verdict of posterity, being considered sophists, demagogues or writers-for-hire in the service of vulgar and prosaic interests; but because they are afraid of speaking without sufficient cunning and demagogy to ensure the masses’ approval, or to win votes that will increase their power and possessions. They are afraid of not being able to fill the people with hope so their shouts of approval will reinforce their thirst to win more mediocre powers; in short, they are afraid of not being endowed with the necessary cunning to produce seductive and appealing speeches which appear virtuous and profound, but actually add to the market of vulgarity and political mediocrity, obscuring what is true and essential.

When the orators involved in these tasks and struggles criticise each other, accusing each other of merely repeating speeches without substance, they do not point out the routine abuse and corruption of words pumped through the media, divested of truth and hired out to obscure causes; but, through this public detraction and praise, they negotiate alliances and attacks in accordance with a base competitive praxis whose goal is to win and conquer, to gain approval and power: fame. Surrounded by eloquent and populist allies, like sheep around a salt mine, the most arrogant leaders love making speeches, they know that the masses adore those who show ascendancy and power; flattered by a circle of satisfied followers, they make promises of prosperity to the majority of voters.

In these surroundings typical of cities led by plutocrats and tyrants lacking in philosophy, is it really necessary to examine each of these speeches to decide if it is good or bad? Or simply to note the context in which they are made: with what intentions and proposals they are written, and whom they serve? Socrates shows Phaedrus and urges him to recognise that it is not necessary to examine every sentence and stylistic device of a speech in order to discover what it is worth; it is enough not to allow oneself to be lulled by the “siren song” to understand the source that inspires the words, to whom they are directed and in favour of what or whom. This is rhetoric. The myth of the grasshoppers suggests that one must not falter in the middle of the day, or fail to make the most of the time and knowledge available, to allow boredom and prosaic necessities to impede or delay a lucid examination of important subjects in the light of the highest and most inspired philosophy. To scorn and not understand the meaning of myths, or to mix them up with distorted historical facts, blinds one and deprives the world of wisdom. To worthy artists, poets and philosophers, it is clear: the deep meaning of existence can only be assimilated in the intuitive contemplation of deep forms, illustrated and adapted to the understanding of men and their cultures – in other words, myths. In vulgar, demagogic rhetoric, people write and speak according to the political strength of opinions, not according to genuine, authentic knowledge.

The writings and speeches which are to be condemned are those which mystify readers and listeners, elevating the deeds of enthroned demagogues and tyrants to the mythical plane; this is the oratory which is used to discredit the supreme grace of amorous enthusiasm, to pile up power and resources in order to throw mud and sand on essential causes and to obscure people who know things, to make demagogic arguments seem necessary. What is accused here is writing without inspiration, which covers up the truths that can be seen in conversations with children, who understand and admire the beauty of the day and the flowers, simply knowing how to listen to the grasshoppers’ song – Mythos takes Eros in the rhetoric of the wise. 

8 Leaving the banks of the River Ilisus

Socrates versus Lysias: two ways, two contrasting perspectives and modes of living, two types of intensity. “Phaedrus” marks out a crossroads, argues over two orientations whose foundations in the community make clear the policies that lead to a straight, true existential path, in accordance with the flow of life, or to another that is false or contrary.

The Socratic, philosophical dialogue is an act and a way, an effective movement that amplifies and purifies the lucidity of those participants who are focused on the realisation of the state-of-being as truth, love and union. This being the case, in the political circumstances that would lead the master orator to a sentence of death for leading young people away from obedience and the rituals of the city, the dialogue represents a political act because it affirms that the power to exercise virtue and good government lies in the heart of the wise man and not the tyrant: to be rich is to be wise. The unitary meaning of the discourse is affirmed as a political act in defence of the government of the wise: a prudent dialogue but, in these circumstances, a transgressive one.

The fundamental virtue attributed to the mystery of existence gives birth to a metaphysical intuition, an axis of perspective and coordinates which make up a basic existential and civilisational position. This is therefore a policy that initiates trajectories, experiences, feelings and narratives that correspond to the values that have been praised. Being aware of oneself requires the realisation of one’s own nature: a true appreciation must make explicit this reciprocal and harmonious relationship between the “being” and its “nature”, revealing potentials for harmony and a life that is worthy. In the light of simple and untrammelled reason, the encounter with the Beautiful is natural, made inevitable in the goodness and the values that the living being affirms: for the wise man, the exercise of virtue is not optional or a matter of chance, it is a necessity congruent with nature and the potentials of the state-of-being. 

9 Theological and political considerations

The existential phenomenon is not contextualised as haughty, dominating “Being”; it exists as a state-of-being, equally being-and-state and state-in-being, a unitary and paradoxical identity that seeks to realise and affirm its original form without diversions; and because it emanates from the essence, when possible, it overcomes the deterministic debate with forward-looking innovations, aesthetic and ethical intuitions. The existential phenomenon creates the conditions for duty without imposition, conduct without obligations: an order established in the benevolent and wise appreciation of the human being, and consequent expressions of ethical and civic virtue. It is illusory and vain to seek the essence in subjective architectures that deny the nature of the state-of-being or which depart from co-existence, just because one is carried away by cultural ideals or frameworks. To project motives, dramas or ethics from one’s own story on to another supernatural plane, to imagine resolutions contained in theories that are not in tune with the vital-state that one experiences, represents an eccentric diversion. Almost all pathology is rooted in this metaphysical-existential dislocation. A resolution that is not merely a compensatory relaxation implies philosophical intuition, inspiration that flows into sober and precise generalisations, aesthetic abstractions and connections that create a being-and-state harmony, revealing a poetic and paradoxical unicity.

Faced with an unfocused intuition about the identity and origin of the state-of-being, trying to make up for a possibly ambiguous or frightened feeling with a consoling escapism based on opinionated affirmations and dominant political and educational models, demeans reason and liberty even more. The history and historicity of individuals shows the pathology and amplitude of the suffering resulting from these follies. Not to recognise one’s affiliation to the Beautiful, not to accept what one is, as one manifests oneself, a co-creative vital force, a co-determining will of one’s destiny, creates infirmity and lack of responsibility from the aesthetic and ethical point of view, transforming the pro-active potential for truth and adaptation into a lack of intelligence, a lack of ability, and suffering.

Noble ethical and civil achievements demand an acknowledgement of cosmo-existential integration: that is, a) a virtuous, visionary, mythical foundation; b) a pro-active affirmation of this unicity, faithful love; c) theoretical rectitude, correct rhetoric. An integration that sets store by the adaptation of the state-of-being grows and matures in the nurturing of harmony. In this phenomenon, potentials for realisation, being gradual and evolutionary processes, gravitate around the relationships that are established and become apparent between oneself and what is other. Harmonious relationships facilitate this joint process and understanding; oppositional relationships inhibit it, leading to educational and political deviations.

One of the state-of-being’s potentials is to acquire a gradual and well-founded consciousness of himself, Ethos. This implies the judicious cultivation of reason, a condition which leads him to recognise the human being as an event where identity and origin are merged in the autopoietic phenomenon in himself – Logos and Mythos. To generalise greatly: the impossibility of establishing a clear ontological distinction between what is “oneself/interior-in-oneself”, and what is “other/thing-in-itself”, implies a paradoxical cognitive-existential situation, a phenomenon and aporia which tends to get bigger and more universal in sensitive and forward-looking moments of inspiration, aesthetic intuitions, making up a mythical relationship/realisation.

Mythical-metaphysical intuition in some way confirms and directs this existential tension into two possible orientations: a) an integrative and essential, mythical union, whose meaning and value operate within the reach of the state-of-being, in the interior-in-oneself or b) a rupture which degrades this convergent relationship, projects the essence on to a hypothetical unknown, leaving the state-of-being in a position of exclusion and minority regarding the meaning, dignity or merit of his deep nature. Metaphysical intuition results from a double manifestation: a) passive: the imitative and unreflecting absorption of cultural patterns, formalised and contained in feelings, myths, rhetoric, rituals and labels, civility, theology and politics; and b) active: a philosophical renewal which emerges out of a search, a type of education, a pedagogy and an educational policy, which are decisive for the edification of the state-of-being’s consciousness and its elevated ability to apprehend.

Let us flourish, radically in the present, revealing a creative presence, the basis of all ideas, embracing the concept of the absolute and that to which it refers, immersed in psycho-physical structures, universal ineffability, metaphysical intuitions, perceptions and coordinates, mythologies and theoretical systems. We evolve as a state-of-being in a cosmo-existential complicity that is always moving. Unitary metaphysics and mythology inspire a pro-active and responsible communion at all levels, making it possible to recognise the fundamental integration of the essence in the existential sphere. Awake to these mysteries, the forward-looking individual acknowledges and weaves narratives, which elevate the existential manifestation to an immediate expression of eternal principles: archetypal intuitions, universal allegories, visions, concentrating the power of greeting and celebrating daily that which signifies most nobly, the distilled, spiritualised, metaphysical culmination in the light of natural reason.

A possibility is sensed of a realisation, reinforcing essential good measures in a pro-active circle of lucidity, connecting all the facets of the state-of-being and creating resonance between them: coordinates which dignify existence, celebrating the more genuine and sober axis of metaphysical perspective that commands the greatest consent and respect. A project-of-being that radiates like a sun, a mandala, whose centre is rooted there where images and metaphors fascinate and move, contemplating and experiencing the real without allowing hypotheses, fears or prejudices, or traditions to let rhetoric be captured by other interests, or to cloud the beauty of the evidence that is marked out in the exchanges of respected nature, chiselling the senses and the imagination into the most constructive refinements of perception and language.

The inspiration that results from the experience of this paradoxical unicity generates wonder and jubilant admiration, because it glorifies and fills the state-of-being with potential; it reinforces the guiding metaphysical intuition, providing a vital confirmation of the adaptation and rectitude of philosophical understanding. An environment of certainty is established which, although not based on empirical experiments, nor on rigorous logical deductions, affirms with full reason, qualified and intuitive, an infinite universal intelligibility: our cosmic consciousness.

The beginning, being a thing that was not formed, must also evidently be a thing that cannot be destroyed. 245d-e (…) We conjecture, without having had any experience of this nor sufficient clarity, that an immortal being would be the combination of a soul and a body that are united for all eternity. 246d

The loving dedication of the guide, focusing his attention on the individual, eliciting the appropriate metaphysical intuition and rhetoric, explaining and exemplifying the attitudes that follow from this, achieves a metaphysical position and a pedagogical act. This is an example of a theo-politics that by integrating its methods with its objectives, makes humanity bigger, according autonomy and freedom their true status for the sake of a visionary existential exercise that is beautiful and reasonable. Such an approach, stripped of awkward normative structures, can only operate from the singular to the universal, in a personal act that is reconstructed and reformulated, continuously, in the wise and multiple expressions of those who take part in the eternal cultural updating and affirmation of the moment, kairos.

An effective clarification is achieved and updated in each individual; its justifications are not circumscribed and quantified by appreciations located within historical-chronological parameters, but are affirmed in the echoes of long-lasting wise teachings, whether these are specifically referenced or not. To understand the profound and political philosophical dimension of Socrates and other masters of wisdom demands some positive recognitions as a result: a) mystical realisation is an individual sacrament; b) one is chiselled into refinement and affirmed by means of a singular and particular education; c) the political and pedagogical act that goes together with this search and realisation must aspire to a continuing and updated renewal of understanding; d) to be exercised along a variable methodological axis, balanced between the conservative and renewing poles of political positions and courses; e) in accordance with the dialogic necessities and contextualisations manifested in this lively moment that lasts for ever; f) transmuting and renewing the fluidity and intelligibility of the state-of-being; that which is eternally lively and in flux cannot be found in traces, is not found in time.

Therefore, the theo-politic Socratic programme is carried out: a) through creative cultural transmission, a continuing trans-personal diaspora; b) incorporated by human nature that is renewed in procreative acts, births and deaths. The high effectiveness of this programme is shown by the fact that 2,400 years after its foundation, coordinated in these terms, the challenges laid down continue to show their effects, rising again like a phoenix, involving millions of individuals around the world.

10 Of allegory

“Phaedrus”, as well a dialogue, is an allegory: we are all walking beside a river with two banks and two directions. One leads to this natural rustic place where there is a source and one hears the song of the grasshoppers; the other leads to that besieged city, taken over by plutocrats, where speeches are traded. Depending on what one feels, sees, hears and says – Eros, Mythos and Logos – the state-of-being walks in one or other direction – the via socratica or the via lysiastica. Will this journey have an end? May yours be a good one!

[1] Something well expressed by Patrick Hochart in his lesson (of may 16, 2012 – Cours de philosophie : internet meeting by Bibliotheque national de France. ): “The operations of the dialectics are worth in function of love which motivate and sustain them; If Socrates is a “lover of speeches” it is because there is only Logos in function of Eros that animates and sustains this élan”.