ON BUNNIES, BAMBI, AND THE ETHICS OF NOT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL

EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.

Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF SICK S.O.B. PUTS SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN A KIDS MOVIE???

 

Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

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Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?

First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.

Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.

If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.

 

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YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT LIKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT INCLUDING THIS… IT’S THE LAW

 

Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.

Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.

To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato

If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?

Should we just omit the truth?

There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception

Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.

If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?

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Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.

After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.

And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.

The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”

Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.

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It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.

The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.

The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.

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The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.

There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.

So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?

Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.

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But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?

Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Disney)

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission

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… AND FISH FROM THE SEA

IT SEEMS LIKE every movie is getting a remake these days .

Psycho. The Wicker Man. Dawn of the Dead. The Pink Panther. Evil Dead.

If the movie was made more than six months ago, its getting a remake.

Much fuss was made about the recent remake of Ghostbusters.

And by “fuss” I mean people are saying that it sucked.

I don’t have an opinion about that.

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I mean, I do. But that’s not what this blog post is all about.

What this blog post is about is how it seems that every movie nobody wants to be remade gets a remake and movies that could do for a remake haven’t been remade.

… although every-so-often a movie does spawn a short-lived TV show.

The movie I’m thinking about is Logan’s Run.

I’m really surprised that no one has remade this movie.

It’s actually a pretty good flick.

And with the kind of special effects that folks like ILM do these days, they’d certainly make characters like Box look better than this

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THIS REALLY IS BAD

Ok. Now for the plot.

Logan’s Run (released in 1976, based on the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson) takes place in a city in the post-apocalyptic future. The City is under a Dome; a refuge for what remains of civilization after mankind nearly annihilates itself by nuclear war.

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Logan’s City under the Dome is a utopia. Everyone in the City is slim, beautiful, and content with lives where everything is provided for; the people don’t worry about food, shelter, or raising their own children. Life under the dome is carefree and filled with pleasure.

More importantly, everyone in the City is young.

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That’s because no one is allowed to live past 30.

In the City, one’s lifespan is governed by a life-clock, signified by a crystal stone implanted into the palm of the hand at birth. As a person ages the crystal changes color, eventually turning from a color to a blinking light as one approaches their thirtieth year.

At thirty, citizens go to Carousel where they are “renewed”.

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THESE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE RENEWED. YES, LOOKING LIKE THAT.

When you’re renewed, they say you are reborn.

More about that in a minute.

While watching Logan’s Run, a few things popped into my mind:

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Bentham’s hedonism
Thomas More’s Utopia
Plato’s Republic

Society under the Dome is structured much like Plato’s ideal city in Republic and Huxley’s Brave New World. Under the Dome, citizens are arranged into separate groups. Social status (in this case, a citizen’s age) is indicated by garment color (red, yellow, green). Children are not born and raised by their biological mothers and fathers but are cultivated and raised in nurseries. Citizens are given names proceeded by a number (Logan 5, Jessica 6, Holly 13, and the like).

Life is all about doing drugs, having promiscuous sex, and watching people renewed at Carousel.

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And so… we’re introduced to Logan 5, a Sandman who – wait.

I have to get back to something…

When a person reaches the age of thirty they are sent to Carousel.

Carousel is where you are renewed.

When you are renewed, you are reborn.

At Carousel, the thirty year old body is destroyed and the individual is reincarnated into another body… or so people are told.

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ANY CASUAL OBSERVER COULD FIGURE OUT THAT ANY “RENEWAL” CEREMONY THAT STARTS OUT LIKE A DELETED SCENE FROM “EYES WIDE SHUT” PROBABLY WON’T END WELL

However, some people in the City have figured out that when you are renewed at Carousel you die.

That’s where Logan comes in.

Logan 5 and his buddy Francis 7, belong to a group called Sandman. Sandmen catch and eliminate “runners” – people who attempt to avoid being renewed at Carousel.

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THIS IS LOGAN 5. DID I MENTION THAT LOGAN IS 30 YEARS OLD?

One such runner is named Jessica 6.

Logan meets Jessica 6, a woman who is looking for a place called Sanctuary, a place rumored to be outside of the walled City where there is no Carousel and people can live freely.

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THIS IS JESSICA 6. IT’S PRETTY EASY TO FIGURE OUT WHY LOGAN WANTED TO FOLLOW HER TO SANCTUARY.

After persuading Logan that people are not renewed at Carousel (but that they actually are killed) Logan and Jessica escape the City. Unfortunately, the pair discover that Sanctuary is a myth.

However, while outside, they meet an old man. Because no one under the Dome is allowed to live past the age of thirty, they’ve never seen a person as old as the old man. The old man tells Logan and Jessica the story of his life – that he was born of a mother and was raised by and lived with his parents until they died.

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OH YEAH, THE OLD MAN HAS GOT A BUNCH OF CATS, TOO

Jessica and Logan decide to take the old man to the city.
At the end of the film, the people gather around the old man, intrigued by the old, strange man who lived outside the Dome.

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THIS OLD MAN IS ABOUT 3 MINUTES FROM BEING THE CAUSE OF A SOCIETAL COLLAPSE

You know, I enjoyed Logan’s Run. I enjoyed the story of Logan 5 and Jessica 6. I rooted for them to escape the City. But something kept nagging me while I watched the film.

Sure, Logan and Jessica probably avoided going to Carousel, but is that a good thing?

It’s understandable that Logan and Jessica want to escape, but do they need to disrupt the social order?

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WHO WOULD WANT TO PUT AN END TO A CEREMONY THAT ENDS LIKE THIS?

We can assume by the looks of the world outside of the Dome and by the fact that there is just one old guy alive out there, that something horrible happened to humanity in the past. Society needed to construct the City under the Dome. Society needed Carousel.

The Classical Greek philosopher, Plato writes that the success and security of the polis depends on everyone adhering to the way society is structured. To deviate from societal structure, Plato states, can potentially collapse society.

Life in Plato’s ideal city is highly regulated. Individuals are divided into groups based on social status: an auxiliary class, comprised of warriors who defend the city and enforce the laws, and a the lower class, both ruled by a class of guardians, headed by the philosopher-king.

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THE PHILOSOPHER-KING PROMISES WISE LEADERSHIP… AND FREE REFILLS

We aren’t told exactly how the City under the Dome is arranged, but in Logan’s Run, we see a large class of citizens, policed by the Sandmen, who make sure that the citizens comply with the ritual of Carousel.

And like Plato’s ideal city, the people of the Dome are tied to the city through ritual. The ritual of renewal at Carousel binds people to the City. And like Plato’s Republic, children of the domed city are raised, not by their biological parents, but by nurses. Parents are merely sperm and egg donors with no attachment to their offspring.

The rituals in Plato’s Republic and in Logan’s Run are reinforced through lies – what Plato calls Noble Lies. Plato writes,

“Could we,” I said, “somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in vase of need, of which we were just now speaking, some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but of not them, the rest of the city?”(Book III, 414b-c)

People under the Dome are told that they don’t die but are renewed. The promise of being renewed keeps people compliant.

They don’t mind (or don’t notice) that runners are killed by Sandmen.

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NOTHING TO SEE, HERE. JUST GO BACK TO WATCHING PEOPLE INCINERATED IN A BIZARRE DEATH RITUAL. RENEW!

Or even ask why people are running in the first place.

Why would anyone run if you’re going to be renewed?

The life-clock is a lie.

Even the story of Sanctuary is a myth. There is no Sanctuary. People who flee the city are killed… by this guy.

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BOY, THIS REALLY DOES LOOK BAD

If Box were back in the Republic of Plato, he would have been part of the auxiliary.

And like Huxley’s Brave New World, life under the Dome is easy and uncomplicated. The City functions by unseen leaders with no input from the citizens. The people under the Dome are kept busy with a leisurely life of carnal delights like sex and drugs. If you are dissatisfied with way you look, go to New You and change your face!

( because “Ending is better than mending”)

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NEW YOU! OFFERS THE BEST FACIAL RECONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY MONEY CAN BUY… AND FARRAH FAWCETT

Those who refuse to comply are kept outside of the City where are left to fend for themselves. Sandmen sweep the City to remove problem individuals and runners are dealt with quickly and harshly.

Now, we know that every utopia is, in reality, a dystopia. Despite outward appearances, Utopian living is anything but Utopian. People are robbed of their freedom. Compliance is forced. People cannot choose their own way of life. Those who threaten the utopia are eliminated. In Logan’s Run, mere talk of life outside of the City is forbidden.

When Logan and Jessica leave the Dome to find Sanctuary, they are pursued by Logan’s Sandman partner, Francis 7. Logan and Jessica learn that those who escape the City do not find Sanctuary, but instead find the mechanical assassin Box, whose sole purpose is to kill the escaped Runners.

Which brings me to my question – what good can come of introducing the old man to the City?

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SURE. HE ONLY LOOKS HARMLESS

Sure, Plato says that people need to leave the cave and step into the light of truth, but at what expense? What if that truth upends the social order?

It’s clear that Carousel is form of population control – not just to prevent overpopulation, but also as a means of Platonic myth-making Noble Lies meant to bind the people’s loyalty to the City. Certainly the old man’s presence would be jarring. The old man is introduced to a society that not only does not know that people grow old and die, but it’s also a tightly-controlled society where every need and want are provided for. The old man’s very existence challenges (if not shatters) the myth of Carousel, and by extension the foundation of society underneath the Dome. The old man’s arrival would throw the City into chaos (I suspect this is exactly why Logan and Jessica brought the old man back to the city with them).

Is the old man the right kind of chaos to bring to the City – a city populated with drug-taking, promiscuous infantile people who have no idea that the human lifespan is longer than thirty years, don’t raise their own children, or how to self govern?

What happens to the old man after the unseen City rulers learn of his presence?

How soon is he renewed at Carousel?

 

 

 

 

Sources: Plato. Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. 1991. Basic Books.

You Can’t Handle The (Post) Truth

WHEN YOU’RE A POLITICAL GEEK like I kind-of am, watching Sunday morning newstalk shows becomes something of a routine. The shows usually feature a regular who’s who of political pundits, experts, and media personalities.

A couple of Sundays ago, after some copious amount of channel surfing (I’m always torn between watching MSNBC or Fox News) I settled on watching Meet the Press, hosted by Chuck Todd.

 

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The subject of most of the show was the Republican presidential nomination race, in particular, candidate and guest, Donald Trump. After the interview concluded, the morning’s panel discussed the controversial real estate magnate-turned presidential hopeful, – especially allegations that Donald Trump has a curious relationship with the truth.

That is to say, some accuse Donald Trump of making statements that are factually inaccurate.
Other people just flat-out say that Donald Trump is a liar.

 

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Trump’s (alleged) lies include (but are not limited to): witnessing cheering Arabs/Muslims in New Jersey on 9/11, a retweet of bogus crime stats on black on white crime, and statements on Syrian refugees.

 

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SPOT THE LIE IN THIS TWEET

 

The Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco does not exist.

 

Chuck Todd and his panel observed that Donald trump seems to suffered no negative consequence for making things up. If anything, Trump’s popularity has held steady and even increased with every accusation that he’s stated a factual inaccuracy.

 

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The peculiarity of the enduring popularity of the Trump campaign, despite being called a liar, lead Meet the Press host Chuck Todd to ask: Are we living in a post truth society?
Now, the term “post-truth” is a term has been floating around for at least a decade.

 

“Post-Truth” is often used in reference to politics.

 

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Which is entirely appropriate if discussing the Trump presidential campaign.

 

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In Ralph Keyes book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception In Contemporary Life (2004), Keyes describes the post-truth era as:

In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit.

 

Keyes also says in a post-truth era:

 

… a liar is “ethically challenged” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable.”

A quick survey of the modern American political landscape, and Keyes would seem to be spot-on in his observation, even in the more than a decade since he wrote The Post-Truth Era.

But as much as it is important to as if we live in a post-truth era, it is equally important to ask if we do live in a post-truth era, how did we get to a point where the truth is politically irrelevant?

 

Well, we can go the psychological route.

 

We might simply declare that politicians and political candidates who have a curious relationship with the truth are pathologically predisposed to being factually inaccurate.

 

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That would do us just fine. (For more info on the pathology of political candidates, see: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/the-startling-accuracy-of-referring-to-politicians-as-psychopaths/260517/  )

Ok. We all can agree that politicians lie. And that some politicians seem to have an easier time with non-truth telling than others. But why is it that lying -er, factual inaccuracy telling is so prevalent in society today?

We can blame cognitive dissonance.

Or say that we all have a bad case of confirmation bias.

 

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What if the reason isn’t psychological or political –

But philosophical?

 

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Since so much political post-truthing appeals to our emotions, we may ask, have the emotivists won?

 

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When we say that your truth is as valid as any other version of truth, are we declaring Ethical Relativism the cultural winner?
Has postmodernism, that rejects the notion of the existence of objective truth, taken hold of our politics?

 

Postmodernism, closely associated with French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, has notably permeated popular culture, but also, perhaps to the detriment of, politics. Postmodernism does not subscribe to the idea of universal truths. Truth, like reality, is subjective. You make your own truth.

 

That certainly sounds like someone we’ve all heard of, doesn’t it?

 

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You may noticed if we do a little philosophical zig instead of a psychological zag, we may find that the roots of the post-truth era may stretch as far back as the birth of philosophical thought.
Perhaps the reason why Donald Trump seems so loosely tied to the telling of truths rests in the possibility that a Trump presidency will be carried out in the mold of the Philosopher-King of Plato’s Republic.

Something that will certainly please Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

 

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It’s entirely possible that Trump is merely utilizing Platonic Noble Lies, which if you look at the recent history of the Republican Party, is a pretty Republican thing to do.

The only problem is that Trump may be noble lying a little early.
In Plato’s Republic Noble lies are myths told by the leaders to the citizens of the city to maintain social order.

According to Plato (or rather, Plato as Socrates) Noble Lies are necessary.

In Republic (414b-415d) says:

 

“Could we,” I said, “somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need of which we were just now speaking, some on noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of society?”

 
Following the philosophy of Plato, the German-American philosopher and father of the Neoconservative movement, Leo Strauss (1899-1973), maintained that, in the interest of carrying out government affairs, politicians can’t be completely truthful. Government needs to lie.

 

Notes James Horrox in his essay “Leo Strauss and the Cult of the Noble Lie”:

 

Deception for Strauss is therefore not just an avoidable bi-product of politics, but a central and necessary part of it, a condition of “perpetual deception” between the rulers and the ruled being the sine qua non of a stable society. Strauss suggests that “noble lies” therefore have a key role to play in uniting and guiding the mass of the population … As another Strauss analyst summarizes, he advocates a society in which “the people are told what they need to know and no more.”

According to the Straussian view of politics, a government that is deceptive and manipulates the people isn’t just necessary; it’s good.

That’s because the average person is too stupid to be trusted to run his own government.

Now, does that sound like someone we know?

 

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So, is Chuck Todd right? Is Donald Trump a post-truth candidate?

It would certainly seem so.

 

It’s worth reminding that the idea of a politician, president, or philosopher-king being averse to the truth is neither new, nor is it always discouraged or taken as a sign of the collapse of society. As Plato has shown us, it was the opposite. A government that lies is a sign of a efficiently functioning government.

 

 

Then again, Donald Trump may be, as Jeet Heer suggests in The New Republic, dealing in bullshit.

 

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But then, that’s another topic for another article.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.ralphkeyes.com/the-post-truth-era/

https://newrepublic.com/article/124803/donald-trump-not-liar

http://www.dominican.edu/academics/osher/plone-cleanup-olli/archives/prior-sessions/spring/case-against-democracy-3

 

 

 

If you’re happy and you know it rattle your chains

I watch a lot of MSNBC.

Yeah, I’m a liberal so I watch MSNBC.

Plus, I got this thing for Rachel Maddow.

I won’t explain it here. I don’t want it to get weird.

Too weird… More weird.

My God, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, this.

I watch MSNBC. I even watch on weekends. I suspect that whoever is in charge of weekend programming thinks no one is watching because they air the same shows practically every weekend. They show that Dominick Dunne show about people killing each other. A lot. I think I’ve seen the same one about the poor dude who marries the rich lady from Texas and then poisons her with arsenic-laced pills about a dozen times already.

Besides, Dominick Dunne has been dead for how many years now?

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it's time MSNBC change it's weekend line-up

Dominick Dunne died in 2009. I think it’s time MSNBC change it’s weekend line-up

 

Anyway, in addition to showing the same episodes of that Dominick Dunne show (Really, MSNBC. Airing that show is getting a little creepy) the weekend programming staff seems to be fascinated by shows about sex slaves.

Apparently they’re everywhere.

I had no idea.

Next to illegal drugs and guns, human trafficking (especially for the purpose of prostitution) is big (illegal) international business. It’s estimated nearly 800,000 people, especially women and children, are globally trafficked a year.

I'm not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

I’m not talking about this kind of slave, but real ones.

 

You Know, if you think about it, it’s not entirely shocking that modern slavery still exists given the fact that slaves and slavery (of some form or another) have been around since the birth of human civilization.

Slavery is not only a historical fact; it’s been tolerated (historically) in many cultures. Slaves traditionally were conquered people or people who owed money and were sold into slavery to work off debts. Ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and pre-Columbian Americans held slaves. Slavery is even mentioned in the Bible. Despite its prohibitions against such immoral acts such as witchcraft, mixing fabrics, eating shellfish, and making fun of bald men, the Bible does not prohibit slavery. Christian civilizations sometimes lessened slavery and occasionally slaves were liberated,  but neither Christian nor Islam (Mohammed urged that slaves should be treated well) did not end the practice of enslaving people.

By the way, the Bible does tell us how we should treat slaves (Leviticus 25:35-55).

Seriously though, according to the Bible making fun of a bald man may be a bad idea.

Just read 2 Kings 2:23-24.

 

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Bears, man. Bears.

 

And now for the philosophy.

Like many folks in the ancient world, the Greek philosopher Aristotle does not object to slavery. Aristotle argues that just as nature produces philosophers (the highest men), nature also produces natural slaves. Some are designated from birth to rule while others are destined to be ruled. Aristotle states that in the household (which is the foundation of society) slavery is not only expedient, it’s right. The slave is (and should be) naturally inferior to the master. Slaves should not be Greeks but inferior people but barbarians, (who are natural slaves). In Politics, Aristotle writes:

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say:

“It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians”;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

The slave, says Aristotle, is a “living tool” and the master cannot be friends with his slaves (that’s because slaves are not full people like their masters). Aristotle states that slaves should not be educated as a superior person is educated (because they can‘t be, anyway). Slaves should be taught useful arts like cooking, cleaning, and how to care for livestock.

Although the ancient Greek philosophers inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment, it’s clear that there is no “all men are created equal” according to Aristotle.

(At this point it’s important to note that even though slavery has existed since people figured out that you can force other people to do hard work for you if you beat them, the criteria for who was fit (in Aristotle’s case naturally fit) for slavery is not racial in the same sense that we view race. The racial qualification for servitude (i.e. being African) wasn’t established until the mid-1400s when the enslavement of Africans was justified on the basis that Africans were an inferior race only fit for servitude).

With the pre-Enlightenment ideals of freedom, liberty, and self-determination spread across Europe and the American colonies, some saw enslavement of Africans as contrary to those ideals and by the mid-1800s objections to slavery on the grounds that enslaving one’s fellow humans is morally wrong (namely because lifelong servitude causes suffering) grounded the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists saw slavery as a sham, a denial of human rights; and to force others to forfeit their God-given liberty is contrary to the American belief in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Slaves were miserable. They weren’t happy and presumably would be happier if they weren’t slaves.

That’s a fairly easy assumption to make about people who lived like this:

slaves in chains

 

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass addressed how the institution of slavery contradicted the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wrote:

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham… your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery… are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy

A thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages

 

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

Douglass wrote “It was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation for the existence of slavery.”

 

The funny thing about slavery (if it’s even possible for anything to be funny about slavery) is that the America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom were certainly slave owners, believed that slavery was wrong. The late historian Howard Zinn writes that in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that King George III of England suppressed “every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain the execrable commerce”.

However, Zinn adds, Jefferson’s condemnation of the king was excised from the final draft of the Declaration by the Continental Congress.

The funny thing about the funny thing about slavery is although Jefferson believed that slavery is evil he still owned slaves. Jefferson, like his fellow Founders, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, believed slavery was an evil institution that was antithetical to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

But some of them still owned slaves.

I think I kinda know why.

Besides the fact that no one who has the opportunity to say no wants to pick cotton by hand.

I know I’m going to do a bit of stretching here. But play along with me.

We trace our ideals of freedom and liberty (at least as a politically guaranteed right) to the philosophy of John Locke (who, by the way, was heavily invested in the slave trade), but we also trace our idea of democracy to ancient Athens, a society that believed that not only is slavery morally permitted but a part of the natural order. Our idea of democracy isn’t just Lockean but also the ancient Platonic/Aristotelian view of the purpose and function of proper government.

I’m getting to my point. Bear with me. It’s gonna take a sec.

Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates) believed that the aim of government is the good of the whole. And Happiness (capital H) is a part of that good. The good, according to Aristotle, consists in acting virtuously, but also (as Socrates also believed) in performing according to one’s assigned role in society. The good of the community is inextricably tied to everyone doing what he (or she) is supposed to do. Society cannot function if people do not perform according to their characteristic function this is the only way a society can be harmonious. Aristotle writes:

But perhaps the reader thinks that though no one will dispute the statement that happiness is the best thing in the world, yet a still more precise definition of it is needed.

This will best be gained, I think, by asking. What is the function of man? For as the goodness and the excellence of a piper or a sculptor, or the practiser of any art, and generally of those who have any function or business to do, lies in that function, so man’s good would seem to lie in his function., if he has one.

 

So, when everyone is acting according to his/her characteristic function, we are not only acting for the good of the community, we are also Happy. We are unhappy when we don’t perform according to the role assigned to us by nature.

Aristotle says “thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.”

Ok, Aristotle wants everybody to be happy. And we know that being a slave obviously makes one unhappy, so there’s no way we can justify having slaves, right?

Well, not entirely.

You see, when Aristotle wrote about happiness, he wasn’t exclusively writing about how we feel. He was writing about how we are that is, what kind of people we are. If we are virtuous, we are happy no matter what role we occupy in life. Aristotle calls this kind of Happiness eudemonia.

Aristotle writes that the good things that make us happy (wealth, pleasure, health, etc.) are second to a higher good. According to Aristotle, eudemonia consists in development of a virtuous soul.

And as we all know, Aristotle says when we act according to our characteristic function we are participating in virtuous activity.

This all has me wondering…

If it was believed that Africans were naturally fit for slavery is it possible that, despite the fact that slavery is brutal and is a denial of human freedom, that Jefferson believed that his slaves were happy?

At least in the philosophical sense?

 

 

NOTE:

If anyone objects to my argument, remember this is just a philosophical exercise (or thought experiment, if you will), not an actual treatise on slavery, its philosophical merits (if any), or Thomas Jefferson’s actual view on the emotional/philosophical state of his slaves. I’m more than certain that my ancestors would have thrown over philosophical happiness for freedom.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes, “Again, the enjoyment of bodily pleasures is within the reach of anybody, of a slave no less than the best of men; but no one supposes that a slave can participate in happiness, seeing that he cannot participate in the proper life of man. For indeed happiness does not consist in pastimes of this sort, but in the exercise of virtue, as we have already said.” (pg. 233)  According to Aristotle, since a slave is not a full human being, a slave cannot be happy.

Yikes! That’s worse than Jefferson!

 

SOURCES:
1. Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. 1999. 1980. NY: Perennial Classics. 72, 182-3.

2. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 2004 [1893] . NY: Barnes and Noble Books. 10-11, 232, 233.

3. Aristotle. “Politics”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Pocket Aristotle. 1958, 1942. Ed. Justin D. Kaplan. NY: Pocket Books. 279.

 

Same-sex Chickens

If you ask me, I think people are entirely too focused on sex.

Philosophers are no exception. There’s an entire field of philosophy devoted to the study of human sexuality: it’s called philosophy of sexuality.  Philosophers of sexuality explore topics such as contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia.

That’s quite a list.

Studying sexuality, philosophically or otherwise, wouldn’t be such a bad idea if not for the fact that people seem to be obsessed not with their own sex lives, but with what other people do behind closed doors.

… especially if the people those people are having sex with are the same sex.

Culturally speaking, we’re kind of hung up on homosexuals and homosexuality.

That could be because when some people think about gay people, they think of people like this:


Instead of this:


Just watch an episode of the 700 Club. You’d be smashed if you took a shot of tequila every time someone says the words “gay agenda”.

Pat Robertson wants you to buy a shitty chicken sandwich and waffle fries to prove you aren’t a part of the gay agenda

Although the term ‘homosexuality’ is fairly new (it was coined in the 19th century German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert), philosophers have written about the subject of sexuality and homosexuality since the ancient Greek philosophers, in works such as Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Erotikos. In Plutarch’s work, “the noble lover of beauty engages in love” without regard for the gender of the lover of and the object of beauty. Contemporary philosophers have also participated in the discussion, adding to theories on human sexuality, including queer theory.

Every philosophy student knows that Plato was gay. But Plato wasn’t (or isn’t) the only well-known gay (or lesbian) philosopher. Sir Francis Bacon, Alan Turing, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Claudia Card, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, are well-known gay (or lesbian) philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates, Erasmus, Zeno of Elea, Niccolo Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Arthur Schopenhauer, George Santayana, Simone de Beauvoir, and Henry David Thoreau are all suspected of being  gay or lesbian). It’s strange, given that gay and lesbian philosophers have been a part of philosophical thought, that philosophy hasn’t always been so gay friendly.

….Not that this is shocking, considering how the rest of the world and all of history has thought of homosexuality.

Historically, individuals accused of being gay or lesbian were regarded as socially dangerous and disruptive to the natural order. Religious and civil leaders thought homosexuality was so dangerous that sexual contact between individuals of the same gender was a crime punishable by death (or at the very least arrest and/or public humiliation).

I know I am using the word “was”. But I am well aware that in many parts of the world homosexuality (or even suspected homosexuality) is a crime punishable by torture, imprisonment, or death. Of course, when we make the claim that homosexuality is dangerous, we are assigning a moral judgment on a particular or general (set of) sexual act(s).

The judgment is that the act is either immoral, unnatural, or both.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and the biblical view on sex, sexual acts other than acts done for the purpose of procreation were not only immoral, but also unnatural, for any sexual act that did not result in procreation was an act done against the will of God.  Sex, according to Aquinas (and religion in general) is strictly male/female done only for the purpose of reproduction. One need only to look to the natural world for confirmation of naturalness of heterosexuality and the unnaturalness of homosexuality.

And since God made nature, obviously God intended to make all reproductive sex between male and female.

Aquinas says you can have all the gay sex you want… if this is how you want to spend eternity

This is totally off the topic, but the “look at what other animals do” was also used to justify treating women like inferior beings, owning slaves, and dominating other people in general.

Although Aquinas, St. Augustine (and theologians in general) argue that homosexual relations are immoral and every homosexual is doomed to an eternity of hellfire, ancient philosophers held a different point of view. In ancient Greece, homosexual acts between individuals were not only common but same-sex relations were immoral, only if the sex was between individuals of equal social stature. Citizens of ancient Greece were allowed to engage in homosexual activity, but only if one of the participants was in no danger of losing respect.

You see, the Greeks believed that in a sexual act, one person is dominant while the other is passive. To be passive would be to equate one’s self with the status of a woman, child, or slave.

The funny thing is, after the ancient Greeks, philosophers are pretty mum on the matter.

Well, not all of them.

Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand not only considered homosexuality immoral, but also wrote in her book The New Left  (1971), that homosexuals “hideous” and wanted “special privileges” from the government (a charge Rand made against the poor as well), but that  homosexuality, which Rand regarded as contradictory to natural sex roles, was

…so repulsive a set of premises from so loathsome a sense of life that an accurate commentary would require the kind of language I do not like to see in print.

BTW:  The prevailing philosophical view on sex tends to focus on the morality of sexuality and sex acts in general rather than specific views on heterosexuality or homosexuality. For instance, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that sexual desire is immoral in that sexual lust inevitably leads individuals to engage in all sorts of moral naughtiness. Moral naughtiness, including consensual sex between adults, Kant argues, is disruptive to civilization. According to Kant, sex is okay only if we do not violate the Categorical Imperative. Kant writes:

The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desires depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole – over the welfare and happiness and generally over all the circumstances of that person…each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right to disposal over it.

One can only suspect that Kant would find homosexual sex extremely dangerous.

Of course the argument that homosexuality is morally (or even physically) harmful to society was made before modern science demonstrated that homosexual behavior is common not only among humans, but in many animal species as well.

Evolutionary biologists theorize that homosexuality in humans is the result of mutually beneficial behavior; that engaging in non-procreative sexual behavior contributes to the overall stability, cohesion, and well-being of society (homosexual sex, like heterosexual sex, may serve to enforce social bonds between individuals). Likewise, contemporary philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Michel Foucault (whose theory of postsexualism aimed to go beyond the assigned sexual boundaries in our culture), argued that our moral apprehensions with any sexuality were due to fear rather than an actual societal threat. Bertrand Russell writes:

Certain forms of sex which do not lead to children are at present punished by the criminal law: this is purely superstitious, since the matter is one which affects no one except the parties directly concerned…  Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.

Still… as a philosopher, I’d like to think that Bertrand Russell has the power to convince each of us that there’s absolutely nothing to fear when a couple of guys (or ladies) choose to have sex. But, I know no matter how well argued any philosopher puts his argument, we won’t be getting over our obsession with the gay agenda anytime soon.


You may now take a shot.

Why Sophism?

If you ask anyone who pays attention to such things, what a sophist is,  they’ll tell you that a sophist is someone who uses misleading and fallacious arguments to persuade and deceive people. But that’s not always what sophism meant.

According to the ancients, sophism, or rather sophists, were men who were trained in the art of philosophy and rhetoric who were paid to teach young men the art of arguing sophistically.

It seems that the practice of taking money to teach people to be better thinkers upset philosophers like Plato and Xenophon.

Because they gave their knowledge away for free.

In Plato’s Republic, the sophist Thrasymachus is the bad guy.

The philosopher, who is the lover of wisdom, is the good guy.

and he always gets the girl in the end.

Nowadays, there aren’t very many folks out there standing in the public square sharing free philosopher lessons for anyone who is interested. At least not where I live, anyway. If you want to learn to think philosophically these days, you have to get yourself enrolled at a university.

Where they make you pay to learn to think philosophically.

So, if I had to pay someone to learn to think philosophically, does that mean that I am a sophist?

…. Or at least my professors were, right?

Oh well. while I figure out my new philosophical dilemma, enjoy this. it’s Monty Python.

 

Every Four Years Someone Is Lying to You

Every four years Americans have the opportunity to elect their new leader. These days electing a new president or re-electing the incumbent president is no big deal. But if you think about how much of history was dominated by monarchs and self-appointed rulers, you’d think that Americans should take the opportunity dare I say right to choose their leaders a little more seriously. However, despite our right to choose less than half of all eligible voters voted in the presidential election.

Thank God for pluralism or we’d never elect a president.

The funny thing about Americans and elections is that despite the fact that the numbers of regular voters seems to indicate a general lack of interest in the political process, people often complain about the quality of the candidates running for office. Americans often say that they don’t vote because there’s no one worth voting for. One reason why many Americans say no one is worth voting for is because politicians are  professional liars who will say anything to anyone to get elected.

It seems that when it comes to politicians, the American public wants a leader capable of telling the truth.

It also seems that a truth-telling politician is a bit of a contradiction. Or at least a creature as rare as a diamond or mythical like a unicorn.

The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt writes that a functional society must have “a robust appreciation of the endlessly protean utility of the truth.”   If you think about it, an honest politician shouldn’t be regarded as an oxymoron. The truth is a necessary element for cultivating the kind of informed public that Thomas Jefferson says is necessary for maintaining a democracy. And on whole, the American public says we want a politician who won’t drown us in platitudes, repeat the same party-approved talking points or God forbid, lie right to our faces. In film and television, movies like Dave, The American President, The West Wing, The Distinguished Gentleman, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Bulworth demonstrate our desire for  a leader who tells the truth; someone the public can trust will tell them what the deal really is.
We say we want to elect someone like this:

That’s what we say we want. But is a truth-telling politician really what we want?

…. Or what we deserve?

If history (or philosophy) tells us anything, the answer to both questions is no.

Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (one-third of Publius, authors of The Federalist Papers), wrote that “Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justness of their views…” require the power of secrecy to fulfill their duties while in office. The power of secrecy entails the power to withhold information from the public. The English political philosopher John Locke (whose political philosophy influenced the Founders) argued that executive  (presidential) discretionary powers exist without the approval of the legislative or the people, and that the executive for the sake of the public good may take action that runs counter to the will of the people.

Now, think about it. If the power of the government (the executive branch, anyway) includes the power to do what the public doesn’t want you to do, it might be fair to assume that some lying would be required on the part of the politician. Wait before you object, let me tell you this: Plato says not only is it fair to assume a politician is lying to the public, for the politician, lying to the people is essential.

In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that in order to ensure the loyalty of the people to the city, the people must be told a “needful falsehood” (or Noble Lie), a myth that ties the people to their home nation.* Socrates says:

Could we… somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being… some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?

The purpose of lying to the people, Socrates reasons, is to ensure harmony within the state. And as we all know, Plato says that without harmony, we cannot become philosopher-kings.*

You might be tempted to reject Plato’s we-need-to-think-philosophically-stuff and say that Plato’s lying-as-public-policy argument should remain in the ancient philosopher’s dustbin. Here’s the thing: the argument for lying to the public isn’t just an ancient philosopher’s idea. The late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss (September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973), argued that the intent of lie is not outright deception or done with malevolent intent, but that lies are told for the purpose of instilling the people with good morals and fostering personal and civil enlightenment. If we think about lies done for the purpose of making society better, we might be inclined to want a politician who is inclined to lie to the people.

Maybe.

At least we can tell ourselves when a politician lies he’s really looking out for our philosophical well-being.

 

NOTES:

* If you’re familiar with the practice of political lies and politicians lying, you might be thinking what is the difference between Plato and Machiavelli. It may be important to distinguish Plato’s Noble Lies from Machiavellian lies, which are told with the intention of seizing or maintaining tyrannical power or for nefarious purposes.

* Ok, I’ll be honest here. Plato endorsed Noble Lies because he believed that some people (aka philosopher-kings) are smarter and more qualified to lead than Average Joe and Jane like you and me. The Noble Lie, Socrates says, is meant not only to convince the rabble that whatever class and/or occupation we have in life is dictated by the gods, but are also told with the belief that some people are not mentally adept enough to make their own political decisions.

* It is important to mention that not all of the Founding Fathers believed that it is essential to lie to the people. Thomas Jefferson believed that the truth should be plain for all of the people to see.

SOURCES:

Harry  G. Frankfurt. 2006. On Truth.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 15

Plato. 1968. The Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. Book III. 414 b-c

Publius. The Federalist Papers. 1961. Ed. Clinton Rossiter. New York: Signet Classics. 422.