Plato and Kant on thought as self-discourse

Plato in Theaetetus

“Socrates: …And do you accept my description of the process of thinking?

Theaetetus: How do you describe it?

Socrates: As a discourse that the mind carries on with itself about any subject it is considering…when the mind is thinking, it is simply talking to itself…So I should describe thinking as discourse, and judgment as a statement pronounced, not aloud to someone else, but silently to oneself.”

Plato in the (potentially spurious) Seventh Letter–

“For this reason no serious man will ever think of writing about serious realities for the general public so as to make them a prey to envy and perplexity. In a word, it is an inevitable conclusion from this that when anyone sees anywhere the written work of anyone, whether that of a lawgiver in his laws or whatever it may be in some other form, the subject treated cannot have been his most serious concern–that is if he is himself a serious man. His most serious interests have their abode somewhere in the noblest region of the field of his activity…”

Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Bk 1.39, “On The Cognitive Powers”–

“Thinking is talking with ourselves…so it is also listening to ourselves inwardly…”

And there are doubtless others who have affirmed the essentiality of self-discourse. It is an interesting question what one does when they do not want any longer to listen to the self who speaks. There are difficulties in getting away. But to call illness what is an unwillingness to abide with oneself seems presumptuous.

Thomas Szaz–The Meaning of Mind

“In short, the use of psychoactive drugs is man’s oldest and culturally most widely shared method for altering his inner dialogue, and suicide is his ultimate method for terminating it.”

There is a sense in which the care of self, in its deepest sense, is the learning to live with imperfection, the learning to abide with he who is at best in-between and to adequately chastise, show mercy, befriend.

We might see one of the greatest costs of the new proliferation of the screen the way in which individuals are able to get out of touch with themselves and not forced to deal with themselves.

It is an interesting question as to what role drugs scheduled for the “mentally ill” play in suppressing that part of the self which the self is no longer willing to live with and train. And, what more systemic suppression is the consumer of such suppression willing to undergo in order to get the more specific suppression that they seek? It would seem implausible that the blunt objective nature of a chemical in relation with the complex objective nature of the brain were to produce the nuanced need of he who seeks to suppress the particular voice in his head that he wishes to avoid.

Drugs have long been taken to create distance with reality, but the “realization” that I am having is that more often than not the reality escaped is not objective but the subjective response to the objective. Is it not the voice of the soul (fear, dissatisfaction, boredom, hunger, anger, envy, hatred) that he who distracts himself from reality ultimately wants to suppress?

And who does he invite to take his place? Who speaks up in the soul when it becomes well-known that suppression is the cost of speaking wrongfully? And what becomes of he who executes the expression of the condition of the soul instead of listening, weighing, challenging, resisting but also ultimately dialogue-ing–patiently working on persuasion. This is rhetoric thought in its richest sense. He who can persuade toward the hard work of development the many voices of the soul by friendly and patient persuasion has done something.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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  1. Is “suppression” an avoidance of self in the objective and the subjective? I had not thought of the drug suppression in those terms but I like the application. Does my willingness to engage the voices of my soul as subject of my existence correlate with my willingness to do the same in others? I wonder how culpable I am in the subjectivity of the other. And how much the dissolution of community leaves us without the voices of other souls (public discourse) to train our self discourse.

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    1. Good questions MV.
      In the portion I think you are referring to I was thinking of the suppression of one voice of the subject by another (of the same subject). The objective I was considering was something like that of part reality confronted by the subject. I have thought in the past of the “escape” that drugs provide as an escape from “objective” reality. But, I was struck by the idea that what I might be trying to escape, more specifically, is my own subjective response (anxiety, fear) to reality. So, the drug suppresses the anxious or fearful voice which I actually need to listen to and deal well with. Easier to eliminate.

      I think the analogies between dealing with myself and others are rich. In either case it pays to listen closely and understand. But if what is understood is obstinately evil, then it may be that ignoring or ostracizing is in order…in either case. Defense even may be warranted? I do not think listening goes on forever in either case. But, man do I learn a lot by tuning in to the voice of either community (soul or external). What to do with what is heard is a different question I think you would agree.
      Finally, you touch a sensitive spot in my approach. I probably better aim for balance. I agree that the dissolution of community has effects. But given multiplicity in the soul to some degree training is always possible. There are limits and responses to the response I am giving, but it would take too much to address. So, I leave it.
      Thanks for the questions.


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