Cephalus: an underrated figure in Western philosophy?
Cephalus: How are you this fine morning?
C: A long night?
G: I got to sleep about five. I think they were still talking. Or he was. It was kind of a monologue in the end.
C: And did you learn anything?
G: Oh, by Zeus, yes! It was amazing. My mind has been expanded. I’ll never see things the same way again. You really missed out! Why did you leave so early? You love these kinds of conversations!
C: Mmm. I felt it was going to get... speculative. So I made my excuses about a sacrifice.
G: You’re just angry because he made you look stupid about the axe!
C: Well, OK, a bit, yes! I mean, I said justice was giving people what they owe, and he comes up with this absurd example! Look, obviously if my friend has gone crazy, I’m not going to give him back the axe I borrowed.
G: But then your definition of justice was wrong!
C: Well, that’s just silly. First of all, it’s never going to happen. When has someone lent you an axe and then come round and been like “hey, I’m crazy and I need to chop up some enemies so could I have my axe back?” Is that a common occurrence? Of course not, so why worry? And secondly, if it did happen, I wouldn’t apply that rule! I’d rethink it!
G: Right. But justice can’t just be a set of maxims that you apply or not as you think fit. You have to know what you’re doing! I mean, what if… what if the whole way we’re living is wrong, and we need to rethink it from the ground up?
C: OK, that seems risky. First of all, you think Socrates knows what he’s doing? My take: he’s a crazy idealist who’ll come to a bad end. You ask Alcibiades! He doesn’t even know to put socks on in winter! What if this genius gets things wrong when he “rethinks them from the ground up”? But fine. What’s his plan?
G: God, I can’t remember the details… I was quite pissed. He… he wants everyone to eat together. And there are going to be gold people and base metal people. And weak babies will be left out on the hillside to die. He didn’t say that explicitly, but I think we all knew what he meant.
C: That, er, seems pretty radical.
G: And he wants to educate women the same way as men.
C: Ahahahaha! I beg your pardon? Ahahahahahahahaha! He wants to — ahahahhahahahaha! — to what?
G: Look, I know it seems absurd! But it made sense at the time! He had reasons!
C: Absolutely! How drunk were you? I mean, class distinctions fine, eugenics, fine I guess. But educating women? Come on, this is nuts. Listen: my rules work. They may not fit every situation, but they’ve been tried and tested on real life, not on imaginary examples from The Shining.
I’ll tell you what’s wrong. It’s this idea that you need everything to be logically joined together! It’s crazy! You can’t work out life from first principles like that.
Plus, as I said, you’ll get in trouble. What kind of things will people come up with when they start living by ideas? They probably will do mad stuff like eugenics, or educating women equally, and who knows where that will lead.
G: Well, maybe so. But I’ve seen the future. From now on, we’re never going to be happy just carrying on with your simple rules. Religion because we’ve always done it that way. Politics because we’ve always done it that way. From now on, we’re going to test everything by reason and work everything out by reason. And this is going to be big. It wasn’t just a drunken conversation. You know Plato was there, scribbling everything down as usual? He’s going to write a book!
But don’t get me wrong — I’m sure Socrates would love to hear your point of view. You should have stayed! It would have been fascinating. Why don’t you come with me now and we’ll see him together?
C: Young man, I’d love to. It’s great to see your enthusiasm. But I’m afraid I have a sacrifice to make.
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