Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Quiz June 15

16-Aristotle, Machiavelli, and the Paradoxes of Liberty
1. For Salutati, what's the difference between Aristotelian democracy and a Platonic republic?

2. With what did Renaissance humanism replace the trivium and quadrivium?

3. What were Machiavelli's uncomfortable questions?

4. Who are "history's great heroes"?

  • How would you explain the "inner spiritual disposition" to reunite with God reported by neo-Platonists and other religious mystics? If it's "the normal aspiration for every soul," why don't we all experience it? 262
  • If "the self-governing polis [is] the way of life most conformable to human nature," and "the end of the state is a good quality of life," why is history so littered with oppressive states that deny liberty to their people? 265  
  • Can Savonarola's puritanical regime really be described as a "God-directed democracy"? 272
  • Do you agree with Herman's view of ""history's great heroes"?
  • Can Machiavelli really be rehabilitated as a friend and defender of "free societies"? 278
  • Comment: "Free societies sometimes have to violate the very values they profess to uphold. They have to wage war and kill innocents; they have to imprison enemies and sometimes torture them. In extreme situations, they have to suspend civil liberties..." 278-9
  • Comment: "Much of the conventional obloquy that attaches to Machiavelli's name is due to the indignation of hypocrites who hate the frank avowal of evil-doing." Bertrand Russell
  • Please post yours.
17-The Creative Ascent: Plato and the High Renaissance
1. What secret did Ficino et al think they'd unlocked?

2. What's love's Platonic goal, in the Symposium?

3. What did Renaissance Platonism "realize" about all religions and civilization?

4. To what was Michelangelo's David a tribute?

  • [Post your best "They Might Be Giants" Istanbul/Constantinople question]
  • Can freedom be achieved non-politically via "the creative spirit"? Does this imply a false dilemma? 283
  • If Ficino made "university degrees largely irrelevant to the life of the mind" (284) are we making the life of the mind irrelevant to university education with our fast-track emphasis on "student success" defined in terms of a degree's present marketability?
  • "Can we really go from a Playboy centerfold to an understanding of the mind of God"? 285
  • There have been and are plenty of atheist/naturalist/humanist poets and artists (and there's Sean Carroll's "poetic naturalism"). If they don't desire to "draw themselves [and us] closer to God," why do they create? 288
  • Do non-metaphysical dualists need to address the question of reconciliation between body and soul, or between humanity and cosmos? 290 What is "soul," for a non-dualist? (See for instance Michael Shermer's "Soul of Science") 
  • Is it constructive, helpful, or even possible to make a comprehensive list of theses underpinning all philosophies and religions? Was Pico's goal "to dissolve any differences between theology and philosophy, science and literature" noble, foolish, or what? 291-2
  • Can Michelangelo's Platonist message, "the secret of our own divine nature" (299), be naturalized and given an Aristotelian spin? Can a naturalist appropriate the language of "divine order," viewing the most evolved spiritual teachers as exemplary humans rather than emissaries of God? (This is one way of reading Emerson's Transcendentalism, for instance. See his "Divinity School Address" *) Or should naturalists embrace their secularity and find a different way of praising and enacting "spirit" in mortal form? See Andre Comte-Sponville's "Atheist Spirituality" for instance**)
  • Is love a "divine madness" (298) or a human and humane form of compassion and connection? (See Lin-Manuel Miranda's "love is love is love..." sonnet)
  • Please post yours

18-Twilight of the Scholastics: The Reformation and the Doom of Aristotle
1. Who did Luther call an "arrogant pagan rascal"?

2. What was Erasmus's "one wish"?

3. Who were Folly's "devotees"?

4. What was the humanists' illusion, for Luther?

  • Have you ever experienced a Luther-like moment when you asked, of something you'd previously accepted uncritically, "Who knows if any of this is true?" 305 Were you then haunted by the question? Did it change you, or move you to a profession of criticism and reform? Or did you suppress the thought and move on?
  • "The authority of Aristotle gave way to the authority of the printed word, including the Word of God." 309 Will humans as a whole ever question all authority, save that of sound reasoning and strong arguments?
  • What do you consider "our spiritual essence" (if any) and its highest expression?
  • The scholastics did Aristotle's reputation no favors, ultimately, but was Erasmus right to convict his followers of "poisoning the true message of Christianity" etc.? 313 Does it make sense to complain of people using their presumably god-given intellect to obscure its source?
  • The universities had become "degree factories" by 1500 (314). Deja vu, all over again?
  • Do contemporary humanists, with their "reason rallies" etc., rightly incur Luther's old criticism of treating reason as a false god? 319
  • For Calvin "we are damned or saved from before our birth; man's powerlessness to affect his destiny by his own actions is complete." For Luther, "the goal for every member of a church built on faith alone was that he or she "serve or benefit others in all he does." (321) Is the yoking of these propositions under a banner of Reformation humane? If the point is to serve others without regard to our own personal destiny, aren't secularists at least as likely to be motivated to do so as Calvinists and Lutherans?
  • Please post yours.

From an old post-
Niccolo Machiavelli praised virtu’ in a leader: manliness and valor are euphemistic translations, ruthless efficiency might be more to the point. The intended implication of "manly" is not so much machismo as hu-manity, with a twist. Machiavelli's manly prince judiciously wields and conceals the guile of the fox and the brutality of the lion, all the while brandishing an image of kindhearted wisdom. A wise prince, he said, does whatever it takes to serve the public interest as he sees it. But does he see it aright? Hard to tell, if you can’t believe a word he says. But Skinner and others think he's gotten a bad name unfairly. Quentin Skinner on Machiavelli's The Prince, Quentin Skinner on Hobbes on the State... Machiavelli at TED

A new detective mystery starring Nicco has recently been published, btw, and was featured on NPR. “What would happen if two of the biggest names of the Renaissance — Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci — teamed up as a crime-fighting duo?” Beats me, may have to read The Malice of Fortune. One of our groups, I think, is doing a midterm report on Superheroes & Villains. Room for one more?

I'm a bit puzzled by the sentimental fondness some seem to feel for "machiavellian" politicians. Haven't we had enough of those? Wouldn't we rather be led by Ciceronians and Senecans and Roosevelts, evincing qualities of compassion and (relative) transparency? Don't we wish them to affirm and work for the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor's great post-White House achievememt?

But, Bertie Russell agrees that Machiavelli has been ill-served by invidious judgments that assimilate him to our time's conventions and accordingly find him objectionable, instead of appreciating his fitness to live and serve in his own day. Russell praises his lack of "humbug." Give the devil his due.

“I never say what I believe and I never believe what I say,” declared Machiavelli. “If I sometimes say the truth, I conceal it among lies”... more»

'The Prince' and 'Why Machiavelli Still Matters ...
The political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” as a manual on leadership and governing during the late Italian Renaissance, ...

In Tuscany, Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli
Five centuries after “The Prince” was written, visiting spots in and around Florence that track the arc of Machiavelli's life.

Arthur Herman makes the case for assigning Machiavelli to Team Aristotle... Inside the Mind of Machiavelli (Salon)... Machiavelli in A Little History of Philosophy... & in Russell's History

Looking for a firm modern presidential declaration of anti-Machiavellian sentiment? Jimmy Carter said: "A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity."
* From Emerson's Divinity School Address-
...Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, `I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.' But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages! There is no doctrine of the Reason which will bear to be taught by the Understanding. The understanding caught this high chant from the poet's lips, and said, in the next age, `This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you, if you say he was a man.' The idioms of his language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes. Christianity became a Mythus, as the poetic teaching of Greece and of Egypt, before. He spoke of miracles; for he felt that man's life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines, as the character ascends. But the word Miracle, as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain...
Preview** The universe is our home; the celestial vault is our horizon; eternity is here and now. This moves me far more than the Bible or the Koran. It astonishes me far more than miracles (if I believed in them). Compared to the universe, walking on water is a cinch!

Why would you need a God? The universe suffices. Why would you need a church? The world suffices. Why would you need faith? Experience suffices.

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