Wednesday, January 02, 2008

From Richard Sorabji's "Self"

Plutarch On Tranquility 473B-474B:

But just as the man pictured in Hades plaiting a rope allows a grazing donkey to consume what he is plaiting, so forgetfulness, unaware of most things and ungrateful, snatches and overruns things, obliterating every action and right act, every pleasant discussion, meeting, or enjoyment, and does not allow our life to be unified, through the past being woven together with the future.


Is Plutarch's advice on achieving tranquilitythrough using our memory sound? One problem that Plutarch recognizes is that those who wallow in bad memories will not gain tranquility. But more serious may be the case of those who have traumatic memories and may need to do something more complicated than weaving in the dark patches.

Second, it is perhaps even more important to weave in future projects. The late Russian neuropsychologist, A. R. Luria, wrote a book about a man who had lost his memory of who he was through being shot in the brain in the Second World War. His life's project was trying to discover who he was and writing a diary at the rate of about a word a day describing his efforts. Luria comments that those of his patients who lost the ability to plan future projects disintegrated far more than those who had lost their memories. For tranquility, no doubt, this man would have had to succeed in remembering his past. But to have a firm identity, the continuing project was enough. . . .

Third, there is the danger of self-serving falsification, if identity is allowed to depend upon memory. In fact, in its earliest version wtih Epicharmus in the 5th century BC, the Growing Argument's fragmentation of the self was designed to disclaim responsibility for what was done by selves falsely deemed to be other. If the fragmentation is to be repaired by weaving a narrative, the weaver must not be allowed to weave a narrative that equally falsifies by wrong inclusion and exclusion of data. Some such problem was later to attend Locke's account of the self as constituted by memory. Self-creation by use of memory is more liable to falsification than self-creation through the choices one makes. . . . (175-176)

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Aristotle further approves, in Nicomachean Ethics 1.10 Solon's saying 'Call no man happy until he is dead', and adds 'if then', meaning that one cannot evaluate a life except as a whil and in the light of its outcome and whether its projects finally come to fruition. . . . In the story told by Herodotus, Croesus, king of Lydia, was prematurely considered happy for his wealth. But when conquered by Cyrus, king of Persia, and placed on top of a bonfire for burning, he cried out, 'Oh, Solon! Solon!' Cyrus asked the meaning and on being told that Solon had said 'Call no man happy until he is dead', he was so impressed that he brought Croesus down from the bonfire. (178)

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