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Journal o f Philosophy o f Education, Vol. 30, No.

2, 1996

The Strange Case of Mr Bloom


J. R. MUIR
The intention of this paper is to suggest that the educational philosophy of Allan Bloom merits renewed consideration, and that such consideration reveals major failings in contemporary educational philosophy. A prerequisite o f such consideration is an examination o f the ways in which his ideas have been misinterpreted. In particular, Bloom is neither a political conservative nor an educational traditionalist, nor an advocate of the Great Books programme. Blooms recovery o f the Socratic or classical political rationalist approach to education both reveals enormous shortcomings in the dominant conceptions of the nature of philosophy o f education, and revitalises an alternative conception already widely accepted among classicists and political philosophers. In his Preface to the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, Rousseau offers a disturbing insight into the nature of human beings.
There will always be men destined to be subjugated by the opinions of their century, their country, their society. A man who plays the freethinker and the philosopher today would, for the same reason, have merely been a fanatic at the time of the League.

Rousseau refers here to the Holy League of Henri, third Duc de Guise, established in 1576 and dedicated to the suppression of Protestantism in France. Rousseau observed, in other words, that men are freethinkers in regimes where democratic principles are dominant for precisely the same reason that they are religious bigots in regimes where theological principles are dominant. The same reason is, in Rousseaus view, that most people are conformists, content to adhere to, or slightly radicalise, the dominant opinions of their time and place. The danger is that such conformism inevitably comes to dominate the institutions of civil society, particularly in education. This danger is manifested in the peculiarly hostile academic responses to the educational philosophy of Allan Bloom. As Rousseaus observation would lead us to expect, these responses conform to the more conventional academic opinions, and it is in this context that the intention of this paper must be understood. This intention has two intimately related and equally important components. The first intention is to recover the substance of Blooms arguments by critically examining the ways in which those arguments have been systematically misrepresented by his critics, who for the most part attack only the unorthodoxy of opinions which they themselves have formulated and
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attributed to him. Such a critical examination is also intended, secondly, to expose real inadequacies in the dominant conception of educational philosophy within Educational Studies.
THE POLITICAL CATEGORISATION OF MR BLOOM

A strategem which might be called the Categorisation Dodge is commonly


employed against Bloom. It is a familiar strategem used in order to avoid a detailed examination of arguments which fall outside conventional academic opinion. When confronted with such an argument, the conventional academic first places it into a more familiar category, where such a category constitutes a conventionally repudiated opinion. The academic then proceeds by marshalling the conventional arguments against the conventionally repudiated category, thereby side-stepping any confrontation with the substance of the argument itself. One thinks, for example, of the Right-wing strategem of converting moderate arguments for principled equality into a nightmarish vision of a drab, uniform social order in which all evaluative distinctions between people have been eliminated. Those using this strategem then proceed to argue (quite rightly) that such a social order would be unjust and tyrannical, thereby (quite wrongly) side-stepping the arguments which are actually made for principled equality. The Categorisation Dodge has been applied with revealing eagerness in the case of Allan Bloom, and particularly The Closing o f the American Mind ( C A M ) . Perhaps the most popular category into which Blooms ideas have been placed is that of Political Dogmatism. This category has two components, Conservative Dogmatism and Left-wing Nihilist Dogmatism, and Blooms ideas have been placed in both. This sort of contradictory political categorisation is a common means of responding to the Straussian school of political philosophy, out of which Bloom arose.2 Early reviews of CAM coming from the Left were very favourable, while reviews coming from the conservative Right were sharply ~ r i t i c a lWriters .~ on the conservative Right placed Bloom in the category of Left-wing Nihilist, although there was no argument to show that Blooms ideas constitute or imply left-wing political commitment. As Bloom and others have observed, however, subsequent attempts by conventional academics to categorise him as a conservative quickly hardened into the orthodox academic opinion.6 Bloom was categorised as a cultural conservative7 or academic f~ndamentalist.~ The conventionally radical (and therefore radically conventional) academics simply declared that Bloom could be fitted into the Conservative Dogmatist category, and was therefore susceptible to the conventional refutations of conservatism. Each dogmatic constituency attempts to push Blooms ideas as far as possible into the opposite political category, in order to demolish them more easily.9 Blooms educational ideas are not based on political doctrine. In the classical political rationalist view advocated by Bloom, education is an enterprise which proceeds in two mutually interdependent stages, corresponding to elementary and higher education. The first of these stages is, as a matter of contingent historical experience, moral in emphasis and often to some degree dependent on
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political doctrine. Bloom is primarily concerned with higher education, or the second, dialectical, stage. This stage constitutes a good life in itself which is independent of political doctrine or circumstance.I0 A full explication of this view of the nature of education would take us beyond the scope of the present paper. Its best known and most powerful formulation originates with Leo Strauss, who, in the words of a sympathetic critic,
gave more thought to the subject of liberal education than did any other major political thinker of the twentieth century.

The Straussian view of educational and political philosophy, upon which Blooms arguments are constructed, has been richly articulated by others.I2We shall concentrate here on the specific question of whether Blooms educational ideas are derived from any particular political doctrine. In Western Civ, Bloom reminds us that he is not a conservative - neo- or paleo-, not in any current sense a liberal,I3and not a left-wing nihilist. Bloom was equally critical of political figures on the Right and the Left,14 and was critical of the American left-wing student radicals of the 1960s to the same extent, andfor the same reasons, as he was of the German right-wing student radicals of the 1930s.Is He was critical of class distinctions within the universities, which still exist, poisonously, in Eng1and.l6 Although he does acknowledge that he has always been a supporter and a beneficiary of movements towards practical equality,17 it is not his intention to derive education from a political doctrine. On the contrary, Bloom intends to defend the theoretical or philosophical life1*against the contemporary manifestation of the permanent tendency to doubt the sincerity of the theoretical life, namely, the politicisation of thought and scholarship increasingly dominant within the universities.
The permanent human tendency is to doubt that the theoretical stance is authentic and suspect that it is only a covert attachment to a party. And this tendency is much strengthened in our time when philosophy is itself understood to be engage, the most extreme partisanship. The necessity of parties in politics has been extrapolated to the point where it now seems that the mind itself must be dominated by the spirit of party.19

If Bloom had been writing in the Middle Ages, he would have argued against the invasion of education by theology, or the Church. Bloom seeks to protect education and the theoretical life from politicisation, which is the form of the threat to the autonomy of education and the theoretical life peculiar to our time. In either situation, it is inevitable that he would be categorised as a heretic by all parties. In Blooms view, the equilibrium of political categorisation and criticism of his ideas, by those on the Left and on the Right, is evidence of both the current tendency to politicise the theoretical stance, and the successfully non-political nature of his own arguments in favour of higher education orientated towards the theoretical life.*O Each political party, finding that Blooms educational ideas are contrary to its own, and presupposing that educational ideas must be
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based on a political commitment, could only conclude that Bloom was a member of the opposite party. The idea that an educational thinker could be defending education and the theoretical life against the immoderate elements of all the political parties is no longer recognisable to the contemporary academic mind. That is one reason why Blooms perspective needs to be confronted with the serious open-mindedness that it deserves.
THE TRADITIONALIST CATEGORISATION DODGE

The implausibility of attempts to politicise Blooms ideas leads to their traditionalisation. It is said that even if Bloom is not overtly a (political) conservative, his alleged attempt to strengthen traditional educational ideas is nevertheless inherently conservative. An engagement with the arguments he actually presents is then avoided in favour of the easier and more fashionable sport of exposing the heresy of traditionalism. Two typical attempts to place Bloom in the category Traditionalist are those by Susan Mendus and Ruth Jonathan, in recent issues of this Journal. The first attempt to categorise Bloom as a traditionalist is the assertion of Mendus and Jonathan that Bloom feels that the universities have failed because they have forgotten their role as guardians of Jonathan provides nothing whatever in support of this assertion. Mendus offers a fragmented quotation from Bloom. In reproducing this quotation I shall restore and italicise the section which Mendus omitted.
The university now offers no distinctive visage to the young person. He finds a democracy of the disciplines - which are there either because they are autochthonous or because they wandered in recently to perform some job that was demanded of the university. This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short there is no vision, nor is there a set o f competing vkions, o f what an educated human being is. The question has disappeared, for to pose it would be a threat to the peace. There is no organization of the sciences, no tree of knowledge. Out of chaos emerges dispiritedness, because it is impossible to make a reasonable choice.22

When we restore the omitted section, we see that Mendus misrepresentation not only attributes to Bloom precisely what he is rejecting, but suppresses the argument he actually develops. Far from conceiving the universities as guardians of tradition, Bloom complains that the disciplines which currently structure the curriculum d o so merely because they are traditional (autochthonous) or relevant in some ephemeral way. Blooms alternative argument for the use of fundamental questions as the foundation of reasoned ordering principles in education, and his rejection of the current reliance on tradition and utility, is misrepresented by both Mendus and Jonathan as an argument for reliance on tradition. Jonathan also attributes to Bloom a more specific allegiance to the tradition of liberal education. Having categorised Bloom in these terms, Jonathan offers a definition of traditional liberal educational thought and practice,23 and asserts that it is inadequate for three reasons. Most importantly, the tradition of
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liberal education conceives the educational enterprise as self-referential, and therefore fails to account for the relation between education and s0ciety.2~ Liberal education is also faulted for being individualistic, and predominantly cognitive in its approach to morak25 Jonathan criticises traditional liberal education by inventing her own conception of it, attributing that conception to Bloom, and then exposing its inadequacies.26 She provides no evidence to show that Bloom (or anyone else) has ever adhered to her definition of liberal education or educational thought, and, furthermore, contradicts her own (unargued) assertion that this tradition is inadequate. For example, having dismissed Bloom and the tradition of liberal education for failing to account adequately for the relation between education and society, Jonathan goes on to recommend Plato or Rousseau, Kant or Dewey - the tradition of liberal education - because they take better account of the relation between education and s0ciety.~7 Furthermore, Bloom not only does not adhere to Jonathans definition of liberal education, but emphasises the relation between education and society,28emphasises the centrality of love and friendship over individualismin education,29 and emphasises the importance of art and music in the education of non-cognitive moral capacities.30 Jonathan criticises her own version of the category traditional liberal education, and ignores the ideas and the arguments Bloom actually presents.31
THE ABUSES AND ADVANTAGES OF HISTORY

After nearly a century of serious discussion,32 the now merely fashionable crisis of the fragmentation of values has become one of the hot topics of the day among educationists. Blooms critics simply assume, quite wrongly, that he too shares these fashionable concerns, and they all reconstruct his argument in terms of a cultural crisis33 or a fragmentation of values. But these phrases, which Bloom never uses, signify little more than the somewhat self-satisfied cliches of the educationists who are just now catching up with it all: behind all their rhetoric about values being fragmented, they conform in a quite unfragmented way to the values of egalitarian democracy. What I wish to focus on here is not the vacuity of such rhetoric - fragmentation of values addressed by reflective consciousness within the new pluralism of the self35- but the absence of historical study underlying so much of the criticism directed against Bloom. The question of what history has to teach us is near the centre of Blooms educational thought, as well as underlying the more common misrepresentations of that thought.

The Myth o f the Fall


Blooms critics attribute to him the opinion that solutions to our educational woes are to be found in some sort of return to the golden age of the past.36 Not one of the educationist critics provides any evidence or argument to substantiate this attribution. We must therefore concentrate on Susan Mendus Myth of the Fall, because it is the only version of this attribution for which even the semblance of argument is provided, and therefore the only version with which one can engage in any instructive way.
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According to M e n d ~ sBloom , ~ ~ is concerned with the cultural breakdown or fragmentation characteristic of modernity. He allegedly compares this modern condition with a previous golden age of cultural integration and shared standards, and, as a result, suffers from nostalgia for a past golden age to which he wants to return. Mendus surreptitiously shifts our attention away from Blooms arguments, and towards the psychological condition which is said to be the cause of them. Mendus provides no evidence to show that Bloom is concerned with a golden age, or with any nostalgiclonging to return to the past. Indeed, in light of the brief summary of Blooms historical ideas which I will provide in a moment, the superficiality,of an attempt to attribute such ideas to him will be obvious. For the moment it is sufficient to observe that Bloom explicitly denies that it is either possible or desirable to return to the past. As Bloom wrote,
Every age has its problems, and I do not claim that things were wonderful in the past. I am describing our present situation and do not intend any comparison to the past to be used as grounds for congratulating or blaming ourselves but only for the sake of clarifying what counts for us and what is special in our ~ituation.~*

Blooms rejection of the idea that the past is preferable to the present is equally explicit in his discussions of specific problems. For example, in his discussion of the nature of the family and relations between the sexes, Bloom says
I am not arguing here that the old family arrangements were good or that we should or could go back to them.39

The assertion that Bloom believes the past to be superior to the present, and that solutions to present problems are therefore to be found in a return to the past,40is not only unsubstantiated by Mendus, but explicitly contradicted by Bloom. Using the Categorisation Dodge, Mendus attributes to Bloom opinions concerning the goodness of the past, and places these opinions in the category Myth of the Fall. She then completely disregards his arguments, and concentrates instead on a refutation of the category. The Myth of the Fall which Mendus deploys against Bloom is a simplified version of an idea derived from Bernard Williams. Williams defines this idea in the following terms.
Still less should we believe that up to a certain point there was in the Western world an integrated, concrete, familiar, community life that was shattered by something which, according to taste, is identified with 1914, the Industrial Revolution, Galileo, the Reformation, or some yet earlier item. These various versions of the Fall are equally mythical and equally expressive of a yearning for a state of absolute identity with the environment, a yearning for something dimly remembered.41

In the context of our discussion of misrepresentations of Bloom, it must be observed that Williams provides no evidence to show that anyone has ever held this view, particularly in the rather extreme version implied by his use of the word absolute. One may reasonably argue that the imperfect but serviceable bonds of community life in Europe were loosened by the events of 1914, without
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implying that they had ever been absolutely integrated. Similarly, it would require extensive historical and philosophical argument to show that the Fall is in fact mythical. This is a question to which we will return below, with reference to Stefan Zweig and Hermann Broch. A summary of part of Blooms argument will illustrate the way in which he holds a view of the relation between ideas and history, and of the desirability of the past, which is the opposite of that attributed to him in the Myth of the Fall. It must be emphasised that we can only summarise the conclusions of Blooms argument here, and that the reader concerned with an elaboration and defence of these conclusions must return to Blooms books. Bloom argues that the most serious educational (and political) problems we face are not the consequences of such sociological phenomena as the fragmentation of values, or of such historical phenomena as the war of 1914, as the Myth of the Fall implies.
Our petty tribulations have great causes. What happened to the universities in Germany in the thirties is what has happened and is happening everywhere. The essence of it all is not social, political, psychological or economic, but phi lo sop hi^.^^

The problems with which Bloom is concerned have their roots in the history of philosophical thought, and particularly in the philosophicalconfrontation between the first principles of Socratesand the first principles of Nietzsche and Heidegger.43
To repeat, the crisis of liberal education is a reflection of a crisis at the peaks of learning, an incoherence and incompatibility among the first principles with which we interpret the world, an intellectual crisis of the greatest magnitude, which constitutes the crisis of our civilization.44

To the extent that Bloom is concerned with a crisis, it is not a crisis of culture or of values but of civilisation: that is, of Nietzschean culture versus Socratic civilisation.
Those who chose culture over civilization, the real opposition, which we have forgotten, were forced to a position beyond good and evil, for good and evil are products of culture. The really great thinkers who thought through what the turn to culture means, starting from power, said that immoderation, violence, blood, and soil are its means. I am inclined to take the views of men of such stature seriously.45

Bloom does not respond to this observation by yearning to return to a past golden age of Socratic rationalism. On the contrary, Bloom believes that Socratic knowledge of ignorance is the beginning point of all philosophy,46 and he therefore responds with a fundamental philosophical question to which he does not pretend to know the answer.
Western rationalism has culminated in a rejection of reason. Is this result necessary?47

The only philosophical response to such a philosophical question is a careful re-examination of both the (post) modern principles of Nietzsche and the classical principles of the Socratics - dialectic, not dogmatism.
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The method of such a re-examination is predetermined by the nature of the modem principles. They were evolved in opposition to, and by way of transformation of, the principles of classical philosophy. Up to the present day no adherent of the modern principles has been able to assert them with any degree of definiteness without explicitly and more or less passionately attacking the classical principles. Therefore a free examination of the modern principles is necessarily based on their conscientious confrontation with those of classical p h i l o ~ o p h y . ~ ~

Whether is it Blooms Socrates or Nietzsche? or Alasdair MacIntyres less substantive but more popular Nietzsche or Aristotle?,49 the only serious philosophical responses to the crisis in education are essentially the same: we must thoroughly study what the greatest classical and modern thinkers have already said if we are to be in any position to understand the most fundamental questions we face, to examine honestly our own presuppositions, and only then to embark on a credible search for our own solutions. This review of one of Blooms historical arguments demonstrates how absurd it is to attribute to Bloom, as his critics d0,5O the view that our educational troubles are a product of the American student rebellions of the 1960s. All to the contrary, the radicalismof these students was the outcome of the history of the philosophical thought originating with Nietzsche and the principles of culture and value commitment.
History always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. The American university in the sixties was experiencing the same dismantling of the structure of rational enquiry as had the German universities in the thirties. No longer believing in their higher vocation, both gave way to a highly ideologized student populace. And the content of the ideology was the same - value commitment. The university had abandoned all claim to study or inform about value - undermining the sense of the value of what it taught, while turning over the decision about values to the folk, the Zeitgeist, the relevant. Whether it be Nuremburg or Woodstock, the principle is the same.51

The radicalism of the 1960s was not the cause of the decline of education, but one of the lesser educational consequences of a bowdlerised remnant of Nietzsches philosophical thought. The Socratic tradition of political and educational thought, however flawed it may be, attempted to find rational grounds for political life in ideas such as freedom and equality, and the human rights derived from them. The far broader structure of rational enquiry and education underlying this tradition was dismantled in favour of the view that culture is the primary political category and creativityor value commitmentthe primary educational intentions. The incompatibility of these two conceptionsof philosophy and political thought, and the way in which the principle of culture undermines democratic principle in favour of authoritarianism, is recognised by Bloom in contemporary e~ents.5~ As the endless discussions of Salman Rushdie, arranged marriages, or female circumcisionillustrate,
we do not know from moment to moment what we will do when there are conflicts, which there inevitably will be, between human rights and the imperatives of the culturally sacred.53
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Neither must we conceal from ourselves the fact that multiculturaliststolerate only those aspects of other cultures which are consistent with (quite contestable) Western values. The multiculturalist principle that cultures ought to be respected and valued in their own terms is applied to, say, religious rites and traditional dress that Westerners find agreeable, but is then flatly contradicted with respect to phenomena such as female circumcision, compulsory arranged marriages or the revival of theocratic fundamentalism, all of which are authentic and integral components of these same cultures, though defined as social problems to the extent that they are incompatible with Western values. As Bloom says, the first rule of morality is that you can not have your cake and eat it too.

The New Moral Consensus


Along with other critics, Jonathan attributes to Bloom a concern for the destruction of shared cultural values.S4Yet Part two of CAM argues that these very terms introduce us
to the most important and most astonishing phenomenon of our time, all the more astonishing in being almost unnoticed: there is now an entirely new language of good and evil, originating in an attempt to get beyond good and evil and preventing us talking with any conviction about good and evil any more.ss

As we have seen, the terms culture and values (and self), and the theoretical views they represent, are relative to one strand of the modern West European philosophical tradition. Bloom argues that they constitute a dubious conception of the very nature of morality, one which undermines the very democratic ideals it is now used to express (and was originally meant to destroy).56 Bloom is not concerned with the sociological question of the destruction of cultural values, but with the philosophical question of whether such exceptionally Eurocentric terms mark a coherent understanding of the human condition at all. Blooms radical philosophical challenge to the very idea of culture is transformed by Jonathan into advocacy of traditional culture; Blooms radical philosophical questioning of the very concept of values is misrepresented by Jonathan as advocacy of traditional values. An interpretation of the world through the lenses of culture and values is so deeply presupposed that academics find even the suggestion that it could be challenged in so fundamental a way literally inconceivable.5 Like Blooms other critics, Jonathan conforms without question to the moral language Bloom seeks to challenge, and concentrates on radicalising the dominant opinions presupposed by such language: cultural pluralism is extended to the new pluralism of the self,58 although none of these phrases are defined. We are back to Rousseaus reason for the inadequacy of educational thought in our time. The Myth of the Fall is not a description of history but a pre-emptive category which replaces historical research and description. To understand both the new moral consensus and the failure of the Myth of the Fall as a response to Bloom, let us turn instead to historical descriptions of the past. In his autobiography, Stefan Zweigs9describes how the European war of 1914-1918
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shattered a widespread moral consensus. One need only look to chapters such as Eros Matutinus or Universitas Vitae, however, to see that Zweig was well aware that the moral order of Europe was not perfect. Although Zweig was not so nake as to believe in a golden age, he was aware that a progressively humane, and comparatively integrated, concrete, familiar community life6o existed, and was shattered, only to be replaced by a community life with a less humane future. Recent historical studies support his view.6I The same observation was made by the great artist and philosopher, Hermann Broch. As Broch observes, the bourgeoisie in particular were cut off from the moral traditions which had sustained them and, perhaps more than any other group,
were destined to take power, for in this group the disintegration of values brought about by the defeat of 1918 had gone furthest, culminating, it is not exaggeration to say, in a total value vacuum. And since in such a vacuum no one can hear his neighbour, relations between man and man invitably came to be based on power of the most naked, ruthless, and, moreover, most abstract kind.62

Broch and Zweig portray the ways in which an integrated community life did indeed exist, and did disintegrate under the pressure of historical events. They do not, however, believe anything so absurd as the notion that this disintegration has left us with a fragmentation of values. Rather, the fragmented morals of the old consensus were replaced with a new consensus of a most abstract and menacing kind. The new moral langauge of that consensus is centred on culture and values, and founded upon the philosophical thought of Nietzsche, which arose independently of the historical events. In spite of the rhetoric about fragmentation, such critics of Bloom as Mendus and Jonathan illustrate this new consensus: only those who presuppose the ideas of culture or values will frame the problem of fragmentation in those terms. The central educational intention of Blooms book is not to dwell on such petty tribulations as fragmentation or nostalgia, but to revive serious study of the historical evolution and philosophical adequacy of the underlying moral consensus embodied in culture and ~alues.~3 His critics have not engaged with the challenge such study represents. In abstractions such as the Myth of the Fall we see not only a wholly irrelevant response to Bloom, but an example of the increasing narrowness and dogmatism of academic study. Without evidence or argument to show that anyone has ever held so abstract a view, it is declared to be analyticallytrue in advance of historical research, dignified with a sophisticated title, and declared to be a delusion caused by nostalgia from which, almost miraculously, the dominant academics are immune. The niceties of any serious historical study are condescendingly declared to be overly fastidious, unnecessary in the face of what everyone knows is the Myth of the Fall. As Nietzsche foresaw so clearly, modern academics no longer turn to substantive historical study because they have discovered reasons why it is more philosophical to know nothing than to learn ~ o m e t h i n g . The ~ ~ Myth of the Fall is our postmodern narcissism masquerading as theoretical insight. Blooms approach to educational
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philosophy through study in the history of thought offers a much needed alternative to, and corrective for, the current educational orthodoxy.
BLOOM ON EDUCATION: SOME CENTRAL IDEAS

We shall continue to take misrepresentations of Blooms thought as our point of departure, because they expose the political prejudices which underlie the distortion of his thought. Bloom is currently categorised with T.S. Eliot as a cultural conservative.65 It is instructive to recall in this context that Zliot was categorised by the comparably avant-garde opinion of his own day as a literary b o l ~ h e v i k ,and, ~ ~ more decisively, that Bloom explicitly rejected the conservatism and superficiality of Eliots political ideas.67While educationists assume that the Great Books programme is an artifact of klitist conservatism, those who advocate it, and their informed critics, regard it as a triumph of democratic egalitarianism.68 Bloom is accused of wishing to return to the canon of great Yet for decades Bloom has rejected the very idea of canonicity,70 an idea he regards as both logically and historically untenable.71 Blooms critics often categorise him as an advocate of the Great Books curriculum,72 unaware that Bloom not only does not advocate the Great Books programme, but has been a severe critic of it for decades. Bloom writes,
I am perfectly well aware of, and actually agree with, the objections to the Great Books

The Great Books programme was devised and championed by figures such as Mortimer J. Adler. Adlers recent defence of the Great Books programme singles out Bloom as pre-eminent among its In Blooms view, the a Great Books programme is an offensive P.T. Barnum-like form~lation,7~ business gimmick of Adlers,76 and a superficial source of footnotes to the opinions we already have.77 Adlers programme is a simplified extension of the educational legacy of Isocrates. Bloom advocates a recovery of the Socratic view, and an awareness of the Isocratic-Socratic debate that is the source of serious educational thought.78 What is alleged to be Blooms Great Books programme is often criticised on the grounds that we have no uncontroversial way of selecting great books .79 Those making this criticism appear to be unaware that Bloom himself makes a very similar criticism of the Great Books programme.80Alasdair MacIntyre (as quoted by Mendus) declares that
there is no way of either selecting the list of books to be read or advancing a determinate account of how they are to be read, interpreted and elucidated which does not involve taking a partisan stand in the conflict of traditions.81

It is difficult to know how seriously to take such an unargued objection, or the exceptionally partisan stand it implies. If there are conflicting traditions, then one may select books from each of them, as MacIntyre himself did in Three Rival Versions o f Moral Enquiry. Similarly, after proclaiming that there is no way of selecting Great Books, Mendus selects Huckleberry Finn, and MacIntyre
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selects Nietzsche or Aristotle, all of which are in the Great Books curriculum.82 The criterion by which MacIntyre and Mendus make these selections is neither the Socratic principles recommended by Bloom, nor the standard of tradition attributed to Bloom, but conformity to the academic convention of the day. In A Short History of Ethics MacIntyre opts for those selected texts which form the core of the study of moral philosophy in most British and American universities.83 When Mendus selects a list of books on toleration, she adopts the same standard, referring the reader to contemporary academic liberal interpretations of the Great Books of Locke and Mill.84If the criticism made by Mendus and MacIntyre against the Great Books programme is valid, then they (and all literate education) are equally condemned by it. In contrast, Bloom presents at least four criteria according to which books may be selected for the curriculum that is the centre of the education he recommends.85 Critics such as Mendus and MacIntyre address none of Blooms criteria, but rather criticise criteria which they have invented, use themselves, and attribute to Bloom. I shall consider two of Blooms criteria, consensus and fundamental questions, both of which are summarized in the following quotation.
A second and sounder criterion is what the thinkers say about one another. Spinozas praise of Machiavelli turns us to reflections on Machiavelli as well as teaching us something important about Spinoza. Hobbess attack on Aristotle shows us that Aristotle is the man to attack. It is always the case that serious men look to serious opponents and go to the roots of that which they wish to destroy. And following this same road, one finds writers neglected by us because the limitation of our views makes them seem slight or irrelevant. Machiavelli and Rousseau had the highest opinion of Xenophon; for us he is nothing. That difference or change in taste can point the way to fundamental problems, such as the different value once set on moderation even by the apparently immoderate Machiavelli and Rousseau. This procedure results in a relatively small number of classic books, a list established not subjectively by means of current criteria, but generated immanently by the writers themselves. I argue that there is a high degree of agreement among the writers themselves as to who merits serious consideration. The writers of quality know the writers of quality. Moreover, from this internal dialogue between the books emerges a high degree of agreement about the permanent questions as opposed to the questions of the day.86

Turning first to the criterion of consensus, we could select any contemporary book, from any tradition: Franz Fanon criticises liberalism. To determine whether his criticism is valid, one would have to turn to see if he has fairly interpreted the spokesmen for it, such as Locke. Locke cannot be interpreted without an understanding of Hobbes. Hobbes in turn cannot be understood without knowledge of Thucydides and Aristotle. In After Virtue, MacIntyre offers us a choice between Nietzsche and Aristotle. In order to understand this, one must study Nietzsche and Aristotle. John Rawls Kantian contractualism is a combination of the social contract of Locke and Kants ethics, and therefore directs us to Kant and Locke. Carol Gilligan directs us to Freud. Freud took many of his ideas from Nietzsche and, hence, one is directed to Nietzsche. Regardless of the tradition from which we begin, the same list of,
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for example, Nietzsche, Locke, Aristotle, Kant emerges. Likewise, Bloom directs us to the same books as Fanon, Rawls, Gilligan or MacIntyre, as well as to those of other traditions, read in the original languages. Leo Strauss, Blooms teacher, wrote on Maimonides, al-Farabi, and the Kuzari, all read in the Arabic, and observes that they too direct us to Plato and Aristotle. If we ignore the rhetoric which declares that there are no criteria for the selection of books, and look instead to what the rhetoricians actually do, a consensus about which books are most important very quickly emerges which transcends the supposed rivalries of traditions. If this first criterion suggests a tenuous similarity between the Great Books programme and Blooms educational ideas it is because, in Blooms view, the half-articulated concerns of the Great Books advocates place them unawares, at one with some of the profoundest philosophical thought of the past century.87The radical difference between Blooms ideas and the Great Books programme may be clarified by an examination of Blooms use of fundamental questions as a criterion by which books are selected. The culture and values jargon which is used almost universally by contemporary educationists precludes engagement with most other traditions. Middle Eastern scholars have argued for decades that the concept of culture is absolutely relative to European thought, and systematically distorts any other tradition to which it is applied. If Moses, Jesus or Mohammed received a revelation from God, then at least one of Judaism, Christianity or Islam is The Truth, not one culture among many. Culture theory presupposes that this most fundamental premise of these other traditions is false; the act of defining them as culture constitutes a denial of the very belief by which they define themselves. (we reach the ultimate absurdity when religion is defined as part of ones primary culture, a fashionable re-wording of the Victorian idea of natural loyalties.) This presupposition directs us to one of the permanent, fundamental questions: What is the relation between reason and revelation? This question is universal, and not relative to traditions. The answers that have been given to this question are relative to, and even constitute, traditions. In Blooms view, it is above all the questions, not the answers (or traditions) which select the books to be read. The current Western view of reason and revelation derives from the Englightenment revision of Aquinas. But Aquinas was not the only medieval theist to confront the challenge of pagan rationalism. The Muslim al-Farabi and the Jew Maimonides also confronted Aristotles rationalist challenge to revelation, but drew different conclusions to Aquinas. The question of the relation between reason and revelation selects (at least) the books of Aquinas, al-Farabi and Maimonides (and therefore requires knowledge of Latin and Arabic), and reading them could commit one to the Socratic theoretical life that is a common feature of all three traditions. This brings us to the intentions with which Bloom would have us read such books. From the point of view of the political community such an educational programme, confronting as it does the vast diversity of ideas and the awesome responsibility of choosing among them, fosters the development of moderation. Moderation is an intellectual and political virtue, and the primal point of balance between apathy and fanaticism which is inseparable from justice. Blooms understanding of the complex relation between education and the
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regime seeks to justify the autonomy of education on the secondary grounds that such education will indirectly serve the unending human struggle to construct the best regime. Blooms primary intentions in reading great books can be instructively contrasted with those of educationists. John Darling advocates a return to the history of philosophy of education,88while Ruth Jonathan advocates a return to the great books of the past as a radical broadening of philosophy of education.89 Such advocacy illustrates, above all, what others have called the narrowness and orthodoxy, and the continuing relative isolation of Educational Studies.% It is only the educationists who believed, with Tibble, that philosophy of education originated only within the last decade [1960-1 970!].91 Political philosophers and classicists such as Bloom have been interpreting the great educational works with renewed enthusiasm for more than a century: they required no radical broadening because they never succumbed to the debilitating narrowness of Educational Studies. A measure of the extent to which educationists have been isolated from such educational scholarship is the intentions with which they turn to the older works of educational thought. Jonathan, for example, regards the great books of the past merely as illustrations of her assumption that education is determined by its economic, political and moral context.9* She treats the contemporary notion of contextualisation as one that is absolutely true, and applicable to all people, at all times. Yet many of the great educational thinkers of the past, such as R o u s s ~ ~Middle u , ~ ~ Eastern followers of Socrates such as al-Farabi or al-Razi, and Plato - yes, Plato, contrary to the Victorian interpretation which is still educationist orthodoxy - argued that educators must understand their context in order to ensure that higher education was not contextualised. As Bloom observed,
When Averroes and Thomas Aquinas read Aristotle, they did not think of him as Greek and put him into his historical context. They had no interest in Greek Civ but treated him as a wise man, hence a contemporary at all times.94

Bloom reminds us, as Darling does, that contemporary philosophy of education is a derivative of
a school which thinks that it invented philosophy. Its adherents never approach an Aristotle or a Kant in search of the truth or open to the possibility that these old thinkers might have known more than they do.95

Bloom would have us turn to the great books in full awareness that they challenge our own presuppositions. He does not argue that great books do contain the truth, but that we ought to be open to the possibility that the thinkers of the past may have understood something that we do not. He advocates turning to such great books in an effort to understand what their writers believed to be important and true, rather than picking over them in search of whatever can be made to appear to confirm us in the contextual prejudices we already have. For that we have newspapers, and other institutions of the free market.
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One common method of attacking Bloom consists of categorising his ideas in terms of a particular moral view, followed by an attempt to refute that view. Jonathan attributes to Bloom the intention of using books to enforce a kind of value-quarantine,96 while Mendus attributes to him the intention of inculcating the morally inspiring character of the books.97 These unsubstantiated attributions are contradicted by Bloom, whose intentions are quite the reverse.
It is the theoretical life I admire, not some moralism or other, and I seek to defend it against the assaults peculiar to our time.98

Mendus and Jonathan attribute to Bloom precisely the educational intentions he seeks to combat, and to which he provides a desperately needed alternative.
Self-consciousness, self-awareness, the Delphic know thyself seems to me to be the serious business of education. It is, I know, very difficult to know what that means, let alone achieve it. But one thing is certain. If ones head is crammed with ideas that were once serious but have become cliches, if one does not even know that these cliches are not as natural as the sun and the moon, and if one has no notion that there are alternatives to them, one is doomed to be the puppet of other peoples ideas. Only the search back to the origins of ones ideas in order to see the real arguments for them, before people became so certain of them that they ceased thinking about them at all, can liberate us.99

Blooms use of the word puppet is an allusion to Platos Cave, now known as ~ulture. Nietzsche ~~ and Heidegger are the puppeteers, while educators committed to the principles of culture theory are the puppets used to project the images of culture on to the cave wall at which their students gaze. In other words, the cultural theory of education no longer encourages students to discover for themselves what is good, but merely confirms them in the values of their culture of origin.10 Only those students who are enabled to turn around and search back t o the origins of these images and ideas can be liberated. This is especially true of the idea of culture itself. Such a search leads us away from both our unquestioning conformity to the clichks of culture theory and our incipient fragmentation and individualism, and towards a renewal of a deeper understanding of education as true friends in common pursuit of knowledge of the good, regardless of the accidents of their origins or culture.
When we recognize the Phaedrus and the Symposium as interpreting our experiences, we can be sure that we are having those experiences in their fullness, and that we have the minimum of education. Rousseau, the founder of the most potent of reductionist teachings about eros, said that the Symposium is always the book of lovers. Are we lovers any more? This is my way of putting the educational question of our times.02

Blooms reformulation of Socratic education carries us far beyond the ideological intentions and ephemeral jargon that exhaust the horizon within which so many of his critics operate. Blooms ideas may be flawed, but a serious engagement with them will at least compel us to look, together and with
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renewed vision, to the philosophical legacy that all of us share. Nothing could better serve the educational intentions he had.
CONCLUSION

I do not agree with all of Blooms ideas. But it seems to me that the goal of education is to help us to understand, in their integrity, the real alternatives we face. Properly understood, Blooms writings can revitalise this perspective, and so carry us far beyond the transient concerns and historical parochialism of most contemporary educational thought. As a glance at history will show, we academics are always and everywhere ephemeral, if not a hindrance to intellectual life, whenever we fail to give our students an opportunity to reach beyond the presuppositions of the day, and towards all those great books which embody some of the highest and greatest of human achievement. In the end, educators can provide to others only what they possess themselves.
Correspondence: J. R . Muir, St Edmunds College, Cambridge CB3 OBN, UK.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Mendus, S. (1992) All the kings horses and all the kings men: justifying higher education, Journal o f Philosophy of Education, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 173-182; Jonathan, R. (1993) Education, philosophy of education and the fragmentation of value, Journal o f Philosophy of Education, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 171-178; Lippencott, M. S. (1989) Review of The Closing of the American Mind and Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Power, Interchange, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 68-73; Nyberg, D. (1988) What has Alan Bloom taught us? Teachers College Record, Vol. 90, No. 2, pp. 293-301; Aronowitz, S. and Giroux, H. A. (1988) Schooling, culture, and literacy in the age of broken dreams: a review of Bloom and Hirsch, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 58, No. 2, pp. 172-194. 2. Strauss, L. (1989) The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism (ed. T. L. Pangk) (Chicago, University of Chicago Press), pp. ix-xi. 3. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 17. 4. Jaffa, H. V. (1988) Humanizing certitudes and impoverishing doubts: a critique of The Closing of the American Mind. Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 111-123. 5. Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp. 18-19. 6. Mansfield, H. C. Jr., (1988) Straussianism, democracy, and Allan Bloom, 11: Democracy and the Great Books, The New Republic, 4 April, pp. 3337, at pp. 33-34; Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 17. 7. Aronowitz and Giroux, op. cit., pp. 173, 174. 8. Nyberg, op. cit., p. 298. 9. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 17. 10. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p.381; Pangle (1992) op. cit., Part IV. 11. Schram, G.N. (1991-1992) The place of Leo Strauss in a liberal education, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 201-216, at p. 201. Cf. Bloom (1990), op. cit., Leo Strauss. 12. e.g. Strauss, L. (1989 119681) Liberalism Ancient and Modern (New York, Cornell University Press); Brann, E. T. A. (1979) Paradoxes o f Education in a Republic (Chicago, University of Chicago Press); Nicgorski, W. (1985) Leo Strauss and liberal education, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 233-250; Pangle (1992) op. cit. 13. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 17. 14. Bloom-(1987) op. cit., pp. 32, 331, 324, 289; Bellow (1987) op. cit., pp. 17, 18. 15. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p.314. 16. Ibid., p. 82. 17. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 16. 18. Bloom (1987) op. cit., pp.43, 380-382; Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp.18, 20. 19. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 17.

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20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26.
Ibid., p. 19.

21 3

27. 28. 29. 30. 31.

32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49.

50.
51. 52. 53. 54.

55. 56.
57. 58. 59. 60.

Mendus (1992) op cit., p. 174; Jonathan (1993) op. cit., pp. 171-172. Mendus (1992) op. cit., p. 174. Cf. Bloom (1987) op. cit, pp. 337, 338, 346; Bloom (1990) op. cit., p.352. Jonathan op. cit., p. 175. Ibid., p. 173. Ibid. This is a familiar procedure. See Muir, J. R. (1994) The Isocratic idea of education and the irrelevance of the state vs. market debate, Papers ofthe Annual Conference, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, 8-10 April, pp. 22-23; Tooley, J. (1992) The prisoners dilemma and educational provision: a f Educutionaf Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 118-133. reply to Ruth Jonathan, British Journal o Jonathan op. cit., pp. 177-178. Bloom (1987) op. cit., pp. 177-178. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 381; Bloom, A. (1993) Love and Friendrhip (New York, Simon and Schuster). Bloom (1987) op. cit., pp.68-81. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p.344. In light of the fact that Bloom is criticised for what is alleged to be his nostalgic desire to return to the tlitism of the past, it is ironic that Jonathan recommends the current American fashion for Critical Theory as an alternative. As Lesek Kolakowski has cogently argued, Critical Theory offers, at most, nostalgia for the pre-capitalist culture of an elite. See Kolakowski, L. (1978) Main Currents ofMurxirm, Vol. 3: The Breakdown (Oxford, Oxford University Press), p. 395. Bloom (1987) op. cir., p. 367. Cf. Kafka, F. (1963) Short Stories (Oxford, Oxford University Press), p. 24; Laqueur, W. (1979) A Continent Adrift: Europe 197G1978 (New York, Oxford University Press), p. v. Aronowitz and Giroux, op. cit., p. 175; Nyberg, op. cit., pp. 294295. Mendus, op. cif., p. 171. Mendus, op. cit., p. 173, 182; Jonathan, op. cir., p. 173. Lippencott, op. cit., pp. 6849; Aronowitz and Girow, op. cir., p. 176; Nyberg, op. cit., p. 296; Mendus, op. cit., pp. 175-176; Jonathan, op. cit., p. 172 Mendus, op. cit., p. 175. Cf. Standish, P. (1994) Knowledge, practice and truth, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 245-255, at p. 250. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 22. Ibid., p. 130. Jonathan, op. cir., p. 171. Williams, B. (1985) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London, Collins/Fontana), p. 163. Cf. Mendus op. cit., p. 176. Bloom (1987) o p . cit., p. 312. Ibid., pp. 309-312. Ibid., p. 346. Bloom (1990) op. cif., p. 30. Cf. Bloom (1987), op. cit., p. 240. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 18. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 240. Cf. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 241. Strauss, L. (1946) On a new interpretation of Platos political philosophy, Social Research, Vol. 13, No.3, pp. 326-367, at pp.327-328. Cf. Bloom (1987) op. cif., pp. 240, 310-312. MacIntyre, A. (1981) After Virtue (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press), Ch. 9. Bloom and MacIntyre wrote in complete independence of each other and they have, so to speak, nothing in common. Mendus, op. cit., p. 175; Lippincott, op. cir., p. 72; Nyberg, op. cir., pp. 293; Aronowitz and Giroux, op. cit., pp. 173, 175. Bloom (1987) op. cit., pp.313-314 (original emphasis). Cf. Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp.29-30. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 143. Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp. 22-23. Jonathan, op. cit., p. 171; Lippincott, op. cit., p. 72; Aronowitz and Giroux, op. cit., pp. 172, 175; Nyberg, op. cit., pp. 294295. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 141 (original emphasis). Bloom (1990) op. cit., p.30; Rosen, S . (1987) Hermeneutics us Politics (New York, Oxford University Press), p. 6. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 238. Jonathan, op. cit., p. 173. Zweig, S. (1944) Die Welt von Gestern (Stockholm, Berman-Fischer Verlag). Mendus, op. cit., p. 176.

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61. Mann, G. C. (1974) The History o f Germany since 1789 (London, Penguin), p.607, 9.10; Fussell, P. (1977) The Great War and Modern Memory (London, Oxford University Press); Eksteins, M. (1989) Rites of Spring (London, Bantam Press); Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Lust Man (London, Hamish Hamilton), pp. 331 ff. 62. Broch, H. (1990) The Guiltless (trans. R. Manheim) (London, Quartet Books), p. 290, Broch, H. (1965) Die Schuldlosen (Miinchen, Deutscher Taschenbuch), p. 288. Cf. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 30. 63. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 312; Orwin and Forbes, op. cit., p. 124. 64. Nietzsche, F. (1983) Untimety Meditations (trans. R.J. Hollingdale) (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), p. 188. Cf. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 293. 65. Mendus, op. cit., p. 175; Jonathan, op. cit. 66. Leavis, op. cit., p. 76. 67. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 291. 68. Bloom (1992) op. cit., p. 5; Adler, op. cit., Prologue; Leavis, op. cit. 69. Mendus, op. cit., pp. 174, 175. 70. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 303. 71. Ibid., pp. 2629. 72. Mendus, op. cit., p. 175; Nyberg, op. cit., p. 297. 73. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 344. 74. Adler, op. cit., Prologue. 75. Bloom, A. (1992) Hutchinss idea of a university, Times Literary Supplement, 7 Feb., pp.4-5, at p.4. 76. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 54. 77. Bloom (1990) op. cif., pp. 302-303; Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 344. 78. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 274; Marrou, H . 4 . (1948,7th ed.) Histoire de 1Education duns lhtiquitk (Paris, Editions du Seuil), 1.7. 79. Mendus, op. cit., p. 175. 80. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p. 344. 81. Mendus, op. cit., p. 175. 82. Mendus, op. cit., p. 180; Maclntyre, op. cit., p. 238, Ch. 9; Adler, op. cit., pp. 335, 342. f Ethics (New York, Macmillan Press), p.vii. 83. MacIntyre, A. (1966) A Short History o f Liberalism (London, Macmillan Press), pp.2(r-21, 84. Mendus, S. (1989) Toleration and the Limits o 163-164. 85. Bloom (1987) op. cit., p.21; Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp.295314. Cf. Pangle (1992) op. cit., Ch. 10; Straws, L. (1989 [1968])Liberalism Ancient and Modern (New York, Cornell University Press), Chs 1.2; Brann, E. (1993) The canon defended, Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 17, No.2, pp. 193-218. 86. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 303. 87. Bloom (1992) op. cit., p. 5. 88. Darling, J. (1993) Rousseau as progressive instrumentalist, Journal of Philosophy o f Education, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 27-38, a t p. 27. 89. Jonathan, op. cit., p. 177. 90. Cooper, D. E. (ed.) (1986) Education, Values and Mind (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul), pp. 4, 5. 91. Tibble, J. W. (ed.) (1971) An Introduction to the Study of Education (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul), p. 5. 92. Jonathan, op. cit., p. 177. f Poland, in Rousseau, J.-J. The Government 93. Kendall, W. (1985) How to read Rousseaus Government o of Poland (trans. W . Kendall) (Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Co.). 94. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 27. 95. Ibid., p. 345. 96. Jonathan, op. cit., p. 176. 97. Mendus, op. cit., p. 181. 98. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 18. 99. Ibid., p. 20. 100. Plato, Republic, 514a. 101. Bloom (1990) op. cit., p. 25, n. 2. 102. Bloom (1987) op. cit., Cf. Bloom (1990) op. cit., pp. 25, 27.

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