Symposium—On The Clouds, Logic, and the Academy

| July 31, 2017
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“Open your mind before your mouth.”

~ Aristophanes

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

~ Socrates

*N.B.: This is my first attempt at utilizing the Socratic dialectical style of writing which my father, Professor Ellis Washington, resurrected from obscurity and employed in hundreds of dialectical essays for over 20 years he collectively called, “Symposium”, after the School of Philosophy Socrates’s most famous student, Plato founded.

Socrates (470-399 B.C.) was a famous Greek philosopher from Athens, who taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Socrates used a simple but cleverly profound method of teaching by asking penetrating, revelatory, and psychologically probing questions. The Greeks called this form Dialectic – starting from a thesis or question, then discussing ideas and moving back and forth between points of view to determine how well ideas stand up to critical review, with the ultimate principle of the dialogue being Veritas – Truth.

 Characters:

  • Socrates
  • Aris-Socrates (Aristophanes’ caricature of Socrates)
  • Chorus of Clouds (Heavenly entities responsible for the weather)
  • Strepsiades (middle-aged Athenian man riddled with debt)
  • Phidippides (college-aged son of Strepsiades)
  • Right Logic
  • Wrong Logic
  • Progressive Academics (Modern day Sophists derivative of Aristophanes’s cynical, partisan philosophy)

 Socrates: We are gathered here today in Athens, the center of Democracy and Western Philosophy, to discuss the context of the Athenian Academy and the power of We the People under the paradigm of my existential enemies of thought, The Sophists, particularly, Aristophanes’s celebrated play, The Clouds. We are here to analyze and debate the truth behind the satirist rendition of myself (Aris-Socrates) and how my teachings were systematically abused and perverted by the Athenian citizen Strepsiades, who through servile, fraudulent means sought to harness the knowledge of my Academy to bail himself out of paying his debtors—Pasias and Amynias.

The duplicitous Streipsiades also enrolled his son Phidippides into my Academy for the sake of educating his son on the cutting-edge philosophic and scientific teachings of antiquity. But we shall discuss how, as with Strepsiades, Phidippides also abused his quest for higher knowledge in dividing his own family, first by his choice of logic and later through a twisted conception of what my teachings truly entail.

We shall also correlate the abuse of my academic teachings within this story to the American model of the Academy (Ivy League, Public Ivy, private universities, etc.) as dominated by Progressive Academics for the past 100+ years. The narrative takes place amid the Chorus of Clouds, who enlighten the audience with words of wisdom and song, providing divine guidance to our characters, while generally directing the overall narrative. Upon doing so we will strive to answer this ultimate question:

Compared to Socrates’s Athenian Academy, are Progressive Academics today at all effective in preserving America’s 400-year-old heritage of academic integrity and intellectually diversified embrace?

We shall begin with the debate between Strepsiades and Aris-Socrates on the question of whether he should enroll his son in my Athenian Academy.

Aris-Socrates: “It is of necessity for me to suspend my brain and mingle the subtle essence of my mind with this air, which is of nature, in order clearly to penetrate the things of heaven. I should have discovered nothing, had I remained on the ground to consider from below the things that are above; for the earth by its force attracts the sap of the mind to itself. It’s just the same with the watercress.”

Strepsiades: “I want to learn how to speak. I have borrowed money, and my merciless creditors do not leave me a moment’s peace; all my goods are at stake. My ruin has been the madness for horses, a most rapacious evil; but teach me one of your two methods of reasoning, the one whose object is not to repay anything, and, may the gods bear witness, that I am ready to pay any fee you may name.”

Aris-Socrates: “By which gods will you swear? To begin with, the gods are not a coin current with us. Silence, old man, give heed to the prayers—

{In an hierophantic tone} Oh! most mighty king, the boundless air, that keepest the earth suspended in space, thou bright Aether and ye venerable goddesses, the Clouds, who carry in your loins the thunder and the lightning, arise, ye sovereign powers and manifest yourselves in the celestial spheres to the eyes of your sage.”

{Amidst rumblings of thunder} the CHORUS OF CLOUDS appears.

Chorus of Clouds: “Eternal Clouds, let us appear; let us arise from the roaring depths of Ocean, our father; let us fly towards the lofty mountains, spread our damp wings over their forest-laden summits, whence we will dominate the distant valleys, the harvest fed by the sacred earth, the murmur of the divine streams and the resounding waves of the sea, which the unwearying orb lights up with its glittering beams. But let us shake off the rainy fogs, which hide our immortal beauty and sweep the earth from afar with our gaze.”

Strepsiades: “What are you saying now? Who causes the rain to fall? Answer me that! By Apollo! that is powerfully argued! For my own part, I always thought it was Zeus pissing into a sieve. But tell me, who is it makes the thunder, which I so much dread?”

Aris-Socrates: “Why, these, and I will prove it. Have you ever seen it raining without clouds? Let Zeus then cause rain with a clear sky and without their presence! Being full of water, and forced to move along, they are of necessity precipitated in rain, being fully distended with moisture from the regions where they have been floating; hence they bump each other heavily and burst with great noise.”

Strepsiades: “I cannot tell, but it seems to me well argued. What is the lightning then?”

Aris-Socrates: “When a dry wind ascends to the Clouds and gets shut into them, it blows them out like a bladder; finally, being too confined, it bursts them, escapes with fierce violence and a roar to flash into flame by reason of its own impetuosity.”

                                                                                            Aris-Socrates in a basket encountering Strepsiades on horseback in The Clouds.
Strepsiades: “Ah, that’s just what happened to me one day. It was at the feast of Zeus! I was cooking a sow’s belly for my family and I had forgotten to slit it open. It swelled out and, suddenly bursting, discharged itself right into my eyes and burnt my face.”

Socrates: Your comparison is noted Strepsiades, but clearly misplaced, as you are missing the greater scientific revelation explained by my counter-part Ari-Socrates. Perhaps the Chorus of Clouds can better explain their understanding of how to properly attain study scientific discovery in the Academy.

Chorus of Clouds: “Oh, mortal [Strepsiades], you who desire to instruct yourself in our great wisdom, the Athenians, the Greeks will envy you, your good fortune. Only you must have the memory and ardour for study, you must know how to stand the tests, hold your own, go forward without feeling fatigue, caring but little for food, abstaining from wine, gymnastic exercises and other similar follies, in fact, you must believe as every man of intellect should, that the greatest of all blessings is to live and think more clearly than the vulgar herd, to shine in the contests of words.”

Aris-Socrates: “Henceforward, following our example, you [Strepsiades] will recognize no other gods but Chaos, the Clouds and the Tongue, these three alone.”

Strepsiades: “May the gods shield me from possessing great eloquence! That’s not what I want. I want to be able to turn bad law-suits to my own advantage and to slip through the fingers of my creditors. So, let them do with me as they will; I yield my body to them. Come blows, come hunger, thirst, heat or cold, little matters it to me; they may flay me, if I only escape my debts, if only I win the reputation of being a bold rascal, a fine speaker.”

Chorus of Clouds: “It shall be as you wish, for your ambitions are modest. Commit yourself fearlessly to our ministers, the Sophists.”

Socrates: Aris-Socrates, let us transport to Modern Times to deduce if your sophism stands the test of time? Would this manner of sophism encouraged by the Clouds perhaps be the very same sacrificial methods utilized by the institutions of higher education the United States? To enslave, to extort students to pay increasingly large sums of money they do not have in order to escape the prospect of future occurrences of greater debt from lack of income, gained upon being denied a salary exceeding that of minimum wage; in which most businesses now require some sort of degree for such compensation? What say you Progressives?

Progressive Academics: Well, you do present a good point in your reasoning Socrates, but here in the United States, Professors and Administrators really have no direct control over the system of which our students enroll and pay tuition in the University {Big Lie—Congress controls U.S. through controlling our purse strings}. Our intention is not to trap student’s in a predicament of spiraling debt and repayment through enrolling in a college education, yet it is our hope that their unique academic experiences gained through making connections with other students, learning from enduring lessons taught by professors, and studying amid a picturesque, and benign {yet pseudo-Utopian environment} will lead the nation’s young men and women of tomorrow to pursue a brighter future in whatever career they pursue.

Socrates: Interesting, yet you failed to answer my question Progressives. How is your flawed method of teaching students to overcome instances of debts from future matters through first going into debt by paying off college tuition not different from the Chorus of Clouds and Ari-Socrates’s proposed sophist teachings that will cost Strepsiades perhaps more money than that which his creditors seek from him?

Progressive Academics: You are not wrong in your reasoning Socrates, but we scholars are not directly equated with the sophistry of ancient Greece, as our method of teaching strives to equip students of all backgrounds, colors, ethnicity, and religions with the proper life skills and education necessary for the real world. We do not narrow our applicant pool to only those who can afford an education. We believe Strepsiades is not a good example to use in this particular argument, as college is predominately for aspiring young adults.

Socrates: Understandable. Since you are unable to prove me wrong using Strepsiades’s and the Clouds’ example, I will shift my arguments to the issue involving Phidippides and his lesson on Right vs. Wrong logic in the Academy. Perhaps this will better suit your liberal arts paradigm.

Strepsiades: “Teach him [Phidippides] both methods of reasoning, the strong and also the weak, which by false arguments triumphs over the strong; if not the two, at least the false, and that in every possible way.”

Socrates: The Just and Unjust Discourse themselves shall instruct him. I shall leave you.

Right Logic: “Very well, I will tell you what was the old education, when I used to teach justice with so much success and when modesty was held in veneration. Firstly, it was required of a child, that it should not utter a word. In the street, when they went to the music-school, all the youths of the same district marched lightly clad and ranged in good order, even when the snow was falling in great flakes. At the master’s house they had to stand with their legs apart and they were taught to sing either, “Pallas, the Terrible, who overturneth cities,” or “A noise resounded from afar” in the solemn tones of the ancient harmony. If anyone indulged in buffoonery or lent his voice to any of the soft inflexions, like those which to-day the disciples of Phrynis take so much pains to form, he was treated as an enemy of the Muses and belaboured with blows.

In the wrestling school, they would sit with outstretched legs and without display of any indecency to the curious. When they rose, they would smooth over the sand, so as to leave no trace to excite obscene thoughts. Never was a child rubbed with oil below the belt; the rest of their bodies thus retained its fresh bloom and down, like a velvety peach. They were not to be seen approaching a lover and themselves rousing his passion by soft modulation of the voice and lustful gaze. At table, they would not have dared, before those older than themselves, to have taken a radish, an aniseed or a leaf of parsley, and much less eat fish or thrushes or cross their legs.”

Wrong Logic: “Get you gone, you are but an old fool. But you, young man, just consider a little what this temperance means and the delights of which it deprives you-young fellows, women, play, dainty dishes, wine, boisterous laughter. And what is life worth without these? Then, if you happen to commit one of these faults inherent in human weakness, some seduction or adultery, and you are caught in the act, you are lost, if you cannot speak. But follow my teaching and you will be able to satisfy your passions, to dance, to laugh, to blush at nothing. Suppose you are caught in the act of adultery. Then up and tell the husband you are not guilty, and recall to him the example of Zeus, who allowed himself to be conquered by love and by women. Being but a mortal, can you be stronger than a god?

Well then! Are you going to take away your son or do you wish me to teach him how to speak?”

                                                                                      Artwork depicting Right vs. Wrong Logic, inspired by the Clouds.
Strepsiades: “Teach him, chastise him and do not fail to sharpen his tongue well, on one side for petty lawsuits and on the other for important cases.”

Wrong Logic: “Don’t worry, I shall return him to you an accomplished Sophist (= Professional liar)”.

Progressive Academics: {arguing Moral Relativism} Right or Wrong is simply a self-righteous epithet used to express principles devised by Religious zealots and extremists from a bygone era; it has no harm on the boy’s educational pursuits what he deems right or wrong, only that he strives to learn.

Socrates: By “bygone” you refer to the thousands of laws and statues depicting right from wrong in America, tracing back to the Biblically derivative of the Law of Nature (God)—the Natural Laws, Natural Rights which is the necessary synthesis of Legality and Morality which established the Constitution and Declaration of Independence for your nation?

It seems that the Wrong Logic has won over Phidippides, which no doubt leads to many unexpected consequences for young adults enrolled in the Academy such as— adultery, pre-marital sex, drug and alcoholic abuse, or anything in thought, word or deed that kills the Soul as well as the Body.

Clearly, Phidippides made the wrong choice, lead astray by misguided thinking and peer pressure from his father. Another unintended consequence perpetuated by Progressives in the Academy failing to provide a positive example for the younger generations. While in the end Strepsiades seemingly won his battle with the creditors through wrongfully using the few teachings passed to him by Aris-Socrates, let us examine how he and his son relate in their teachings to conclude this matter.
Phidippides: “How pleasant it is to know these clever new inventions and to be able to defy the established laws! When I thought only about horses, I was not able to string three words together without a mistake, but now that the master has altered and improved me and that I live in this world of subtle thought, of reasoning and of meditation, I count on being able to prove satisfactorily that I have done well to thrash my father.”

Strepsiades: “Miserable fellow! Why, I am the one who had you taught how to refute what is right, and now you would persuade me it is right a son should beat his father. But the law nowhere admits that fathers should be treated thus.”

Phidippides: “Was not the legislator who carried this law a man like you and me? In those days be got men to believe him; then why should not I too have the right to establish for the future a new law, allowing children to beat their fathers in turn? We make you a present of all the blows which were received before his law, and admit that you thrash with impunity. But look how the cocks and other animals fight with their fathers; and yet what difference is there betwixt them and ourselves, unless it be that they do not propose decrees? And what if I prove to you by our school reasoning, that one ought to beat one’s mother?”

Strepsiades: “Ah! if you do that, then you will only have to throw yourself, along with Socrates and his reasoning, into the toilet. Oh! Clouds! all our troubles emanate from you, from you, to whom I entrusted myself, body and soul.”

Chorus of Clouds: “No, you alone are the cause, because you have pursued the path of evil. We always act thus, when we see a man conceive a passion for what is evil; we strike him with some terrible disgrace, so that he may learn to fear the gods.”

Strepsiades: “Alas! oh Clouds! that’s hard indeed, but it’s just! I ought not to have cheated my creditors… But come, my dear son, come with me to take vengeance on this wretched Chaerephon and on Socrates, who have deceived us both.”

{Later, Strepsiades assaults Socrates’s Academy and burns it to the ground, according to Aristophanes}

Aris-Socrates: Ah! Ah! Woe is upon me! I am suffocating!”

Strepsiades: “Ah! you insulted the gods! You studied the face of the moon! Chase them, strike and beat them down! Forward! they have richly deserved their fate-above all, by reason of their blasphemies.”

Socrates: Now let us hear the conclusion of this matter. Surely the perversion of my character played by Sophist enemy, Aristophanes (Ari-Socrates) and chronicled in his cynical, dystopian play, The Clouds, is neither a true representation of myself or my methods. Firstly, I would never have allowed a violate man such as Strepsiades to enter (or exit) my Academy without proper reform and enlightenment such as all my students well deserved.

Secondly, my Academy shall truly never burn down as long as there are the many thousands of individuals in Athens championing my philosophical wisdom and aiding in the spread of my teachings as I visit them in the marketplaces daily (something that was never mentioned in The Clouds). Aris-Socrates failed to chronicle the many years I visited the marketplace of Athens to listen to the Polis (People) to hear their lives, to learn, to celebrate, to mourn… to be Human. That is the essence of True Philosophy. The rest is just irrelevant rhetoric.

In Modern Times, it seems that Strepsiades and Phidippides are victims of the monumental flaws in the false Athenian Academy as perverted by Aristophanes, but sadly true for the existent American Academy in Modern Times, which subjects millions of students to the economic treacheries and voluntary slavery of student loan debt, rising tuition, false doctrine, and rhetoric that enables youth to pursue Wrong logic. We must therefore safeguard ourselves from both the false examples painted by the Sophist Progressive elites and Aristophanes’s flawed characters that fell prey to the underbelly of the beast being liberal institutions, whether in Athens, or America. If only Strepsiades and Aristophanes understood my profound quote spoken for the ages, which explains why the characters’ destructive decisions are a result of what their thought process lead them to believe, not what they perceived me to have “taught” them.

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on The Clouds, by Aristophanes, presented by The Internet Classics Archive, by Daniel C. Stevenson, Web Atomics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Category: Socrates Corner

About the Author ()

Stone Washington is the son of Ellis Washington and the Website Administrator and Managing Editor for Ellis Washington Report. Stone is a Junior History Major at Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina, home of the 2016 College Football National Champions. All of Stone's articles can be found under the Socrates Corner section of the website, and often offer a critical analysis on prominent works of classical literature and its correlations to American history and politics. Some of Stone's most popular articles include: 1915-2015-100th Anniversary of Booker T. Washington, Atlas Shrugged, America Slouched - The Galt/Trump Revolution, and Justice Clarence Thomas, Generation Z, and Me. Friend him on his Facebook page, also Twitter @StoneWashington and Instagram. Contact Stone at his email: Stonebone20@att.net.

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