Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Moral Life in the Platonic Understanding of It

"The lover, Plato says, reveres the beloved as if he were a god. When Christopher Isherwood asked his guru if it was all right to love boys, the guru replied that Christopher should regard his loved one as the young god Krishna. How does this go in Christian terms? ... To see Christ in those you pity or even in those you hate may seem a more intelligible charge than to see him in those you are madly in love with; where the sacred image might appear as an unwelcome or irrelevant obstacle or else as blasphemously degraded! In such a context Christian western puritanism instinctively envisages as sinful aspects of carnal love which eastern religion has more freely spiritualised. ...

"The concept of anamnesis appears in Plato's Meno in the context of asking whether virtue is natural or whether it is something that can be taught, and answering that it is neither, but comes by 'divine dispensation' or 'grace'. This does not of course mean that virtue is a matter of luck, but that it comes as the reward of a sort of morally disciplined attention. ... Anamnesis, spiritual memory, belongs to the individual who 'remembers' pure Forms of goodness and beauty with which he was familiar 'face to face' (not 'in a glass darkly') in another existence. These journeys of the soul, as described in the Phaedrus and in the tale of reincarnation at the end of the Republic, are of course mythical ideas, similar to the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism. ... The solitary private moral agent must be his own authority, continually doing it all, over and over, for himself. ...

"The moral life in the Platonic understanding of it is a slow shift of attachments wherein looking (concentrating, attending, attentive discipline) is a source of divine (purified) energy. This is a progressive redemption of desire: and sexual attachment in the ordinary sense can be one possible starting point for the overcoming of egoism. The movement is not, by an occasional leap, into an external (empty) space of freedom, but patiently and continuously a change of one's whole being in all its contingent detail, through a world of appearance toward a world of reality. The importance Plato attaches to studying, whether in intellectual work or craft, is an instance and image of virtuous truth-seeking activity."

--Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992)

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...