The Charioteer

"The charioteer of the human soul drives a pair of steeds, and one of the horses is beautiful, good, and formed of such elements, whereas the makeup of the other one is quite the opposite." -Phaedrus

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Location: Duquesne University, United States

A Blog For All and None. Consider it my narrative history of ideas. A place primarily to share and obtain feedback to my thoughts through my graduate career in philosophy. For philosophy is simply "thoughts that have been thought out."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"The Charioteer": Source, Meaning, and Significance

Life, at least as I experience it (and also as I hear confirmed from others), never ceases to be a node of surprises, postive and negative, comic and tragic, glorious and disasterous. And yet correlative surprises arise not only with respect to what happens in one's life, from the outside, but also from within, that is, an interior working of diverse and unique loves and hates, battling desires just as complex and entangled, just as simultaneously glorious and disasterous. This locus of activity has been called, since the time Plato decided to write down, along with his own thoughts, what he had heard from his mentor and teacher Socrates in the ancient world of Athens, Greece, the human soul. It is from he, whom I receive my inspiriation for the title I have chosen for my blog: "The Charioteer"; he, who, amazingly enough, seems to have had experienced life in a similar way than I.

In his magnificent dialogue about love and the soul, the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates use a metaphor to describe the nature of the soul using the figure of a charioteer who holds the reins of a pair of winged horses. The gods, of course, soar with two noble steeds; however, the human charioteers, in their fallible and pathetic states, ride behind only one of noble descent and the other ignoble. Each steed goes its own course, each in their preferred direction, and the charioteer, desperate and frustrated, is torn when pulled in two seperate ways. These souls long after the upper world

"...but not being strong enough they are carried round below the surface, plunging, treading on one another, each striving to be first; and there is confusion and perspiration and the extremity of effort; and many of them are lamed or have their wings broken through the ill-driving of the charioteers; and all of them after a fruitless toil, not having attained to the mysteries of being, go away, and feed upon opinion."

Although this symbol tells more a tale of disaster than glory, tragedy than comedy, Plato's emphasis bespeaks humanity's plight away from perfection, in a state elsewhere than amongst the forms, yet with an inner drive to compel us there. A double propensity toward that which is noble and glorious, and toward the ignoble, though it is thought to be noble. Thus, humanity's imperfection deters him not only on a moral level, but on an epistemological one as well: "not having attained the mysteries of being..." Plato suggests it is because of this drive downward, toward the material and bodily realm, away from the spiritual realm of eidos (Ideas), of goodness and perfection, that we many times fail to grap "true being."

I have chosen this theme suitable for my blog on a number of various levels, each which tell something of myself or of my philosophical interests. First, I relate to Plato's ethical description of life, of human aspiriation and agony: religiously, because it is compatible with, and in part taken over by, Catholic Christianity, with which I deeply identify, and to which I fully consecrate myself on the level of faith and belief; philosophically, I love the emphasis on human fallibility and finitude. As an aspiring philosophical anthropologist, it is one of the themes of humanity that intrigues me most, and one which Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur, in particular, have brilliantly elaborated upon, only in the twentieth century. This theme of fallibility, of course, extends, secondly, to epistemological issues, for what does the fruitless toil to grasp being mean for the philosopher whose profession is based on the possibility of attaining credible knowledge? Or what does this mean even for everyone else who certianly wish to hold on to at least some things that he or she would like to say they know for certain? And finally, Alison Jagger commented on this platonic metaphor in an article with the same title as my undergraduate thesis, Love and Knowledge. Her aim is very similar to mine to the extent that she attempts to show how important aspects of epistemology have been missed since the western philosophical tradition has largely considered emotion "as potentially or actually subersive of knowledge" (145). In her view, however, Plato's metaphor does not represent an absolute "split between reason and emotion," but how "emotions were thought of as providing indispensible motive power that needed to be channeled appropriately. Without horses, after all, the skill of the charioteer would be worthless" (145, my emphasis). This correlates well with my interest particularly with Max Scheler who was a pioneer for uncovering the importance of affectivity for ethics, anthropology, and epistemology. Jagger makes an excellent observation wholly consistant with Scheler's main goal in this regard: "...values presuppose emotions to the extent that emotions provide the experiential basis for values. If we had no emotional responses to the world, it is inconceivable that we should ever come to value one state of affairs more highly than another" (153).

This blog will be used primarily, but not exclusively, as a philosophical journal as I pace my way through the Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Duquesne University. I hope it to be a forum for me to publish my ideas and obtain feedback as much as others are able to occasionally submit a comment. I encourage amiable and constructive dialogue to aid our awareness of at least the fact that we only always have a finite perspectival view of the mysteries of being. However, hopefully our toil through life for knowledge will not be fruitless.

It must be mentioned, however, that the contents of this blog, despite the contents of this post, will not be only concerned with abstract discussion on the nature of the soul and the nature of knowledge, etc., but I hope it to be about life and the human spirit, about the life encounters of the human person, theoretical musings with practical and relatable ramifications, from my perspective and those of professional philosophers. Therefore, hopefully someone without formal training in philosophy will not be bored with it.

With that being said, consider this my offical welcome and my formal invitation for all to think and enjoy!