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Boethius on Something Ineffable


Whose souls, albeit in a cloudy memory, yet seek back their good, but, like drunk men, know not the road home.

Augustine on the Spiritual Journey

Go For it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge... and another to tread the road that leads to it.

Socrates on the Aporetic Method


“In the end, very often we do not know, or there is some way that we know, which is in fact the way that we do not know. Thus, it may be said that the Sophists were wise, for although they knew, they also knew that they knew not.”

The aporetic method, or an aporetic argument, is such that it generates a state of puzzlement ( aporia in its subjective sense) by way of the equality of opposite reasonings, that is, by way of a problem or difficulty (aporia in the objective sense) put forward in the course of philosophical investigation.

Plato on Not Knowing the Way


This every soul seeketh and for the sake of this doth all her actions, having an inkling that it is; but what it is she cannot sufficiently discern, and she knoweth not her way, and concerning this she hath no constant assurance as she hath of other things.

Plato on Sex as a Tyrant


All the pleasures of a dissolute life … produce … the sting of mania. Then the master passion runs wild and takes madness into its service; any opinions or desires with a decent reputation and any feelings of shame still left are killed or thrown out, until all discipline is swept away, and madness usurps its place… Isn’t this the reason… why the passion of sex has for so long been called a tyrant? … Under the tyranny of the master passion [one] becomes in his waking life what he was once only occasionally in his dreams, and there’s nothing, no taboo, no murder, however terrible, from which he will shrink. His passion tyrannizes over him, a despot without restraint or law.

In another translation,

And now remember the character which we attributed to the democratic man. He was supposed from his youth upwards to have been trained under a miserly parent, who encouraged the saving appetites in him, but discountenanced the unnecessary, which aim only at amusement and ornament?


And then he got into the company of a more refined, licentious sort of people, and taking to all their wanton ways rushed into the opposite extreme from an abhorrence of his father’s meanness. At last, being a better man than his corruptors, he was drawn in both directions until he halted midway and led a life, not of vulgar and slavish passion, but of what he deemed moderate indulgence in various pleasures. After this manner the democrat was generated out of the oligarch?

Yes, he said; that was our view of him, and is so still.

And now, I said, years will have passed away, and you must conceive this man, such as he is, to have a son, who is brought up in his father’s principles.

I can imagine him.

Then you must further imagine the same thing to happen to the son which has already happened to the father:—he is drawn into a perfectly lawless life, which by his seducers is termed perfect liberty; and his father and friends take part with his moderate desires, and the opposite party assist the opposite ones. As soon as these dire magicians and tyrant-makers find that they are losing their hold on him, they contrive to implant in him a master passion, to be lord over his idle and spendthrift lusts—a sort of monstrous winged drone—that is the only image which will adequately describe him.

Yes, he said, that is the only adequate image of him.

And when his other lusts, amid clouds of incense and perfumes and garlands and wines, and all the pleasures of a dissolute life, now let loose, come buzzing around him, nourishing to the utmost the sting of desire which they implant in his drone-like nature, then at last this lord of the soul, having Madness for the captain of his guard, breaks out into a frenzy: and if he finds in himself any good opinions or appetites in process of formation, and there is in him any sense of shame remaining, to these better principles he puts an end, and casts them forth until he has purged away temperance and brought in madness to the full.

Yes, he said, that is the way in which the tyrannical man is generated.

And is not this the reason why of old love has been called a tyrant?

I should not wonder.

Further, I said, has not a drunken man also the spirit of a tyrant?

He has.

And you know that a man who is deranged and not right in his mind, will fancy that he is able to rule, not only over men, but also over the gods?

That he will.

And the tyrannical man in the true sense of the word comes into being when, either under the influence of nature, or habit, or both, he becomes drunken, lustful, passionate? O my friend, is not that so?


Such is the man and such is his origin. And next, how does he live?

Suppose, as people facetiously say, you were to tell me.

I imagine, I said, at the next step in his progress, that there will be feasts and carousals and revellings and courtezans, and all that sort of thing; Love is the lord of the house within him, and orders all the concerns of his soul.

That is certain.

Socrates on Wisdom, Knowing That They Know Not, and Not Knowing


Perhaps you may wonder why I relate this story: it is because I am going to show you how the calumnies rose against me. For when the oracle was brought to me, I began to ask myself, What does the god mean, and what is the reading of his riddle? Certainly so far as I know myself I am not conscious of being wise in any matter great or small. What, then, does he mean by calling me the wisest? At any rate he does not lie, for that were contrary to his nature. So for a long while I was in doubt about the oracle, until at length I bethought me of the following method of testing it. I went straight to one of our reputed wise men, thinking that here, if anywhere, I should be able to refute the oracle and say to the god, Look you! this man is wiser than I, and yet you call me wisest. Well, I examined this man (never mind his name, but my first adventure was with one of our politicians) and conversed with him, and it soon became apparent that to many people and most of all to himself he seemed quite wise, whereas in truth he was not so at all.

Thereupon I undertook to show him how he was wise in opinion only and not in reality; but I only made myself a nuisance to him and to many of those about him. So I went away reflecting that at least I was wiser than this man. Neither of us apparently knows anything much worth while, but he in his ignorance thinks he knows, whereas I neither know nor think I know. Surely I may claim a little more of wisdom than he, in so far as I do not think I know what I do not know. After this I approached one whose character for wisdom was still higher, but with no different result; I only gained the ill will of him and a host of others.

So I went from one to another in succession, perceiving all the while that I was but making enemies, sorrowing and fearing, and yet compelled, as it were, to honour the god above all things and to prove his oracle by approaching all who were reputed to have any knowledge. And I swear by the dog,1 men of Athens — for I must declare the truth — I swear that this was all my profit. Searching by command of the god, I found that those who had the greatest renown for wisdom were in general the most lacking of all, whereas others of no reputation were really the better and wiser men. But let me narrate my wanderings in detail and the labours I endured, like a second Heracles, to confirm the oracle to my own mind. After the politicians I went to the poets, tragic, dithyrambic, and what not, making sure that in comparison with these I should detect myself in the very act of folly. I took their own poems which they had apparently elaborated with the greatest care, and with these in my hand proceeded to ask the authors what they signified, expecting, of course, to pick up some curious information at the same time. I am ashamed to tell you the truth, my friends, and yet it must out. Will you believe me, almost any one here in this court would speak more intelligently about these works than the authors themselves. I very soon learned of the poets that they compose not by wisdom but by a certain inspiration and gift of nature, like diviners and soothsayers, who in the same way utter many noble sentiments, yet understand nothing of what they say. Such appeared to be the state of the poets; yet I perceived that deluded by their poetic genius they deemed themselves the wisest of men in other matters also, wherein they were nothing. So I gave up the poets too, thinking I surpassed them in the same way as the politicians.

Finally I went to the artisans. Here at least I had no knowledge at all, and I was sure to find these men skilled in many noble crafts. And in this I was not deceived; they knew what I did not know and in so far were wiser than I. Nevertheless these excellent artisans, as 1 dis- covered, had the same weakness as the poets; because they wrought well in their own craft, every one of them deemed himself most wise in other weighty matters; and this error went far to obscure their real wisdom. Come, then, I said to myself, in behalf of the oracle, will you be content with your present lot, being neither wise in the wisdom of these men nor foolish in their folly, or would you choose their dubious state? And immediately I answered to myself and to the oracle that it was better for me as I am.

From this investigation, men of Athens, many enmities sprang up against me, such as are grievous and dangerous, and such as gave birth to a host of slanders; from thence, too, arose the name I had of being wise. Those who are present always take it for granted that I myself am wise in those things wherein I expose the ignorance of others. But the truth would seem to be, Athenians, that God alone is really wise, and this he sets forth in the oracle, signifying that human wisdom is worth little or nothing at all. Neither doth he care aught for Socrates, but merely employed my name, using me as an illustration, as if to say: Hear, all ye men! he is wisest among you who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is of nothing worth. And I even to this day go about seeking as the god wills, and am ever on the scent, if perchance any citizen or stranger may appear to me truly wise. And when he proves other than wise, then, in vindication of the god, I expose the man’s ignorance. And by reason of this task laid upon me I have no leisure for the important affairs of State and home, but live always in utter poverty as a servant of the god.

In addition to this, many young men from our wealthy families, who have nothing else to do, flock after me unbidden and take delight in hearing my cross-questionings. Indeed, they often imitate me, trying their wit at refuting others; and I dare say they find plenty of men ready at hand who pretend to know, but really know little or nothing at all. Straightway these pretenders, on being exposed, fall into a rage against me, instead of blaming themselves, and call down curses on this Socrates who is corrupting our young men. And when they are asked what this Socrates does and teaches, they are at a loss, having nothing to say; and so they try to cover up their confusion by repeating the old trumpery charges against the whole body of philosophers about things in heaven and beneath the earth, you know, and atheism, and making the worse appear the better cause. They are not likely to confess the truth, that they have been detected in assuming knowledge which they never had. These men are self-important and revengeful and numerous, and so, I think, with their loud and overbearing words they have dinned these ancient and bitter slanders into your ears. No doubt this is why Meletus and Anytus and Lycon have set upon me, — Meletus having a grudge against me on the part of the poets, Anytus of the artisans, and Lycon of the orators. It would be a wonder then, as I remarked at the beginning, if in the brief time allotted me I should be able to root out of your minds this calumny now grown so huge. This is the very truth, men of Athens, and I speak before you, nothing concealing, whether great or small, nothing dissimulating. Yet I know well enough that I but increase the hatred towards me by my frankness; and this is a proof, if need be, that my words are true, and a witness to the slander of my life and the causes thereof. Examine the matter now or later at your leisure; you will find it thus.

And now sufficient has been said in regard to those earlier enemies and their charges; I will proceed in my defence against Meletus — that worthy patriot as he calls himself — and my recent accusers. Let us treat them as new plaintiffs and read their affidavit anew. So it runs: Socrates is an evil-doer and corrupter of …

1 Socrates’ favourite oath. Tradition says that Rhadamanthys forbade swearing by the gods, but permitted such a use of the names of animals.

Lactantius on the Inability of Men to Ascertain the Divine


But the error of these men, because it is very great, and tends to overthrow the condition of human life, must be refuted by us, lest you yourself also should be deceived, being incited by the authority of men who deem themselves wise. Nor, however, are we so arrogant as to boast that the truth is comprehended by our intellect; but we follow the teaching of God, who alone is able to know and to reveal secret things. But the philosophers, being destitute of this teaching, have imagined that the nature of things can be ascertained by conjecture. But this is impossible; because the mind of man, enclosed in the dark abode of the body, is far removed from the perception of truth: and in this the divine nature differs from the human, that ignorance is the property of the human, knowledge of the divine nature.


Aristotle on Love and Longing


The pleasure of the eye is the beginning of love. For no one loves if he has not first been delighted by the form of the beloved; but he who delights in the form of another does not, for all that, love her, but only does do when he also longs for her when absent and craves for her presence.

Aristotle Presaging the Cogito and Categorical Imperative


Now, the good man has the same relation to his friend as he has to himself; for a friend is another self; in the same manner, therefore, as to exist one’s self is eligible to every one, so also is it for one’s friend to exist, or nearly so. But existence was said to be eligible on account of the perception of that which is a good: and such a perception is pleasant in itself. We ought, therefore, to be conscious of the existence of our friend; and this would result from associating with him, and sharing his words and thoughts; for this would seem to be the meaning of the word society, when applied to men, and not, as in the case of cattle, the merely feeding in the existence. If, then, existence is in itself eligible to the happy man, being by nature something good and pleasant, and if the existence of a friend is nearly the same, then a friend must also be of the number of eligible things. But that which is eligible to a man, he ought to possess; or else he is deficient in that respect; he, therefore, that is to be happy will need good friends.