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The Gryllus (or On the Salutary)

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redundant fallibility

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:04 pm    Post subject: The Gryllus (or On the Salutary) Reply with quote

The Gryllus

“Most people, I have observed, dear Gryllus, prefer what rouses their curiosity to what is genuinely salutary.”

“I don’t really know what you have in mind at all. Are you contrasting entertainment with medical health?” So answered Gryllus, who was himself the father of that famous Xenophon.

“Let me attempt to be more clear. Will you suffer along with me a little way, until what I suppose myself to have properly appropriated can be articulated in such a way that another can see.”

“The more you speak the less I am inclined to suppose that I understand you at all. But, if you like, let us pass some time in this activity. Go on and I will try to follow as best I can.”

“Allow me to say what curiosity is. I don’t suppose to tell you what it is, so much as to point to what I mean as a man would point to a hinge on a door, or to any common thing.”

“So you think that curiosity is something that can be known simply, as we know anything one can see and point to?”

“I only say that for the purpose of our discussion it can be known simply. Just as knowing what the hinge of a door is offers no further difficulties to us once it is pointed out.”

“Then tell me.”

“When someone perks up and their face glows, and they begin to ask about a matter, I say their curiosity has been aroused.”

“But, would you determine it so narrowly? Are those who study with grim faces and with long assiduity, not themselves also, after a fashion, to be numbered with the curious?”

“I call them curious too. Let us amend our finger, the one that does the pointing, and have it incline towards them as well.”

“Then you point to those who invigilate over a matter as much as to they who are all of the sudden struck and turn their attention on a matter?”

“Yes, certainly. Both are those that I call the curious.”

“But is not serious deadly searching, searching out, of the kind our scholars attempt, and, indeed, actually carry out, a salutary thing? Or does the phrase, genuinely salutary, say something which the ordinary word salutary fails to say?”

“Let us not become pretentious. I shall no longer say genuinely salutary without reason. Let us say salutary as you suggest. But, to your point: I say that such curiosity is not salutary at all. But, rather it deserves to be called a whiling away of one’s time.”

“Is not all life something like a whiling away of one’s time?”

“I think one would malign life if one were to affirm that view. I hold that there is something which is not merely curiosity, and that, Gryllus, is what I call the salutary.”

“So far, I think, you have said nothing. Or, what you have said is much the same as empty talk.”

“I don’t admit it entirely; as I believe we are beginning to make a way to the matter I have in mind. But, if you think so, I can not disagree with you. Will you pretend then, as I do, do walk a mile further?”

“As I have not yet abandoned all confidence in your strength as a guide, I shall entertain another mile happily.”

“This curiosity, that we have now, I hope, appropriated to ourselves, in the manner of thinking over, of reliving memories of occasions where we have ourselves seen curiosity in others, and thinking also of ourselves, when it has come over us, I would make some comments on. Only by way of trying to move the object of our despising around a bit.”

“This is the first time you have come to tell me your true feeling. So you despise curiosity, and the curious themselves as well, no doubt?”

“Yes. Curiosity seems to me a despicable thing. For it always leads away from the salutary, and in such a way that the curious think themselves to be doing something worth their time, whereas what they do is merely while away their time. And that Gryllus, I call despicable.”

“There is something in that. I must admit. But only if you are right about curiosity, and have not mislead us utterly.”

“Let us, for the purpose of this make believe, as I call it, this discussion, secure this curiosity which is nothing other than whiling away one’s time; and a shameful activity it is!”

“Well, I suppose if it is only a matter of playing make believe, as you put it, I can firmly slip into my role as one of those who has got the right and proper view of curiosity in sight, and will not let it get away. Continue then, I am listening to you, although, I fear to say it, with what seems to me to be a kind of appetite for more and more.”

“And if we named such an appetite what would it be called?”

“To be sure, curiosity.”

“You must not fall prey to it. However, for the moment pretend that you follow what I say, not because it sparks your further interest, but rather because you have caught wind of something genuinely salutary.”

“Why have you included the word genuine again? I fear you are forgetting yourself. That is not a good thing for anybody, but especially not for our guide!”

“You are right! It is good that you rebuke me, even though, I am not entirely sure that we were right in expunging this word, but for now I will follow in the way we set out above, and so say only salutary, and not genuinely salutary.”

“What is it in this curious discourse that would merit the designation salutary? I fail to see it.”

“It remains hidden to you, because you do not yet see the direction I intend. But I believe some of it has already come into the discussion, only as yet you have not appropriated it. Soon you will even be able to point to it.”

“That would be fine, but I am not so sure there is anything in what you say. It may as well be utter nonsense.”

“But can it be utter nonsense that we have located, so to speak, curiosity? And that we are now in a position to discuss it. Whereas when we began, we did not even have much other than the thinnest and most lax attitude towards that word, and what it wanted to tell us.”

“There is, I believe, something to that. We have at least got half your opening enunciation laid out before us.”

“I am glad to hear you say it! Yet, something disturbs me, what do you meant when you refer to my opening ennunciation? You spoke so suddenly, as if some manner of levity had crept into your expressions all without you being weary of the danger.”

“And what danger do you have in mind? I think I have spoken tolerably plainly, but if you would like me to paraphrase, I mean what you said when we began our discussion, that the curious is not what you call salutary. Though, at that time, you spoke somewhat differently.”

“You move insouciantly, so it seems, between the word speak and the word enunciate. I suppose you mean that I have made an assertion which I am now to prove to you?”

“So it seems.”

“But when I made the assertion did I know what I had in mind or didn’t I? For example with respect to the appropriation of curiosity?”

“I suppose you must have known about this curiosity of yours already, though I did help you some in securing it”

“So you did Gryllus. But would you admit that if a man speak of what he has already brought to his own attention, seeing it by pointing it out to himself, he does not so much assert as merely say what he has in hand?”

“It is for me that there appeared an assertion. Or, put rightly, the assertion was there, only so long as I did not see what was said for myself. Yet, for you, presumably, there was no assertion. But I fear we are getting muddled.”

“But let us say that assertion is the phrase that the dubitative use, with respect to what they do not yet assure themselves of. And what those who find a matter obscure say, when they have not winnowed out the real appropriation.”

“Yes, assertion is the word of the man who has not yet got to the heart of the matter. But it is not as if it were to be proved to him, but rather pointed to.”

“Now I agree with that wholeheartedly! If only I could show you the salutary, so you would cease to see an asserter in me. I think you remain curious because you still are concerned with this assertion of yours.”

“The assertion of mine. Indeed. That is a funny way of turning it around, but I must admit that I understand what you mean.”

“Then, can we not say that the genetics of a matter make some real difference with respect to the complexion of that matter?”

“Genetics? You mean where we start?”

“Very simply! Yes, that is what I intend to say with the word genetics.”

“And knowing about curiosity, having appropriated it, as you call it, in just the way we laid down, that is a thing that gives the assertion the boot so to say. For only those who don’t know regard the thing said as an assertion, and not those who do know.”

“How is it with those who do know? What kind of matter do they find?”

“For them there is a kind of field of research, whereby something to be spoken of is already adduced from the beginning. But of which considerably more might be said.”

“Indeed Gryllus. Considerably more.”

“Yet, did you not assert something after all? I mean the relation of the curiosity to the salutary. Or did you already have that before you; I, for one, have nothing like that within my soul.”

“A lofty soul it is. I see it and I say there is no assertion, but rather what I have before me is as little an assertion then if someone were to say, when standing before a hinge on a door, that their senses were asserting the reality of that thing there upon which the door swings.”

“Such talk would hold only in metaphor. But, usually, don’t we say in such cases that we know something. That by sight we know?”

“None, if they treat fairly of the matter, would say otherwise. Least they bring in some wild objections, we should only be forced to notice that they were asserting, and could hardly know what they were saying themselves.”

“Then assertion is always a flight from what is really known?”

“Let us not say what is really known, Gryllus, but what is known.”

“Ah! You are right.”

“If someone caught us speaking of what is really known, would they not suspect that we wanted to speak of truth? Of knowledge about the already known, of a kind of nailing down already known things.”

“That would be confusing for us and for them. Seeing as we ourselves might get drawn into verbal obtuseness. And seeing as we ourselves have something else in mind than securing what is known.”

“Yes, since we want to show how curiosity works with what is known in a despicable way, and can not be the salutary.”

“What you say is too cryptic for my taste. Again you are opening into something that I, for one, have not got before me rightly. What is this so-called working of curiosity? I thought curiosity was what we said, the attitude we described in the curious of whom we ourselves have thought over, and of whom we ourselves have had occasion to be.”

“Quite right. I see that you are still awake to our difficulties.”

“That, so long as I pretend your discussion is right, without so knowing, what I can call my assertion, I fear, is still raving on. But, it blazes in such a way as to make smoke as well. What you said just now was like the smoke of my assertion, it was nearly sheer nonsense.”

“The smoke, as you call it, is trival. It is only a verbal confusion, or so I believe. But the flame is what we aim at extinguishing, or what you yourself must put out.”

“So long as we are going on with this obtuse make believe of yours, I suppose one can see what you mean. But, I fear, in reality, we are only whiling away our time on the earth. Certainly, other occupations seem to offer more. But, for now, let us go on pretending.”

“Is it possible, do you think, to regard curiosity as something that does not appeal only to us in a haphazard way, but which justifies the usage: that one is curious, they are curious, he is a curious man, and such phrases which characterize people and seem to suggest that they themselves almost are curiosity?”

“I can not really understand you, but I suppose one does see more curiosity in some than in others. Descartes, all told, must have been an utterly curious bird.”

“You mean because he put his assiduous nose so constantly to the grindstone, insofar as he wanted to always be learning more, and seeking to fix down his method of safeguarding against errors in scientific work?”

“Yes, something like that. It was as if his whole life was one long bout of curiosity. His attention was so utterly engaged.”

“And curiosity, if I could make some mere comments about the matter we have got trapped in our nets, might be called a sort of engagement of one’s attention?”

“It is ridiculous to think of curiosity as a hired hand, paid to go search some premises or other, but there is something to what you say, after all.”

“But how does the hired hand receive his wages? I suppose the one looking more and more into a matter, even after many years, finds some reason to feel cheery here and there, as when someone learns something, or recognizes a face one has long since not seen, and this is a kind of hitting of paydirt, however modest.”

“A kind of payoff of the hired hand, as you name him. That is so.”

“The engagement might go on, provided it is always paid right. Or even if it has to suffer a period of diminished wages, memory of past good treatment might keep it going?”

“That is all very well. Yet, what are you trying to lead us to, if anything?”

“Only that once started, the curiosity can become a habit.”

“That is utterly trivial.”

“What is a habit though, do you suppose?”

“It is when something that has been done now and then is repeated, usually because something in it appeals to us.”

“Then the habit can come about almost without our noticing it? Because we are simply drawn on by what seems beneficial.”

“Are you saying that serious research is a habit? And the work of a biologist, determined to help human beings by discovering cures to diseases and so on? For aren't such people of the kind we named curious?”

“It is not clear to me whether such things accrue to mankind by habit, or whether there was something like a choice involved. A saying “no” to mere trailing along with the flow of things that amounts to something more than picking up a habit for the sake of doing what one likes, that one has beforehand haphazardly stumbled upon. But either way I say these things are not salutary properly.”

“It is hard to disagree with you only because, in our make believe, the salutary is already better than the curious. But who would agree with you in reality?”

“Let us remain with this pretending for the moment. Will you suffer it a moment longer?”

“A moment, more, yes, I am still listening.”

“It seems that if even what is considered, by the usual accounts, undeniably serious work, is but the work of curiosity, curiosity must be a great power. I think that it extends beyond something one here or there falls prey to.”

“The way you tell it, though I think you go far beyond what we had secured at first, one does come to that opinion. Perhaps it is natural to think of curiosity in this way?”

“Presumably, if one is always attentive according to the workings out of prior engagements, nothing salutary will ever show itself, except if by the sheer force of habit. But, that is not the case. Since, when we have the salutary firmly in hand, the rest follows from it genetically, and it is the starting point, and not something that comes later, or something caused by habit.”

“Never mind. Just tell us plainly, what is this salutary. Or better still, point it out.”

“Let me make a diversion. Will you come along?”

“Certainly. As I have wasted so much time already, what’s a little more? Let us have the rest of it!”

“If I see a group a revelers, say three or four, in the night, shuffling along a dark road, and I look away and only after a time remember them, it happens that one really does ask, on occasion, are they the same three or four as I just now saw? I must make an inference by which I assure myself that these are the same ones. In likewise manner someone might have said that, even when we look at some thing, and look away and back, in certain sense an inference is made.”

“Yes, it is in that sense that the object remains quite the same.”

“The learned speak here of the law of identity. But, what I want to say is that in the case of the revelers, it might happen that I truly have occasion to appropriate the matter of the need for the hypothesis, what one calls the inference, but in the former example, the matter, though an example is given, remains sterile.”

“I understand that.”

“Good. Now, speaking by metaphor, one can say of the salutary, that it is to the properly appropriated thing, what that appropriation itself is to the sterile example. This is where we can defeat mere curiosity, and see the salutary.”

“I do not really see what you mean, but tell us something more?”

“You still want to challenge your assertion. For you ask for more. But, let me say this, what we want most is to be done with the asserter at once, in the manner of being told something that will give our curiosity a feeling of cheeriness. Instead, we should appeal to an impulse to break our habits.”

“One would have to feel one’s way to the ground of that research. But, surely, it hardly deserves the name research. There is something uncanny in it. Yet, I don’t say I believe a word of it.”

“Now, so far so good, but let us not weaken as we approach the salutary. When one senses that one has made an appropriation, and not only sterilely adduced an example, what is it that is active?”

“It is a touching upon the genuinely curious.”

“Is that not pretentious talk? The genuinely curious?”

“What would you say then?”

“I would say that this too is but the curious, but I can not help but to think that you are right that some qualification is called for. It is a basic form of curiosity, which identifies to itself something closer to knowing, I mean to seeing and so knowing, then does the mere everyday knowing that we are done with as soon as we have it. That the thing there is a lamp, nothing more is to be done, I pass on. Why then, does knowing have these ways of pointing to things, the salutary is nearby, but I admit, as yet I have not shown it to you.”

“I admit, some things you have said are interesting, but on the whole you have failed to pin down the object of your assertion.”

“Then, we have returned to reality.”

“And so, the discussion is at an end.”
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