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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Plato: A Heart Fixed on Reality

Plato: copy of portrait bust by Silanion

When the mind's eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. (Plato, Republic)

Plato is one of the most penetrating and influential thinkers in the history of philosophy. He is the philosopher who invites us to participate in the "philosophical project" perhaps more than any other philosopher. In this we see the influence of his teacher, Socrates.

Plato (429–347 BC)
Plato's writings present philosophy as a living conversation to which his readers can contribute. His Dialogues are rich in humor, argumentation, and the portrayal of people and events of ancient Athens.

An Athenian citizen of high social rank, Plato's works reveal an active interest in the political events and intellectual movements of his time. His commitment to the "philosophical project" influenced his students and many generations of thinkers who have enjoyed his writings. He left his mark on metaphysics, ethics, politics, and epistemology, and though he and his student Aristotle did not agree on some important matters, Plato's influence of Aristotle is considerable.

Here are samples of Plato's wisdom and wit.

And those whose hearts are fixed on Reality itself deserve the title of Philosophers. (Plato, Republic)

"We are like people looking for something they have in their hands all the time; we're looking in all directions except at the thing we want, which is probably why we haven't found it.'

'That is the story. Do you think there is any way of making them believe it?'

'Not in the first generation', he said, 'but you might succeed with the second and later generations.'

'We will ask the critics to be serious for once, and remind them that it was not so long ago that the Greeks thought - as most of the barbarians still think - that it was shocking and ridiculous for men to be seen naked. When the Cretans, and later the Spartans, first began to take exercise naked, wasn't there plenty of material for the wit of the comedians of the day?'

'There was indeed'

'But when experience showed them that it was better to strip than wrap themselves up, what reason had proved best ceased to look absurd to the eye. Which shows how idle it is to think anything ridiculous except what is wrong.' (Plato, Republic)

The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers are kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands, while the many natures now content to follow either to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. This is what I have hesitated to say so long, knowing what a paradox it would sound; for it is not easy to see that there is no other road to happiness, either for society or the individual. (Plato, Republic)

Related reading:  Plato Debt to Ancient Egypt; Ethics of Ancient Greece; Plato's Just State; Plato on Thymos

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