Fear and Trembling in Hades

As Socrates transitions from the proper praise for both men and gods, he then also introduces some guidance for how poetic depictions in his ideal city are to represent the afterlife, with particular consideration for how this will affect the guardian class. 

“And what if the men are to be courageous? So then should not one say such things so to make them fear death least of all?  Or do you think that someone with this fear in him would ever become courageous?”

“By Zeus,” he said, “I do not.”

“What, then?  Do you think anyone who believes in Hades and that it is terrible would be without fear and during battle would choose death before defeat and slavery?”

“Not at all.”
(Republic, 386a6-b7).

The problem Socrates identifies is that we understandably want to have courageous guardians.  Yet the tales traditionally told of Hades (the afterlife), at least some of them, tell us that the dead are gibbering, incorporeal wisps of humanity, mere shades who, even at their best, are worse than the worst estate of any living human.  If this is the case, there are few, if any, guardians who, although preserving the city by their own death, would willingly sacrifice themselves for a dismal and horrid afterlife.  Socrates’ solution is to ban poetry which relates this type of undesirable afterlife from his republic. 

On the other hand, if the poets only rhapsodized about the delights of the paradise yet to come, the guardians would not only be willing to die for their city, but they would positively jump at the opportunity to die in battle and consequently enter into heavenly bliss. 

There are some intriguing considerations that this scenario raises. It is obviously jarring that Socrates is not interested here in whether the tales these poets are raising are true, in either a literal or metaphorical sense.  It may be the case that there really is a hell, to use our term, and that some actually go there.(2)  But Socrates’ concern is more calculatingly practical, fixating on the overarching political need to have soldiers whose courage will not be blunted by a fearful avoidance of death.   

Furthermore there appears to be a tension between the incentives of good citizens and those good guardian-soldiers.  It seemed that in the first book of the Republic the worries of being unjust and base prompt one to behave in a just way, lest one die, be judged and depart into the hopeless abyss of Hades.  In the case of the guardians, however, the edifying influence of the fear of Hades is banished, at least by poets and poetry. 


Τί δὲ δὴ εἰ μέλλουσιν εἶναι ἀνδρεῖοι; ἆρα οὐ ταῦτά τε
λεκτέον καὶ οἷα αὐτοὺς ποιῆσαι ἥκιστα τὸν θάνατον δεδιέναι;
(b.) ἢ ἡγῇ τινά ποτ’ ἂν γενέσθαι ἀνδρεῖον ἔχοντα ἐν αὑτῷ τοῦτο
τὸ δεῖμα;
Μὰ Δία, ἦ δ’ ὅς, οὐκ ἔγωγε.
Τί δέ; τἀν Ἅιδου ἡγούμενον εἶναί τε καὶ δεινὰ εἶναι οἴει
τινὰ θανάτου ἀδεῆ ἔσεσθαι καὶ ἐν ταῖς μάχαις αἱρήσεσθαι
πρὸ ἥττης τε καὶ δουλείας θάνατον;

Contrast this with the myth of Er at the end of the Republic, which indeed does posit a hellish afterlife for the wicked.


Banishing “Laughter Loving” from the Republic

Near the beginning of Book 3 of the Republic, Plato, through Socrates, tells us that the guardians, the soldier-police force of his ideal state, should not be lovers of laughter (φιλογέλως).  Why should this be?

First we must get a sense of what this term means, since some might mistakenly take laughter-loving to be, quite loosely, engaging in laughter at all.  But this is clearly an extreme construal of the term; rather, it is clarified by similar terms used in Book 6 where Socrates invokes “lover,” “wine-lover,” and “honor-lover” and others to hone in on what we mean by “love” in such words (474e-475b).  Socrates explains that the “love” in common between these uses of the term mean that,

whatever we say someone loves, it is necessary to say of him, if this is said correctly, that it is not the case he loves one part of it and does not love another part, but he loves all of it”  (Republic, 474c9-11) (1)

This is to say that the true lover of X does not love discriminately. As he later says of a lover of learning, he is not “annoyed at learning” (475b11). (2)  The lover of X is neither finicky nor does he refuse any appearance of X, but he cannot get enough of it, as we might say.  This lover of learning, the true philosopher, tastes of all learning and learns with delight (475c6-8). 

So we learn from this that a “lover” of X, pursues X to the extreme, has a mania for it, a certifiable obsession for finding and cherishing, say, wine, in all its forms.  This is one reason, then, why we do not want our military force of guardians to be lovers of laughter.  We do not want them to be pursuing laughter at the expense of the bodily and mental training necessary for a disciplined military.

But there is another reason to be wary of letting our soldiers indulge in loving laughter.  Mimesis is an overarching theme in Book 3 and it touches on laughter here as well.  At 395b-c Socrates says that we want our guardians to attend to one thing, the freedom of the city.  To this end they should be educated to imitate men who are, “courageous, moderate, pious, free and all such traits” (395c4-5). (3)  Not explicitly mentioned here, but obviously in mind, are the comedic plays of authors such as Aristophanes.  The characters in these plays are crude and buffoonish. As Aristotle characterizes comedy, these people are perceived to be beneath our station in life.  We have also been told that we need poets to compose characters who are worthy of emulation, unlike the sordid tales of adultery among the gods or unmoderated rage we find in Homer, for example.  Combining the above ideas, we do not want our guardians to have the disposition of laughter-loving, nor do we want to provide material which would encourage and develop the baser elements of character, which would distract guardians from their singular goal of ensuring the safety of the city.  We do not wish of our guardians buffoons, nor do we wish our city to be a haven of fools. 


ὃν ἂν φῶμεν φιλεῖν τι, δεῖ φανῆναι αὐτόν, ἐὰν ὀρθῶς
λέγηται, οὐ τὸ μὲν φιλοῦντα ἐκείνου, τὸ δὲ μή, ἀλλὰ πᾶν

περὶ τὰ μαθήματα δυσχεραίνοντα 

ἀνδρείους, σώφρονας, ὁσίους, ἐλευθέρους, καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα πάντα

Plotinus: How Does the Universe See? Part 2 of 2

But whether perception is of χρεία alone one must investigate in this way.  If there could not be a perception for the soul when it is alone, but perceptions are with the body, [perception] would be because of the body, from which also perceptions come, and perception is given because of the association [of the soul] with the body, and indeed it follows necessarily—for whatever undergoes an affection with respect to the body, also reaches as far as the soul, if it is a stronger affection—or it has been contrived [that we perceive] so as to guard ourselves from that thing causing the affection to destroy [our body] before it becomes greater or closer to us.  But if, indeed, this is so, perceptions would be for χρεία. For if they are also for knowledge, [they would be] for a being not in knowledge but which is ignorant because of circumstance, and in order to remember because of forgetfulness, not for a being not in need nor in forgetfulness.  But if this is the case, there must be an investigation not only about the earth alone, but also about all the stars and especially concerning all the heaven and universe.
(Plotinus, Enneads, IV.4.24 lines 1-14) (1).

In the previous post on this topic, I introduced two ways we are to understand Plotinus’ use of the work chreia— need and use.  In the text we are examining, we are especially applying these two meanings to the case of the universe as a subject of perception, particularly sight. When it comes to determining when and if the universe can see, we can dismiss chreia-need because this would imply a lack on the part of the universe.  That is, the universe would lack knowledge, but Plotinus rules this out by saying, “For if [perceptions] are also for knowledge, [they would be] for a being not in knowledge but which is ignorant because of circumstance, and in order to remember because of forgetfulness, not for a being not in need nor in forgetfulness.”  Yet the universe is not ignorant nor in need of remembering, so this possibility is ruled out: perception cannot be for need.  Furthermore, if the universe is all there is and yet perceives something outside of itself, then the universe would not be all there is.  Thus a second reason for dismissing need as an explanation for the universe’s perception.

Perhaps then, perception is for the use of the universe.  Remember that in the text, Plotinus has said that whenever there is a thing with (at least) two parts, one part, when it is affected, transmits it affections to the other part, if it is a sufficiently strong affection. (2)  In this more opaque language it was first presented as the initial option of the disjunction concerning the chreia of perception.  As it is applied less broadly, the parts being discussed are the body and the soul.  In the case of the universe under investigation, when one part undergoes an affection (sphere of the planets), then this is transmitted to the soul of the universe by necessity (resulting in sight).

Although it is true that the universe does not see for the purpose of gaining new information, it can, as we can look at our own hand, nevertheless look at itself with a part of itself.  On first glance, it would appear that the universe looking at itself would be vain, to no effect (μάτην).  But if looking at itself just happens as a matter of course, then, Plotinus’ line of thought goes, looking at itself is not vain, because this is not the purpose of its looking, but is the necessary consequence of the way the universe is set up.

Τὸ δὲ εἰ τῆς χρείας μόνον ἡ αἴσθησις, ὧδε σκεπτέον.
Εἰ δὴ ψυχῇ μὲν μόνῃ οὐκ ἂν αἴσθησις γίνοιτο, μετὰ δὲ
σώματος αἱ αἰσθήσεις, διὰ σῶμα ἂν εἴη, ἐξ οὗπερ καὶ αἱ
αἰσθήσεις, καὶ διὰ τὴν σώματος κοινωνίαν δοθεῖσα, καὶ
ἤτοι ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἐπακολουθοῦσα—ὅ τι γὰρ πάσχει τὸ   (5)
σῶμα, καὶ φθάνει τὸ πάθος μεῖζον ὂν μέχρι ψυχῆς—
ἢ καὶμεμηχάνηται, ὅπως καὶ πρὶν μεῖζον γενέσθαι τὸ ποιοῦν,
ὥστε καὶ φθεῖραι, ἢ καὶ πρὶν πλησίον γενέσθαι, φυλάξασθαι.
Εἰ δὴ τοῦτο, πρὸς χρείαν ἂν εἶεν αἱ αἰσθήσεις. Καὶ γὰρ εἰ
καὶ πρὸς γνῶσιν, τῷ μὴ ἐν γνώσει ὄντι ἀλλ’ ἀμαθαίνοντι    (10)
διὰ συμφοράν, καὶ ἵνα ἀναμνησθῇ διὰ λήθην, οὐ τῷ μήτε
ἐν χρείᾳ μήτε ἐν λήθῃ. Ἀλλ’ εἰ τοῦτο, οὐ περὶ τῆς γῆς ἂν
μόνον εἴη σκοπεῖσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ἄστρων ἁπάντων καὶ
μάλιστα περὶ παντὸς τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τοῦ κόσμου.

Plotinus is here likely taking up a line of thought from Plato, “Assume that some of the affections of our body are extinguished in the body before they reach the soul, leaving the soul unaffected, and that other affections permeate both body and soul and cause a vibration in both conjointly and in each individually” (Trans. Fowler, Philebus, 33d).