Allan Bloom

Practically everyone wants reason to rule, and no one thinks a man like Socrates should be ruled by inferiors or have to adjust what he thinks to them. What the Republic actually teaches is that none of this is possible and that our situation requires both much compromise and much intransigence, great risks and few hopes. The important thing is not speaking one’s own mind, but finding a way to have one’s own mind.

Allan David Bloom (14 September, 1930 in Indianapolis, Indiana – 7 October, 1992 in Chicago, Illinois) was an American philosopher, essayist and academic. Bloom championed the idea of 'Great Books' education, as did his mentor Leo Strauss, and became famous for criticism of contemporary American higher education in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind.

See also The Closing of the American Mind

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Giants and Dwarfs (1990)Edit

  • There are two threats to reason, the opinion that one knows the truth about the most important things and the opinion that there is no truth about them. Both of these opinions are fatal to philosophy; the first asserts that the quest for truth is unnecessary, while the second asserts that it is impossible. The Socratic knowledge of ignorance, which I take to be the beginning point of all philosophy, defines the sensible middle ground between two extremes.
    • “Western Civ,” p. 18
  • Socrates’ way of life is the consequence of his recognition that we can know what it is that we do not know about the most important things and that we are by nature obliged to seek that knowledge.
    • “Western Civ,” p. 18
  • I am now even more persuaded of the urgent need to study why Socrates was accused. The dislike of philosophy is perennial, and the seeds of the condemnation of Socrates are present at all times, not in the bosoms of pleasure-seekers, who don’t give a damn, but in those of high-minded and idealistic persons who do not want to submit their aspirations to examination.
    • “Western Civ,” p. 19
  • Only the search back to the origins of one’s ideas in order to see the real arguments for them, before people became so certain of them that they ceased thinking about them at all, can liberate us. Our study of history has taught us to laugh at the follies of the whole past, the monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies, and aristocracies with the fanaticism for empire or salvation, once taken so seriously. But we have very few tools for seeing ourselves in the same way, as others will see us. Each age always conspires to make its own way of thinking appear to be the only possible or just way, and our age has the least resistance to the triumph of its own way. There is less real presence of respectable alternatives and less knowledge of the titanic intellectual figures who founded our way.
    • “Western Civ,” p. 20
  • To recognize that some of the things our culture believes are not true imposes on us the duty of finding out which are true and which are not.
    • “Western Civ,” p. 22
  • Only when the true ends of society have nothing to do with the sublime does “culture” become necessary as a veneer to cover over the void. Culture can at best appreciate the monuments of earlier faith; it cannot produce them.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 280
  • The distinction between private and public undermines the unity of spiritual strength, draining the public of the transcendent energies while trivializing them because the merely private life provides no proper stage for their action.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 280
  • Intellectuals … advertise their superiority to political practice but are absolutely in its thrall. … It is no accident that Marxist theory and practice use the intellectuals as tools and keep them in brutal subservience.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 281
  • The distinction between the world of commerce and that of “culture” quickly became the distinction between infrastructure and superstructure, with the former clearly determining the latter.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 281
  • The moderns contended that the concentration on virtue contradicts the concern for well-being. Aristotle admitted that “equipment” as well as virtue is necessary for happiness, but he said nothing about how that equipment is acquired. A careful examination of the acquisition of equipment reveals that virtue impedes that acquisition. Liberality, for example, presupposes money and not caring for it overmuch. But one must care for it to get it. Moreover, spending money exhausts it, so that liberality makes the need for acquisitiveness greater than it would have been without the virtue. Liberality both discourages and encourages acquisitiveness, putting man in contradiction with himself. … The miser is not likely to need to steal. And his quest for profit can, properly channeled, produce benefits for others. In the old system he is given a bad conscience and a bad name. But it would seem that nature is not kind to man, if the two elements of happiness—virtue and equipment—are at tension with one another. Equipment is surely necessary, so why not experiment with doing without virtue? If a substitute for virtue can be found, the inner conflict that renders man’s life so hard could be resolved.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” pp. 282-283
  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property were just what Aristotle did not talk about. They are the conditions of happiness; but the essence of happiness, according to Aristotle, is virtue. So the moderns decided to deal with the conditions and to let happiness take care of itself.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 284
  • The new vision of man and politics was never taken by its founders to be splendid. Naked man, gripped by fear or industriously laboring to provide the wherewithal for survival, is not an apt subject for poetry. They self-consciously chose low but solid ground. Civil societies dedicated to the end of self-preservation cannot be expected to provide fertile soil for the heroic and inspired. They do not require or encourage the noble. What rules and sets the standards of respectability and emulation is not virtue or wisdom. The recognition of the humdrum and prosaic character of life was intended to play a central role in the success of real politics. And the understanding of human nature which makes this whole project feasible, if believed in, clearly forms a world in which the higher motives have no place. One who holds the “economic” view of man cannot consistently believe in the dignity of man or in the special status of art and science. The success of the enterprise depends precisely on this simplification of man. And if there is a solution to the human problems, there is no tragedy. There was no expectation that, after the bodily needs are taken care of, man would have a spiritual renaissance—and this for two reasons: (1) men will always be mortal, which means that there can be no end to the desire for immortality and to the quest for means to achieve it; and (2) the premise of the whole undertaking is that man’s natural primary concern is preservation and prosperity; the regimes founded on nature take man as he is naturally and will make him ever more natural. If his motives were to change, the machinery that makes modern government work would collapse.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 284
  • The first discipline modernity’s originators imposed upon themselves was that of self-restraint, learning to live with vulgarity. Their high expectations for effectiveness were made possible by low expectations of what was to be.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 285
  • Adeimantus, in what amounts to an accusation of Socrates, asserts that the philosophers appear to be either useless or vicious. Plato, as I have suggested, teaches that ultimately this is an appearance that cannot be reversed, and this insures the philosophers’ permanent marginality. They appear as useless because they are. They are neither artisans, nor statesmen, nor rhetoricians. They are idlers who contribute nothing to security or posterity. Their peculiar contemplative pleasures are not accessible to the majority of mankind, and they do not provide for the popular pleasures as do the poets.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 285
  • Plato … says a multitude can never philosophize and hence can never recognize the seriousness of philosophy or who really philosophizes. Attempting to influence the multitude results in forced prostitution.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 286
  • As to the viciousness of the philosophers, the meaning of this complaint is succinctly expressed in the charge that the philosophers do not “hold the gods the city holds.” And this accusation is most true. The quest for wisdom begins in doubt of the conventional wisdom about the highest things. The most cherished beliefs of the community, the collective hopes and fears, are centered on its gods. The unpardonable thing is to be beyond these hopes and fears, beyond the awe and shame the gods impose.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 287
  • Bacon, Locke, Descartes, Hume, and all the others knew they were giving rights to vulgarity. But in so doing—in addition to caring for man’s well-being—they were providing rights for themselves.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 289
  • In the new order a Locke was free—with almost no danger of being interfered with—to think his sublime thoughts, to seek the first causes of all things, to understand the nature of things. He could talk with his friends and teach the young. And there was money enough. The academies and universities satisfied Socrates’ demand to be fed in the prytaneum.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 289
  • The highest activities are always essentially lonely and private, and these men had a robust sense of their independence and the ultimate self-sufficiency of the mind. In this they were just like Socrates. The only change they operated was to bring philosophy out of the closet into the open, instead of seeking protection behind a little wall like men in a storm. Of course, in so doing they made philosophy, on the one hand, more vulnerable to the public if the hopes of controlling the public are not fulfilled, and, on the other, put at risk that inner intransigence which is the necessary condition of the quest for truth. Not only the rewards but the new responsibilities might prove irresistible temptations to compromise.
    • “Commerce and Culture,” p. 290

Love and Friendship (1993)Edit

  • The old view was that delicacy of language was part of the nature, the sacred nature, of eros and that to speak about it in any other way would be to misunderstand it. What has disappeared is the risk and the hope of human connectedness embedded in eros. Ours is a language that reduces the longing for an other to the need for individual, private satisfaction and safety.
    • pp. 13-14
  • Did Romeo and Juliet have a … “relationship”? The term “relationship” … betokens a chaste egalitarianism leveling different ranks and degrees of attachment.
    • p. 14
  • We witness a strange inversion: on the one hand, the endeavor to turn the social contract into a less calculating and more feeling connection among its members; on the other hand, the endeavor to turn the erotic relationship into a contractual one.
    • p. 15
  • The de-eroticization of the world, a companion to its disenchantment … seems to result from a combination of causes—our democratic regime and its tendencies toward leveling and self-protection, a reductionist-materialist science that inevitably interprets eros as sex, and the atmosphere generated by “the death of God” and of the subordinate god, Eros.
    • p. 15
  • A good education would be devoted to encouraging and refining the love of the beautiful, but a pathologically misguided moralism instead turns such longing into a sin against the high goal of making everyone feel good, of overcoming nature in the name of equality. … Love of the beautiful may be the last and finest sacrifice to radical egalitarianism.
    • p. 15

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Last modified on 22 April 2014, at 08:07