Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Leo Strauss vs Heraclitus



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Strauss traces modern views back to Machiavelli, and he means to show that there is nothing in Machiavelli that hadn't been known to the Greeks long ago.
Strauss thinks that Machiavelli is the mastermind of modern thought.

What happened because of Machiavelli? Or rather: what change does Machiavelli stand for?

--- In the distant past, the philosophers tried to figure out how we ought to live.

--- More recently, that is, these last 400 years or so, we have become best at figuring out how to profit from each other's stupidity, inexperience, or vice.

Repeatedly, Strauss mentions the 17th century** as the break  with the past.
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Heraclitus***:   "In  God's view, all things are fair [noble] and good and just, but
    men have made the supposition that some things are just and others are unjust." 

Strauss explains this in a way which has caused lots of misunderstandings.*
For at least two paragraphs, anybody who is new to Strauss might think that he is defining his own  ideas:

Strauss:
"God, or whatever one may call the first cause, is beyond good and evil and even beyond good and bad."

"God does not reward justice and punish injustice. Justice has no superhuman support." ---

This is NOT what Strauss thinks!  He is only extrapolating and explaining Heraclitus, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Hobbes and others..

His own idea is this:

"However indifferent to moral distinctions the cosmic order may be (...), human nature, as distinguished from nature in general, may very well be the basis of such distinctions." --

Meaning: It is true that the univere does not look after us, but we ourselves, we had it in our nature to develop views and rules that made life here bearable.

This last reflexion is typical of Strauss and of his lifelong attempt to rescue the classical idea:
Strauss: "By becoming aware of the dignity of the mind, we realize the true ground of the dignity of man and therewith the goodness of the world."  -- http://www.ditext.com/strauss/liberal.html

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*** Heraclitus = Greek philosopher who around 500 BC said that permanence is an illusion as all things are in perpetual flux.

**  17th century =  The revolution led by Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, René Descartes.

*    The confusion is due to the use that Strauss makes of the present tense to explain somebody else's views. It is of German origin and is often perplexing.