The Magazine

See Things as They Are

Mark Blitz on politics and philosophy.

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By CHRISTOPHER LYNCH
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Even if justice is natural and, therefore, we can properly understand [the centrality of politics for knowledge], we could not reduce self-knowledge or freedom to politics. Freedom cannot exist apart from virtue and, hence, from the political community, but it also cannot exist apart from questioning virtue. We cannot be free apart from the confidence or courage that Socrates urges on Theatetus, but we also cannot be free apart from perplexity and wonder. The link between the human good and the city and between the good and the whole is crucial but difficult to discern.

If the difficulty of arriving at a full understanding of this crucial link overcomes more than a few readers—including this one!—of this challenging book, there is nonetheless an intermediate boon: Blitz demonstrates by example and argument that the activity of knowing is constituted not only in the upward and outward striving to comprehend the whole but also by the drive to see each part with precision. Indeed, human happiness may consist in the union of these two activities of the whole human soul. Reflection on the rational striving to combine and separate each of the beings opens the soul to itself—and, therefore, to the whole itself.

While some contemporary readers of Plato look with grim seriousness to Socrates for decisive refutations of even the most inscrutable alternatives to philosophy, Blitz delights in the pursuit of a full articulation of the permanent problems first divined in our apprehension of things. This is especially true of things experienced as wholes made up of parts, and as parts of the whole. And where, say, medieval or Renaissance readers of Plato saw a clear hierarchy of ends governing a harmonious cosmos, Blitz sees hierarchies, too—but as layers of problems whose recalcitrance is the occasion for continued thought, and such thought must be as hard as the problems themselves. 

If these connections seem difficult to understand, it is because they are. And at times this reader senses that the very bounds of intelligibility are being approached—not to say transgressed. Yet by thinking together with Mark Blitz’s Plato, readers are bound to do justice to what is best in themselves by gaining greater clarity about what is simply best. “When we understand things as they are,” writes Blitz, “we are the same as others yet remain at the peak of our own powers.” 

Christopher Lynch is associate professor of political science at Carthage College.