From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?


Via a reader, a supplemental lecture (part of a course) on Strauss’ three waves of modernity:

Strauss briefly highlighted (about 40 years ago now in this video) what he saw as two intellectually/academically predominant ways of approaching political philosophy that have rejected it as a pursuit of the good:

1. Positivism-“The only form of genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge…and science knows only facts, or relations of facts.”-Video 1-Minute 4:40

Outside of (S)cience, you are only discussing values, or relations of ideas which are less than factual, and thus perhaps not knowable (or certainly not with the same claim upon (T)ruth).  Of course, this doesn’t prevent people from pursuing “The Great Society,” or “The Open Society” or other ideas which likely influence politics in the wake of positivism…but it can prevent the kind of project Strauss wanted to pursue.

Strauss also brings up:

2. Historicism-:  “All human thought, including scientific thought, rests ultimately on premises, which cannot be validated by human reason, and which change from historical epoch to historical epoch.”-Video 2-Minute 4:10.

This is mostly a critique of Hegel and absolute idealism.

From Aristotle to Locke, thinkers have presented really different and conflicting ideas on what a good society ought to be.  Historicism suggests that this is because they lived in different times, with different problems.  So, as you look back upon history you must see them as part of their contexts/cultures/times.  Yet, in so doing, the lens with which you understand their times assumes that you can have an absolute knowledge of time itself.

Paradoxically, like Hegel, you are then claiming to have absolute knowledge but also claiming that you can’t have absolute knowledge within the bounds of reason (or claiming that there are absolute ideas, however unknowable).

The Meno here.

Just a few ideas. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

See Also On This Site:  From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”

Also, if Strauss relies so much on the reason/revelation distinction, and heavily on Plato and philosophical idealism (as opposed to empiricism, say) does he miss some of what that tradition has meant for political freedom in the U.S.?  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

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4 thoughts on “From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

  1. Maria Ar

    Thanks for this good summary about Strauss’ discussion of historicism and positivism in the light of his “philosophical project”. I am engaged in the study of his interpretation of the Meno and simply wanted to ask: is there any particular reason why you are posting his lectures on the Meno, other than the initial and summarized introduction to political philosophy in contains? In other words, I was searching for discussion of his interpretation of the Meno, have you been working on it?

    Thank you very much in advance.

    1. Maria,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m not working on the Meno, so the best I can do for you is to say I knew someone who did, and he recommended Jacob Klein’s ‘A Commentary on Plato’s Meno.’

      He said it was hard (The Meno and Klein’s reading) to get a grasp on, and the esotericism, puzzles and number games Strauss is known for might have something to do with this complexity. Reading with Strauss was apparently intense and intellectually demanding.

      I checked the book out over at Amazon, and here’s what a reviewer had to say:

      https://www.amazon.com/Commentary-Platos-Meno-Jacob-Klein/dp/0226439593

      ‘I realized early in this book that it is hard and that I am not the best audience for it, but decided that I would benefit enough from it to read it through; at least I would remember in the future the topics it covers. It is a line by line commentary on Plato’s Meno, and it talks broadly about other dialogues of Plato. Jacob Klein is one of the few classicists who has written both about Plato and Euclid, and what he has to say about color and surface that Socrates uses as an example of definition in the Meno is thus of great value. Klein connects this to the study of solid geometry established as part of the sequence of studies by Socrates in the Republic and to the growth of body in the Timaeus.

      Really to appreciate this commentary one must know ancient Greek, because a fair amount of what Klein talks about is Plato’s language. This commentary would probably be ideal for a serious seminar on the Meno led by someone with a solid command of ancient Greek who is also thoroughly familiar with Plato’s dialogues, as Klein refers to many of the dialogues more than just in footnotes. However, I am certain that even if I came equipped with the right masteries, I would still be frustrated by some of Klein’s writing: there are too many sentences that end with a question mark, things like “And does not A tell us B?” Even supposing that this is an imitation of Socrates’ questions, I do not want a book to ask me questions’

      Feel free to send me an email if you can provide a better grasp on the Meno as well!

      1. Maria Ar

        Thank you very much for your reply, Chris. I myself have been working on Klein’s Commentary of the Meno for a while, which is namely the “coursebook” of Strauss’ seminar on the Meno. Of course we shouldn’t gather from this, that Strauss’ interpretation of the Meno follows Klein’s, in fact, he opposes Klein’s main conclusions, but still takes Klein’s book as a good guide for the reading of the dialogue. Strauss’ study of the Meno amounts only to the seminar (transcripts and audios on the Leo Strauss Center web site), as far as I know. His reading is at the moment my main research interest (as part of my phd project), but not much discussion of it seems to be available. I am enjoying your blog very much, and I can see you refer to Strauss quite often – if you happen to find any references to the Meno in any of his writings I could very much use any tips! Thanks again.

      2. Maria,

        I will pass along anything I can get, and thanks again for stopping by. I’ve heard a phd can be a life-changing experience…

        Best wishes!

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