Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Two Philosophical Letters

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Two Philosophical Letters

Article excerpt

RICHARD KENNINGTON TOOK TO HEART in everything he thought Leo Strauss's remark, "The problem inherent in the surface of things and only in the surface of things is the heart of things," for he realized that Strauss had merely formulated what was already there in Plato's use of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and which Heidegger in turn uncovered in his interpretation of "phenomenology." The beginning of thinking is noticing, but it does not reach its natural end without putting two and two together, or [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Kennington had an unsurpassed capacity for following up an insight with a sustained working through of all its implications. He was best at worrying a thought without distracting its structure. Of all the students of Leo Strauss whom I knew he was the only one who was by nature philosophic, endowed as he was with the right mix of seriousness and levity, of daring and caution. Depth of thought was as natural to him as breathing. It was his element. In what follows I give a sample of Kennington's way of looking at things: his reflections on Plato's sun, line, and cave, and on Aristotle's principle of noncontradiction. They give a true indication, I think, of how he went about his business.(1)

On July 9, 1981 he sent along "Remarks on Sun, Line, Cave":

1. [on Republic 508b] The good, as presented here, is discontinuous with the account at 505a-d, where it is the telos of all the soul pursues and does, and perhaps by implication at 505d, seeks to possess and enjoy. The good, as telos at 505a-d, is more general than that which eros seeks to be one's own sempiternally at Symposium 206a, where the context is human, and the good is, in some sense, possessable. Thus the good as telos at 505a-d, while essentially related to soul, is not limited to the soul as eros: the implication appears to be that there are other relations of the, soul to the good than through eros.

But the good at 508b is not a telos at all, but an arche, that which is first as well as rules and governs. The sun does not shine or generate, nor the nous intellect, for the sake of the good. Whereas begetting or genesis in the Symposium is always a function of soul, the begetting of the good and the sun in 508bff., is not related to soul, nor to a telos.

Hence, the sun "ikon" or "likeness" abstracts from soul, as regards--at least--eros, genesis, telos.

2. Instead, 508b presents the good as the cosmological principle of a cosmos somehow without soul. We do not "miss" the missing soul, however, since the soul is present in its knowing and seeing, and what it knows and sees is nothing less than all the knowable and sensible bound together in a knowable analogia: the cosmos is bathed in light. We are tempted to add: the sun ikon is an ikon of wisdom.

But before accepting this conclusion, we recognize that the wisdom promised by the sun ikon falls short of that suggested by Anaxagoras' claim that nous arranges and causes all things, which would mean, according to Socrates, arranges for the sake of the best (and not even the best possible). 508b replaces the nous with the good and drops teleology, and presents an intelligible cosmos, but by a severe abstention from the soul, as suggested above. Yet the name "the good" given to the arche at 508n is not explained and appears inexplicable as first cosmological principle; the name the good" demands a subsequent correction, or an attempted one, in which it is that which is sought by the soul, in all its activities, or the soul as eros. Thus the term "the good," inexplicable in its own, the first ikon, and absent in the divided line, must return for subsequent consideration in the cave ikon.

Another evidence of absence of soul is that "ascent and descent" is absent from sun ikon but present in divided line and cave ikon: since there is no movement, which takes time, the sun ikon is the only one that can be "taken in at a glance": as instantaneous as it is, perhaps, comprehensive. …

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