Sep 30, 2012

Anger Arising in Plato's Dialogues

In this series -- started some time back, and now restarted -- of blog posts about philosophers and theologians discussing the topic of anger (whose latest installment addresses the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus), I've been eagerly looking forward to carving out the time needed to talk about the views and insights expressed by one critically important early philosopher, Plato -- poised right between his great teacher, the gadfly Socrates, and his greatest student, the systematic philosopher Aristotle.  There's one place in particular where Plato writes most about anger, or at least the part of our personalities by which we feel that emotion -- book 4 of his dialogue, the Republic, where Socrates analyses the human soul into three main parts, anger falling within the province of the intermediate, third, spirited part, which goes by the name of thumos, or the thumoeides part.

Anger does come up fairly frequently in Platonic dialogues, but not so much as a theme specifically focused on by the interlocutors, let alone subjected to the analysis of dialectic.  Instead, we see references made to different people getting or being angry in various situations, anger brought in as part of an explanation for human actions, anger being aroused (or sometimes significantly not) or at least feared as a threat within the interlocutors during the discussions.  What I've wanted to do for a long time is to assemble these instances, like pieces of a mosaic, and see if by shuffling and sifting, then selecting them, it might not be possible to assemble a composite picture of anger complementary to the tantalizingly short Platonic discussion of anger.

Sep 10, 2012

Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy: Euripides and Socrates

A few weeks ago, spurred to do a bit of writing about Friedrich Nietzsche's early work -- The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music -- while rereading and readying myself for producing new portions of an ongoing video series on Existentialism (lectures one, two, and three on the Birth of Tragedy currently available), I started exploring two of the central concepts of that work -- the Apollonian and the Dionysiac.  I've often been struck by how often readers have reduced that book to merely those two concepts -- or, more accurately, those two responses to the problem of existence.

There is, however much more to The Birth of Tragedy than just the distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac.  First off, while both of these are primordial -- the Dionysiac arguably more so (at least originally) -- they also do develop, articulate themselves, assume new forms historically, through the processes of culture.  This takes on particular importance in the case of the Greeks, in whose culture these two express themselves particularly through the arts -- epic and lyric poetry, music, dance, sculpture, and drama.  The unstable but productive fusion of Dionysiac and Apollonian in tragedy -- the masterworks of Aeschylus and Sophocles -- is, in Nietzsche view, something novel, unique, and needed.  But, there is yet another response -- one which in the story he tells, supplants both the other two -- one which he identifies first with Euripides, but which he consistently terms the "Socratic-Alexandrian".

Sep 3, 2012

Epictetus on Anger (part 2)

Over a year ago -- when I was in the process of writing a number of blog posts discussing how particular moral theorists regarded anger -- I wrote the first installment about what one Stoic philosopher had to say about that emotion:  Epictetus on Anger (part 1).  There, I started bringing together his remarks about the topic -- scattered in various places throughout his Discourses -- and I focused primarily on discussing how the limping philosopher viewed anger.  If I wanted to be flip, I could simply say:  he disapproved of it, as a good Stoic would with most if not all emotions.  But, we want to know more than simply that he thought anger was wrong, bad, beneath or an impediment to a fully human existence -- we want to know why he views anger that way -- what it is about anger that makes it bad.

To understand these sorts of matters about anger -- and this goes not just for Epictetus or for other Stoics, but for moral theorists in general -- you've also got to look at their broader perspectives on human nature.  What the fundamental good is for human beings, how we should order the multiplicity of goods, the difference between the real and merely apparent goods, whether reason is merely a slave to our passions and desires or whether it can play a more determinative role, what is needed for reason to fulfill its function and for us to flourish, what goes on when we feel and act on emotions -- all of these, and more, are the sorts of matters one has to inquire about.