15 June 2006

Delusions of Delusions

If a review causes you to buy a book, is it a success? But suppose you want to consult the book because you cannot believe that it is as bad as the review would suggest?

There were lots of silly paragraphs in the review, just out in BMCR, of G.E.R. Lloyd's, Delusions of Invulnerability, such as these attempting to summarize the 'title track' chapter of the book:

Chapter 4. The delusions of invulnerability

The Greek preoccupation with the frailty of human life and the
capriciousness of the gods induced various proposed solutions,
including Plato's belief in immortality and ultimate justice, and the
Hellenistic schools' quest for peace of mind (ataraxia). But the
philosophers' disagreement on how to attain peace of mind left paganism
at an impasse, of which the Christians took advantage.

The discussion of China is brief, and largely negative. Classical
Chinese lacked Plato's dualism and obsession with the afterlife, and
disregarded any quest for invulnerable security as unrealistic. The Yin
and the Yang change, and the Sage adapts. The implied message (which is
probably true) is that delusions of invulnerability have been rather an
affliction of the West.
Plato believed in immortality, but was he obsessed with it? Could the restricted and even balanced way in which he introduces the theme in the Republic count as an 'obsession'? And what percent of the Dialogues do the pages of the Phaedo represent? (Is it Lloyd, or the reviewer, who thinks that to believe in something is to be obsessed with it?)

Also, what responsible scholar would want to say that Plato postulated an eternal soul--and therefore also the Forms--to find relief from uncertainties in life? (Or, if Plato did that, mustn't we all, necessarily, be doing something like that all the time--including the writers of the review, in writing it?)

I wonder if it is possible to posit invulnerability in one respect, without eo ipso allowing for vulnerability in another, and vice versa. For Plato, human beings are invulnerable to death, it is true, but that very invulnerability exposes them to vicissitudes and even judgment after death. A materialist takes pride, perhaps, in a brave acceptance of the vulnerability contained in human mortality, but that also makes him invulnerable to any accountability, after death, for any injustices during life that were unseen or went unpunished. (Or perhaps what Lloyd means is not invulnerability but rather certainty, and his book is another working out of Dewey's theme?)

Lloyd's book, I gather, covers China only up to the advent of Buddhism. But Buddhism teaches the avoidance of suffering through the extinction of desire--presumably a 'delusion of invulnerability' also. And Hinduism, important in the East if not in China, has so many evident similarities with Plato, that it is ridiculous to say that such 'delusions' are an 'affliction of the West'. (Should we add that Marxian scientific determinism, in the recent past embraced, apparently, by a billion persons in the 'East', is a paradigm of an ideology of 'invulnerability'?)

Nearly every paragraph in the review is equally unsubtle. But Lloyd I know is not. Which is why I went to Amazon and bought the book.


Anonymous said...

Parts of that review left me surprised that BMCR actually published it; it can surely be said that BMCR's willingness to publish such reviews diminishes its quality when compared to more discriminating reviews. Maybe you could review Lloyd's book as well; there are, if I am not mistaken, several books which have received multiple reviews on BMCR.

Michael Pakaluk said...

It's not easy to aim to review every relevant book, as BMCR does, and to keep quality consistently high. They do a good job, I find--better than most. As for Lloyd's book, yes, one thought I had in buying it is that I might eventually post some comments about it here.