My name is James R. Goetsch Jr. I first studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Louisiana State University, where I was introduced to Plato and the love of wisdom by Prof. Charles Bigger, who inspired me to follow in his path as a teacher. I then earned an M.A. at LSU, writing a thesis on Plato’s dialogue The Lysis under Prof. Bigger’s direction. I then went to study at Emory University, where I was introduced to Giambattista Vico, studying with Prof. Donald Phillip Verene. I received my Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1993 from Emory, writing a dissertation on Vico under the direction of Prof. Verene. The next year I began to teach at Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg, Florida, received tenure five years later, and have been there ever since.
I think of myself primarily as a teacher, and I am mainly interested in how philosophy can help us make sense of ourselves and the world we live in through disciplined reasoning and wondering thought. I find resources for teaching and thinking about this in Ancient Western Philosophy, East Asian Philosophy, and the thought of the Eighteenth Century Italian thinker, Giambattista Vico. I have written a book on Vico, entitled Vico’s Axioms: The Geometry Of The Human World (1995, Yale University Press). When not teaching, or preparing to teach, I likes to study languages, add to my collection of Star Wars collectibles (I have a very nice replica of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber, for example), or play on-line games.
I regularly teach Ancient Greek Philosophy, Introduction to Logic, Symbolic Logic, Introduction to East Asian Philosophy, Environmental Ethics, and Plato, as well as having taught many other classes across the years as well. Sometimes I think of all my classes as being an introduction to philosophy as the love of wisdom, and hope that I am at times a finger pointing at that moon.
What is this site about? To make sense of that, we need to think about a couple of Greek words: katabasis and anabasis.
Literally, the Greek word katabainô means “to dismount from a horse or chariot” or “to descend from the highlands to the coastal plain,” and it has come to mean simply “to go or come down”–“to descend.” A katabasis, then, generally, was “a descent” or “a way down (especially to the nether world).” In a more metaphorical usage, it has also come to mean “the attainment of an end or purpose.” (1)
The complementary term, anabainô, means literally “to mount a horse or chariot” or to ascend from the coastal plains to the highlands,” and thus, generally, ” to go or come up” or “to ascend.” An anabasis, therefore, was usually “an ascent” or “a way up.” Metaphorically, it could also mean “to go back” or “to return to the beginning.” (2) Thus one might say that in one sense a katabasis and an anabasis could coincide, for to go down in the sense of attaining one’s end or purpose (katabainô) might also mean to go back in the sense of returning to the beginning (anabainô).
Understood in this way, a katabasis could be one and the same as an anabasis, making the art of attaining an end or purpose identical with the art of returning to an origin. This thought is compatible with the basic Vichian principle expressed in the Scienza nuova as general axiom CVI: “Matters must take their beginning from that of the matters of which they treat.” (3)
Or as Heraclitus notes in fragment 60, “The way up and down is one and the same.”
It is all a matter of recollection and remaking, as we seek our governing roots. And if I attempt to do that, of course I am making for myself what Vico called a “fable” (or a myth), but you should not let that fool you. The root of meaning for poetry, after all, is poiesis, or making. And as Vico pointed out, “If we consider the matter well, poetic truth is metaphysical truth, and physical truth which is not in conformity with it should be considered false. Thence springs this important consideration in poetic theory: the true war chief, for example, is the Godfrey that Torquato Tasso imagines: and all the chiefs who do not conform throughout to Godfrey are not true chiefs of was.” (4)
Thus I go down and I come up with my fables (as best as I can), looking for a human kind of wisdom.
(1) Henry George Liddel and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Revised and augmented by Henry Stuart Jones (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), entry under katabainô.
(2) Ibid., entry under anabainô.
(3) Giambattisto Vico, The New Science, transl. Max H. Fisch and T.G. Bergin (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984)/La scienza nuova seconda, ed. F. Nicolini, in Opere di G.B. Vico, Vol. 4 (Bari: Laterza, 1942). I am using Nicolini’s paragraph enumeration in my reference number.