Monday, March 29, 2021

My Understanding Of Marx Part Two — Robert Paul Wolff

Because Plato believed that the world revealed by our senses is merely appearance, not fundamental reality, and because he was convinced that only a tiny few – Socrates and those who followed him – recognize this fact, he needed a form of language that could capture this complexity and his solution was to write in what has come to be called Socratic irony. To speak ironically is not to speak with a wry smile on your face or a look of condescension at those around you. It is to use language with a quite precise complex structure. Ironic discourse presupposes a speaker and two audiences. The first, or superficial, audience hears what it thinks the speaker is saying and assumes that it has understood. But it has in fact only understood the apparent meaning of the speaker’s utterance. The second, or real, audience hears both this superficial or apparent meaning and the real, deeper meaning. Furthermore, it knows that there is a superficial audience mistakingly construing the utterance and so, in effect, it shares a private joke with the speaker at the expense of the superficial audience. In the Socratic dialogues, when Socrates says to one of his interlocutors “I am ignorant and so I ask in the hope that you can enlighten me,” the superficial audience – a sophist like Gorgias – is flattered and imagines that it is being asked for wisdom. Meanwhile the real audience – presumably the little circle of the followers of Socrates – smile to themselves, recognizing that what Socrates is really saying is something like “I am ignorant of the sophistical speeches that you give to your paying audiences, and it is my intention by asking simple questions to expose your lack of understanding of that which you claim to know.” Sometimes, as in the lovely little dialogue Crito, there is a double irony. Neither Crito, who has come to get Socrates out of prison, or the circle of Socrates’ disciples, understands the real pathos of the situation, which is that at the moment of his death Socrates must recognize that he has failed in his effort to educate his followers. So there is a third audience, consisting of the readers of the dialogue, to whom Plato is really speaking....
Deconstructing meaning. Context and subtext.  

The Philosopher's Stone
Robert Paul Wolff | Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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