Translation and Incomprehensibility

Every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will  modify the future.  – Jorge Luis Borges (1964)

In a post-modern, post-structuralist or relativistic frame of reference the foundations of knowledge are considered lost – historical origins, ranged against the infinite, are endlessly compromised through the regression of shallow meaning into random form and relation.  A traditional response is a constructivist philosophy – the belief in the construction of environments from socio-cultural elements – constituents without foundation.   But in such a cosmos, even if communication is possible, as the Sophistic school’s founder Gorgias asserted (Gorgias, Encomium to Helen), understanding is not.  If infinite possibility provides endless alternatives for the manifestation and interpretation of the world, and no structural or contextual common ground, then commonality of mind and meaning are also very rare or impossible events.

Although in a semiotic paradigm the number of potentially relevant texts is limitless and meaning open-ended, signs are cosmological elements of the first order, and not merely referential of more substantial planes of reality.    They are involved in physical, metaphysical and epistemological systems from which comprehension is constructed rather than merely descriptive of them.

As a result traditional modes of verification and proof (ineffective in any case in consideration of relativism) are abandoned.  The normative epistemological order is reliant on the symbols, grammar and lexicon of a clearly defined language for conceptualisation and expression of proof, and is therefore confounded by the dynamic involvement of aspects of the semiotic system with the physical and conceptual.  Traditionally, truth is derived from a process in which observation of ‘actual’ phenomena leads to conceptualisation of patterns, which are expressed, considered, disseminated and debated through language, or through mathematical symbols. But in a semiotic paradigm language and symbol are involved in the world as a mode of actuality rather than a distinct abstracted system for human expression.  Signs and objects are inter-related, effective of one another, and without clear sequence or absolute distinction.

This is generally an expression of relativism in that consideration of objects, forces, and concepts must be measured (or described) with attention to the possibility of the existence of distinct frames of reference that distort one phenomenon in relation to another.   But it is at odds with a relativistic perspective in the sense that further consideration must be given to the distinct frames of reference in which the denotative, descriptive operators – signs and texts – the elements and worlds of the semiotic aspect of the cosmos – are not merely representative indicators of ‘real’ objects and forces or thoughts and events.  Instead, the signs used, for example, by physicists in the description and definition of temporal, spatial, and energetic sites of inquiry are involved with and affected by those elemental forces and phenomena.  In this context the semiotic approach can be expressed in terms analogous with quantum physics, although some of its concepts – for example – Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy (Heisenberg, 1956) – are subverted by extension into an additional dimension.   The principle, for which Heisenberg is best known, asserts that (in a general sense) on the micro-cosmic scale the observation of any event – or object –  is distorted by the act of observation. (Heisenberg, 1956)  In the context of a semiotic paradigm this iteration of the statement can be recast: either the observation or naming of any event is affected by the act of naming or observation.

A more specific statement of Heisenberg’s principle is that the attempt to measure any one aspect of an event distorts the measurement of another aspect of the event.  Again this statement is an expression of relativity, and bears analogy on several levels with semiosis.  A semiotic paradigm suggests that distortion inherent in the measurement of physical phenomena – time and space, matter and energy – can be considered either as a quasi-physical quantum phenomena or an effect of the complex interaction of the objects under consideration and their signs and definitions  (or the interaction of various forms of the objects, including their signs and definitions) through the medium of observation and representation.

In a particular sense the semiotic approach is therefore disruptive of the Aristotlean hierarchy of discursive forms that distinguishes dialectic – the academic language of truth – irrevocably from rhetoric, or the language of power and poetics, the semiotics of beauty and the sublime. The privileging of the signs that imply meaning and comprehensible arrangement in the world as legitimate elements as ‘real’ as those of the physical universe subverts the conception that a particular vernacular or lexicon has a veracity that supersedes others.

In an Aristotlean epistemology the dialectic – language concerning truth –  provides the means for the expression of the universal laws pertaining to objects that are not malleable by their secondary signifiers.  But in a universe in which semiotic laws are applicable, these laws are applicable to all elements, each of which can be considered object, quality, or sign.

From this perspective the normative mode of defining material objects can be considered akin to the translation of elements into another frame in which normative physical laws do not apply, where they can be treated independently, disembodied elements suspended in conceptual and semiotic abstraction.  But from a perspective from which all frames are of equal veracity no definition is ever final or certain, because there is no region of the world in which elements can be drawn into in which they can then be manipulated in abstraction, distinct from the effects of other realms.   Instead, translation invokes a sense of infinite regress.  A semiotic paradigm, invoking similitude, involves the appreciation of relation without privilege of type, and provides, as Foucault says in his book The Order of Things  ‘an abundance of resemblance’ (Foucault 1966, p29) from which new and valid associations can always be drawn.  Any original reading of a text or communiqué can be translated on or continually deconstructed in accordance with ‘accidental’ translations between the original ‘intended’ iterations and versions altered by passage into a different moment, or context, or tongue.

The universal application of this idea is, paradoxically, the source of both irreconcilable uncertainty and the foundation of truth in the semiotic mode.   A cosmology in which all systems are capable of mutual collapse, in the sense that they are indistinguishable on an elemental level, carries this axiom of indeterminacy and inconclusiveness into every moment and frame, irrespective of whether the foundational site of inquiry is the material micro-cosmos of quantum physics, the symbolic manipulation of mathematical equations, or the sub-structural ‘grammatical’ rules of language.

Definite meaning is unachievable, since at the closest point of definition elements and meanings become mutually indistinct before a single term can be reached.

But if all systems can be devolved through consideration of the interaction of the frames of object, thought, and sign, to a degree in which the signs, concepts and objects become indistinguishable (a stage at which, for example, the meanings of ‘form of expression’ and ‘expression of form’ coincide) there is an indefinable residual form, (perhaps better described as  ‘           ‘, since it is as inherent in this text as any other and in a page as much as any other frame).  This axiological residue that defies particular description is ubiquitous, and by its general nature the composite and opposite of all particular frames of reference.

The principle implication is that a paradigm epistemology suggests that indeterminacy, far from a source of distortion is instead the source of the resonance between disparate frames of reference that signifies truth on a level in which aesthetics and veracity inhere. Although beyond the bounds of overt expression, elemental, sub-structural truths can be sensed from the naming or description of related frames source of an elusive, indefinite and obscure order of truth that is the object of semiotic inquiry.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty is immaterial where sense is derived in this way not from object but from relation.  Meaning is drawn not from the understanding of one element as causative and therefore a proof of another, but is inherent in recognition of relation, likeness, and difference between elements. Truth – or verisimilitude – derives from cumulative association – from the resonance of one set of symbols terms objects and concepts with another through structural similitude.   And in this system meaning itself is inherent in the determination of an external environment  – comprehension, or apparent comprehension wherever found, implies proximity, or clarity, or gravity – verisimilitude of some kind between elements and patterns of relation.

In one sense in this context of semiotic fundamentalism all texts are translations.  The methods used in translation from one language to another (according to the normative understanding of ‘language’) and from one era to another can be applied to dialects of significantly greater proximity in a geographical or historical sense  – or those that distinguish class, generation, or sub-culture.

Since ultimately any communication implies a sense of translation between irreconcilable frames of reference – two distinct networks of meaning, with distinct structure and referents – the paradigm of translation can be applied to any communication in consideration of the gulf between one consciousness and another, or even between aspects of one mind.   And since the same structural phenomena govern aspects of the transition from one era or one moment to another the macrocosmic order of language across millennia is related to the microcosmic order of intertwined lexica within a single cultural and linguistic group.

Generally, the effect of translation is the compounding of the distortion or refraction of history. In this sense, the availability of a text is contingent upon it having been copied and re-copied, interpreted and re-interpreted, through the centuries since its composition.  The translation required for comprehension of an ancient Greek or Latin phrase or text, rendered into English a century ago, is one example of the refractive effect of the history of text and language, even when in relatively close proximity to one another in geographical or historical terms.

This phenomenon of historical filtering can be brought to bear in consideration of the effective limits on the availability of ideal translations of ancient texts.  By virtue of indeterminacy the distance between an ancient text and its translation or an object and its observation on a chronological scale is indistinct from the infinite distance between two sequential moments.   But the historical distortion of texts can be reduced to a practical and readily observable level in consideration of particular intervening moments or events of particular influence and effect.

This paradigm for indeterminacy of understanding is evident in the translation of individual texts but also on a broader level in the interpretation of one culture’s translation of a particular historical moment by another. The modern English speaker’s received version of Classical culture filtered through a prism of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British consciousness is one significant exemplar.  This filter is based not only on the causal and unconscious influence of Classical culture on later times by virtue of inheritance, but on the great conscious passion of the English-speaking people of this time for the culture and society of the ancients.  As a result a set of distorting presuppositions are invoked for negotiation, even before similarly reductive axioms of the early 21st Century can be applied.  This prism of received history has a further dimension in that many of the words in our own language derive from the neologisms of the same much later European culture, based on Classical roots.

Specific esoteric consequences of the received inheritance of Western culture (but drawn from outside Western culture) could be said to be evidenced in the instance the ‘vimana’ or ancient aircraft of India, described in the ancient Vedic texts and other works concerning the cultures of the ‘Far East.’ (Childress, quoted by Shand, 2000)   Vimana of many different types are described – some that ‘flew with the speed of the wind’ and ‘gave forth a melodious sound.’ (Childress, quoted by Shand, 2000)

“An aerial chariot, the Pushpaka, conveys many people to the capital of Ayodhya. The sky is full of flying-machines, dark as night,but picked out by lights with a yellowish glare.” (Mahavira of Bhavabhuti, quoted by Shand, 2000)

Historical texts include depictions of these variously styled planes in passages describing “The Seven Rishi Cities”  a septet of capitals of an empire of about 15,000 years ago, ruled by “enlightened Priest-Kings”, and situated in what is now Pakistan, northern, and western India, (Childress, quoted Shand 2000) Among the vimana detailed are “‘ahnihotra-vimana’ with two engines, the ‘elephant-vimana’ with more engines, and other types named after the kingfisher, ibis and other animals.”   (Childress, quoted Shand 2000)  One interpretation of the Sanskrit term vimana is that it is derived from ‘vamana’, or  “he who is able at three strides to take measure of the entire earth and heavens.” (Thompson, quoted Shand 2000)

In the era in which the sub-continent was significant to the English as the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire, and in which its culture was translated through the distorting filter of coloniser contemplating colonised subject, there were no aircraft, nor was such technology likely.  Although the texts revelatory of high technological cultures of the past were available, the cultural bias and conceptual limits of the English together prohibited their comprehension. The misinterpretation of ancient scenes and battles as mythic and therefore merely ‘fictional’ is reflective of arrogance in the assumption of superior ingenuity and ‘advancement’ on the part of a culture in fact encountering the limits of its understanding.   In a sense a fantastical narrative interpretation of ancient Indian texts is revelatory of the nature of the gods, myths, wars and demons of the West as much as any Eastern deity.

“Cuka, flying on board a high-powered vimana, hurled on to the triple city a single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as ten thousand suns, rose … When the vimana returned to Earth, it looked like a splendid block of antimony resting on the ground.” (from the Mausola Purva, quoted Shand 2000)

Further references to technologies unknown to the British of the Raj are more easily comprehended by the Western inheritors of Victorian culture in the modern era of carpet-bombing and atomic weaponry:

“Gurkha, flying in his swift and powerful Vimana, hurled against the three cities of the Vrishnis and Andhakas a single projectile charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as the thousand suns rose in all its splendour…An iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas….The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. The hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white….After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected…. To escape from this fire, the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their equipment…”   (from the Mahabharata, quoted Shand 2000)

The translated extracts of ancient texts cited here represent a re-translation and re-interpretation in the context of twentieth and twenty-first century science and technology of a conception developed in an era when descriptions of devices and scientific disciplines available through historical texts to those in the East were incomprehensible to their colonisers. Despite modern efforts to correct the inherited misinterpretations arising from the archaic interpretations of Victorian scholars of phenomena and ideas such as sophisticated aircraft and relativity (recognisable in  passages of the Vedas concerning astronomy and cosmogeny) persist in Western consciousness.

In the context of public expression and dissemination of philosophical and historical discourse, pervasive misinterpretation and distortion can be seen to be enhanced by overtly commercial and cultural considerations of low interest and demand, resultant costs, and copyright.  Copyright provisions, and the extent to which they are observed, rarely restrict the availability of ancient texts in their original languages.  Where intellectual property does not apply a human predisposition for dissemination seems to prevail – large collections of classical texts are available at sites like Perseus Digital Library 1,which are searchable, and codified for hyper-textual navigation.  Over the decade or so that the Internet has been in common use, though, the growth of access to research materials online has been mitigated by commercial imperatives.  Recent translations of ancient texts into modern languages are controlled by copyright and to a large extent the legislation is observed.  Where English translations of classical texts are freely available, rendering them accessible to online analysis, they are often out of copyright, and not written in contemporary prose.

The negotiation of linguistic and cultural distortion of ancient texts, however, is aided by the diverse tools and instruments for the translation of ancient languages available through software and online.   The best of these programmes and sites, such as the The Perseus Digital Library  the Etymological Dictionary Online 2, Suda On Line 3 and the online journal Demos  – Classical Athenian Democracy Online 4 provide lexical and linguistic resources based on the accumulation of references to and instances of ancient words, together with definitions and grammatical guides.   These facilities are more useful than machine translation engines available for translation between modern languages, which operate on the order of phrase and sentence.  Ancient languages are more often translated at the level of word and phoneme.  The increasingly availability of different iterations of classic texts also facilitates their comprehension.  Consideration of several translations of a text is ideal, and keeping for reference two preferred translations, from disparate sources in time or culture, or in different styles and of different political intention allows for the cross-reference of interpretations.

Tracing the origins and continuity of meaning through language is a powerful semiotic tool of verisimilitude – a means by which similar physical, metaphysical or historical effects can be described through consideration of different aspects of a phenomenon under inquiry. Different modes of comprehension and associated discursive modes are invoked.  The tracing of relationships between common qualities through the distinct arcs provided by these different frames of reference results in the discovery of  further commonalities and consonance between meaning, symbol, and material and social effect.  Common distortions and deviations, even where they confound clear determination of meaning, are indicative of broader structural harmonies.   The object of these semiotic lines of research, as with historical or geographical inquiry, is recurring patterns of force and relation between elements and strata of the world and worlds in interaction.

The semiotic paradigm is disruptive of the normative order, in which the absolute spatio-temporal frame of reference is one aspect of a definite universal structure against which ephemeral, transient forms are measured.  The grammatical and conceptual architecture that supports the idea of the primacy of ‘space’ and ‘time’ or ‘force’ and ‘body’ as elements that provide a cosmological foundation on which all other phenomena are based is challenged by relativistic uncertainty, which can be reconsidered in the semiotic context as the ultimate indeterminacy inherent in the definitions of these terms.

If the normative paradigm can be described as strategic, in the sense that an ideal position on universal forms is adopted and maintained, and then applied to all new situations as they arise, the semiotic paradigm is tactical, in that in each or moment or observation or text must be considered a distinct dynamic frame of reference.

In the context of semiotic inquiry, in which truth is constructed from the tracing of relationships between elements, and the coherence of these arcs with those that can be traced between elements of other frames, this process is that by which all worlds are constructed.   From a fundamentalist materialist perspective the consideration of additional elements is pre-contextualised by those foundational elements integral and common to every frame.  But in the semiotic paradigm a frame of reference is understood as a composite of coincident threads of force, object, sign and meaning, which are apparent by virtue of their mutual effect on one another.  The most fundamental elements – which are akin to those recognised in the classical paradigm as fixed, super-structural forces and eternal, metaphysical and ethical elements  – are instead those found to have the greatest resonance and ubiquity across distant frames.

In a sense this is an alternate articulation of the extended relativism inherent in consideration of a semiotic paradigm. From this perspective a new frame of reference can be characterised as a distinct language or lexicon by which a particular world-view is realised and comprehended.  One conception of this language is as a particular instance of the infinite range of all potential languages, which conception itself is also expression of the infinite range of all possible combinations of all potential elements, where all elements can be manifested in one form as signs.   In this broader milieu no particular lexicon, such as that of a physical science or of mathematical and geometric principles, is more prescriptive of the entirety of reality than any other.  Instead each is a localised discursive phenomenon that provides definition for a particular set of relationships between a cultural group and the environment it inhabits.  Each is intertwined with and ultimately inextricable from other tongues local to the same culture, and to a lesser extent with other cultures which are in one sense or another proximate.  The ubiquitous structure by which all of these frames could be said to be related is apparent in each in the corruption of the meaning of distinct terms that results from any effort to definitively describe foundational terms.

From the relativistic or semiotic perspective, the notions of clarity and distance are redefined, since the absolute measures by which these terms are usually rendered sensible are dissolved. The conception of proximity through resemblance of any order might determine or coincide with spatial and temporal horizons.  Or space and time might be dispensed with entirely.  Alternately the spatio-temporal universe can be split for purposes of inquiry into the different temporal frames of author and character in a fictive realm.  From this perspective the extent of the region proscribed by the clarity of local phenomena and the ‘visibility’ of distant elements is consonant with the limits of comprehension.   The ‘proximity’ of a particular spatio-temporal frame to other frames of reference occurs by virtue of the mutual resemblance of their elements or signs.  The clarity with which a particular frame is experienced from a particular vantage point is dependent upon the resonance of similar elements, particularly where they are arranged in recognisable combination.

In this context morphological and etymological investigation of rhetorical, literary, and theoretical texts and symbols provides an opportunity to consider the consonance of disparate phenomena that are reflected and intersecting similarly in disparate historical moments.  The effect is a process that bears comparison with methodologies employed in the recent discovery of planets orbiting distant suns through the measurement of a gravitational wobble or irregularity evidenced in solar bodies. Where semiotic modes of veracity are considered in relation to the confirmation of historical and political phenomena, the common disturbance of two threads of the semiotic tapestry represents a kind of political gravity. Where intersecting octaves from different aspects of historical frames of reference are seen to be similarly affected, the coincident effect of a third body can be inferred through resonance between different manifestations of its effect.   Applied to historical inquiry in this way semiotic paradigm has the potential for the revelation of hidden aspects of even an ancient milieu.

One way in which the specific attributes of the absurd are relevant in this sense to historical inquiry is in the consideration that discovery of the deepest and most obscured currents in language and culture is derived from the comparison of ontologically and metaphysically distant worlds and frames.  In a semiotic perspective all the senses of ‘distant’ and ‘near’ have equal meaning, and the coincidence of different senses of proximity have an interactive and cumulative effect upon perception.   But within the structure of any particular frame the relationship drawn from the most distant points of consonance that can be found are the definitive metaphysical concepts that from a semiotic standpoint have the closest analogy with the definite underlying physical and axiological principles of a fundamentalist paradigm.

In this sense underlying conceptions and associated discourse linking distant civilisations or distant frames could be considered the richest in potential for discerning the assumptions inherent in our own culture.

So defined is our modern global Western culture by the characteristics of precursors of antiquity that it is impossible in some instances to distinguish those attributes of a culture that might be described as universally human (and therefore naturally common to the Ancient Greeks and ourselves) from those that are particular and therefore indicative of a specific relationship between the modern West and the Classical age.  Despite the millennia of time between the two cultural paradigms,  political, cultural, social, mathematical, musical, and metaphysical concepts coalesce in a particular historical moment that bears particular resonance with our own.  Though the modern world is more substantially defined by a high degree of technological manipulation than the ancient era, and although the modern state could be said to be more genuinely representative in its superficial democratic forms, it can be argued these disparities are in part the product of phenomena that have their theoretical germination in antiquity.

The most overt method of drawing comparison between disparate historical, geographical, or lexical regions is in the tracing of octaves between particular loci by virtue of the resemblance of their signs. A review of the central symbol ‘Democracy’ that binds ancient and modern political institutions (see Appendix – DHMOKRATIA)  reveals a complex range of possible interpretations, and a range of historical circumstances in which the ‘true’ nature and origin of democracy might be sited.

Such a review is firstly a confirmation that orthodox rhetorical and discursive strategic and tactical modes have deep historical origins.  In this sense the coincidence of ontological, narrative and temporal themes is an opportunity for placing the absurd as a mode of literary discourse in a political and historical context, tracing its antecedents, and the comparison and contrast of its tropes with those of a convenient rhetorical orthodoxy.

Consideration of the term ‘democracy’ is firstly revelatory of the traditional interpretation – of a symbol representing a potential ideal and egalitarian state towards which a society strives. The overt elements of the Myth of State in the modern era – the performance of elections, and the constant reiteration of simple verbal representations – signify, from this traditional reading, a benevolent, open system of governance with comfortingly deep and ancient roots.  But an alternate reading of the events that surrounded the introduction of the Athenian form suggests that even at its inception the symbol was employed cynically by one faction of the ruling nobility in order to gain the sympathies of the commons.   This critical interpretation is suggestive of a Marxist prism, since Athenian state democracy is seen as a convenient illusion masking conventional class divides.  It is also indicative of a mode of rhetorical and political deceit recognisable in modern forms of political discourse.

A third thread that emerges from an investigation into the substantial body of literature on the theme of political evolution in Ancient Greece is the demonstration of a proliferation of democratic experiments concurrent with the Athenian model that is our specific symbolic precursor.  This model provides a parallel with a modern heterodox interpretation of democracy as a mode of self-governance that is essentially pluralistic and by definition beyond the control of any one interest or ideology.

Inquiry into the origins of the semiotics of democracy suggests that in both ancient and modern societies democracy and its associated symbols and concepts are an aspect of polarised discourse of both state and heterodoxy, employed both in the service of stability and cohesion and in the disruption of autocratic or tyrannical power.  These common symbols are equally indicative of a deep consonance between the rhetoric and politics of the Classical and the modern eras, by virtue of which each is a potent site of inquiry for investigation of the other.

The diffuse range of available interpretations that flow even from morphological investigation into the single sign ‘democracy’ suggest that rhetorical, ontological and epistemological conceptions and discourse in the classical Greek culture in which our political system originates are a rich source of material on these themes with powerful resonance for the modern world.  Discursive modes of rhetoric and narrative still relevant today were pertinent to the ancient world, and as in the modern era were intrinsically related with particular political interests and ideology and ultimately determined by metaphysical and ontological systems at the heart of belief and culture.

The disappearance of history into myth at a time roughly concurrent with the Classical era can be seen in one sense as the merging of metaphysical levels denoting different modes of understanding in the distant mists of time – a process that again invites analogy with stars and dust.  At the edges of ‘known’ or ‘documented’ history discourse undergoes a paradigm shift. ‘Evidence’ gives way to speculation, written texts give way to oral tradition and science is preceded by myth.  In one sense this arrangement can be seen as the interpretation of the modern West of a critical historical moment of transition.

From the Aristotlean perspective – or a modern scientific perspective – this shift reflects the emergence of a dominant conception of truth that is a departure from the uncertainty of an indefinite theistic and mythic prehistory.

From a critical perspective, though, this is a particular interpretation of a historical moment of transition that is open to re-interpretation in a temporal and extra-temporal sense. The relegation of semiotic or narrative modes of truth to an epistemological and spatio-temporal fringe represents the historical displacement of one discursive, metaphysical, and ideological paradigm by another, suggesting that the advent of the classical era represents the disruption of the authenticity of narrative and semiotic modes.  In terms of a different mode of proximity, in which the spatio-temporal arrangement of the cosmos is determined by a primary order of ideological loci, the loss of scientific or evidential clarity in history represents the relocation of a de-privileged mode of discourse to a physical as well as conceptual periphery. Alternate modes of discourse, which proceed by the discovery of consonance and verisimilitude rather than certainty and fact and are represented in rhetorical tropes and styles distinct from those of the Aristotlean paradigm of definite understanding, are in this model deprivileged in that they are in all senses distant and not a part of an ordered present.

This disruption of the normative spatio-temporal structure of the material plane demonstrates that commonality between inquiry into ancient mythic discursive and ontological and mythic paradigms is revelatory of deeper orders of common culture and tradition that underpin the superficial symbolic relationship between two distant eras.   Common semiotic elements reflect ancient and modern political discourse around democracy, but are also indicative of deeper metaphysical divisions expressed through distinct political and rhetorical forms.   And in this case, the philosophical foundations of the Western State can also be seen as an important archaeological site of inquiry for semiotic research.

In the particular context of the current topic under inquiry, the coherence of these discursive and metaphysical themes in the historical moment of the inception of the modern state provides an ideal platform for research, since the absurd can be characterised as the most extreme expression of the collapse of the disparate discursive and metaphysical regions they describe.

The Aristotlean corpus, composed in the Fourth Century BCE, a century and a half after the time of Kleisthenes and the inception of democracy in Athens, is chronologically as well as conceptually proximate to the point of critical transition between dominant modes of discourse and understanding defined as the Classical era.  A critique of Aristotle’s theoretical architecture as a part of an inquiry into literary discourse, centred on his rigid categorisation of discursive and methodological disciplines, provides a point of departure from this normative perspective and contrast for the consideration of alternatives.

Aristotle’s divides between rhetoric and dialectic – between persuasion and investigation – and between rhetoric and poetic – between persuasive language and poetic language –  are relevant in literary, ontological, and epistemological contexts. His categorisation of discourse imposes limiting conceptual boundaries between ostensibly disparate fields of knowledge in the West and has contributed to the privileging of certain modes of inquiry and persuasion. These permanent categorical boundaries have stood for thousands of years and particularly infuse civilisation at the practical, applied level, where revolutions in metaphysics and cosmology have had a greatly reduced effect.

The Organon, the orthodox arrangement of the central texts of Aristotle, has been preserved, with other surviving works, for a millennia in Western libraries, after its ‘rediscovery’ via Arabic scholars.  In the East, another interpretation of classical philosophy, in which the works of Aristotle were also significant, had broad implications for the development of Moslem and particularly Sufi metaphysics and rhetorical theory. (Sheikh 1970)  But in the West Aristotle’s  divisions between rhetorical and dialectic, and rhetorical and poetic modes of discourse and inquiry have been preserved within political and cultural orthodoxy.

The critique of Aristotle’s theoretical architecture as a part of a discussion on the revitalisation of alternate epistemes, centred on his categorisation of discursive and methodological disciplines, is relevant in consideration of orthodox and heterodox narrative and rhetorical forms, and in the extension of these themes to consideration of the metaphysical that are associated with particular rhetorical paradigms.  But there is an additional dimension to this site of inquiry, in that the critique focuses the researcher on issues of epistemology and inquiry such as political alignment and intention, the political use of language, and the limitations imposed on research of origins in our own culture by the particular and exclusive nature of our cultural traditions.

The critical problems for the researcher of the influence of the essentially cohesive Aristotlean paradigm are firstly the influence of this paradigm on the researcher, through language, myth, and institution, and secondly Aristotle’s extrinsic influence on research itself through effect in a broader cultural and institutional context.

In one sense the tendency to accept any particular tradition or mode of inquiry as universally applicable might itself be described as Aristotlean.  From within a civilisation founded on the Aristotlean paradigm it is impossible to establish the extent of its universality.  Like the impact of Hellenic culture itself, this translated, powerful theoretical platform is infused with culture and civilisation in ways that are ancient as well as modern, oblique as well as transparent, and both formulaic and haphazard. Where the site of inquiry is the rhetorical manipulation of history and belief, a researcher’s involvement in the same epistemological systems distorts veracity.  An essential indeterminacy is inherent since clear comprehension is confounded by reliance for analysis on the systems of knowledge under analysis.

In this sense an etiological and hermeneutic compromise can be discerned that raises the possibility of intellectual colonisation – or at least inadvertent self-parody – and a glimpse of conceptual horizons.  Even at the level of choice of language, it is difficult to avoid a degree of self-parody when using words such as  ‘academia’, ‘hypotheses’, and  ‘analysis.’  One alternative is to refer to ‘The Academy’ when referring to modern research to denote awareness of the specific rather than universal nature of the orthodox Western tradition.  But given the influence of a particular mode of though on the conduct of research and inquiry, it can be assumed the efforts of a Western researcher to entirely exclude the paradigm would be ultimately self-defeating.

Although a narrative approach to rhetorical inquiry focuses on the absurd as device rather than genre, and concerns a rhetoric that purportedly subverts the Aristotlean paradigm, an immediate academic instinct is to devise a categorical hierarchy in which the absurd can be situated.

However, where the hermeneutic complexities of an ontological site of inquiry are invoked, problems of interpretation and ironic self-involvement in are reduced by the conscious apprehension of these limits. Rhetorical and discursive distortions that result from historical, linguistic, and political problems of interpretation are intimately related with the central topic of rhetorical inquiry.

If verisimilitude is found in the consonant relations of distinct frames of reference,  the consideration of the content of Aristotle’s works and the substance of his ideas can be substantiated by consideration of the effect, influence, character, and intention of Aristotle himself through biographical detail extant on his life and what can be interpreted from the style and form of his work.  Another and perhaps more substantial site of inquiry is in the historical treatment of his text. ( See Appendix – On the Organon)

One implication of these alternate lines of inquiry is a kind of humanisation of the theories under consideration.

The modern democratic state – and more generally Western civilisation – can be defined as a particular iteration of human culture underpinned by the specifics of its origins in Ancient Hellene, within which the Aristotlean episteme is a particular, recognisable political and metaphysical construct.

But that those Attic idealists or pragmatists that first brought the term democracy into common usage could conceive of the eventual influence of the symbol is barely conceivable.   The same applies in the case of Aristotle, who could hardly have imagined what his influence might be on a world two-and-a-half thousand years after his own.

The roots of reason and Western thought might be located variously in the works of different thinkers of different eras who can be seen as the principles of a particular dominant metaphysical paradigm. In this context rather than a definite defining work the Aristotlean corpus is properly interpreted one such philosophical pivot or prism.

The suggestion, though, that Aristotle is not himself entirely responsible for the influence of his own metaphysics begs the question raised by Borges in the quote that heads this chapter concerning the role of the researcher in the manipulation of history.


Pursuing this ancient site of inquiry through disparate contexts in which the ancient Hellenic and modern Western worlds coincide not only engenders an awareness of the tension between invention and discovery that accompanies all observation and inquiry, but mitigates against the possibility the invention of a straw Aristotle, or of the projection of a model of Athenian Democracy convenient as a political foil and for the purpose of subsequent deconstruction.


Rules for Analysis of Argument

Method for analysis of argument (difference between constructing an argument and analysing one is that in the second case both sides of the argument are divined to discern the stronger argument. Constructing an argument involves finding all of the premises that support one conclusion. )

1. Find the proposition or conclusion of the argument.

2. Look for premises of (assumptions behind) the argument put in the conclusion (An assumption, like a premise, is something that must be true for the conclusion to be true. Assumptions are distinct from premises in that they are unstated)

3. Look for assumptions in meanings of the words in the proposition (it must be assumed that words have particular meaning in order to deploy them in argument. The assumption is the particular definition for a word.  In the case of many words the meaning is contested territory, or ambiguous, or context-dependent).

4. Look for assumptions underlying the premises (These Supporting Premises stand in the relation to premises that premises do to the conclusion: in essence they and the premise they support are arguments in themselves.)

5. Look for assumptions in the meanings of the words in the premises.

6. Make an anti-thesis from the argument and look for premises.

7. Make an anti-thesis from the premises of the argument and look for premises that support those (supporting premises of the antithesis.)

Notes on Plato’s Phaedrus (2/2) Argument Against Rhetoricians and Writing

Argument Against Rhetoricians

In one sense the second part of Plato’s Phaedrus is an exegesis on the first: a discussion about argument following the argument for and against love given by Socrates.  In another sense, the second part makes the first a demonstration of the different qualities that rhetoricians, speechmakers, might possess. These qualities are properly the subject of the second half of the Phaedrus.

In this part of the dialogue Socrates is no longer arguing about love, but instead for a certain kind of argument: the higher, philosophical kind that he used to defend love and passion as a striving of the soul for pure beauty.

In making an argument against ‘low’ argument designed only for persuasion, Socrates is making a refrain upon arguments put in several other dialogues by Plato.  In A Sophistical Refutation and in The Republic Plato rails against writers, sophists,

Here the subject, specifically, is the construction of speeches, and so Socrates considers how different speakers might put together an oration.  The two speakers are antithetical – the first is the professional Rhetorician, someone who believes any argument can be made to appear to be the truth, if sufficiently persuasive.  The second speaker is the philosopher,  someone who seeks the truth, rather than merely trying to persuade people of it.  The synthesis of this part of Socrates’ argument has already been put in the first part of the dialogue:  the conclusion is that the philosopher is to be valued far more highly than the rhetorician.  The philosopher, asserts Socrates, has wisdom, while the rhetorician has wit and the semblance of  true argument.

Having established by example that the philosophical argument is higher, more substantial, more divine, more ideal, than the merely rhetorical argument, Socrates approaches the argument from a different vantage in the second part.  This time he compares spoken discourse or argument with written argument of the sort that Lysias has prepared, and of which Phaedrus has a copy.  Written argument is painted as insubstantial, an image of knowledge, rather than the thing itself. This is contrast with the true discourse that comes directly from a human soul as spoken word.

Socrates famously could not read or write.  Two-and-a-half thousand years later this seems odd for one of the most historically significant philosophers for Western and other civilisations.  We know of Socrates from those who wrote about him.  The most significant of these was his pupil, Plato. 

Plato wrote most – not all – of his philosophy in dialogue (or script) form.  This is unusual (not unheard of) today, but was common in the past.  Dialogue seems a more natural form  than prose for cultures in which writing is relatively new. 

Plato usually populated his dialogues with real people – famous people: rhetoricians, philosophers, teachers – some living and some who had died.  Socrates was Plato’s teacher, and is also his ‘main character.’  Over a long career and many works of philosophy, Plato wrote Socrates into his philosophy.  We can only speculate as to what extent this Socrates is Socrates, and to what extent an instrument for Plato to make his own arguments (there’s enough material and food for thought to speculate a lot).  Scholars suggest Plato’s early works may have faithfully rendered Socrates philosophy, but that his later works may more closely reflect his own ideas, placing these into the mouth of his established lead. 

Socrates’ argument against writing

Among the ancient gods of Naucratis in Egypt there was one to whom the bird called the ibis is sacred.  The name of that divinity was Theuth, and it was he who first discovered numbers and calculation, geometry and astronomy, as well as the games of checkers and dice, and above all else, writing.

Now the king of all Egypt at that time was Thamus, who lived in the great city in the upper region that the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; Thamus they called Ammon.  Theuth came to exhibit his arts to him and urged him to disseminate them to all the Egyptians. 

[..and when they came to discuss the art of writing..]

Theuth said ‘O King, here is something that once learned will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and for wisdom. Thamus, however, replied “O, most expert Theuth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art, but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them. And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are.  In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it; they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from inside, completely on their own.   You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality.  Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being  properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing.  And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.

SOCRATES: You know Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The figures in painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemly silent.  The same is true of written words.  You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever.  When it has once been written down, everey discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.  And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself, nor come to its own support.

PHAEDRUS: You are absolutely right about that, too.

SOCRATES: Now tell me, can we discern another kind of discourse, a legitimate brother of this one? Can we say how it comes about, and how it is by nature better and more capable?

PHAEDRUS: Which one is that? How do you think it comes about?

SOCRATES: It is a discourse that is written down, with knowledge, in the soul of the listener; it can defend itself and it knows for whom it should speak and for whom it should remain silent.

PHAEDRUS: You mean the living, breathing discourse of the person who knows, of which the written one can be fairly called an image.

In conclusion Socrates makes high demands on the person he considers worthy as a speaker (and a philosopher).  In efforts to write and deliver extraordinary speeches his criteria serve as a good set of aspirations:

‘First you must know the truth concerning everything you are speaking or writing about; you must learn how to define each thing in itself; and, having defined it, you must know how to divide it into kinds until you reach something indivisible.  Second, you must understand the nature of the soul, along the same lines; you must determine which kind of speech is appropriate to each kind of soul, prepare and arrange your speech accordingly, and offer a complex and elaborate speech to a complex soul and a simple speech to a simple one.  Then, and only then, will you be able to use speech artfully, to the extent that its nature allows it to be used that way, either in order to teach or in order to persuade.  This is the whole point of the argument we have been making.

Socrates’ argument against rhetoric and rhetoricians has two vehicles in the Phaedrus.  The first vehicle is demonstration in the form of arguments for and against love in relationships.  Here Socrates shows how a rhetorical argument is defeated by a philosophical one. 

The second vehicle for Socrates’ proposition that philosophical discourse is higher and more powerful than rhetorical or persuasive speechmaking is the argument against writing.  The proposition is argued in the second part of the dialogue that writing is a secondary form of communication, speech the primary and superior mode.  This conclusion, though, becomes a premise in the larger argument for philosophy over rhetoric – for speech-making grounded in the search for truth, rather than in creating the perception of it. Because writing, as Socrates has it,  can only ever rise to the level of the rhetorical speech.  True wisdom cannot be recorded on the page.

Romantic irony

It only remains to discuss the romantic irony inherent in the Phaedrus that provides a diversion from the main argument in the text, or a duplicitous complication of it, depending on how it is interpreted.

The Phaedrus is a written text.  Plato, unlike Socrates, could and did read and write.  We know much more about Socrates and other ancient Greek figures because Plato did write, and because many of his texts have survived.

Depending on how this fact is approached, there may be substantial consequences for the argument against writing overall.  If these are accepted, the convolution flows on to broader argument against sophistry that the Phaedrus is designed to contain.

The simplest way to approach the fact that the Phaedrus is effectively a written argument against the written word is to say that Plato was forced to write his argument down in order to communicate it to us, thousands of years afterwards.   All of the greatly more powerful arguments made via the medium of speech in Ancient Greece, and not written down, have disappeared. The written word has one great advantage over the spoken word, then (except on Twitter): longevity.  Of Socrates, we know only what others’ wrote. 

This is a powerful argument for the merits of writing things down. And Plato may have employed this method for its merits, and despite its short-comings.  Aware that the written argument is a semblance of the spoken, Plato nonetheless considered it better than nothing.  To the extent that Plato was providing a record of actual spoken arguments, this can be seen as an especially faithful exercise.  Writing may be the poorer format for argument.  But given the ephemeral nature of speech, the true expression of the soul, writing is the only way to carry words and ideas into distant futures.   

Plato may be forgiven, then, for creating the conundrum of a written argument espousing the relative virtues of speaking them. He has at least adopted the forms of written speech, and does so frequently – in this way (as dialogue in On Sophistical Refutations shows) – he considers that he avoiding the worst, lowest, and least truthful genres of literature.  In this way Plato’s intention can be seen as benign, and his argument as consistent.

The alternate interpretation is that Plato has deliberately contradicted the argument put by Socrates. And he has done so, again through demonstration, via the very medium in which Socrates’ argument is contained.  At every turn, as Socrates presents his case for the virtues of wisdom and truth directly from the soul, he struggles against the cruel romantic irony that the audience is comprised of readers, not listeners. This inexorable contradiction sits at the shoulder of the reader.  The argument put by Socrates is brilliant.  But should the reader attribute this to Socrates’ brilliance, and assume that what we have is a shadow, an echo, of the genius of the man?  That Plato has done his best in a poor medium ill-equipped for the task?

What mitigates against this interpretation is that the Phaedrus appears to be a written work of genius. In content it exhorts the virtues of spoken language.  In form it exemplifies the virtues of language written down: expert use of various styles of language as needed, crafting of narrative devices, analogies, points of reason that constitute individual, subsidiary arguments; the masterful way the disparate arguments on very different themes are interlocked, supporting one another while raising more difficult questions on the nature of love, language, truth and the human soul.  If written argument is impoverished, it does not appear so in consideration of The Phaedrus.  If Plato had wanted the reader to ignore the counter-argument represented  by the fact that the Phaedrus is a written argument, he might have thought to write tne dialogue less well.


I’ve written down this bit of discourse so that you can look at and be reminded of it later. I should add also that the treatment presented here is really a remembered bit of discourse from preparation from tutorials for a unit I taught at uni years ago.  The lecturer who convened the unit and introduced me to the Phaedrus was Adam Dickerson: he mentioned most of the salient points raised here.

An Epilogue (inappropriately) to these notes is forthcoming on the question as to how Plato would revise his argument in the context of modern text and speech-based technology.

Notes on Plato’s Phaedrus (1/2): The Argument for Love

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Phaedrus.

SCENE: Under a plane-tree, by the banks of the Ilissus.

SOCRATES: Phaedrus, my friend! Where have you been? And where are you going?

PHAEDRUS: I was with Lysias, the son of Cephalus, Socrates, and I am going for a walk outside the city walls because I was with him for a long time, sitting there the whole morning.  You see, I’m keeing in mind the advice of our mutual friend Acumenus, who says it’s more refreshing to walk along country roads than city streets.

SOCRATES: He is quite right, too, my friend.  So Lysias, I take it, is in the city?

PHAEDRUS: Yes,  at the house of Epicrates, which used to belong to Morychus, near the temple of the Olympian Zeus.

SOCRATES:  What were you doing there? O, I know: Lysias must have been entertaining you with a feast of eloquence.

PHAEDRUS: You’ll hear about it, if you are free to come along and listen.

SOCRATES: What? Don’t you think I would consider it ‘more important than the most pressing engagement,’ as Pindar says, to hear how you and Lysias spent your time?

Phaedrus tells Socrates of a fine speech delivered by Lysias on the topic of love.  The argument in short is that although it is usual to fall in love and seek a partner who loves you, in fact it is better to seek out companionship without love.

Socrates says he would like to hear the speech, and Phaedrus says that of course he cannot remember it verbatim. It transpires though that Phaedrus has a written copy of the speech. They find a quiet spot to sit by a river outside Athens, and Socrates – who famously could not read or write – listens to Lysias’ speech.

  1. The  feelings of someone in love will change over time, ‘desire dies down’, and the person will wish they had not done favours for the one they loved.  Not so with someone not in love.
  2. A lover counts costs and benefits from a relationship, but someone not in love will not keep account of the trouble they’ve been to.
  3. Lovers admit they are sick, when they recover they renounce their love.
  4. Selecting a lover only from those who love you means choosing from a small pool.  The group of people not in love with you is much larger, and so ‘you’ll have a much better hope of finding someone who deserves your friendship’.
  5. Lovers are indiscreet and may shout their feelings to the world (not good if ‘you’re afraid of conventional standards and the stigma that will come to you if people find out about this’).  Someone who does not love you will not be excited.
  6. It is easier to make a relationship without love last a long time, because the lover is ‘easily annoyed’ and always looking for a problem or flaw with the relationship: ‘he watches like a hawk everyone who may have any othe radvantage over him’. Someone not in love is not jealous, and this leads to better friendship.
  7. Lovers who are attracted to one another physically do not know whether they will be attracted when this desire is satisfied.
  8. A non-lover will make a friend a better person through honesty.  But a lover will offer praise, not useful advice  ‘partly because desire has impaired his judgement’.
  9. (Style:  Lysias lists the first seven points of the argument in a bare bones style.  At the eighth point, though, the speech is addressed directly to a singular ‘you’.  It becomes clear that this is a speech of seduction: designed to be employed to get someone to go to bed with the speaker despite the fact the speaker is making it plain he is not in love with the intended partner.  It does the job of being a rational argument as well, but it certainly has a humorous aspect.)  Lysias goes on: ‘if you accept my offer’ then he will plan rationally for the benefits to flow from the relationship. He will not become angrily easily, like a lover,  He will forgive easily, on the other had.
  10. In conclusion, Lysias returns to rational argument, and states that the person attention and affection should be given to is the person who most deserves it and can return it ‘not those in the direst need – ‘not to those who merely desire the thing, but to those who really deserve it.’   So it is not ideal to have a relationship wih someone just because they want to have a relationship with you.

At the conclusion of the reading of the speech Socrates says it made him happy because he could see Phaedrus happy.  But he is critical of Lysias’ speech and immediately says he can give a better one.

Before Socrates even begins his speech he prepares the ground.  He is self-deprecating (But, my dear Phaedrus, I’ll be ridiculous  – a mere dilettante, improvising on the same topics as a seasoned professional!’) He also makes it clear that he concedes certain arguments made by Lysias, and does not want to argue against them (for example the argument that the non-lover is rational, while the lover may lose his wits).  He suggests that he should cover his head while giving the speech so as to avoid becoming embarrassed.

Socrates always claimed to know nothing.  In this instance he alludes to this lack of knowledge, on specific topics or in general.  In this case, though, how can he construct a speech?  He claims that Muses, the spirits of poets, will overcome him, that he will be a channel to communicate their message.

After summoning these spirits he begins his speech in the form of a story:

‘There was once a boy, a youth rather, and he was very beautiful, and had very many lovers. One of them … tried to persuade him that he ought to give his favours to a man who did not love him rather than to one who did.  And this is what he said:

Assuming the voice of the older persuader, Socrates says it is first important to examine the concepts essential to an argument. That participants in the argument should ‘agree on defining what love is and what effects it has’. The first point of order is to distinguish desire grounded in love from desire that is not (desire based on ‘pleasure’ is distinct from desire based on ‘what is best’. Love, or ‘eros’ is a variety of the former.)

Only after considering these questions of definition does Socrates move on to mounting a series of arguments similar to those of Lysias in content.  Socrates, though, displays a virtuosity – an expertise – that Lysias does not. His argument makes Lysias’ look like a series of rational points explained without Art or Persuasion.

..You should know that the friendship of a lover arises without any good will at all.  No, like food, its purpose is to sate hunger. ‘Do wolves love lambs?’ That’s how lovers befriend a boy.

Socrates’ language is emotive, it changes in style (although this is difficult to see in English) from lyric (poetry of love and nature) to epic (poetry of heroes, gods, and myth). It uses analogy and metaphor.  It is grounded in philosophy: ideas about the nature of the human soul.

But when he is finished Socrates appears to doubt his own argument.  One reason he gives is fear of divine retribution: Love, he says, is one of the Gods, the son of Aphrodite..  Given that he himself knows nothing, and is nothing but a mouthpiece for forces and spirits in the world, he can hardly go against Love. (‘..I thought I heard a voice coming from this very spot, forbidding me to leave until I made atonement for some offense against the gods.’)

And so Socrates instead puts the opposing argument: that it is better to love the object of desire than not to be in love:

There’s no truth to that story – that when a lover is available you should give your favours to a man who doesn’t love you instead, because he is in control of himself while the lover has lost his head.  That would have been fine to say if madness were bad, pure and simple; but in fact the best things we have come from madness, when it is given as a gift of the god.

Socrates points out that several kinds of madness are respected: the madness of the Delphic Oracle, the madness of musicians who write inspired music and poetry (‘madness that is possession by the Muses, which takes a tender virgin soul and awakens it to a Bacchic frenzy of songs and poetry’, the madness of those who predict the future.

Socrates grounds his argument about divine madness of love in philosophy: he says that in order to present his argument he must explain ‘about the nature of the soul, divine or human’. This is an excerpt:

On the Immortality of the Soul

Socrates:  Every soul is immortal.  That is because whatever is always in motion is immortal, while what moves, and is moved by something else stops living when it stops moving.  So it is only what moves itself that never desists from motion, since it does not leave off being itself.  In fact, this self-mover is also the source and spring of motion in everything else that moves, and a source has no beginning.  That is because anything that has a beginning comes from some source, but there is no source for this, since a source that got its start from something else would no longer be the source.  And since it cannot have a beginning, then necessarily it cannot be destroyed.  That is because if a source were destroyed it could never get started again from anything else and nothing else could get started from it – that is, if everything gets started from a source.  This then is why a self-mover is a source of motion.  And that is incapable of being destroyed or starting up: otherwise all heaven and everything that has been started up would collapse, come to a stop, and never have cause to start moving again.  But since we have found that a self-mover is immortal, we should have no qualms about declaring that this is the very essence and principle of a soul, for every bodily object that is moved from outside has no soul, while a body whose motion comes from within, from itself, does have a soul, that being the nature of a soul; and if this is so – that whatever moves itself is essentially a soul – then it follows necessarily that soul should have neither  birth nor death.

All soul looks after all that lacks a soul, and patrols all of heaven, taking different shapes at different times. So long as its wings are in perfect condition it flies high, and the entire universe is its dominion; but a soul that sheds its wings wanders until it lights on something solid, where it settles and takes on an earthly body, which then, owing to the power of this soul, seems to move itself.  The whole combination of soul and body is called a living thing, or animal, and has the designation ‘mortal’ as well.

Socrates is here speaking figuratively of wings and souls aflight, and rhetorically he is doing much more as well.  He is defining terms.  This brief passage gives a definition of ‘soul’ and ‘body’ and ‘mortal’, binding together meanings and terms that can then be used in an unequivocal sense.

Socrates goes on to explain that there are two forces that drive the soul: one upwards, one downwards.  The first is always striving to lift the soul to the highest level of existence where ‘truth stands’, bec ause ‘this pasture has the grass that is the right food for the best part of the soul, and it is the nature of the wings that lift up the soul to be nourished by it.’  The second, in contrast, is a force that drives the soul downward to the Earth.

All embodied beings – human and animal – are fallen souls, our wings broken.  But within us the two forces are still in conflict.  Something in the soul wants to regrow its wings and depart the material world. On Earth the divine is experienced (as a kind of madness) in a number of ways.  The first is philosophy: ‘only a philosopher’s mind grows wings, since its memory always keeps it as cloase as possible to those realities by being close to which the gods are divine.’

Another kind of divine madness can be produced by the experience of beauty, one of the high truths or ideal forms:

The fourth kind of madness – that which someone shows when he sees the beauty we have down here and is reminded of true beauty; then he takes wing and flutters in his eagerness to rise up, but is unable to do so; and he gazes aloft, like a bird, paying no attention to what is down below – and that is what brings on him the charge that he has gone mad.

In any case, says Socrates, where we have an experience of beauty, it is as if the soul remembers something it knew before its wings were broken, before it fell to Earth, taking up a mortal body.

…In case there is doubt about the different aspirations of the soul, even after Socrates’ explanation, it can be seen that by now he has demonstrated through his speeches the high and low to which we might aspire. It is also clear that we aspire to either high or low in constructing argument as well as setting on partners.  The first speech given by Socrates and Lysias is designed as an appeal to the lowest things in humanity, the second, delivered by Socrates in refutation of the other argument does philosophy and appeals to everything high and noble about the human mind.

By way of explanation, consider again the original speech that Phaedrus has written down, and the first speech made by Socrates. The proposition being supported is that people should find partners they do not love.  Parts of both speeches are written as though directly addressing a possible object of amorous intention, so that the argument becomes a personal one. In effect the speaker is addressing a potential partner, attempting to show them that they would make a good match because the speaker does not love the other.  Socrates makes a show of stating that he is addressing an imaginary beautiful young boy.  But at the same time he indicates Phaedrus possesses youth and beauty, and so is perhaps flirting also.

The argument that is being constructed here is no more or less than the ideal, rational, logical pick up line.  It’s an argument that anyone with enough skill should be able to use to persuade attractive people they are not in love with to sleep with them anyway.

Perhaps unsurprising that Lysias is so proud of his argument for persuading potential lovers. Unsurprising that Phaedrus has learned the argument well, and carries the written form of it with him.  It is a pragmatic argument – it confers advantage on the speaker. This is its main function: the other is as a pretty and well-made bit of rhetoric.

Socrates shows he can play this game with skill, and then aims higher in refuting this argument. The philosophical talk of the last part of the speech – the argument FOR love – represents the higher path.  Philosophy itself is the higher path because it reveals the world to us even as we engage in dialogue. When argument engages with philosophy it becomes something more than persuasion.  The argument is no longer pragmatic, it is about truth.  Lysias chooses to make the argument for desire without love because it is convenient to do so.  Socrates, once he thinks things through, has no choice.  Having discovered that his position is for love, he is bound to argue the truth.

This distinction represents two different kinds of argument.  One is aimed purely at persuasion, at winning, at convincing people the speaker is right.  The other is partly about the art of persuasive speaking.  But it is also about philosophical or scientific exploration.  Through argument we increase understanding of the world. According to Rhetoric any argument can be made with equal success – the skill of the person making the argument is the only factor in which argument is more persuasive.But an argument grounded in philosophy is an argument grounded in truth – an attempt to find truth.  Once Socrates has developed his argument about love, there is no alternative – he is unable to argue the opposite case.

Socrates goes on to recommend that Lysias abandon his type of argument – his sophistry, his rhetoric – for argument grounded in philosophy instead.

Rules of Argument (1)

Structure of argument

An argument is constituted of a proposition or conclusion, and premises.

The  proposition or conclusion is the idea being argued.

Premises are reasons or points supporting the argument:

Premise + premise  -> conclusion

Or even..

Premise -> conclusion

Complex arguments

i.)   String of premises:  Complex arguments can be constructed with a long list or stringof premises.

Premise + premise + premise + premise + premise  -> conclusion

ii.)   Nested arguments: Complex arguments  may also be produced by ‘nesting’ arguments.   This means that a premise may in fact be a conclusion supported by its own premises:

Premise +  (premise + premise -> conclusion) -> conclusion

In this case an argument may be constructed to reach a conclusion that then becomes a supporting premise  for another conclusion.

iii.)   Assumptions:  ‘Assumptions’ and ‘Definitions’ may be seen as ‘hidden’ or nested arguments.  An assumption is something that must be accepted before  a point of argument can be considered, defended or refuted.  The alternative is to refuse to accept the assumption.  This moves the argument into the ‘nested premises’ that support the assumption rather than the main argument.  The premise is taken as a sub-conclusion, and the  premises that support this sub-conclusion (assumptions about it) are examined.

iv.)  Definitions:   Every term used in an argument has a ‘meaning’ and a ‘definition’.  These can be seen as kinds of Assumptions that can be explored as nested arguments (as arguments that must be settled before the main premises can be discussed).

Dialectic argument (the Socratic method)

This type of argument is ideall  for divining truth, rather than just persuading.

The basic structure premise + premise -> conclusion is retained.  But in this case the aim is to discover the conclusion, rather than support a conclusion that is already known.

The first premise, the ‘thesis’, is a proposition.

The second premise is the ‘antithesis’, ideally (and by definition) the opposite argument to the original ‘thesis’.

The thesis and antithesis serve as premises that support a conclusion called a ‘synthesis’.

The synthesis is the higher truth discovered by the process of argument.  Different (opposing) hypotheses are put forward on a topic  and the process of dialectic shows what hypothesis is stronger, or what combination of the hypotheses might be the best conclusion.

This form of argument is the basis of debate.

Next: Types of Premise, Missing Premises (syllogism)

Slipped Hegemony

Notes for a Tutorial on Humpty Dumpty

Language as Game of Power

… there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents –‘
`Certainly,’ said Alice.
`And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
`I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
`But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean –    neither more nor less.’
`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master … that’s all.

– from Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (Chapter Six)


1. Is Humpty Dumpty right?  Can we make up language for ourselves – attach our own meanings to words? What advantages are there?  What sort of problems are we likely to run into? (In terms of advantages, how successful is Humpty Dumpty’s argument style?) How did we decide on particular meaning-word relationships in the first place?  Could we replace them all in order to free ourselves? Can we think without words?

Of course we’re free to do what we like with language and we can invent our own words.

 Advantages are that we can win arguments because nobody else can use our language like we can.  We need to make sure other people use our language, our style of language, not theirs. Ideally we want to attach a certain prestige to our style of language.  Give it a name, print it in journals with nice covers, develop more traditions that people should follow. Talk in it about serious sounding topics.

Some powerful traditions or styles of language that have been successful in following this path: legal, academic, particularly, news, religion, science)

We’re born into a culture already full of powerful language traditions. These influence us.. we can’t escape them.  Logic.  Mathematics. Argument. Academic. Some we have to follow because society demands it.  Some we have to follow because our own mind demands it. Can we think without language? Can we free ourselves from those traditions? That’s what Humpty Dumpty is trying to do.

Clarify not really talking about different ‘languages’  Not sure there really is such a thing? (everyone is speaking a slightly different language, they ‘change with the curve’, not all of a piece)

2. To what extent do people agree on the meanings for words? How are meanings developed and decided? How does this process relate to argument?

i.)    Symbolic interaction and construction of meaning
ii.)    Control of meaning and words in argument:

Gf and bf  (or bf/gf or bf/bf) arguing.. bf says ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’, Gf says ‘A good bf would never make his gf upset.’ What happened? Gf just defined the word ‘wrong’. Now anything the bf says must fit this idea of what’s wrong.  Of course he can argue that he did not make his gf upset (she becomes more upset).  Or he can suggest that ‘wrong’ means something else (she becomes more upset).

…suggests there is a contest around every word.. shows that language is inherentlypolitical. Not only do words mean different things to different people, they want them to mean different things and will fight to make that happen.

Assumptions behind premises.

Arguments in general usually contain a lot of assumptions – things that already need to be true so that the premise holds true and properly supports the conclusion. Meanings of words can be seen as a kind of assumption.

Lost at the edge of an an alien jungle two travellers faced a storm the like of which they had never seen.  ‘Life could never have evolved here if it wasn’t possible to survive the storm.’ said one traveller. ‘God will protect us,’ said the other.
The assumption behind a premise can always be argued prior to arguing the point of the premise. As long as there is time. So one device for attacking argument is to go looking for assumptions in an argument.  They’re usually easy to find, especially when you can just pick on the meanings of words. 

6.    What does Humpty Dumpty mean when he says ‘the question is only ‘which is to be master?’
Two possible answers..
First Humpty Dumpty might be asking whether language will master us or we will master language (can we rewrite language enough so that we are in control of our own meanings? Or is the external pressure too much?)

The second answer is that Humpty is acknowledging that language is a game of power, by which it is decided who rules (and who sets the rules).

At every point in society where language enters in.. where meanings and words are related and must be used to make society work… those are points of entry for argument.. places where good language can change power relationships, build arguments, redefine words (Law, Marketing and advertising (Culture Jamming), politics – satire.

Power games of language present opportunities for oppression through changing meanings and also an opportunity for opposition.  George Orwell in 1984 wrote about a Communist society where a deliberate effort was being made to control language so that established power would last forever.  ‘If you want to imagine the future of the human race, imagine a boot stamping on a person’s face forever.’

More optimistic view:  Bakhtin’s dichotomous forces in discourse, language, media: monoglossic (centripetal) and heteroglossic (centrifugal).

‘Law must retain useful ways to break with traditional forms because … the forms of Law remain when all justice is gone.’ Frank Herbert

Words and who controls them

Have said that there is a game of power around many, many words, and that to some extent we are all involved in games of power about language. In consideration of the political games around the meanings of particular terms, consider:

1. There might be more than one ‘player’.

2. what benefits flow from control of language and words.

Eg Crazy, love, welfare, capitalism, freedom, democracy… These games around definitions for words are a major reason for the way language changes… of course there are other reasons, like trying to make it shorter to fit it into tweets and texts.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

A Cogent Argument on the Republic

Scroll down for pictorial counterpoint





Quick Definition of Fiction

I’ve spent a lot of time in the analysis of fiction – contriving a structure for it to explain fictionality as a kind of text.  This towards the goal of ascribing to fiction a particular rhetorical function, or set of functions.

The intention here is to skip to the end, having come a stone’s throw away in the proper direction.  To describe the rhetorical function of fictional texts as succinctly as possible, with the edifice constructed to do justice to this description lurking in the background.

Against Aristotle (A statement of purpose)

Aristotle argued (according to notes from his lectures, later collated) that there are three distinct kinds of speech or literature.  The first, the Dialectic, is the language of logic, metaphysics, physics, philosophy.  It is language deployed in the search for truth.  Through  dialectic antithesis  is  applied to thesis in a Socratic way, producing Synthesis: superior truth.  This is the foundation of the process by which Reason is applied in comprehending the ‘verse,  and expressing truths about it.

Rhetoric is the second mode of speech, subjected to analysis in the Rhetoric of Aristotle. It is ‘the counterpart of dialectic’, the art of making use of all of the available means of persuasion.  So rhetoric is concerned with persuasion rather than truth, with probability rather than Absolutes.  Rhetoric is the language of law and politics and forensics.

The third kind of speech, or language, is the Poetic.  Because it is distinct from either the Dialectic or the Rhetoric, Poetic language is by definition divorced from both truth and persuasion.

Plato said he would ban poetry from his ideal society.  Aristotle said the proper function of poetry is adornment and flattery.

Today people do recognise the political power of fiction, at least anecdotally (1984 the classic example).  But Aristotle’s categories of language still stand in general in the twenty-first century, as bookshops, libraries, universities indicate.

This, then, is the bone of contention: I want to argue that fiction (not quite the same thing as poetry, granted) does have both rhetorical and philosophical functionality, and that Aristotle was wrong to relegate this mode of language to a tertiary tier (where, perhaps, it could do no harm).  The polemic here, in dramatic terms, is that a simplistic approach to the problems flowing from language to perception of truth is no approach at all.   The division of language into three registers or keys has constrained all the forms of language, weakening their import and utility.

A definition for fiction

Leaving, as indicated, a cumbersome model for explaining the operations of fiction to float beneath the surface, I should at the least give the defition of fiction derived from it.  Fictional texts  have been distinguished by three criteria from non-fiction texts.

i.) Fictional texts are those that reference other worlds (for convenience it is easiest to define ‘other’ worlds as those at which the text is not).

Non-fiction texts reference the world at which the text is.  Fictional texts are those that fail to accurately represent this world: its propositions contradict what is true.  Once the reader notes that the text does not reference this world, a different set of assumptions come into play about how the text should be treated in terms of truth and veracity.

ii.) Fictional texts contain ‘this-world’ propositions

Some proposition in a fictional text is ‘erroneously’ indexed to the world of the text, rather than the world of the content: as though the text were non-fiction at this world.

This means that a text overtly detailing events properly placed at some other world is not fiction.  Which is to say, if a text begins every proposition by saying ‘At some possible world it may be the case that..’ it is not, strictly, a fictional text despite otherworldly reference.

There is a kind of fallacy, then, inherent in fiction, although the ‘error’ serves as a device.  Otherworldly reference is always improperly indexed in at least some statements.  Fictional texts omit operators in sentences. Otherwise, they are non-fiction texts about other worlds.

(ii leads to the difficult question as to why a catch-all statement cannot be used to imply the operator: ‘For all propositions that follow this one at some world it may be the case that..’.  Existing statements in texts do perform this function: ‘Once upon a time..’ at the beginning of a story throws open a temporal vein of possibility across which a vast array of stories have substance.

The best answer I can give is that performing this trick, in this way, is precisely how the fallacy peculiar to fiction is implemented.  In fact, it does not matter whether the general reference to another world or other worlds is included as a proposition in the text or not.  This point of reference is implied (or defaulted to) when what is true in a text is found to be at odds with actuality.

It seems an important facet of fictionality (of course you could start defining it on different premises and learn that different aspects are important) is treating a sequence of propositions ambiguously. As a set of propositions on the one hand; and as a string of individual propositions on the other.  The set of propositions may be identified as fiction by a proposition acting as a modal operator for the entire text, or the operator may be ‘hidden’ in terms of direct reference.  Regardless, the text is evaluated by a reader or at a world, and when some proposition in the text contradicts truth at that world the evaluation of the text as a whole is adjusted.

The evaluation of the set is contingent on the evaluation of individual propositions.  But the individual propositions’ truth or falsity is not dependent on the evaluation of the sequence of propositions as a whole.

iii.)              Properly, fictional texts describe possible worlds

..else there is no corresponding ‘fictional world’ referenced.  A text that depicts an impossible world is an impossible fiction: a kind worth distinguishing from the other.

(fictional texts referencing ‘impossible worlds’ can be seen as fragmentary fiction)

Defining Fiction (addendum – four kinds of text)

The attempt to define fiction for the purposes of this research has resulted in the further contrarian conclusion that ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’ are inadequate to the task of properly distinguishing kinds of texts we might want to talk about.

The easiest way to explain this is to set out the four categories of text that could better characterise the rhetorical alternatives.

i.)                  Necessarily true (true at all worlds)

ii.)                Actually true (someworld thisworld true)

iii.)              Possibly true (someworld otherworld true)

iv.)               Impossible (or fragmentary – no world true, except in pieces)

Our terms non-fiction and fiction cover all four of these categories – two apiece. We give the label ‘non-fiction’ to texts with chains of propositions that are  (taken together) necessarily or actually true.

We give the name ‘fiction’ to texts with sets of propositions that are possibly true, or not possibly true. Some or all propositions are inconsistent with the actual world, so the set cannot represent this world.  If a possible world is represented by the text, then it is a fictional world, and the text has a point of reference.  If the text represents an impossible world, then it has no point of reference, and there is no corresponding fictional world.

I described these as four ‘rhetorical’ alternatives for kinds of text because selecting a mode or modes of truth, a kind of logic, is something that authors DO, though not necessarily consciously in these terms.  A text is an argument that asserts certain kinds of truths.  Choosing what approach to take, what strength of argument to put, whether to work from analogy, case study, or theory and generalisation, is a foundational part of constructing an argument.  In writing, an early step in this process is deciding how far the ‘truths of the text’ should be constrained.


Necessary Non-fiction

The most rigorous regime for truth could produce texts true at all possible worlds at once.  Indexed to one world or another a sequence of propositions that only assert necessary truths will always be ‘non-fiction’.  Constraints on propositions for the text are stringent to say the least: only that which exists at every world – is required in order for a world to be structurally sound – can be mentioned.  Nothing can happen that might have gone another way.

This category of texts is really here for completeness, since the task of writing such a text is onerous and as far as I can see the advantage slight.

Actual non-fiction

Propositions in the text constrained according to that which is true at the Actual world.  This is non-fiction of the usual sort.

Possible Fiction

Possible fiction is a clumsy label for the kind of fiction that references fictional worlds.  A fictional text cannot reference the world of the text: some proposition in the text must be false at the Actual World.  A possible fiction references some other world – its propositions are all true at some possible world.

Of course, this is the same as saying that the propositions in a fictional text are possibly true, or that the fiction is possible. Not in the sense that the propositions might after all be true, but in the sense that they are true somewhere.

Impossible fiction

Impossible fiction, then, is the kind of fiction that fails to reference fictional worlds, or any world.  If it wasn’t alread in use for something else, the term ‘utopian’ could apply to these fictions: the worlds described are ou topos – no place. One way to see these worlds, as indicated by David Lewis in the afterthoughts on his brief paper on the status on fiction, is as fragments of worlds, incomplete.

Against atheism – third addendum

The Argument from Possibility

When contemplating the general question as to the existence of a deity, is is usual to consider necessary deities first and foremost, and sometimes exclusively.  In a culture dominated by monotheistic religion this is reasonable.  The first deity that usually comes to mind is an absolute and necessary God, lord of all Creation.  If this God is ubiquitous and ever-present, stitched into the fabric of existence, we shouldn’t have to go far to disprove it.  With respect to this deity of absolute presence and power, a reasonable argument for non-existence can be made if it can be shown that any part of reality functions smoothly without any evidence of the hand of God.  If no god is required for things to operate, then perhaps  it should be considered likely that there is none.  This argument accords with the demands of parsimony, keeping the Cosmos simple.

Of course, this argument only works if God works in mysterious ways: via miracle, and so on.  If God works in mundane ways then She may not show Her hand at all, having set physical processes running in such a way as to make them to all intents and purposes independent.  In other words, if some divine engine of the universe is running, but everything it does has a natural cosmic machinery equivalent, then the existence of a universe saturated with God may be falsely refuted.

If atheism is the view that there is definitely no god, it should go further than refuting the existence of this particular deity.   A strict atheist argument should, I think, defend the logical position that god (or gods) do not exist even possibly.

Consider a pantheon of gods of the sort once thought to populate the Hellenic world. Like ministers in a democratic government these gods have portfolios – areas of influence.  Some control or represent elemental forces.  Others have social portfolios, dealing in human emotions or areas of civil life. They live, like the Greek gods, in a nearby palatial dimension, or atop a mountain somewhere.   They are irascible, petulant, capricious corrupted by great power.  The mortals who live under their sway are sometimes grateful for their influence but never quite able to relax.

In considering the question of atheism it is not only necessary to refute the existence of God Almighty, Yahweh, but also the Greek pantheon.  How easily can we make the argument that the Greek gods (or the Norse gods, or the Egyptian gods) did not exist?

One approach that comes to mind is to ask what happened to them, if they did exist.  The story of their departure from the Earth is not part of the mythology.  What of other ancient Gods – Mithras, for example, or Thoth.  In general, if they had existed, one might assume they are still here.  And these Gods were far from mysterious in their conduct: their presence was widely felt.  When you lived in the vicinity or on the stamping grounds of Zeus or Thor you knew about it, if the stories are accurate. 

Even from this thin argument the existence of the Ancient gods might be refuted.  If these gods existed at this world, so recently in history as three or four thousand years ago, the evidence should be more substantial that they were here.  If they departed, why is this not part of the mythology? 

This argument is against atheism, not against pagan belief.  The point of interest here is not whether arguments can be found to refute the existence of gods, but whether any proposition can be put asserting the existence of deities that cannot be adequately refuted.  

So far deities canvassed in this part of the argument are Necessary (God) or at the least Actual gods (in the case of Greek or Norse gods in the sense that they either existed – Actually, in history – or they did not.  Some propositions, though, concern possible rather than actual deities.  And this leads to questions as to whether an atheist must  reject  any statement that is not strict  negation where the existence of god/s is concerned.

Looking at the question as to whether the Greek gods existed in history is entirely different from examining the possibility that they exist.  But the atheist, I think, is bound to refute both of the following statements:

The Greek gods existed in history and intervened in mortal affairs.

A pantheon of powerful gods possibly exist and may intervene in mortal affairs.

The first statement, as indicated, is relatively easily refuted.  The second statement at least requires a different calibre of refutation.  Looked at in a quantitative way, asserting the possible existence of gods means asserting their existence at some world.  If logical space contains all possible states of affairs as worlds then to refute the existence of a God or gods means arguing that such a state of affairs is impossible.  It is not important whether there is evidence locally concerning the existence of a deity hereabouts.  The question here is whether a world with gods can be imagined which is otherwise consistent with ways that worlds might be.

One approach to examining the possibility of the existence of gods is to look at the notion of supernatural power.  Fundamental laws of physics, we might say, must be true at all worlds.  The powers of the gods must be explicable in terms of these laws, or else they exist at no world.  

This argument is dependent on setting minimal conditions as to what a world is.  Fundamental laws of physics as we have them may not be considered necessary.  Perhaps only mathematical axioms are constant across all of possibility. Perhaps not even mathematics is consistent at all possible worlds.

A state of affairs is impossible if it does not satisfy minimum or necessary conditions for worlds, or if it is contradictory.  If there is any possible, non-contradictory state of affairs of which a god or gods are a part, this contradicts the essential atheist claim that ‘there is no god’.

Possible worlds theory can be employed as a tool for looking beyond Actual or local gods in making claims about what may or may not exist.  Is the committed atheist required to refute the existence even of possible gods – gods at other worlds, in all possible states of affairs?  One reason that this is difficult is that people do not share a common set of minimum conditions for worlds.   

A second reason that it is difficult to be clear on whether gods possibly exist (at some world) is that opening speculation up to all sorts of different possible worlds opens up speculation on what constitutes a god.  Is a being a deity relative to beings it creates or lords it over?   What absolute criteria for divinity prevent such an easy application of the label ‘god’?

But this is properly the subject of the next part of this argument, ‘The argument from high technology’  to be posted in coming days.

Worth noting that possible worlds theory presents some interesting questions for theists as well as atheists.  If it is believed that there is an all-powerful, Necessary God, then by implication that God is everywhere, and at all worlds.  There cannot be a world without God.  This means that even the possibility of God’s non-existence cannot be conceded, and this seems odd.  A powerful line of thought, though, for theists.  The problem is in an adjunct question:  does the necessary and absolute God exist at all worlds at once, or is there a necessary and absolute God for each (given that possible worlds are supposedly causally independent).  Plantinga a good read on questions such as these.