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Rojcewicz: Socrates

sábado 6 de maio de 2017

The original turn in the history of philosophy, from pre-Socratic thought to the philosophy of Socrates   and of all later Western thinkers, can be understood as a turn from piety to idolatry. In a certain sense, then, Cicero   was correct to characterize this turn as one that “called philosophy down from the heavens and relegated it to the cities of men and women.”1

Cicero is usually taken to mean that Socrates inaugurated the tradition   of humanism in philosophy, the focus on the human subject as what is most worthy of thinking. In contradistinction, the pre-Socratic philosophers were cosmologists; they concerned themselves with the universe as a whole, with the gods, with the ultimate things, “the things in the air and the things below the earth.” Socrates supposedly held   it was foolish to inquire into such arcane and superhuman matters and limited himself instead to the properly human things; his questions did not   concern the gods and the cosmos but precisely men and women and cities. Thus his questions were ethical and political: what is virtue, what is friendship, what is the ideal   polity?

The Ciceronian characterization, understood along these lines, would have to be rejected as superficial, even altogether erroneous. As for Socrates, he by no means brought philosophy down to earth, if this means that the human world becomes the exclusive subject matter of philosophy. Socrates did not limit his attention to human, moral   matters. On the contrary, even when the ostensible topic of his conversation is some moral issue, Socrates’ aim is always to open up the divine realm, the realm of the Ideas. That is, he is concerned with bringing philosophy, or the human gaze, up to heaven; more specifically, he is occupied with the relation between the things of the earth and the things of heaven. To put it in philosophical terms, his concern is to open up the distinction between Being and beings. That is his constant theme, and the ostensible moral topic of discussion is, primarily, only the occasion for the more fundamental metaphysical inquiry. As for all later thinkers, Cicero’s characterization seems even less applicable. The entire tradition of metaphysics, from Aristotle   down to our own times, concerns itself precisely with the things of heaven, with Being itself, and even calls this concern “first philosophy” in contrast to the secondary philosophical interest in men and women and cities.

Understood in another sense, however, Cicero’s characterization is perfectly correct. From Socrates on, philosophy is indeed withdrawn from the gods and relegated, completely and utterly, to men and women, with the result that the human being becomes the exclusive subject of philosophy. This statement holds, and it expresses the Socratic turn, but only if “subject” here means agent, doer, and not topic, not subject matter. Socrates makes philosophy a purely human accomplishment and Being a passive object. In other words, for the Socratic tradition philosophy is the philosophy “of” Being, or “of” the gods, only in the sense of the genitivus obiectivus; in philosophy Being merely lies there as an object, awaiting human inquiry. This is indeed a turn, since the pre-Socratic view is the pious one that humans, in carrying out philosophy, in disclosing what it means to be, play a deferential role. The proper human role in philosophy is then something like this: not to wrest a disclosure of the gods but to abet and appropriate the gods’ own self-disclosure. While we might be able to see the piety in this pre-Socratic attitude, it will strike us much more forcefully as enigmatic. The turn taken by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was the removing of the enigma. The turn taken by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, two and half millennia later, reverses the original one and restores the enigma — as well as the piety. (p. 1-2)

Ver online : The Gods and Technology. A Reading of Heidegger.