Saturday, April 20, 2013

From Gorgias to Marcuse

The ancient Greeks had a school of philosophers known as the Sophists, who took pride in their ability to prove impossible things. Some sophists even hired themselves out at public events, where audiences could watch spellbound as they proceeded to prove propositions that were obviously false. 
 
The sophist philosopher Gorgias (4th century b.c.) invented an ingenuous argument to prove that: nothing exists; and even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something exists and something can be known about it, such knowledge cannot be communicated to others; and even if something exists, can be known about, and can be communicated about, no incentive exists to communicate anything about it to others. 

It would be nice if such sophistry had been limited to ancient Greeks. However, the 20th century saw a thinker whose nonsense rivaled and even surpassed anything produced by the sophists. His name was Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), the guru of the 1960s counterculture.  

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