The Hippocrates — A Dialogue
Or, on Science and Philosophy
HIPPOCRATES’ FATHER: Don’t you know your duty, to your family to me? What is the world coming to when a son behaves like you do?
HIPPOCRATES: But. . .
Don’t interrupt me, here this is exactly what Eurydamus told me would happen. If you give them an inch! I let you do what you wanted, I permitted you to take part in the festival of Dionysus, even though it was below our station. You did well — you were commended and our family did not loose face. And now this! Now you come to me, just begging to become a slave, a base actor in the theater.
Father . . .
I did not teach you to fight and wrestle and run and give speeches so that you could act like you were doing those things in the theater. I invested my hard earned money into your future, would you turn that all around and go against a father’s wishes.
Father, I see you are right to be angry. I have, in a way, shamed you, but I cannot bow my head to what you call my duty.
And if I force you, which is in my right as a father? And your mother, would you destroy her?
Mother is unreasonable father, she is hysterical, you know because of her lineage she cannot imagine her son becoming a thespian.
Don’t try to doctor up your language, you are worrying your mother to death with becoming a street performer.
Playing the head satyr in the Great Dionysian is hardly street performance.
Hold your tongue, did they, those slave actors, teach you such disrespect to your elders? I have heard enough. You deserved an education, now you owe it to yourself and to me and your mother to comply with the ends of your education. You will report to the assembly every day it is in session for a month, and you will train with Antilochos’s guard until you have been disciplined. (exit)
SOCRATES: Will the old and embittered battle ever end!?
I can assure you Socrates, do not worry for me. My father is only worried for my mother, she is an invalid and keeps to her bed unable to help anyone in the house or work at her loom. I will obey him. Well, can I tell you a secret?
Yes of course, I love secrets.
I only must obey him during the day, as I see it. At night I train with the other comedians to the west in the forest, they are my society.
That is well for you perhaps, but it certainly would be against your father’s wishes.
It is well for me and for the city, for my society, with me, is the best satyr dancers in the city.
How you spend your nights is up to your judgment, and I will keep your secret, especially because I enjoy your dancing and piping. HOWEVER, the battle between parent and offspring was not the one I was speaking of.
Which battle, then Socrates did you mean?
That battle that goes on between Science and Philosophy.
How long has this fight been going on Soc?
Ever since the word ‘science’ came to be, the old guard, the philosophers, have been needled and always tried to trip up the scientists in their goals, and the scientists always bearing a grudge for the philosophers.
Where does the blame lie in this fight Soc? Who began the fight?
I dare say that I, like my pupil Alcibiades, must have the courage to be a turn-coat and answer you in all fairness: it was the philosophers who began this quarrel.
How very honest of you to admit it Socrates, but how can this be true? Are not philosophers, properly speaking, the wise?
And do not the wise keep their eyes more than anyone trained on the good and the true and the beautiful?
And is not this fight despicable and a great cause for ugliness and badness?
Yes, and no less than that, it is a great cause to careless manners. Much raising of voices and spittle collection at the sides of mouths — very undialectical. You know the heart of the problem, as I see it, is that the philosophers are all old and ancient, like myself, and the scientists are younger more modern men. The ancients, as it seems by custom or by nature, always have contentions with the younger of our species. I was told at the shrine to Alexis when I was on campaign against the Persians that the oldest record that had ever been found was in the cave of Giants, who only long ago roomed the earth and were like men in all aspects except for size. This old record was written by an older man who was convinced that the younger generation was doomed.
That is true Socrates, but what is there to do? Who is right? With whom should we side?
Let us make a game of it, but not a game of children, but a game of parents, so to speak, a game of life and death and great import like the game of shooting the arrow down the axes of Penelope — a game in earnest, and, by the dog, let us hit the mark.
How can we make a game of it Socrates?
We will play dress up. You dress up as the philosopher and walk thusly leaning on your cane, and droop your face like this into an aged grimace, lick your lips incessantly, watch that you don’t actually become incontinent — to avoid incontinence become hyper-aware of the condition of your colon and bladder, and squint your eyes, and tilt your head back so as to look through your trifocals past the edge of your nose at whatever you are trying to discern.
Like this Socrates?
Yes, very good, too good in fact.
Now your turn, you young whipper-snapper.
Very apt, very apt indeed. But now for my transformation, I will become the bold strapping young scientist, chest out, legs akimbo ready to adventure into unknown lands, broad shoulders carrying with him his instruments, dark skin from being too long in the sun, big bright eyes for observing, a humble countenance conditioned to the rigor of his ever changing field, brilliant eyes for seeing, and a flash of a smile coming from the pleasure of finding things out.
That is quite a pose Socrates.
Now, let us begin, I will defer to age so you begin the enquiry, o venerate philosopher.
I know not what to say.
Would it not be clever to begin with a list of grievances against the scientists as is done in the law courts?
Oh yes. We are gathered here today, hereby, and forthwith to extricate the incommunicable young gentlemen self-determinately addressed as scientists.
Why have you stopped my poor old man?
(stepping out of character) I don’t remember what to charge the scientists with.
Why, why not with peeping, oh venerate philosopher?
Yes, why is it not peeping a kind of seeing?
And is not of all the different sorts of seeing a seeing of what is veiled?
And then of what is veiled, then not also what is secret?
And would anyone argue that the scientist is overwhelmingly concerned with seeing the causes of things in nature?
Why yes Socrates
And we cannot deny that the causes of such phenomena as the loadstone or the movements of the stars or the smallest bits of matter veiled from sight?
Then the Scientist and the peeping-tom must be lumped together. But, my dear philosopher, how incomplete your charge if not with more and better charges.
What then have I forgotten? the memory’s not what it used to be, you know.
For alliance to a foreign nation.
But the scientists are of various nations, are they not?
They are, but what is it that customarily makes a nation? Is it not language and law?
By the gods and all that is good and True yes.
And do not the scientists have their own language in which they confer back and forth about electricity, spinning atoms, particles, velocity, distance, time, gamma, and not to mention the countless other words and symbols that make up what seems a whole language of describing things, completely incoherent to any non-scientist.
That is true, I stopped paying attention after I watched a group of them babbling on repeating the word ‘phlogiston’ over and over again until all at once decided that the word meant nothing at all.
And do not the scientist always confer with one another over and over concerning the law?
Why physical law, the laws of nature, mathematical laws, the law of gravitation, and so forth; do not these laws constitute the laws of an entire and universal state in which all men are potential citizens?
That has yet to be seen. Continue with the charges.
Well then, I hereby convene the court to try and judge and plead as they may still convict as guilty or innocent the scientist with the charges of (attempted) peeping, and allegiance to a foreign nation.
I dare say the memory is the first thing to go. Have you not forgotten one last bit, sir philosopher?
What is that?
Why squaring the circle. Is not the loudest and most desperate cry of the philosopher that the scientists have taken the circle in all its curviness and comprehended it as a rectilinear figure?
That is impossible, how could it be done? How preposterous of a young man to take such liberty not just with his elders but to profane the public ear to such ridiculousness. A circle, my boy cannot be turned into a straight figure, the curviness is curved and will not admit to being straight in any way, indeed such a proposition would contradict the most powerful theorem of all philosophy, that of non-contradiction.
And yet they’ve done it. I present to you (drawing a circle on the ground) The infini-agon.
Preposterous, no, crackpoterous, maniacal, bananas, daemonic, contradictory!
SCOPATELES: If you are so concerned with truth Socrates, why not let the real scientist have a say in a trial against him?
Ahhh, . . . . , you know I would never bar the way to justice, nor to truth. Please approach the bench. Do you swear to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth by the dog?
The philosophers have had their time in the sun and during that time many beautiful but unsure and uncertain ideas were conceived of in the mind. These ideas were uncertain because they relied on the truth of words and not in truth itself. Indeed the very uncertainty of most propositions elucidated by the old philosophers, like a foundation of sand, destined the edifice of philosophy to fall, leaving but a few good stones that then were dutifully and this time more carefully placed as foundations for an edifice of certainty, of knowledge of truth in the most unconditional sense of the word, that is the conjunction in an object of the appearance in the senses and conception in the mind.
I believe you have lived up to your oath and spoken the truth my friend, you have spoken well on the side of the scientists, and show yourself to know the truth, but I wish to understand you better now what you have said, and as a humble student beg for you to answer some of my questions.
I am wary of your usual manner with people Socrates but I will acquiesce relying on the certainty of what I have said that comes from the certainty of all the accomplishments of science. Unlike the philosopher, we are capable of doing, whereas you are unluckily locked into a life of inaction.
For me to understand what you have said seems to me to be very difficult, and I will begin at what you first said. You have said that it was the truth of words that lead the philosopher to fail where students of science have succeeded in acquiring knowledge?
Am I to understand that by ‘truth of words’ and ‘truth itself’ you mean two things or one?
What do you mean Socrates?
Well, when I say ‘the youth of a child’, or ‘the youth of calf’, and ‘youth itself’ do I think two things are just one? Are the youths different or are they all one youth, that is whatever the word youth says?
I would say that they are known by the same concept but by different appearances. So the concept is the same and the appearances are different.
A concept though, finds it’s place in thought, does it not?
But I am concerned not with what is thought but what is said. If I say the two youths do I say one thing or many?
I do not understand you when you say ‘what the word says.’ The word is said; it corresponds to a concept in the mind.
But you cannot say the word says nothing? Youth says something.
Indeed, it corresponds to a thought.
So ‘youth’ says a thought?
Do you not think that if you say the thought ‘youth’ in your mind and then I hear the thought ‘youth’ in mine and given we probably have differing conceptions in our minds of the words that the word ‘youth’ does not mean anything at all?
It means nothing definite, no.
And so no words, or very few have any definite significance?
Therefore “watch out, you are about to fall into a well” does not signify or say any definite thing?
And yet if I say it, and you avoid the well, have you not accomplished something, indeed both of us have partaken in the accomplishment of a great deed, a great labor, and that is your salvation?
Yes you would have accomplished something Socrates, but only something practical not theoretical.
Theory is certainly a lofty goal, a very good goal. Let’s tackle it, especially since theory is in the vein of the very next question I was about to ask you concerning the definitions of words.
What concept do we represent to ourselves of the words “the definition of a word is . . .”? Or simply, as our good president said it, what is the meaning of the word “is”?
What do you mean?
Well, if someone said to you “offspring are the future of all human things” and they claimed that this was the definition of what “offspring” ‘is’.
You could represent this definition to yourself, could you not?
Of course, I would represent the concept of ‘offspring’ to myself perhaps particularly with images of my nephews, then I would represent ‘the future’ and then ‘all’ in conjunction with the representation of ‘human things.’ I would pair the ‘offspring’ with the rest by way of the cupola.
And if you were to represent now the concept “definition” what then would you represent?
I would represent that which sets one species or category apart from any other.
So in the case of offspring, of children you might represent smallness, since they are smaller that adults?
Yes, or weakness.
But then are not many things weaker and smaller than adult human beings? And cannot children grow taller and stronger than their fathers?
Indeed, but it is of no account.
Well, let us use it as an example though while we have started it. Please, do it for my sake?
Alright continue with the questions.
So we might represent to ourselves “the future of all things human” if we desired to set aside children in particular, since they are indeed the future and not of things of any sort but of human things.
I see nothing else that is the future more securely than the offspring of adults, Socrates.
And without the words could such a definition be possible? That is to say, could a definition be anything but words?
I do not understand this train of reasoning Socrates.
And nor do I, I assure you. To make it easier on ourselves, Let’s take a geometrical example, since that usually simplifies things. A triangle is or is not a figure composed of three lines?
And you can represent this definition? Can you think it?
Not as a particular triangle, no, Socrates, but I can still think it.
But did you not say that thinking was a sort of representing? I guess I just imagined it was of a representation of appearances or images.
Well you guessed wrong. Have you yet understood what I said about the philosopher and the scientist?
No, not yet, but I am trying. So when you think something, when you represent it to yourself what do you represent with ‘triangle’?
I represent the thought of triangle.
But no particular triangle?
And it is without words, you do not say to yourself ‘triangle’?
I have trouble thinking as you do sir.
HIPPOCRATES: He’s full of it.
SOCRATES: So you think thoughts, you see sights, and you hear . . . well there’s no word for that is there, anyways you hear heights, following our see-sights example. And all without words. You, and scientists in general I imagine, live in a world without words completely.
SCOPATELES: So it is Socrates, but more importantly than uncovering the wordlessness of scientists you have fallen into my trap.
I agreed to be questioned only so that you would strut and quip with words to show these people what I meant by the philosophers being only concerned with the truth of words. You have proved me right beyond a doubt.
I will not deny that you are correct in what you have said, and though I find it impolite to use a friend in such a way, if it was in the name of truth, I will let it pass; however, I am not yet at the point of understanding what you meant by your initial statement, we only lightly touched on the truth of words and truth itself and we have not even begun to discuss the clear definition of knowledge you laid out. I will cease, however, if your trick has illuminated the truth to everyone but me, and seek out in private the significance of your words.
You will be forced to seek the truth in private Socrates. I beg you, mull on my words, but more importantly look into the past and see where concern with words have gotten us and then see where now concern with the knowledge of objects has yielded.
HIPPOCRATES: What are you thinking Socrates?
He is right, you know, the accomplishments of science might speak to its knowledge. We should allow what has been said to be true until we find it to be false. Let us try to find out what he has meant. Let me first say what he said makes me think by. I will explain what I mean by questions, and you must put on a serious mien and answer as best you can as though you were he because he was busy and had to leave.
I will do my best Socrates, but please help if you see me failing at my duty.
Of course. Now, we are commonly accustomed, are we not, to saying that such and such a statement is true, such as “the sun comes up in the morning,” or “you just hit your head” when you did and because the sun does come up?
But could we not also say that without saying anything to anyone we might represent to ourselves the sun’s coming up or you hitting your head after you had?
We can Socrates
And would not then these representations be true in the cases that the sun does come up and you did hit your head?
They would be true if those conditions were met.
What then about definitions? If I say “Beauty is an aspect of Goodness” or more to the point “Unconditional knowledge is the conjunction of appearances with concepts” could I also represent such things to myself without speaking them?
I do not know Socrates.
What about a definition taken from mathematics, “Unity is that when multiplied by any value gives the same value” Can I represent to myself unity as such?
Well it is one Socrates.
But, is unity one horse?
Or one apple?
No, of course not
Nor is it one thing at all, except maybe one number and one word accidentally?
No, Socrates, it is not one anything, though that does disturb me a bit.
And so it must be oneness with no other attribute.
So can we represent to ourselves ‘oneness’ with no idea divergent from oneness without saying it to ourselves or others?
This is hard, can we not call back Scopateles? He might be able to help.
No he refuses to work with us to discover his meaning, so we must work without him.
Geez, you would think he thought it was his right, those uppity scientists.
I know not what he thinks, that is what we are now considering. Now we can represent such thoughts to ourselves like “the sun comes up in the morning,” but we find trouble in representing the definitions of some words to ourselves?
Yes, that is what we have found.
And knowledge, as our accomplished friend said, would be when our thoughts relate to the objects of our representations, one to one?
That is what he said.
What then would be the representation of this definition of knowledge? Can we see that in the mind’s eye?
I see it only through examples, Socrates, again like ‘oneness’ but not in and of itself.
But we can still use the word knowledge, even with this definition, and complete meaningful sentences like “Knowledge is delight” and any such thing?
But we can have no meaningful representation of the definition of this word?
No Socrates, it does not seem like that is possible.
I am greatly distressed that if what we have said here is true, we couldn’t possibly be having this conversation at all.
I have a game to play Socrates.
A game!? At a time like this?
The game we played before, but now I am in charge, I play the scientist now.
I don’t want to play.
Come on, it will cheer you up.
Alright, the old must give way to the young, give us your version of the scientist.
First, the scientist is young, as we said, but his upbringing is bad. He is effeminate from always being kept from hot and cold because it was, according to health science, bad for him. And he was kept indoors so that he would be used to his laboratory when he got there. He has all the bad effects of effeminacy, weakness, capriciousness, pale skin, hypochondriac. He has crossed eyes, from looking very very close up to objects to see all their attributes. He has pale skin from staying in his laboratory. He speaks loudly and in a forthright way from the natural pride of having all the right answers to the right questions. He walks with a stilted leg from having one leg in the world of objects and another leg tucked up into the world of the subject. He knocks his knees for fear of the indefinitude of his profession. He is a wreck because he is not totally sure if the sun will come up because it has just done that every other time. He is green in the face from feeling the earth spin under him. His ears pop because he knows we are at the bottom of a sea of air. Last of all, the scientist always hops wherever he goes to feel the earth come up a fraction to meet his feet.
But we must not be to harsh my good man. Come at least the scientist stays away from the law courts, and the assembly, can we not at least that much grant him that he has the blessings of political sound judgment?
Socrates, have you not heard?
No. I don’t think so, What?
Like the expert potters, generals, orators, streetpavers, geometers, and every other expert you engage in questioning, the scientist, because he is the expert at science, believes he is the expert of everything!
Can it be?
Yes, I am afraid the scientist pretends to extend his knowledge to every possible field of knowledge. There are political scientists, social scientists, economic scientists, parenting scientists, mind scientists, health scientists, history scientists, there are even scientologists that claim to be a religion based on science.
Pinch me! OW! I can’t believe it. When did all this take place?
Oh how dearly out of touch are the old from the young, Socrates, all this happened very recently, very quickly.
How did you not take part in all these new accomplishments?
I got left behind, I guess, they don’t like comedy very much, more the tragic sort those scientists.
I am not afraid of this new world, . . . , not afraid at all, I am excited. Like . . . said, the scientists have made many accomplishments.
But Socrates, do not these scientists threaten to replace the love of truth with the love of information?
No, the love of truth is safe in many hearts, plus loving information and facts is like loving a couch or a wine bottle. Loving truth is like loving your children. I once heard a story concerning children that explains this proposition quite nicely.
Please tell Socrates and act it out for me.
Is it my fate to act for the actor, and discover for the scientist? Very well, I first heard this story illicitly, eavesdropping on my mother. My grandmother had told her daughter this story, and she told my sisters one evening while they were preparing the coals of the hearth before bed. She said “Helios, with the burning chariots, once crossed the sky, and as he passed the zenith he saw Sophia, the daughter of Xenagoras. She was weaving at her loom a prodigious mantel for her fat father who was descended from Dionysus. She wove fine golden strains into the fabric and she gained much inspiration from Helios as he passed day by day, because the mantel, when she tied the last knot, bore a sunburst on the back. Helios was fond of her and saw her craft at the loom was divine and so he desired her and desired to beget a son by her. So he cast himself into the moon and illuminated it. Sophia wondered at the beautiful light and fell in love with the moon. As the moon grew, so did her belly wax with child. On the night of the full moon she slept very soundly and, in her sleep, gave birth to a child. The child grew with unnatural speed and by the early hours of the morning the child was a man, beard and all. He left the house to seek his fortune. Sophia did not wake up that morning, and by afternoon, her family discovered her but could not revive her.”
Did she really die Socrates?
Everyone thought she had, . . . , but Helios, whom she had borne that night in human form, had merely tranquilized her until he returned. Now don’t interrupt.
I was very worried Socrates, I am sorry, please continue.
“AOOWHIOJSJOAJSA, ELLEEELIEIEEIEILLEEE” the women howled and wailed as is customary, and the fat father’s belly and joules shook ferociously at the sight of his daughter, thus stricken by the plague. Each held their nose thusly with the one hand so as not to be contaminated, and of course signed the evil eye with the other. During her vigil her body showed no mortal symptoms and stayed warm even without a covering. The family decided to wait for her recovery or her loosing the vital heat that is the sign of life. Xenagoras, still shuttering with grief after the second day, shrouded the girl in the divine mantel she had made for him, bearing the sunburst on its back, but she wore it on her like a blanket and so the sunburst lay over her abdomen. During six days from her giving birth, Helios had strode among men, acquiring wealth by selling an invention which was globe of crystal that emitted light during the night time or indoors.
Oh that we had such a gift of the gods Socrates, all our nights would be illumined. . .
And our dreams would suffer, . . . , now don’t interrupt.
Dressing himself like a godlike man, Helios approached the house of Xenagoras. Striding into the courtyard of the house he announced that he wished to marry the sleeping girl. The family crowded about him, afraid to touch one as fine as he; the servants whispered that his skin was especially luminescent for even the finest of olive oils. Xenagoras approached him and said “By the gods, she sleeps indefinitely long, or she sleeps forever. I tell you, I know not which.” Helios answered him “I am Photokratos and I wish to wed the daughter of the house who is asleep.” Xenagoras lead him to the chamber his daughter inhabited, and Helios leaned toward his love. As he drew nearer to her, so in proportion did she gain life and awaken. She looked into the bearded face she recognized but did not know. “A miracle” Xenagoras’ belly began to shake with a tremor of joy. The whole house was jubilant to see the daughter alive. The marriage began immediately. And so Helios was wedded to Sophia. She never knew that he was her son that she had secretly borne, secret even to herself, and she had to come to know him as a new husband, as an equal, and even a master.
Is that the end of the story Socrates? Is not their love unnatural and unholy? Furthermore, I don’t see how this explains loving a couch more than children.
How was the love unnatural?
Well she loved her child as a husband, most unnatural.
But is not anything possible by the gods?
True, true and so by the gods their love was sanctioned but unnatural?
So goes the story as my mother told it.
I guess, though I do not understand. I love wine bottles, and that is not unnatural, though they are not my children.
Though you love the songs you’ve composed as a parent loves a child?
Well yes, but that too is not inappropriate love as in the case of your story.
What would have been the right relationship of Sophia to Helios?
Why that is easy Socrates. The son should have shown his mother respect and obedience, and she should have come to know him as the old come to know the young.
How do the old come to know the young? And how do parents come to know their children?
Why I guess through intercourse. Social intercourse, Socrates, and intellectual intercourse, discussion, play, sport. As friends.
But do not the young owe something to the old? And children, do they not owe everything to their parents since their parents are the authors of their being?
That is a steep order, Socrates.
You are reluctant to answer that question so I will ask another. What is your proper relationship to your father and mother?
But Socrates, I am troubled for even as he who is responsible for my life, can he not merit my obedience in one way, that is as merits my creator and protector during my young life, but then in another way not merit any sort of obedience, say the obedience over my decisions as a man?
Your question is very puzzling.
I believe that deserts are merited in one way and not in another.
But you do owe your life to your father? And your upbringing, your education (even if you make little use of it), even your talents and preferences and joys and skills, mustn’t all these things find their common source in your parents?
But, there too must be the source of your will, the will that rebels from the firm hand of your father? Or does this will come from some other source? Does a child have a will whose source is outside the parents who bore him?
I do not know Socrates.
Let us put to ourselves the question in a different light. If, as in the commencement of the Olympic games, the priestesses of Apollo use the light of the sun to catch the torch of the games aflame, is the fire of the torch the same as the fire of the sun?
It is all fire, but the fire of the torch is less powerful than the light of the sun.
Less powerful? Does the sun cook meat?
Or destroy entire fields of grain?
No, of course not, it feeds them.
But the torch does these things, does it not?
And what is power but to be able to do more things?
And so the torch is at least in some ways more powerful that the sun, whose fire is gentle and over all the same?
Yes Socrates, but there is something more powerful in the sun, since it illuminates much more than any torch, and as you have argued, the games are begun only with this pure fire, in its lighting of the torch.
. . . , I wonder to myself, whether there has ever been a sun that when it illumined, it could like the torch set another globe a blaze — create another sun, just as any torch can blaze up another bundle of grasses.
I do not know Socrates.
Do you think there could be a greater thing than even the sun, whose illumination was so great that it lit the sun the way that the sun lights the torch of the games.
It can only be what is divine that has done such a thing.
And how the sun obeys so completely this divine inspirer? Do you think?
Obeys, yes Socrates, but also illuminates under its own sphere, and makes torches, starts games, and turns unthinking lovers red. I would not be honest if I thought it were clear how I should obey my father, and not obey him, ahh! Socrates, but . . . . . . I guess I am like the capricious child, I want it both ways.
Absolute obedience and freedom. Hence the wisdom of the proverb, “an exception to every rule.”
Now wait a second Socrates, we have gone far a-field from your story. That story of Sophia and Helios had nothing to do with acting nor Dionysus.
She acted like she was asleep, did she not, since she feigned it? And Helios acted as though he were mortal, since that was also feigned and hence would it not be proper to say he played at being mortal? And was not Xenagoras descended from Dionysus?
Yes, yes Socrates, but you said you were to explain loving your children more than sofas.
Indeed I did, and so a ridiculous ending to a badly conceived argument which needed a story to explain another argument that searched out what the truth of words was and tried to represent such a concept. I say the digression goes just that far before good judgment cuts it off.
And so as a punishment for our perplexity the battle must continue inexorably?
So it must, so it must.