Selections from Antidosis, On the Sublime, Against the Sophists, Dao De Jing

I pulled quotes from our readings this week that seemed to illustrate mastery of language aesthetics in terms of text construction and reception.


  • emphasis: language/speech as mastery of insight/knowledge – but what does this illuminate about how philosophy and language function? as distinct from rhetoric? sophistry?
  • antidosis: an exchange
  • “we are in no respect superior to other living creatures…there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish”
  • of geometry, astronomy, and studies of that sort: most men see nothing but empty talk as it has no useful application either to private or public affairs—these studies can be of no benefit after they have been mastered unless they are how one makes their living. study, knowledge, as mastered skills.
  • “it is not in the nature of man to attain a science by the possession of which we can know positively what we should do or what we should say, in the next resort I hold that man to be wise who is able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course, and I hold that man to be a philosopher who occupies himself with the studies from which he will most quickly gain that kind of insight”
  • men who have been gifted with eloquence by nature are governed what they say by chance, while those who have gained this power by the study of philosophy/exercise by reason never speak without weighing their words

Longinus On the Sublime

  • emphasis: illuminates aesthetic appeal in the construction/delivery of literary texts (distinct from speech?) for a more nuanced look at their affects on audience. what function would this text serve? was it instructional?
  • treatsie on aesthetics in literature
  • sublime: authors have moral excellence in their writing that arouses emotion in audience: “a certain loftiness and excellence of language…which takes the reader out of himself”
  • words as “truly noble and sublime which always please and please all readers. For when the same book always produces the same impression on all who read it, whatever be the difference in their pursuits, their manner of life, their aspirations, their ages, or their language, such a harmony of opposite gives authority to their favourable verdict”
  • sublimity is a faculty natural, but is worthwhile to train up souls to sublimity
  • encourages “copying from fair forms or statuses or works of skilled labour”
  • oratorical image: digression of energy and reality in adding passion to the practical, argumentative parts of oration
  • five sources of sublimity: great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, dignified word arrangement
  • “in art we admire exactness, in the works of nature magnificence; and it is from nature that man derives the faculty of speech. Whereas, then, in statuary we look for close resemblance to humanity, in literature we require something which transcends humanity”

Isocrates Against the Sophists

  • emphasis: distinguishing philosophy from sophistry on the premise of oratory instruction – why this distinction with philosophy instead of rhetoric?
  • “they promise they will make their disciples such orators, that they shall omit nothing in the nature of things; 10 nay, that they will teach them eloquence, like grammar; not considering the nature of each, but thinking, that, on account of the excellence of their promises, they will be admired, and the study of eloquence seem of higher value; not knowing, that arts render not those famous who insolently boast of them, but those who can find out and express whatever is in them” –  philosophy could effect this. Isocrates contrasts the teachings of sophistry with philosophy.
  • “But let no one think, that I imagine justice can be taught; for I do not think there is any such art which can teach those who are not disposed by nature, either temperance or justice; tho’ I think the study of popular eloquence helps both to acquire and practice it.”

Dao De Jing

  • emphasis: some elements of mastery as a points of comparison. The impulse is to compare it to the other texts (Western) to look at similarities/differences in how mastery of language is discussed and the structure of the text’s language. A focus on the dao as essence or virtue seems comparable to treaties on rhetoric as justice, though built on different premises.
  • Attributes of the Dao
    • (Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Dao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure).
    • (Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.
    • (Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared the arm and marched up to them.
  • All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). The work is done, but how no one can see; ‘Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.
  • Dexterity in using the Dao
    • The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’
    • Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is called ‘The utmost degree of mystery.’

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