According to Amos, Strauss and Bloom distort both Plato's "attitude toward tradition" and the purpose of Socratic dialectic when they interpret Cephalus as a representative of "ancestral piety." In his Interpretive Essay on the Republic, Bloom writes:
The reverence for age, and hence antiquity, is one of the strongest ties which can bind a civil society together. But in order to carry on a frank discussion about justice, this reverence must be overcome, and the philosopher must take the place of the father at the center of the circle. Socrates must induce Cephalus to leave the scene, because Cephalus is beyond reason, and it would be impious to dispute him.Against this reading of the scene, Amos argues that dialectic, as the highest form of reason, can never be "a calculated rhetorical strategy of exclusion." Exclusion is not even necessary because, in fact, Cephalus "does not identify very closely with anything ancestral." Socrates does not banish Cephalus; indeed, by his own testimony, he is genuinely interested in what Cephalus has to say about "what it is like to be very old." Why, then, does Cephalus leave? If Amos is correct that Socrates puts words (a definition of justice) into Cephalus' mouth, does not that make Bloom's interpretation plausible? I cannot tell whether Amos has completed his thought on that question yet--Socrates' ultimate aim in letting himself appear like a sophist remains unclear to me without the benefit of Bloom's reading. That is, I don't know precisely when Amos moves from the maieutic exposition of the likeness between Socratic and sophistic refutation to his actual interpretation of the scene in Book I. Amos has written, however, that Cephalus is happy to let Polemarchus inherit the argument. This would be part and parcel of the former's long-lasting concern for the well-being of his children. (I have to say I find no evidence of such great concern in the text; but I'm no expert on the historical Cephalus.) If he felt a "creeping horror" at hearing the Socratic refutation, why would he foist that same horror on the son for whom he cares so much?
My own view is probably closer to Bloom's:
I think Cephalus (young and old) always lacked the eros and courage required to participate fully in Socratic dialectic (and in that sense he is "beyond reason"). He may be afraid of death, but he is all too ready to discuss that fear in public as part of his newfound delight in charming speeches. His fear inspires him to take on the lightest of "ancestral" burdens (which are therefore somehow anachronistic and maybe only capable of inspiring a "nostalgic frisson"--my new favorite phrase)--offering sacrifices and leaving an adequate amount of money behind. He scoffs at and condemns the character of those who find old age a heavier burden. Finally, he is unwilling to disturb his comfort by inquiring into the sufficiency of the amends he is making.
A few more points:
1. I don't know what to make of Amos' positive interpretation of Cephalus, especially as it relates to Polemarchus. As mentioned above, Amos does not intend to disguise Cephalus' "complacency" (and, in that context, his objection to Annas' interpretation is even more confusing). I have always assumed that precisely this complacency, this "easygoing refinement" is what allows Cephalus to become uneasy at the direction of the conversation while simultaneously happily allowing his son into its midst. Cephalus' "peace of mind" is at risk only at "the threshold of old age," and then only slightly because (1) he has the money to prevent the necessity of committing unjust acts (and to atone for them if he does) and (2) he "does not think the conversation is anything serious"? Why be concerned for one of those men--his son--of good character and good inheritance whose whole life is ahead of him? Amos writes:
Cephalus admires moderation and justice and thinks both of them more important than money (since money is actually subordinate to virtue); he thinks the most valuable thing his sons could gain from him would be refined moral judgment, together with the means to execute it.I just don't know where this comes from. It seems to me that Cephalus' whole discourse on the primacy of character is an exercise in self-deception.
2. However, I think Amos is right that Bloom's general view of tradition is extremely problematic; but I think Bloom's reading is valuable in spite of his politics and hierarchies. Cephalus has a disordered relation to convention or ancestral piety--"hedging his bets" rather than responding according to ancient man's "pre-commitment to hierophany"--in which the city itself is implicated. Strauss's argument that he appears unconcerned with "present decay" seems accurate. His participation in the sacrifices offers no avenue to renewal.
3. Ranasinghe (one of Rosen's students!), in part following Strauss, reads the Republic as Socrates' attempt to teach Glaucon to moderate his political ambitions (in other words, to know himself and his limits). Such an interpretation can, but need not, accommodate Bloom's view of Cephalus' departure (and Socrates' role in bringing it about): maybe the dialectic of each dialogue is meant to benefit a particular character and maybe Socrates is not a dialectical robot who is never not practicing pure midwifery with every single person he meets (i.e. maybe he too is a human rather than a type). What is the difference between a strategy of exclusion and a strategy of allowing self-exclusion (or at least of revealing the need for it)? The answer hinges on whether the exclusion is just or not--on whether, as Pseudonoma writes, souls can be led to truth "through their properly ordered communion" and not only "qua individual soul." And, in the context of this scene, on whether the departed Cephalus--without suffering through further refutation--could hope to find a place even within a properly ordered communion.
4. Cephalus' departure is a little like one of Mr. Bennet's repeated retreats to his library in Pride and Prejudice. (Bloom harshly criticizes Mr. Bennet in Love and Friendship.) I can almost hear him mutter as he walks away: "I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough."