Missing Things

13 February 2010

Socrates meets Malacoda

Inspired by Peter Kreeft's Socrates Meets... series, and Dante's Inferno.


[Setting: A nondescript beach sloping down to the ocean on the right and steeply rising into a high row of rocks on the right. Between them, unhurriedly, paces Socrates, head in the clouds and lost in thought, wandering in no particular direction other than simply down the beach. In front of him and on top of an especially flat part of the rock wall crouches Malacoda, watching and smirking fiendishly. Socrates sees him, appears puzzled, and speaks.]

Socrates: Good day, sir. Where are we… and who are you?

Malacoda: That first is complicated. As for the second, you may call me Malacoda.

Socrates: That is your name?

Malacoda: Indeed.

Socrates: But who are you? That does not actually answer my question.

Malacoda: Hmm. I am generally considered a demon, but not in the way that you understand the term. Consider me one of a number of gods of the afterlife, if you would. A devil.

Socrates: Ah. So I am, in fact, dead, then. I had wondered. This place is part of the afterlife, then?

Malacoda: Quite true. In fact it is the entirety of the afterlife, and a bit more besides.

Socrates: I’m sorry? Could you possibly elaborate?

Malacoda: Certainly. This land, from the shore of the Dirac Sea beside you to infinity behind me is the space where things are kept that do not exist. It is the home of the library of unwritten books, it is where we keep Theseus’ ship now that he has replaced every plank, it is where we hide the square root of infinity, and it is where [picks up a candlestick and ignites it with his breath] the flame of a candle goes after it has been blown out. Some call it Tumbolia, some call it Super-Sargasso Space, but properly it is known as Potentia. Naturally, now that you have ceased to exist, you have arrived here.

Socrates: You have said something very interesting to me. It is my understanding that at death, the body and soul are separated and each goes its separate way. Am I correct so far?

Malacoda: Yesss…

Socrates: And the body slowly returns to the material world.

Malacoda: Yes.

Socrates: Now, it is my understanding that the soul, the essential I, moves onto the spiritual world. But you have just said that I cease to exist and therefore comes here.

Malacoda: You have said it, Socrates.

Socrates: I find there is a rather stark difference between these two statements.

Malacoda: Not really. Since this spiritual world of yours does not exist, either, your essential “you” does in fact go there – it is part of Potentia.

Socrates: I think you’re lying.

Malacoda: That’s possible. We devils do so frequently. Wherein lies the falsehood?

Socrates: If nothing here exists, then what of yourself?

Malacoda: Oh, I do not exist either. I was dreamed up by Dante Alighieri. I am a construct of his mind alone, I never have been real, and I never will be. Thus, I have been made responsible for supervising Potentia on Hell’s behalf.

Socrates: Literary characters are here, too?

Malacoda: Didn’t you know? You yourself are a character of Plato’s invention and have no proper existence either.

Socrates: Don’t be absurd. Of course I exist.

Malacoda: Yes, you exist in Potentia.

Socrates: Very funny. You give this place a sort of twisted sense but it so flagrantly violates basic logic it’s impossible to believe you.

Malacoda: I suppose you cannot really think through the entire thing clearly yet. What can I do to prove it to you?

Socrates: You are going to try to prove empirically that our current location is not empirical?

Malacoda: Very sensible for such a place, isn’t it?

Socrates: Not if the place itself is not very sensible.

Creon: That is the point, I think.

Socrates: Who are you?

Malacoda: My empirical evidence; allow me to present the fictitious Creon of Thebes.

Socrates: Where did you come from? How do you know what we are talking about?

Malacoda: Has he not been here all along?

Socrates: No!

Malacoda: Precisely.

Creon: I have to agree with Socrates.

Malacoda: What?

Creon: You’ve been talking solely about terms so far. That is fine as far as logic goes, but as you both have come close to pointing out, logic is not very practical for talking about inherently self-contradictory things. Well, as far as empirical evidence goes, I can tell that I am currently standing on this beach, and therefore both the beach and I exist.

Malacoda: But I can provide any number of objects that do not exist or cannot possibly exist. Would you like to see an anti-knot?

Creon: I could not say. What is it?

Malacoda: If you tie a knot in a rope, the anti-knot is the knot you'd tie to cancel out all the twists of the first without actually untying it - and, since neither of them exists after they cancel each other out, they end up here. Alternatively, look at this rope with three ends, or this seven-sided cube.

Creon: This is irrelevant. I’m holding it right now. As far as I’m concerned, it must exist and you’re just wrong about it being impossible.

Socrates: I don’t suppose I could trouble you with a few questions?

Malacoda: Oh, not at all. Be my guest.

Socrates: All right. Could I confirm something with you first? I just want to be sure that when I am speaking to you I am speaking.

Malacoda: …what?

Socrates: I am making statements, yes?

Malacoda: That seems to be trivially, even tautologically, the case.

Socrates: And these statements, they are meaningful?

Malacoda: I suppose. Although not very.

Socrates: But they do, in fact, possess meaning.

Malacoda: I am responding to you, am I not?

Socrates: Is that a yes or a no? If you do not exist then some would say you cannot respond.

Malacoda: Clever! But no, I may not exist, but my responses do.

Socrates: How is that possible?

Malacoda: Because someone who exists is recording them.

Socrates: …Oh. Well then, this place Potentia. It is where things are kept that do not exist?

Malacoda: Indeed.

Socrates: And only things that do not exist?

Malacoda: …yes…

Socrates: Do some things exist?

Malacoda: Excellent question. I shall not say.

Socrates: Well. Does Potentia exist?

Malacoda: Umm. Suppose I say yes?

Socrates: Then I ask you how a place can exist when none of its features do.

Malacoda: Then I say no.

Creon: So this place is a part of itself?

Malacoda: Yes. Is this somehow impossible? The place you call Earth contains the entirety of the Earth, doesn't it? Besides, even if you think that there is something inherently impossible with a space containing itself, being impossible is part of the nature of this particular space.

Socrates: Can you show me something that is both nonexistent and indescribable?

Malacoda: [produces such an object] Voila.

Socrates: Impressive.

Malacoda: Thank you.

Socrates: But unsuccessful.

Malacoda: What?

Socrates: That thing there can be described as “something both nonexistent and indescribable”. Since I just described it, it is not indescribable. Moreover, I can say that about anything that “only exists in Potentia” – so if it is indescribable, it cannot not exist.

Malacoda: So?

Socrates: If it does not not exist, then it must exist.

Malacoda: Well! I concede that some things exist, then.

Socrates: But by definition, something both nonexistent and indescribable cannot possibly exist. So now we have an object that neither exists, nor does not exist – a logical impossibility.

Creon: These are just word games. If he cannot produce it for you, then obviously it does not exist, and that’s the end of it.

Socrates: I don’t believe these he’s contributing anything to the discussion. Can we be rid of him?

Malacoda: Of course.

Socrates: How do you do that? Did you make him start existing?

Malacoda: Well, what if I did?

Socrates: Then you’re a creative being and certainly no devil, if as you said a devil is a god of death. It’s as I thought. You have been lying about this entire situation. Potentia cannot exist as such, and neither can any of the things – or people – you have attempted to use as proof. Well, this has been a fascinating diversion, but I have an afterlife to investigate, so if you’ll excuse me…

Malacoda: Sssss! Objective unreality defies your wordplay! Tell me. Did you ever meet Euthyphro?

Socrates: I… hmm. I do seem to recall conversing with him, but I could have sworn he was dead…

Malacoda: Exactly! You remember a fiction Plato wrote about you. You’re sufficiently nonexistent for me to keep you stuck here!

Socrates: Do you mean to say I’m a prisoner of a nonexistent being in an impossible place for no good reason?

Malacoda: Precisely!

Socrates: And, to be clear on this point, there is absolutely no way to escape?

Malacoda: None whatsoever!

Socrates: Ah. Well, if a way to escape doesn't exist, then I'll just go find it, won't I?

Malacoda: Wait, what? That's... umm...

Socrates: Goodbye.


  1. This was greatly written thanks for sharing! I would be truly honored if you gave y our poetic advice on my blogs of poetry and if you like follow them I would greatly appreciate it.



  2. Thanks very much! I'll comment when I have something to say, but my "poetic advice" isn't likely to be useful - prose is about the furthest I venture into Rhyme, on account that I have a natural imbalance toward Reason.

  3. There's a certain lyrical, almost poetic, cadence to that response.


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