25 October 2006

Clarifying Comments of G. Betegh

I worry sometimes, when I post a comment on a book review, that to that extent Dissoi Blogoi becomes like many other blogs, and is merely reprocessing or collecting together in a single place material that can be found elsewhere.

This is not to mention that the degrees of oblique reference can themselves become daunting, e.g. in my post on Patricia Curd's review of Gábor Betegh's book, where my remarks were, in effect, Pakaluk's thoughts on Curd's thoughts on Betegh's thoughts on the Derveni Papyrus author's thoughts on the Orphic tradition.

It is a happy occasion, then, when I can pierce through some of these layers of intention and simply quote more directly, as is possible now that Gábor Betegh has kindly offered the following comments on that post. I place them in a separate post because the original post is now several weeks in the past.

Thank you for mentioning Pat Curd's review of my book on your blog.

Without trying to convince anybody about the philosophical interest of DP, let me make two small remarks.

1. The first sentence of your formulation of view (ii) ('Right conduct leads to true belief') seems to state that right conduct is a sufficient condition for true belief. This is reinforced by the parallel formulation of view (i): 'True belief leads to right conduct. Someone who understands the true doctrine of the cosmos as a consequence acts properly.' Yet the second sentence of the formulation of view (ii), 'Someone who purifies himself by right conduct as a consequence will be able to grasp the true doctrine of the cosmos' (my emphasis) seems to make a slightly different claim.

When I write that 'Moral betterment is a precondition both for piety and gain in knowledge about the divine' I mean that right conduct, in the DP author's view, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for true belief. So the DP author, as I understand him, would agree with the second sentence of view (ii), but not with its first sentence.

2. In the final paragraph of your entry you write that 'The next step, I suppose, would be to explain how the DP author might have thought that an upright life makes someone especially fit to grasp the deep truth, that Zeus castrated his father, swallowed his father's severed phallus, and then committed incest with his mother.' The whole point of the DP author's commentary is that the literal meaning of the poem, that Zeus castrated his father, committed incest etc., is not its true meaning.

The 'deep truth' is rather a doctrine that explains how the god, a good cosmic Mind, created from a pre-cosmic chaos this well-organized cosmos, suitable for human beings. But I agree that it remains a question why he thinks that right conduct is a precondition for accepting all this. Perhaps he thought that only those who have some idea about what right conduct is can appreciate that the story involving castration, swallowing the phallus, incest, etc. simply cannot be what the very eminent Orpheus wanted to teach us. (It is only a guess. I may well be mistaken because I haven't gone through the appropriate Orphic purification ritual, so, I am afraid, I haven't met one of the necessary conditions for having a true belief.)