Freedom and choice

I’ve got my routine down for teaching academic writing, but teaching philosophy is still before me.

I tried to teach the philosophical distinctions between positive freedom/freedom-for and negative freedom/freedom-from yesterday, and I’m not sure I was clear at all. The context for the conversation was Plato’s comparison between democracy on one hand and true aristocracy on the other–his contention seems to be that democracy offers more raw choices in any given moment and thus might seem freer but that, given the undisciplined soul’s tendency to seek pleasure even in spite of goodness, such “freedom” actually enslaves the better parts of our communities and our souls to the worse parts. My students seemed to get Plato’s logic, but I still had trouble breaking down the iron bond that connects freedom as abstraction with autonomous choice as action. My students still seemed to regard Plato’s option as not-freedom rather than a different sort of freedom. That’s not necessarily bad; perhaps my grasp on the English word “free” is too tenuous and lets in too many sorts of connotations. All the same, I’m still wondering whether I could have taught it better.

I’ve finished grading the class’s research papers. Some really stepped up and articulated intelligent analyses and argued theoretical and ethical points. Others gave me catalogues of observations. I suppose I should expect that from a class of freshman writers; not everyone is going to get it now, and not everyone is going to get it when I’m teaching it. That some have encourages me.

Monday we finish up Plato’s chapter on corrupt communities with his discussion of madman’s rule. Waterfield, our translator, calls it dictatorship, but it reminds me more of Animal from the Muppets running the city–whatever whim strikes the madman, he chases after it. There’s really neither past nor future for this leader; there’s only his whims. Such is the embodiment of absolute immorality in Plato’s imagination. And in the same imagination, such atemporality is just one step further down the road from democracy.

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Filed under Plato, teaching

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