Is Plato’s criticism of democracy persuasive? Why, or why not? 600 words class n

Is Plato’s criticism of democracy persuasive? Why, or why not? 600 words class notes: Although Socrates was critical of the sophists’ pragmatism, he comes off as positively grounded and concrete compared to his greatest follower, Plato. For Plato, the world that you can see and touch is ultimately just a pale shadow of what is truly real: the Forms. The forms do not exist anywhere, nor do they come into being or go out of being. They just are. And they are more real than the computer you are looking at, the hands you are using to type, and even your very mind. Why would Plato hold to such a strange doctrine? Pojman does a good job explaining this view, but here is a different approach. Consider two horses: Trigger and Secretariat. These two horses are different in many ways. They have different colors, size, location, age, etc. And yet you recognize that both are horses, so that means they have to have something in common that makes them both count as “horse.” Call this thing, “horseness.” You could make a similar claim about other similars. For example, whiteness is what snow and vanilla ice cream have that make them count as white. So far so good, but Plato goes further by asserting that this “ness” is not just a property but an actual being. If there were no such thing as horseness, then there could not be actual horses. That means that both Trigger and Secretariat (and Mr. Ed and Bojack Horseman and Black Beauty) all depend for their very being on horseness, which Plato would call the form of horse. The form of horse therefore is independent of particular horses, but not vice versa. That means that the form is a greater being than the things that represent it. Similarly, to take a different example that Plato introduces elsewhere, there is a resemblance between a tree and the shadow that it casts, but also a great difference. The tree can exist without the shadow, but not vice versa. That difference (between tree and shadow) is parallel to the difference between a form and the thing that represents or instantiates it. Knowledge of these forms is important for two reasons. First, knowing the form of X allows you to reliably identify instances of X. If you know the form of horse, you will not mistakenly classify cats or cows as horses. Of course, without knowing the form, you could still get lucky. But you will not reliably identify things according to their true natures. Second, knowing the form of X allows you to make comparisons, because things can instantiate their forms to greater or lesser extents. Think about the circular shape of a quarter. Now think about a three year-old kid’s attempt to draw a circle. The quarter is a better example of a circle, right? Plato would say you can make this judgment because you can see that the quarter more closely approximates the true nature (the form) of circle than the toddler’s scribble (adorable though it may be). Why does this matter? Well, now think about the greatest form of all–indeed, the greatest being of all, according to Plato: the form of the good (sometimes simply called, “the Good.”). If you are lucky enough to have discovered the form of the Good, that allows you to identify instances of goodness reliably. You will be able to discern correctly what things are truly good and why, because you have the true criterion (the form). You will also be able to compare different goods. For example, you will be able to look at money and health and determine which is a greater good (and under which circumstances that judgment will hold true). As abstract as Plato’s philosophy is, then (and it is abstract!), ultimately there can be nothing more practically valuable than philosophical knowledge. Without knowing the form of the good, we cannot successfully pursue good things or avoid bad ones. Our judgment will be hopelessly muddled or at best a matter of luck. But how are we to obtain this knowledge? Pojman discusses at length a view called “recollection theory,” which Plato introduces in his dialogue, Meno. However, Plato seems to have abandoned that view later in his career. Still, he does favor abstract and pure reasoning over experience. Knowledge for Plato is a matter of learning to pay less attention to your senses and instead use pure reason to discover entities that transcend all space and time. While Plato tends to be more ethereal and other-worldly than his mentor, Socrates, they do both agree on the supreme importance of virtue, especially justice. In Republic, Plato offers a powerful and provocative argument to show that it is always better to be just than unjust, regardless of whatever other goods you might get through acting unjustly. This is the point raises by the story of Gyges and his ring: why not kill and rob at will if you can completely get away with it? Plato’s answer (remember that he is using Socrates as a character in his dialogue) is that injustice always brings about harm to the soul, and that this harm is greater than the benefit gained through injustice. We are again reminded of the words of Jesus Christ (quoted by Pojman in the previous chapter): “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?” (Mark 8: 36 KJV). The unjust person always comes out a loser, because he shortchanges himself! It is no different in principle from exchanging a ten-dollar for a five-dollar bill. Only a fool would see that as a good bargain. To defend this view, Plato relies on a conception of the soul as comprising three parts: a rational part, a spirited part, and the appetites. Just like the three classes of people in the city, each of these three parts of the soul has a job to do that contributes to the life of the entire soul. The appetites lead the person to the things necessary for life (like food). The spirited part is a drive for achieving honor and recognition. Each of these roles is crucial to a healthy soul, but only if they are guided by wisdom, which is supplied by the rational part when it correctly discerns the truth about what is to be done (and not done). Injustice distorts this harmony, insofar as either the appetites or the spirited part determine the person’s choice instead of the rational part. This disorder is the definition of an unhealthy soul, because only the rational part is qualified to rule the soul. A comparison to a football team will perhaps illuminate Plato’s point. Football players tend to fall into various specialized roles based on their qualifications. If a 300-pound offensive lineman says, “I’m sick of those wide receivers getting all the glory! I’m going to run a deep route!” he will cause havoc for his team. Similarly, you don’t want a slim and speedy wide receiver to take a place on the defensive line. In order to function effectively, each player must perform his own role. The same holds true for the soul. In order to function effectively, the rational part must issue the commands and the other two parts must carry them out. What enables the rational part to do its job is philosophical wisdom, so we are led back to Plato’s theory of knowledge, especially the form of the good. Someone who knows what real goodness is will realize how to achieve it. Unfortunately, it follows that those who do not have wisdom will not be just, and it seems that Plato thought that only philosophers could have wisdom. This is one of the lessons of his famous Cave allegory. This allegory is fascinatingly rich with symbolic meaning, and it rewards multiple readings (it isn’t long, and you can see the whole thing here: The Internet Classics Archive). But part of what Plato seems to be saying there is that most people are content in their ignorance, but they are to be pitied. They wish to stay chained to their chairs, staring at flickering shadows, because it is all they have known. They are too comfortable for their own good. Only a few (the philosophers) make the difficult journey out of the cave to perceive the world as it truly is. The sun represents the form of the good, so that means that only the philosophers are able to be truly just. Moreover, since the structure of the soul parallels the structure of the ideal society, it follows that only the philosophers are qualified to wield political power. A good city (the main political unit for the Greeks) needs laws that are wise, and only philosophers can supply wisdom. Naturally, non-philosophers have not usually been convinced by Plato’s argument. But that’s just what Plato tells us to expect, isn’t it? Part of the problem with people who lack wisdom is that they do not recognize either its absence or its value. Few people say to themselves, “I’m a complete fool, and I’m OK with that!” But giving political power to the unwise is dangerous, according to Plato. You wouldn’t let an untrained surgeon remove your appendix, and you wouldn’t get on an airplane if you discover that the crazy person behind the controls has never even been in a flight simulator. The worst kind of government would give political power to as many people as possible, because most people do not have wisdom. Unfortunately for Plato, perhaps, that kind of government has become quite popular–it is called, “democracy.” St Augustine In this chapter, we leap ahead in history by several centuries. St. Augustine of Hippo is widely seen as a thinker with one foot in the classical era and one in the medieval era. The former era saw two critical changes in Western Civilization. The first was the rise of the Roman Empire. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (whom we will study later) represent the apex of Greek philosophy, as they all were associated more or less with the city of Athens. After their day, the Greek language and culture spread throughout the ancient world through the conquests of Alexander the Great (Aristotle’s most famous student). However, eventually this empire was absorbed by the Romans, who maintained their own language (Latin) but readily adopted and therefore preserved many Greek ideas, texts, and stories (and, in the process, spread them even farther than Alexander did). Roman culture was certainly not bereft of original thinking and innovations, but in terms of philosophy none of their thinkers rose to the level of the “Big 3” from Athens. The other important change was the emergence of Christianity. Greece and Rome (like most other ancient societies) were originally pagan cultures–they worshiped a whole host of gods who were basically more powerful versions of human beings. While ancient people varied in how seriously or literally they took their myths, the tales of the gods provided a common basis for culture and were especially important in propping up political institutions. That all changed fairly rapidly due to the remarkably successful evangelistic efforts of the early Christians. In only a couple of centuries or so, the followers of Jesus Christ went from a tiny cult offshoot of Judaism to the established religion of the Roman Empire. As a result, Christian ideas permeated the late classical world. Christian thinkers drew on Greek and Roman philosophical concepts, but did so while articulating a new understanding of the world and of human beings. For example, Christian thinkers new emphases on the concepts of the will and of evil. This innovation is certainly apparent in the writings of Augustine. Consider Plato’s account of the Form of the Good. He describes it as an actual being, and one on which all other things depend for their existence. Knowledge of this form was the ultimate achievement for a human being, because in grasping it one gains the ultimate perspective on all reality–one can see all other things in their true light by seeing them in reference to the form of the good. Moreover, this form is utterly abstract, insofar as it lies outside of space and time. Thinkers like Augustine saw in this description a remarkable resemblance to the Christian God. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures describe God as one, supreme, eternal, and transcendent. So Augustine saw great wisdom even among the pagans who had never heard of Christianity. And yet their insights were incomplete, he thought. Christianity offered human beings the kind of ultimate wisdom that the philosophers yearned for, but it also proclaimed that God was not an abstract, impersonal form. Rather, the Christians described God as a personal being who could not only be known but could know us, too. And not only that–this Being actually loves us, and being united to God in love constitutes the ultimate fulfilment of a human being’s life. In short, then, Christianity offers everything that Plato longed to find, and far, far more. Moreover, it offers this treasure to all people, not just philosophers (Freddoso, 2004). That is the good news. The bad news is that we face a far greater obstacle to this fulfilment than simply ignorance. The tragedy of human life is that we are beset with sin, which alienates us from God. Because of the damage done to our souls by sin, we are in need of divine help–that is, we are in need of grace. But so insidious is the effect of sin that it even causes us to resist the cure for our ailment. And the corruption is rampant: it infects our relationships with others, our societies, our understanding of ourselves, and our desires. Augustine’s account of evil thus shows an innovation over his predecessors’ account of human nature. While pre-Christian peoples were all too aware of the presence of evil in the world, Christian thought gave evil a greater prominence and a different explanation, and Augustine offers a rich and fascinating analysis of it. We can discern three aspects of his complete view. Evil as privation of good. The first thing to note is that evil, according to Augustine, does not exist, properly speaking. That does not mean that evil is an illusion–far from it. But it does not have the kind of reality that goodness has. This is why he compares evil to darkness. Darkness is not “real” in the same way that light is. Rather, darkness is simply what you have when the light is gone. By analogy, then, evil is simply an absence of a goodness that ought to be present in a thing or situation. “Privation” can mean a lack, or a distortion, or corruption. For example, human eyes ought to have 20/20 vision, but as they become corrupted by disease or old age, they deviate from this standard of functioning. As another example, human speech is intended to communicate information from one person to another, which means that a lie is an intentional effort to work against this purpose (i.e., a distortion of what communication is supposed to be about). One way in which Augustine was trying to move past his intellectual forebears is his refusal to see good and evil as simply equal and opposite forces forever striving against each other (that view is common in the ancient world, and still pretty frequently spotted

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