Friday, November 17, 2017

Be Greek!

"The words, you are good with the words man."

Roy says that to Don in "The Hobo Code" the 8th episode of the first season of Mad Men. It is the best episode of the entire series and one of the most important. Here the most important themes are established.

Don's answer is, "Well put." So he wins the battle. Roy isn't good with words.

Who wins the war is an open question.

It's not entirely clear that what Don said in the first place to inspire Roy's criticism in the first place was any good. He compares his experience with marijuana, apparently his first, to Dorothy going over the rainbow and everything being in colour. It's powerful language in service of not terribly profound thought.

I got wondering about Isocrates yesterday. I'm doing research on Erasmus and have taken to comparing him with Ignatius of Loyola. It's an edifying comparison that has worked mainly to the advantage of Ignatius. Anyway, I was reading specifically about how humanism influenced Ignatian spirituality and Isocrates came up. Despite an extensive education in philosophy, I don't know much about Isocrates. He was a target of Plato and, as often happened with targets of Plato, the damage was long lasting. Pascal's pointed criticism had a similar impact on the Jesuits; they too won the battle but have not won the war even today.

And the battle carries on with Don versus Roy, Don in the place of Isocrates and Roy in the place of Plato. Except that Roy is a clown and Plato was a genius. Roy wasn't just bad with words, he didn't have anything important to sat either. How would Don have fared if he had come up with someone who is as "good with the words" as he was? We'll never know. Plato, however, was better with words than anyone he came up against.

That said, was he right? Did he have something to say? I know, that's an impertinent question.

He was obviously right about a lot of individual issues and wrong about a lot of individual issues. The question is whether he was right as a hedgehog and not as a fox: was the one big thing Plato cared about right? I think the answer to that is no.

And that's enough of that for a Friday morning.

I started my research with Wikipedia. Yeah, I admit it, I always start with Wikipedia. And I found this fascinating quote:
Our city has so far surpassed other men in thought and speech that students of Athens have become the teachers of others, and the city has made the name “Greek” seem to be not that of a people but of a way of thinking; and people are called Greeks because they share in our education (paideusis) rather than in our birth.
Isocrates point, again relying on Wikipedia, was not that everyone should be Greek. He meant, rather, to warn the Greeks that their culture was available to others and that they had to educate themselves to protect their freedoms. His intention, however, is beside the point. There is an idea of freedom here that is worth acquiring and the way to do that is humanism,

Also from that Wikipedia page:
He promoted the Greek ideals of freedom, self-control, and virtue; in this he influenced several Roman rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Quintilian, and influenced the core concepts of liberal arts education.
Another person who shared these ideals was Saint Paul.

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