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Thanks for the post. This instantly reminded of a book that Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote about W.E.B. Du Bois that I hadn’t had a chance to read and kept putting off. It’s called Line of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity. It was on my “to read” list for a long time since undergraduate. Perhaps I should start reading it during this pandemic free time. There is a paragraph in the summary that reads:

“With its romantic notions of human brotherhood and self-realization, German culture held a potent allure for Du Bois. Germany, he said, was the first place white people had treated him as an equal. But the prevalence of anti-Semitism allowed Du Bois no illusions that the Kaiserreich was free of racism. His challenge, says Appiah, was to take the best of German intellectual life without its parochialism—to steal the fire without getting burned.”

The idiom: “steal the fire without getting burned” may be useful as well. I imagine it would be extremely difficult to have to deal with ethically and politically problematic teachers and colleagues. Du Bois didn’t have the luxury of “keep things things in the past” since at the time, anti-semitism was still prevalent amongst his own intellectual circles. Perhaps his way of dealing with these intellectuals can shed light on how we can also deal with past problematic philosophers and perhaps current ones as well.

Book: https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724914

Derek Bowman

So I'm not sure if my relationship to Socrates fits this model or not.

I do in some respects take Socrates as an exemplar - of certain virtues, and of an approach to philosophy. But I simultaneously hold him up to a criticism which I then reflect at myself.

For example, when the Thirty Tyrants asked him and others to arrest Leon of Salamis on trumped up charges, Socrates went home and refused to participate. (Plato's Apology, 32c-d) This is, in one respect, brave and principled. And yet he *just* went home, apparently doing nothing to warn Leon or otherwise actively resist.

Insofar as I take Socrates as an incomplete exemplar, I'm thereby forced to interrogate my own desire to be content with simply avoiding complicity in the injustice around me. (See Republic 496d-e)

But just as I'm dissatisfied with that response from Socrates, I'm dissatisfied with it from myself. I don't claim to have done much of great consequence as a result of such dissatisfaction, though it has motivated me to look for (and occasionally find) ways to go beyond my natural comfort zone.

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