Four Reasons Plato Is Still Stuck In Fourth Century BC

Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Plato’s “Gorigias”, however several parts, some trivial, some largely important, left me scratching my head, confused, and sometimes very frustrated. I realize that some of Plato’s reasoning behind what he assumes to be “actual truth” is due partly to the time period in which he wrote “Gorgias”, but since I am reading it in modern times, I will challenge it with a modernist lens:

1. The idea that everyone follows the same moral compass – Plato’s reasoning that “the admirable & good person is happy” (470e) seems likely to be true, however, when he says “the one who’s unjust & wicked is miserable” (470e), he makes the incorrect assumption that everyone is not only moral, but that they share the same moral values as he. Most importantly, he fails to realize that there are some people who have no sense of morality whatsoever (see sociopaths), or at least when doing something evil, believe that they are doing a just and admirable thing (i.e. violent religious extremism/oppression). This point comes up a second time when Socrates is speaking of feeling the shame from doing something evil — there are some people (again, sociopaths) who lack the capacity to feel shame at all.

 

2. The idea that education = happiness – This point is a little more difficult to argue, but I believe strongly, that one can be happy without being educated. Take, as an example, the concept of the myth of Sisyphus, and apply it to the everyday life of a nameless low-wage earning factory worker. This person may work the same laborious job everyday, going home to a like-minded group of uneducated friends and family, where he/she laughs, talks, and enjoys their time watching bad reality TV, ignorant to the “higher matters” of politics & philosophy as Socrates would say. This is the idea that ignorance is bliss, and that one can find meaning in the most trivial existence. Perhaps, as Kant would say, this happiness is superficial & cannot last. However, if being uneducated is comparable to being in the Garden Of Eden, I can think of far worse things then being left there all my life.

 

3. Plato’s sudden transition from logic to metaphysics – Up to this point, Socrates, using the Socratic method, had been able to cleverly refute all of his opponent’s false views, using logic. Suddenly, he starts talking about souls, and the health of one’s soul. However, instead of speaking to this hypothetically, he continues on as if the idea of one’s soul needing to be healed & cured etc. etc. is just as much an obvious true statement as saying that the sky is blue. Hey Plato: A spiritual belief DOES NOT equal a non-refutable truth.

 

4. “Trying to get a greater share than most is said to be unjust and shameful by law” (483c) Or is it? – While I am aware that this quote was spoken by Callicles, not Socrates, it is still applicable to Plato’s idea that humans in society are far more just & equal then in nature. However, when I read this section of “Gorgias”, the first thing I thought of was the incredibly unequal distribution of wealth in today’s society, whether it’s the west vs. the east, or even the CEO vs. the common man. Are we really more equal in society than in nature?
The discussion with Callicles was my favourite section of “Gorgias”, as it provided some really interesting food for thought.

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