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(ILR) Filipe Felizardo: The Unexcluded Middle - Socratic Death and Paideia

Updated: Jun 14

Case Study

The Unexcluded Middle - Socratic Death and Paideia

This contribution comes from a previous investigation into the account of learning in Socratic philosophy and the concept of Paideia in ancient Greece, linked to modern philosophy of logic. I am presenting a very brief version of this, having removed the historical elaborations. But I added some variations: the connections of intelligence and learning to love and revolution —the Form of the Good.

Forming the form of transformation; mixing the limited and the unlimited, finding ever more particulars and making them intelligible, through the friendly act of positing a question— or, some would say, corrupting the young.

After his trial, Socrates had one month of purgatory until his execution. To call it so may be an exaggeration, given the Athenian philosopher gave the impression of being already and truly dead. His was the methodology of those who travel light, without the palliative comfort of axiomatic belief and the abstract negations of opinion—his was a recipe for self-determination and escaping from the tedious labour of merely being alive. In this manner, I suggest that the account of “turning around” given in the Republic is a description of a methodology for negating necessity, and necessitating possibility; not quite a labour, but an activity. Labour (or education) merely sustains the world and imprisons the mind in the cave. Activity (a concept most of you may be familiar with through Vygotsky and Ileynkov, which I am appropriating here) turns the soul of the learner away from what appears to be; it allows the learner to forge the path to what is —and so, to become. “Turning around” is the activity of crafting the mind and so, of transforming the world. In a way, this is a sort of theoretical practice of death, the plastic dialectic between being and coming-to-be. If you will allow me one aphorism: Becoming is the form of being; Being is the matter of becoming.

Anguished friends try to convince Socrates into leaving Athens in order to save his life. Socrates refuses—doing so would be to affirm that the very form of the social contract is irrational. That not only would be out of character for the philosopher, but also out of form; in the playground of reason, friendship is a very serious thing—to leave the city and evade his penalty would be to dismiss it as unintelligible, to leave it unanswered. It is my contention that his answer takes the shape of a question: “Friends, was my penalty just?”

The law tries to prove itself final by demonstration, whereas Socrates, by accepting the penalty, allowed us to wonder if the law was not, after all, yet to be constructed. If his penalty was deemed unintelligible, it could not be decided if it was just or unjust. If he escaped, facing the possibility that the law was unjust, could we say of Socrates that he loved all of us who learn, by not inquiring into it and leaving it undecided?

It was by staying that Socrates managed to leave. In doing so, he allowed for the unjustness of his trial to be understood from the false justness of it. Through this contradictory act of love, selflessness and self-love, Socrates becomes part of the explication that learning how to die, the paideia of philosophy, is the activation of mixture, of perplexity before what is and what is not, the limited and the unlimited.

Please note that I am deliberately imprinting a concept of a late dialogue of Plato's, the Philebus, into an early moment of his work. This is intended as proof-of-concept for the diachronicity (in the geological sense) being posited here with regard to the realizability of learning.

If he escaped, Socrates would be conceding to the unlimited—worse, to unlimited power. In doing so, the intelligent act of mixture, of crafting the infinite determinations of the world, would be lost. Unlimited power is limited only to itself—a blind affirmation of a vague, unexamined concept. In many ways, the violent contrary of learning and of love.

Still, the underpinnings of such fate are transparent and contingent—as such, doors to spaces of possibility. To address Socrates' death sentence—and his life—as a question of affirmation or negation is to conform to a petrified, a-historical semantics of all the concepts involved, starting by those of life and death. To presume that escaping the sentence is the negation of death and as such the affirmation of life is not in the theoretical framework where to practice philosophy is learning how to die. Under this very myopic logic, how would one become closer to death through the affirmation of life? Moreover, how does evading an interlocutor allow one to remain inside a space of possibility, where questions can still be asked?

The critical point of this investigation is then an issue of meta-logic, revolving around the Principle of the Excluded Middle. Though locally useful for simple, stop-gap determinations, it has no global purchase to speak of; it is one step forward making two steps backwards, a principle of semantic conservation that actually cuts conceptual links. A principle that only performs an end, and not the way towards it. Not quite the death, but the still-birth of mixture, cancelling rational self-determination in the organization of the polis.

In order to allow for the principle of mixture in construction of the city and the citizen, we need to limit the unlimited entry of the principle of the excluded middle into the larger scale of the polis's organizational logic. Taking the polis as an image of the structure of the soul, of that which is formed by pedagogy, so it will be the case that the principle of the excluded middle may only apply context-sensitively in the formation of those who will transform—themselves and the polis.

It can be sustained that Socrates's act was one of revolutionary love—which is to say, an act of intelligence. Along with the assumption that intelligence is the form of transformation, is the assumption that intelligence is an act of love—that is, love as the suspension of belief into the necessity of logical strictures, as the rendering intelligible of the interpersonal space of possibilities, in order to allow one another—intelligence—to realize itself. An act of love is the determinate negation of abstract domination. It is isomorphic to the activity of intelligence, which determinately negates the abstract hold of unexamined or naturalized pseudo-Ideas. As such, an act of love is an act of transformation. Moreover, it is an act of intelligent self- transformation. Through collaborative guidance across perplexity, that is what a pedagogy of mixture intends to craft.

Socrates's decision is one example of such pedagogy, through the realizing concepts of enkrateia (self-dominion), autarky (the absence of necessity), and friendship. As theoretical- practice ideals, all three depend on their interplay—and they implode if ever considered somehow mutually exclusive. By submitting himself to the will of his contemporaries, Socrates is nonetheless effecting a suspension from its necessity: it is his ruling to do so. Ultimately, it is an act of friendship towards his judges, contemporary and future. It would be unfriendly towards intelligence to disavow the possibility of historical contingency—evading Athens would be to affirm the necessity of current laws; remaining is an act of love towards even those who condemn him, opening up the possibility that they will not be subject to the same logic of wilful ignorance; it is opening the possibility of learning. Although answering to the social contract, Socrates is questioning his alleged crime. His act appears to take shape as an ultimate question. A reading of the concept of parrhesia as parturition, as, like Socratic midwifery, helping, through turning around with love for coming-to-be, can help us grasp the radical intelligence of such question. In being ultimate, it is also the first question of all—the parturition of all questions to come.

Two concluding remarks, please:

When I was developing these ideas two years ago, my friend Lika Kareva asked me: Why death, why this glorification of something being committed so stupidly, arbitrarily and arrogantly? I replied that those who send people to die and to kill actually do not know the meaning of death. If they knew, they would not be doing so.

Dying is quite different from killing: Enkrateia is present in Dying; it is abstractly negated in the one who kills. Doing so, autarky and friendship are also lost. In dying, though, I am giving myself to understanding, to necessitating the possibility of learning in myself as a particular and in others, past and future—that is, universally. It is in this way that intelligence is a revolutionary act of love, and definitely not an instance of passivity. It is also in this way that learning—transforming ignorance into intelligibilities—is a willingness to realize intelligence— love—in oneself and others. As such, learning is not quietism and cowardice—it is rather an active, historical engagement against it, across small and cosmic timescales. Learning entails the possibility of deceiving our enemies into overcoming their ignorance.

Lastly: By bringing Plato into a presentation about the inescapable interplay between the ideal and the material, I want to finish by moving away from any platonism that can be called “idealist.” Philosophy, as an art of living, of learning how to die, is not merely about what is. Otherwise, it would be in the business of closing doors, turning the future into fate.

Along its many tasks, philosophy is the activity of constructing ideals. Ideals in the sense of models of thought, not-only-abstract, not-only-concrete, but synthetic maps of theoretical- practice. It is in this sense i say that philosophy is a dual of pedagogy—possibly that philosophy is the “theoretical” and pedagogy is the “practice,” but... still, these spin in a perplexing dialectic. So, i claim that pedagogy is the activity of constructing ideals—specifically, of constructing particular instances of a universal ideal that does not stop at generality and monotonic amplification of a pseudo-ideal form or mould, but goes forward in open-ended, transformation- enabled, radical universality. In providing the tools for emancipation, in being receptive to revise those tools by interaction with those being formed and forming themselves—transforming the form of pedagogy—it is an act of love.

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