You’ve likely all heard about our big ep. 100 recording, and should surely start reading Plato’s Symposium right now prep for that. To help you get all the various speakers involved in that work straight in your head, you might want to listen to the “In Our Time” episode on this from last January.
The dialogue is about love, and a number of participants of this ancient Greek drinking part are supposed to speak in praise of Eros. Unique among Plato’s dialogues, we don’t just get Socrates’s view in depth, but get to hear from a number of other figures representing rhetoric, medicine, tragedy, and comedy, with these various guys voicing what really amounts to their own experiences of love, or rather praising types of love in a way that amounts to to self-praise, and we get to learn a lot about Athenian aristocratic pederasty. Eventually, it’s Socrates’s turn, and though he’s supposed to give a speech, he gives it in the form of a remembered dialogue with his teacher Diotima who supposedly doled out wisdom about love to him when he was a youth. Socrates’s position as revealed by Diotima is predictable if you know much about Plato’s proto-Christian philosophy: The best kind of eros is the one that transcends physical love, into first not just loving the beauty of your beloved, but loving beauty in general, and from there getting even more general into loving the good. Love is ideating beauty (the Form of the Good) and wanting to create/procreate in its presence, which means among other thing for the participants at this party to teach virtue to teenage boys instead of fondling them. Love is not itself a matter of having good, but of seeking it, like a philosopher, i.e. a lover of, or seeker after, wisdom.
For episode #99, we’re going to record this Saturday night, when we’re all gathered in Madison (also including recurring guest Daniel Horne!) on what we’ve learned in 5+ years and 100 episodes of doing this. How have our attitudes toward doing philosophy changed? This will be comparable to our episode 73; can we be interesting without having a specific text to focus on? Who knows?
For episode #98, we had Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel on as a guest to talk about his 2012 book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. If you’re not familiar with Sandel, you might want to go watch his very popular lecture series on justice, which is a great introduction to Locke, Kant, utilitarianism, libertarianism, Rawls, and contemporary moral problems like gay marriage, affirmative action, and the draft. (He also wrote these up in a book called Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? from 2009.) What Money Can’t Buy discusses practices such as selling advertising space on everything, paying to jump to the front of lines, selling your body, buying the right to immigrate to the US, etc. Market logic is supposed to be a win-win for all involved: a buyer and a seller both benefit, or they wouldn’t have made the exchange, but are there areas that should be off limits to markets? Are there other goods that get crowded out by this kind of thinking? Sandel says yes.
Before that, for episode #97 (which is nearly ready to post), we did some more rigorous philosophical work on Sandel, reading his 1982 break-through work Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, which is a major contribution to the modern dialogue about justice starting with Rawls, who he spends the book describing and critiquing. Where Rawls argues that justice is self-evidently the preeminent virtue of a society, Sandel argues that no, justice is only needed insofar as the society lacks fellow feeling, when there are parties in conflict, and that Rawls’s social prescriptions therefore beg the question against making solidarity a desirable social goal.
Also, Rawls thinks that he can argue for his principles of justice based merely on our current intuitions, or rather the intuitions we think we would have if we put ourselves in the “original position” (not knowing whether we’d be rich or poor, smart or not in the society, or otherwise what our particular interests would be). As a kind of deontology, this is supposed to tell us about the right (what we should do) without making any particular claims about metaphysics: about what kind of creatures we are, for instance. Sandel thinks that in fact Rawls’s original position assumes that we are the kind of creature who (like Sartre describes) don’t have any particular interests built into our nature, into our identities. We are creates that will, and that’s what freedom is. Sandel thinks this is wrong: we are, prior to any choices we might make, members of particular families, societies, etc. We are embedded selves. Sandel thinks that on Rawls’s view, there’s not really such thing as introspection, of “knowing thyself.” You can figure out what you want, yes, and you can even figure out if you want to want what you do in fact want, but because (apart from not violating others’ rights, a requirement of justice that restricts what ends are legitimate for us to have) there’s no ultimately grounding for wanting one thing over another, no specific good dictated by our human nature (teleology) or by utilitarian considerations, our choices ultimately end up being arbitrary. Sandel thinks this isn’t true freedom at all. Now, whether this Sartrean view accurately represents Rawls is something we debate in the discussion; Rawls himself claimed that he didn’t hold this view of the self that Sandel attributes to him. We read chapters 1 and 4, plus the introduction and conclusion.