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BASTA 2018

At the Bay Area St Thomas Aquinas Association (BASTA) 2018 event, Dr. Patrick Downey delivered a thought-provoking lecture that delved into the philosophical depths of justice, desire, and human nature. Drawing from the works of Plato and biblical narratives, Dr. Downey constructed an argument that revolved around the tension between individual desires and societal needs, and how this tension shapes our understanding of justice and morality.


Dr. Downey began by dissecting the myth of Zeus bestowing upon humans the gift of justice. He argued that the gift was hollow without the threat of violence to enforce it. As he put it, "Not only does this threat make the “gift” of justice possible, but it also guarantees that everyone will invariably lie about having received that gift, as one must, if they are to survive." This statement underscored the idea that justice isn't merely about fairness, but also about maintaining order and preventing chaos.


Moving forward, Dr. Downey introduced the Girardian concept of mimetic rivalry, which suggests that our desires are shaped by what others desire. He connected this concept to the idea of thumos, or mankind's spirited nature, which manifests in our anger and indignation. He argued, "What Girard “discovers” with his account of mimetic rivalry and internal and external mediation, is, I would argue, a restatement of what Plato lays out with his account of thumos, or mankind’s spirited nature." This was a pivotal point in his lecture, as it tied our desire to be seen and to see through other people's eyes to our inherent political nature, which he identified as thumos, the natural source of our desire for justice.


Dr. Downey then turned to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, suggesting that their fall into mimetic rivalry with God led to the creation of private desires and the concept of shame. He stated, "After the fall, Adam and Eve see nothing of good and evil but their own thumotic desire to imitate." This fall into rivalry and the resulting shame, according to Dr. Downey, led to the creation of the individual body and the concept of privacy.


He concluded his lecture by tying the biblical narrative to Plato's philosophical concerns. He noted, "The Bible, in other words, converges with the concern of Plato that the insoluble political problem of even the best city in speech, is that the privatizing “erotic necessities” of women and children, or bodily reproduction in general, cannot be overcome because of our body privates." This statement encapsulated the crux of his argument, highlighting the inherent tension between our individual desires and the collective needs of society.


In essence, Dr. Downey's lecture at "BASTA 2018" was a deep dive into the philosophical underpinnings of justice, desire, and human nature, drawing heavily from the works of Plato, René Girard, and biblical narratives.

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