Twofish's Blog

December 26, 2006

Esoteric and exoteric

Filed under: leo strauss, personal, philosophy, plato — twofish @ 1:16 am

I’ve been reading a lot of Leo Strauss recently. I got his book the “City and Man” and I’ve also got “Persecution and the Art of Writing” on order. Strauss is notorious for insisting that political speech has an esoteric reading for the initiate and an exoteric reading for the masses.  The idea is that the exoteric reading is a red herring, but the esoteric reading is the important one.

From doing the same thing in blogs, I have this suspicion that the opposite may be true, and that it is the exoteric reading which reveals grand truth whereas the esoteric reading is something that is somewhat trivial.  In hiding messages in this blog what I’ve finding is that the esoteric message is important for me and maybe a few other people in the world, but it’s unlikely to encode any universal truth, but it is the exoteric reading that would be of interest to people living in radically different times and places.

December 20, 2006

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December 10, 2006

How Plato messed me up.

Filed under: academia, china, philosophy, plato, sitcom — twofish @ 4:52 am

After thinking about it some more and rereading up my copy of the Republic is appears that I’ve hit on some intellectual paydirt. It appears that the misconception that I argue started with Darwin actually goes back to Plato and his Republic. It also appears that I may have semi-consciously written a Socratic dialogue on the meaning of love in the sitcom.

Q: Is Plato’s vision of the ideal society viable as a model of the international order?

I’d argue that Plato’s vision of the ideal society is what led to disasters of the Khmer Rouge and the Cultural Revolution. Plato opposes wealth and luxury, and his view of the world of forms and the world of matter leads to a belief in certainty which is dangerous.

The one piece of Platonic philosophy that especially messed me up is the idea that desires are fleeting. They aren’t.

Q: Does Chinese Mencian philosophy argue for the unity of feeling and thought?

The one criticism that one can’t make with Plato that can be made with the Kingsbury’s work is that Plato’s Republic includes people and it includes passion. Curiously however it misses the most important element of a sustainable city, which most Chinese philosophies spend an extreme amount thinking about.


There are no children in the Republic. Without children, there is no need for families and without families one misses a major organizing principle of society. The need for children also creates a need for procreation and courtship, which pulls in a lot of other complexities.

Gee, everything has suddenly gotten very messy.

I need to go onto Amazon and buy myself a copy of Leo Strauss’s book on Plato and look at what Strauss argues is the great conspiracy theory. I’m also going to go and start learning more Classical Chinese to see if I can read Dai Zhen in its original.

Q: What are the falsifiability criterion for Plato’s Republic?

I should point out that any good comedy has some very complex things going on. I’m hoping that my sitcom pilot isn’t that bad because of the anthropological complexity. One important concept that is being illustrated in the pilot is that of the “uterine family” (google for it).

One time I was flipping through channels, and I heard an a person who seemed like a very erudite philosophy professor. It turns out that it was Chuck Jones explaining a lot of the comedic theory behind Bugs Bunny.

Anyway, I need to read Leo Strauss in the original. He argues that the Platonic dialogues had an esoteric reading for the initiated and an exoteric reading for the uninitiated, and this allows for communicating dangerous questions and ideas that society is not ready for. Strauss is useful for writing blogs, because you can talk about what is bothering you without talking about what is bothering you.

Q: Are there any papers that systematically discuss the use of code words and hidden messages in diplomacy?

Q: I wonder what Prof. Kingsbury thinks about all of this.  I probably shoud be careful about mentioning his name too often.  He might pop up like a ghost and send me a nasty e-mail about how I’ve completely misunderstood and misrepresented his ideas.  I am very interested if he thinks of himself as a philosopher-king and how he would relate to someone that is against philosopher-kings.

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