Abstraction and the Lived Experience

Saturday May 20, 11 am -12.15 pm

Moderator: Jesi Taylor

Emma M. Griffiths, “Metal Masters, Metal Slaves: The Cost of Artificial Intelligence in Greek Myth”
Jordan Jochim, “Towards an Old Paradigm: Tocqueville, Tyranny, and the American Nightmare”
Ian Shane Peebles, “Tearing the Veil: On Du Boisian Double Consciousness from a neo-Kingian Perspective of Self-Purification”

Emma M. Griffiths, “Metal Masters, Metal slaves: The Cost of Artificial Intelligence in Greek Myth”

The  existence  of  automata  is  a  puzzling  feature  of  early  Greek  myth,  which  has  been  variously  interpreted  in  relation  to  divine  creation,  medical  knowledge  and  the  idea  of  poetic  transformation.  Less  widely  noted  is  the  link  between  metal  men  and  the  discourse  of  slavery,  where  artificial  intelligence  intersects  with  ideas  about  coinage  and  materiality.      

In  Plato’s  Meno  Socrates  dismisses  the  value  of  Daedalus’  creations  with  the  vocabulary  of  slavery,  describing  a  mechanical  statue  capable  of  independent  movement  (Meno  97d-­‐e).  He  concludes:  ‘There  is  little  value  in  such  a  possession  ((οὐ  πολλῆς  τινος  ἄξιόν  ἐστι  τιμῆς)  if  it  can  abscond  like  a  ‘runaway  slave’,  but  when  fastened  securely  it  is  very  valuable  (δεδεμένον  δὲ  πολλοῦ  ἄξιον).’  This  is  more  than  a  metaphorical  phrasing  of  how  a  valuable  statue  could  be  stolen.  The  materiality  of  Daedalus’  creations  as  moving  objects  is  related  to  Hephaestus’  metalworking  skills  as  creator  of  multiple  figures,  such  as  the  gold  and  silver  guard  dogs  in  Homer’s  Odyssey  7.  The  link  between  

Daedalus  and  money  is  made  more  clearly  in  Plato’s  Euthyphro  where  the  moving  figures  are  again  used  to  discuss  philosophy,  and  their  value  dismissed.  The  ability  to  compose  a  stable  argument  is  described  as  preferable  to  the  ‘wisdom  of  Daedalus  or  the  money  of  Tantalus’  (Δαιδάλου  σοφίᾳ  τὰ  Ταντάλου  χρήματα,  11e).  A  related  dynamic  appears  in  Euripides’  Heracles  where  Amphitryon  calls  hoplites  ‘slaves  of  their  armour’ (ἀνὴρ  ὁπλίτης  δοῦλός  ἐστι  τῶν  ὅπλων,  190),  because  they  lose  their  individuality  in  a  military  phalanx.        

 While  these  examples  could  suggest  parallels  with  modern  ideas  of  ‘wage  slaves’,  the  role  of  metal  in  Greek  myth  suggests  a  different  dynamic,  where  debt  and  the  ideas  of  ‘buying  freedom’  are  part  of  a  magical  cosmology.  The  metal  slave  contains  in  his  body  the  means  to  purchase  his  freedom,  but  would  need  to  sacrifice  something  of  his  essence.  In  contrast,  the  soldier  who  is  enslaved  by  his  armour  has  bought  his  own  enslavement.    This  discourse  is  closer  to  Greek  magical  thought,  than  any  legal  or  socio-­political  theory,  and  suggests  that  in  the  archaic  and  classical  periods  the  relationship  between  slavery  and  economic  exchange  could  be  viewed  through  multiple  frames.  By  the  Hellenistic  period,  the  metal  man  is  firmly  positioned  as  part  of  a  new  artistic culture,  with  a  more  human  focus,  so  the  figure  of  Talos  in  Apollonius’  Argonautica  is often  read  as  a  reflection  of  the  real  life  statue,  the  Colossus  of  Rhodes.  In  this  story, however,  it  is  notable  that  Talos,  a  servant  created  by  Hephaestus,  now  acts  as  a dangerous,  independent  agent.  When  Medea  kills  him  by  causing  the  life-­‐force  to  flow out,  a  new  paradox  is  created  -­‐  the  removal  of  consciousness  increases  the  value  of  Talos as  precious  metal.    

By  conceptualizing  metal  automata  as  artificial  intelligence,  possessing  a dangerous  potential  for  agency,  Classical  Greek  myth  suggests  that  slaves  cannot  be valued  through  normal  frames  of  coinage  and  economic  exchange.

Dr. Emma M. Griffiths is a graduate of the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol, she has published on many aspect of Greek drama and myth, recently completing a monograph on child figures in Greek tragedy. She is currently working on a monograph exploring the use of mythological objects in the plays of Menander.


Jordan Jochim, “Towards an Old Paradigm: Tocqueville, Tyranny, and the American Nightmare”

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America reads as both paradigmatic of Americans’ (and American political theorists’) characteristic blindness to the relationship between American citizenship and race (Smith 1993), and illuminating of these very imbrications it is charged with occluding (Olson 2004; Turner 2008). Such readings consistently re-triangulate between American democracy, white supremacy, and Tocqueville. Serving as a contested object of ethical and political self-reflection, Tocqueville’s Democracy appears either paradigmatic or illuminating of quintessentially American modes of disavowal.

I take Tocqueville’s widely criticized claim regarding American slavery’s tangential relation to democracy as a provocation to dwell with the political vocabulary he does adopt, that being tyranny, and in so doing assess how this vocabulary both contributes to and challenges these triangulations. I argue that Tocqueville’s discussion of American slavery and racism anticipates his later consideration of the civically pernicious effects of tutelary despotism. Both ultimately orient towards political incapacitation, the developed inability to engage in free and collective action as a result of atrophying social conditions. Tocqueville’s blindness, I argue, rests in his reification and misunderstanding of incapacitation as an incidental byproduct of physical labor, as opposed to a guiding, strategic end of tyrannical practices of domination intended to offset potential forms of collective resistance. Drawing on historical treatments covering the colonial era through the Antebellum South, this paper identifies what Tocqueville calls the nightmare of the American imagination—the anticipated rebellion of systematically exploited and mistreated populations—as both motivating the transition from indentured servitude to chattel slavery and informing sustained and strategic patterns of racial tyranny, figured as forms of intended incapacitation. The American nightmare warrants understanding American white supremacy’s investment in anti-black oppression as distinctively tyrannical. White supremacy’s embedded status in historical and institutional patterns of state authority warrants a re-assessment of America’s regime-type as constitutively tyrannical.

Tocqueville argues slaves to have been so-habituated as to be incapable of hearing the voice of freedom. While Tocqueville here invokes Aristotle’s account of natural slavery, and southern slave-owners and statesman drew upon this part of Aristotle’s Politics I for the purposes of justification, I argue Aristotle’s account of tyranny in Politics V to speak productively to the American historical experience with anti-black racism to the extent that he understood the intended cultivation of civic incapacity as a hallmark of tyrannical rule, and enslavement as an instrument, as opposed to justification, for such domination. Drawing on Aristotle, this paper reads with and against Tocqueville’s gestural account of racial tyranny in conversation with work on Tocqueville’s account of race and American Herrenvolk republicanism. It analyzes the persistent attractiveness of the language of racial tyranny in some of these works (e.g. Van den Berg 1978; Shklar 1998; Roediger 1991; Olson 2004), as well as its attendant neglect as an analytically distinct category of domination. In so doing it brings to view another window opened and closed by reading Tocqueville on race: the persistence of tyranny as a component of the American regime and our concomitant refusal to take full measure of its significance

Jordan Jochim is a PhD candidate in the department of government at Cornell University, where he specializes in political theory. He is interested in American political thought, classical Greek political thought, Democratic theory, and accounts of tyranny in the history of political thought. His dissertation research examines the use made of discourses of tyranny in 19th and early 20th century African American political thought with a view towards developing an account of racial tyranny as a constitutive part of the American regime.

Ian Shane Peebles, “Tearing the Veil: On Du Boisian Double Consciousness from a neo-Kingian Perspective of Self-Purification”

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King provides “four basic steps” to a nonviolent campaign. This paper elucidates, expands in scope, and applies step three: self-purification – the self-reflection of an agent to determine whether he/she is capable of acting in a nonretaliatory manner – as it relates to contemporary issues of race.

Section I summarizes King’s letter, the ethical foundation undergirding King’s appeal for justice, and the “four basic steps.” I argue that the introspection self-purification calls for ought to encompass not only forethought regarding future behaviors, but also retrospection and the self-evaluation of one’s worldview and self-perception – what I call a neo-Kingian self purification (SP).

Section II applies SP to contemporary manifestations of Du Boisian double consciousness (DC) – the “peculiar sensation… of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” (Du Bois, 1903). After reviewing various interpretations of this phenomenon, I conclude that regardless of the interpretation adopted, DC is “a malady” in need of a cure. I offer two remedies and a way for those “outside the Veil” to help mitigate stimuli of DC. The section concludes addressing two objections to the dismantling of DC.

Section III addresses what I call “the Church’s collusion with oppressive philosophies and ideologies”. Often conflating the foundational doctrines of one’s faith with one’s cultural milieu, practitioners of religion need to exercise SP in order to separate the two, so as not to perpetuate the systemic injustices of the culture. I offer examples from the evangelical Church to highlight the dangers of collusion.

The overarching goal is to show that the freedom sought by the minority (particularly those who identify with the Black community, though the arguments presented are relevant for all non-White racial groups and women) generally oppressed in America is found in the concerted effort of renewing minority members’ self-perception and their perception of others with the conscientious awareness and honest reflection of the  majority with their standing in America. These needed activities of the mind suggest there is a defect in both camps as it relates to (intellectual) virtue, especially as it relates to phronesis (practical reasoning), and until these flaws are acknowledged and virtue cultivated, policy is insufficient in bringing about the freedom desired.

Ian Peebles received his BA from Wheaton College (IL.) and MA from Biola University. His research primarily focuses on normative and applied ethics, particularly the (neo-) Aristotelian tradition and its intersection with contemporary ethical issues. Contemporary ethical issues of interests include issues in biomedical ethics, issues regarding race relations and racial reconciliation in the US, and issues regarding the criminal justice system in the US. Other areas of interests include: moral psychology, philosophy of race, and the philosophy of mind (as it relates to aesthetic judgments). He, his wife, and their two boys currently reside in Riverside, CA.