Monday, November 20, 2006

Ion and the Muse of Reason

Plato’s short dialogue Ion has been on my mind this morning. Socrates confronts Ion, an expert in reciting and interpreting Homer. Socrates inquires into Ion’s art and knowledge as an award-winning expert in Homeric studies. Ion is unable to give a good account of it. Socrates suggests that Muses and gods inspire poets, performers, and audiences. Poets are quite literally out of their minds when receiving words and music from a Muse. They have lost the power to reason. The poet does not possess knowledge of any particular art such as medicine or warfare, but is the tool of divine inspiration that arises unconsciously.

However, what is reason? Has anyone ever defined it to everyone’s satisfaction? One may ask me not to be so fussy as to ask for the final definition of reason. After all, it has something to do with thinking logically and producing or inspecting the soundness and validity of arguments. If I follow the argument in Euclid I.47, the Pythagoras Theorem, then I reason.

Besides, I believe that all my thinking arises from the mush I call my brain whether I am reading Virgil or Euclid. In addition, I do not believe in supernatural beings. Should I consider Ion more than a curiosity?

Actually, I do consider Ion more than a curiosity. Creating poems and arguments are imaginative activities. There is no Iliad without Homer. There is no Pythagoras Theorem without Pythagoras. The statement about Homer seems uncontroversial, whereas the statement about Pythagoras has spawned endless and unresolved controversies. The nature of the Pythagoras Theorem and the definition of reason seems as though they are undecidable. One must use reason to arrive at an understanding of what reason is. We try to inhabit a space inside reason and outside reason when thinking about reason.

Extending Plato, I contemplate a Muse of Reason. When I reason, the Muse inspires me. Can I believe Plato's assertions about poetic creativity anymore than I can believe my assertion about the Muse of Reason?

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