Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wells and Plato

Today, I finished reading two books. Firstly, Malcolm Schofield's Plato: Political Philosophy - an academic text I was reading as a refresher before teaching Plato next term, review forthcoming in PSR. Secondly, for leisurely/bed-time reading, H. G. Wells' sci-fi classic The Invisible Man (text available here). There are some surprising synergies between the two!

The Invisible Man is actually, in many ways, like Well's later short story The Country of the Blind (which may be compared to Plato's Cave, if read as an illustration of how the ignorant masses will be sceptical of and persecute those of greater insight). Both illustrate that one man's difference can be a blessing as well as a curse, although Griffin certainly seems to mostly profit from his invisibility.

Obviously, the relevant Platonic image here is the 'ring of Gyges', which gives the wearer power to turn invisible and so commit injustice with impunity. One with such a ring is obviously more fortunate than Griffin, in that he can switch between visibility and invisibility at will, and thus doesn't face many of the problems such as eating or going about in public. Nonetheless, Wells' novel illustrates certain problems faced when invisible, such as being identified by footprints (and being cold, though going naked may have been less problematic in Greece).

Certainly Griffin does seem to be driven mad by power, proposing a reign of terror, and thereby nicely illustrates the tyrannical soul that Socrates describes. Given the choice between being such a man, able to do injustice but lacking internal order, or the moderate and just philosopher whose soul is harmonised, the latter looks more appealing to me.

Also it's worth noting that the novel contains numerous uses of 'incontinence', in either the archaic sense of immediately or perhaps more generally as lacking self-control (although without emphasis on bodily functions) - to illustrate that the term used for Aristotle's akrasia was not always as absurd as it sounds today.

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