Notes from the author of Socrates On Trial – Part 2

The book Socrates on Trial is in 3 parts.

Part 2 (books 6-8)

Part 2 records events on the day of the Festival. The sequestration of the jury in the grounds of the courtroom, and the proximity of Socrates’s cell, gives artistic license for the conversation that then takes place between them. One might think that, given the descriptions already recorded about the demise of education in the city, Socrates is extremely lucky to have been given 11 jurors selected who not only seem willing to talk with him, but who can also make very insightful comments in conversation with him.

Juror 1 in particular has a family connection with the old Socrates and proves to be the key voice that provides continuity in the narrative. In his own Apology at the end of the book Socrates shares his own surprise and delight that the city still has such people and at the serendipity of their being chosen as jurors for this trial. But there is a more serious point here too. It represents an optimism that education does survive, and that people can still share in philosophical conversations if they can find a way into such conversations, that is, if they are engaged and have the time and space in their lives to do so.

The conversation between Socrates and the jurors is wide ranging. Throughout, the theme remains justice in the city. It is, in this sense, a new version of Plato’s Politeia, although this only becomes clear in Book 17. Part 2 is where the central idea of the book, the logic of education, is introduced. But the first discussion concerns the question of what a discussion of justice should begin with. It becomes a discussion about how to do justice to this question. Its significance is that this opens up the idea of presupposition that will play an important role in understanding both logics, the logic of mastery and the logic of education around which their conversation is framed.

Equally important, injustice in the city is explored as a crisis of education, in particular through the idea that reason has exhausted itself in the city and is now only able to repeat the same old contradictions and repetitions, unable to offer a path beyond its own totalizing conundrums. It is a point made many times by many people. One example would be from a review of Gillian Rose’s book, Hegel Contra Sociology, by Peter Osborne. He said of her book that ‘It represents the end-point of modern philosophy; a point at which the self-critique of epistemology has reached its limit, and from which it can progress no further, condemned to eternal repetition, the never-ending production of a speculative experience of society which remains trapped within the confines of the perspective it knows to be false’ (Radical Philosophy, vol 32, Autumn 1982). In that piece Osborne says, Rose’s problem is that she has no other conception of theory. In Socrates On Trial the theory of educational logic takes up this challenge. It retrieves a notion of dialectic but suggests that, from an educational point of view, the dialectic was never just dialectical, and that the accusations of its exhaustion are just those that Hegel and Rose anticipated from within a logic of mastery.

Book 8 is central to the book. It rehearses Hegel’s account of the life and death struggle from his Phenomenology of Spirit, with the resulting relationship of mastery and enslavement. The term ‘slave’ is used very sparingly in Socrates On Trial, taking on board the mastery implicit in calling a human being just a slave. Enslavement is something that happens to the human being; using the term enslavement is a way of both negating and preserving the important ambivalence of such a human being. 

The account of the life and death struggle is rehearsed around the theme of Kant’s question of conditions of possibility, or as the text often refers to it, presupposition. The conversation with Socrates here offers the theory that life and death are presupposed in, and are given cultural form as, property, and that mastery and enslavement are just such forms. It further suggest that truth, nature and freedom are all defined according to this propertied shape of life and death. And more than this, that each of these categories are themselves defined according to a logic that is also a form of propertied life. In the city, logic is always propertied logic. This then shapes everything in the city in its own image.

Part 2 (books 9-14)

The rest of Part 2 explores the ways in which propertied logic, or the logic of mastery, has shaped life in the city. It includes issues surrounding gender, race, material inequality, and tyranny, until such time as the self-defeating assertions of this logic of mastery are directed to the presuppositions that underpin them, and which are contained but not obvious in their being experienced. From here, a different kind of experience is theorised, one that commends a different kind of logic, and with it a different kind of truth. This then provides the opportunity to rehearse Kant’s famous Copernican revolution in philosophy (book 12), and in particular, how his refusal to accept that the absolute could be known showed him hanging on to the notion of truth defined within the logic of mastery. The logic of education takes up Gillian Rose’s challenge that the absolute can be thought, because it can be experienced, but, Socrates suggests, within a logic of education rather than one of mastery.

In book 13 Juror 9 tries to represent aspects of post-humanism, with a questioning of identity, dialectic, and the idea that the male white thinking of the city is merely a repetition of the same, an outcome which is predetermined beforehand, and which therefore enacts a closed totality. Socrates is seen to be fully implicated in this. They find common ground in a critique of the idea of essence, and then offer something of a rehearsal of Hegel’s notion of illusory being. The approach that the text takes is to argue that essence is the indifference of mastery to itself. As such, essence is empty, merely a show, an illusion. When mastery tries to avoid itself, and calls itself different, or, more provocatively, difference, this too is only an illusory showing, another shape of essence. The suggestion here is that the whole discourse of difference is more of the same. Its refinement is that difference is really indifference to mastery, because it does not become different to itself, but claims to be wholly other than itself. This claim can only be sustained by being indifferent to its own conditions of possibility in propertied relations, and as a propertied shape of life and death. In Glas Derrida makes a similar point about difference only appearing in oppositions, but that suggests that the idea of différance is indifferent to this as the condition of its own possibility. If it claims the opposite, then it becomes a claim for origin and authenticity prior to opposition. If it can’t be known, then it is Kantian in form. If it can be known, then it presupposes something like an educational logic.

This leads to juror 7, the one who in a way represents the survivor—although not of a single event—describing one direction that this same indifference can take in the world, the form of the intriguer. This is based on real experience of such people, who seem to believe that release from the tyrannies of universalism gives license for such a life of intrigue. It is hoped that this part of the book conveys something of the alarm felt personally about this trend in the world at large, and within university culture in particular.

Juror 10 then rehearses the culture of instrumental reason, with Weber very much in mind here. The final pages of book 13 rehearse the arguments surrounding the threat of human extinction and perhaps the extinction of all life. This has in mind the work of Howard Caygill (see Force and Understanding, 2021, Bloomsbury).

The theme mentioned above of the exhaustion of reason, and its collapse into an empty repetition of irresolvable paradoxes and contradictions, runs through each of these discussions. It is intentional that the dialogue repeats this many times as an experience of aporia in the city regarding its own thinking. The role of the daemon here is to represent the necessity that might be driving these experiences. The question this raises is how to understand this necessity. It is from such experiences that the necessity emerges as that of education, having its own logic and truth. It is necessity in the sense that this is what is unavoidable in thinking, and this is what is manifest as the exhaustion of the tradition. We know this necessity, but we don’t know how to understand it other than through the logic of mastery and propertied forms of thinking. 

Part 2 (books 15-16)

Books 15 and 16 take up the difficult challenge of rewriting the cave. Book 15 rehearses the old cave but with the history of the city in mind. Book 16 offers the cave of educational logic, with the central role of light and shadow being embodied in the candle that represents the fire. This will become the House of the City in the final book. The new city has no separate cave or upper world. They are now part of the educational experience in which the city knows itself.

The logic of education unfolds slowly across several of the books in Part 2 and Book 17 risks a set of definitions:

J1: … How would you define educational truth?

S: That learning is true when it negates what it knows, making that object known as unknown, or as other.

J1: And what is the logic of this education?

S: … that the in-itself is for-itself, or free, in already being for-another.

J1: And its necessity?

S: Its necessity is its presupposition of itself, or negation preserved as learning.

J1: And its principle?

S: I am already other―to you and to myself―and both of these others is not me. This is what I am.

J1: Could this also be the principle of educational justice in an educational city?

S: Yes, by being lived as the examined life.

Part 2 (book 17)

From these definitions the text embarks on what is probably the most ambitious part of the project, describing what a city of educational logic might look like in Book 17.

Production and objects

An example is that production, distribution and consumption are not based in the desire of propertied lives, but on the needs inspired by the examined life. This suggests that this would imply a vast reduction in the scale and quantity of what we think we need in order to live our lives.

A Copernican Revolution of sorts is enacted regarding natural objects or the natural world at large. The educational truth of such objects means that they are not inert material bodies―the equivalent of barbarians―but are active partners in experience and have real lives for us as part of the truth we learn about such experience. They are no longer mastered. Instead, they are learned about as that which thinks us as much as we think them, in the sense that they are part of how we understand ourselves.

Production, distribution and consumption are given their green credentials as being sustainable because learning is in a sense organic and free range. It is organic when its growth comes from itself, and it is free range because its limits are its own. Moreover, unlike mastery, education is self-sustainable from within its own resources. It is, in Hegel’s sense, the truth of self-consciousness achieving a mind of its own, but different from that determined within the logic of mastery. If such learning determines the economy, whatever that looks like, then the economy will be self-sustaining of its own resources.

Money

Money proved a very difficult thing to think through, and the book makes no definitive judgement on whether there would be money in the educational city. Its role as the carrier of the equivalence of value is rehearsed. Its valorization as capital and the totality of commodities is also rehearsed. But as to whether the new city would still have money, no decision is offered. The vision is perhaps that in the educational city money would in time simply disappear. Therefore, poverty is defined educationally as well as financially. If there are poor, it is also because of the educational poverty of those who have more wealth. I was mindful here of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King expressing the idea that the white race will only be liberated in the liberation of the black race.

Why didn’t the book announce the end of money? For the same reason it didn’t announce the end of property. These are things the city would have to learn its way through if it was not simply to reproduce the tyranny of money with the tyranny of its abolition. The question of property in the new city is rehearsed and returned to several times. The jurors note that there is injustice with and without property. This is something the city will have to find the educational truth of, learning to live with it and without it. Sharing is the name of this education.

War

The same ambivalence is rehearsed in regard to war with neighboring cities. War needs its others. As the mastery to overcome all others, war is therefore self-contradictory. This opens war up to being redefined educationally as being shared with peace. It is recognized that there may well be times when the educational city might have to defend itself, perhaps to defend learning against that which would seek to enslave it. But the suggestion is offered that the educational war, if one can risk that phrase, would be the just war. It would not act as master over its others. It would respect its own fallen and those of the others, as carrying educational truth. Of course, this city would fight only when learning had broken down, but since education is self-sustaining, it can never break down. To this end, there is a vision here that learning can be found everywhere in life and death, including in war, but also that implicitly war can be learned away.

Law and morality

The laws of the city will carry this same educational ambivalence. Their truth will be in being experienced, not in being abstracted from experience, as Kant’s categorical imperative did.

Regarding the question of morality, education makes a virtue out of its own necessity, meaning that morality will learn of the mastery that it carries. In turn, evil and wrongdoing are differentiated. Wrongdoing is simply the mastery of one will over another. It is in a sense an uneducated action. Evil is an educated action. It is an educated mastery, turning the known contradictions of mastery into an intrigue of pure impurity. It is destruction practising itself in the world as an aesthetic. Will education always successfully resist evil? Experience to date suggests not.

Family and civil society

Family and civil society are both explored in non-propertied forms. There is also a discussion of nature, or in educational logic, the nature of nature, rehearsed around the identities of man and woman. The old stereotypes of activity and passivity are rehearsed, including within the propertied family. The life and death struggle, and the idea of mothering, is returned to here with a view to suggestion that woman, instead of being seen as the immediacy of nature, with man as the mediation of the social and rational, could perhaps also be retrieved according to the educational truth of nature. In this sense she becomes the new universal, for the male mastery is only universal according to the logic of mastery. In educational logic the life and death struggle that is love of life and its self-nurturing, is both the birth of any one child, and the universality of life birthing and dying itself. This involves a redefinition of the universality of reason having its truth in educational logic.  Male logic prevents itself from having this truth as a mind of its own.

The question is raised, does this mean truth is a woman. But this again is a question fuelled by the logic of mastery. The response is that this could perhaps be called woman, but not if the term woman here is intended to mean an essence or a masterful identity. The implication here, is that the terms man and woman in educational logic are not fixed categories of male or female (they don’t survive their contradictions in the logic of mastery either) but are educational terms. To put it in ordinary language, man and woman can be male or female or both and will always be compounds having their truth in learning.

The House of the City

This vision of the educational city culminates in the modern idea of the state being negated but also preserved in the House of the City. This House is the soul and the city of educational truth. When one attends it, one enters the truth of oneself in and as politeia. It is the candle, or the fire, of the cave. It acts as the centre of government, but educationally rather than in a regimen of mastery. The book ends here with an attempt to redefine democracy educationally, and to wrest it from the logic of mastery in which it is owned as the property of those who manipulate it for self-interest. The new democracy is that which issues in and from the examined life.

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