Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Eros and Thanatos

Paul Seaton called our attention to a bunch of essays sponsored by the Cato Institute on the quest for indefinite longevity. Only Daniel Callahan is tough enough to recommend that we actually pass laws against those who would invent our way of nature’s deadly, species-centric intention for each of us. Ronald Bailey is the extremist in the other direction, looking forward to the time when free individuals (especially Ronald Bailey) live forever in a world unburdened by children. Diana Schaub beautifully explains the negative consequences of pushing back thanatos will have on eros, but her thought experiment doesn’t really imply any public policy recommendations. The truth, I think, that if we have the capacity to achieve indefinite longevity, we will. There won’t be any effective "pro-death" opposition to it, especially as the voters gets older and older. So the big thought experiment is really to think about how to live virtuously--with responsibility and in love in light of what we really know--under the new circumstances. People will be more anxious and disoriented and so in some ways more unhappy than ever, and it’ll be more important to be good if you really want to feel good. The book to read on this, in MY opinion, is MY STUCK WITH VIRTUE. I do applaud the Cato people for at least beginning to reflect on some downsides of the modern project of reconstructing all of being with free individual in mind. And even Ronald Bailey is to be praised for showing us what an extremely modern man looks like and thinks about. Once again, we can’t forget Darwinian Larry, who reminds us that nature will win no matter what we do. Then, of course, there’s St. Augustine and Pascal, who say that even living a thousand years is nothing in light of eternity--and no modern man really promises IMMORTALITY, just INDEFINITE LONGEVITY.

Discussions - 13 Comments

To my mind, rather than Peter's book, one would do well to view this debate in light of the introduction to Strauss' "Socrates and Aristophanes." There you will find not only the root, the very core of Bailey and de Grey's argument, but also its decisive refutation. Every other argument merely grants their position. Eros' true interlocutor is not thanatos, but thumos.

Jeremy, You can't say that much without saying more. What is THE DECISIVE REFUTATION?

I second Peter's request (in part because I don't have the book handy, in part because I like to see Straussian frameworks explicitly explicated).

It seems I unwisely put myself in the unenviable position of having to rob Peter so as to pay Paul. Be that as it may, let me quickly suggest the following: what would it really mean to the status of science, knowledge, thinking and thus philosophy itself if, in the most fundamental and hence decisive instance, the good and the beautiful were neither the same, nor could be made so? What would be the effect on knowledge itself if this were so? At the conclusion of the book I recommended, Strauss caps an otherwise nuanced though seemingly practical discussion of Socrates' unerotic imprudence with a curious reference to Diodotus' speech in Thucydides. Let me suggest that he does so to offer a theoretical rather than practical reading of Aristophanes' critique. That is to say, as we all know so well, "all merely defensive positions are doomed."

If you go to amazon/Socrates and Aristophanes and "search this book," you'll find what Jeremy is talking about in comment 4 on 313-14. Jeremy tells us that decisive means fundamental. The suggestion is confusing in a lot of ways. Jeremy's first comment calls attention to the Intro of S and A and the second to the conclusion. Most of all, it's not clear (enough) what is being refuted and what is being defended (if, of course, not merely defensively). And inquiring minds what to know what's meant by "the good" and "the beautiful," not to mention what their possible decisive incompatibility have to do with the indefinite longeivity project or the status of freedom and virtue--and their relation to "philosophy itself"-- in the coming biotechnological age. (The connection between Aristophanic theoretical wisdom and Thucydides might be not so good for freedom understood as virtue? The bad news might be that men are neither good nor evil? Men will do what they can do, and that includes both scientific/technological progress and thumotic moral/political backlashes?) This is a mere blog and not an issue of INTERPRETATION.

A riddle is not an argument, Jeremy, no matter what you think you learned from Strauss and certain kinds of Straussians.

So please, elaborate on your suggestion that the good and the beautiful or noble are incompatible -- and connect it up with the discussion of longevity. (Don't worry, the regime will not topple if you let the cat out of the bag.)

Aubrey de Gray says: "I can think of no feature of my present condition more valuable to me than the willingness to aim high, and the refusal to accept the status quo as inevitable. I suspect that those who retain that attitude into old age derive great inner strength from it. Yes, St. Francis said: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” But Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” I say: “Long live the unreasonable man!” — and I mean to give him the chance."

Critical consciousness vs. way of the world...Hegelian Dialectic.

All progress depends on the unreasonable man and "Long live the unreasonable man" is probably something like Jeremy's point. And I apologize for the errors in my previous point. I certainly agree with Damon that saying clearly what you mean in the thread of an obscure blog won't threaten the future of America or philosophy. Not doing so suggests that there's less there than meets the eye.

You are certainly correct Peter that the internet is not the proper home of serious discussions. That is testified to by the fact that we are trading in deeds, not speeches. Nevertheless, I disagree with those of you who disagree with Socrates that frankness is never the virtue of public discourse. In this respect, you have already conceded one of their crucial assumptions.

Peter: what do you make of Callahan's attempt to hold de Grey's feet to the fire over the latter's notion that aging, nay death itself, is tragic? How does that fit within Strauss' discussion of Nietzsche's Socrates in the work I mentioned above? By the conclusion of that same book, what does Plato's Socrates now KNOW that Nietzsche's did not?

Damon: I wrote exactly what I meant. Did it seem like a riddle to you?

Each of us has our own teachers; their merit is to be found in the wisdom imparted therein.

John: the triumph of critical consciousness, i.e., subjectivity, was to Hegel what was accomplished in Greece with the discovery of nature. Yet nature is the opposite of subjectivity; the philosopher of subjectivity - Socrates - is not the first philosopher simply. However that may be, Socrates' subjectivity does not abandon nature.

Jeremy on par. 2. This isn't Jeopardy. There's no need to give your opinion in the form of questions. Why not just give some answers? Why can't you tell us what Strauss concludes Plato Socrates now knows that Nietzsche did not? Does the dramatic capitalization of KNOW have somethng to do with DECISIVE REFUTATION? And why are you so hooked on "However that may be"?

For Nietzsche substitute Nietzsche's Socrates in the post above.

Despite having to communicate with mere words on an obscure blog, and in part perhaps for that very reason, I wouldn't want to peg Hegel to a particular time period, especially if we are talking about subjectivity and its relationship to authority which doesn't seem to be a relationship that is capable of being transcended once and for all in part because it seems to have different meanings at different times. Lets suppose then that in making the relationship concrete you are simply taking the position of authority vis a vis my subjective or critical consciousness, including my desire to apply the same framework for meaning to the french revolution and perhaps even the 60's, and certainly the current times which in true Hegelian fashion are nevertheless the only time frame I have direct access to. In my quite pedestrian reading of Hegel, he answers that to make a son a good citizen one makes him a citizen of a good State with good laws, which I take to mean that Hegel endorses the view that a reasonable person accepts the serenity prayer of St. Francis, thus making peace with way of the world.

Nevertheless I don't see Hegel closing the door on the unreasonable man, in fact the unreasonable man is the one moved by the Universal Spirit to overcome deficiencies that he believes exist in authority/way of the world(albeit he need not be moved by any lofty or noble reason, and may in fact be a tyrant...and of some necessity is with reference to his opposition to the standards of judgement wrapped up in the conception of authority of the time.) Thus in some sense the distinction between the reasonable man and the unreasonable man is not itself REASONABLE since it can only be reasonable with reference to what is necessarily imperfectly reasonable in way of the world.

Nevertheless it is highly unlikely and perhaps impossible that unreasonable men being subjective will agree with each other, and not simply act so as to cancel each other out and re-enforce way of the world.

Long live the unreasonable man, but in a reasonable enough regime how many men are unreasonable enough to risk death?

Does anyone else suspect that this was all a deliberate parody of Straussianism all along? Or at least hope that it was?

(By the way, I have no idea who Dikaipolis is.)

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