I know that I know nothing
Academics, Education, Science, Religion, Philosophy, Knowledge, Logic, Justice and Politics… if you ask me what is in common between all of these, I will tell you one name – Plato. Although few people today study Plato directly, he is the person most responsible for the development of the world we know.
A Greek Philosopher
Plato lived almost 2500 years ago, in the ancient Greece. He was a follower of a philosopher Socrates, an author of many influential Dialogues, teacher of Aristotle and the founder of the first Academia. His life was dedicated to seeking The Truth of everything, the Nature of human soul, and distinguishing between physical and abstract, and the Good and Evil.
Plato’s ideas on knowledge, enlightenment and logic have spurred a revolution in human knowledge. His student, Aristotle, has founded the basis of Natural Philosophy – what today we call Science, while also influencing his own pupil – Alexander the Great. The city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander, became the centre of learning and knowledge of antiquity, producing the greatest minds of antiquity – including Eratosthenes (calculated circumference of the Earth), Euclid (mathematician) and Archimedes (mathematician, physicist and inventor).
The Roman and Christian scholars continued to study Plato and incorporated his ideas about Trinity of God, social order and spiritual life in their theology.
Arabs scholars translated and developed Plato’s works, the greatest Islamic scholars Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes, all wrote their tractates on Plato’s works.
When these works reached Western Europe, they inspired transformation in politics, philosophy, science and arts, that we know today as Renaissance.
Modern World – A World of Plato?
All of contemporary philosophies, believes and precise sciences – be they, mathematics, physics, biology, geometry, chemistry, or logic, sociology and politics, have all been directly or indirectly shaped by the ideas set forth by Plato. To give you some idea, I’ll make some examples:
Any modern science is based on the concept of establishing the objective truth through observation. The idea that the universe has a predictable structure belongs to Aristotle, but the assumption of objective reality derived through logical thinking was first recorded by Plato. By observing the Nature and conducting experiments, scholars throughout the ages managed to develop the theories of modern sciences.
In his Dialogue on Republic Plato argued that the state should be run not by tyrants or multitude of people, but by a few enlightened Philosophers, selected by an informed people. Arguably, this is exactly how any modern democratic state is run – by a political elite, usually educated in the best Universities and Academia, and elected by a popular vote.
Education and Social Order:
Education and social order today is basically as Platonist as it gets. From the earliest age we are today taught the values of truth and justice, objective truths about the world, abstract logic and mathematics, what is always good and what is evil.
The art, music and other corrupting carnal activities are considered a low priority in most schools, just as advised by Plato. Even laughter is considered inappropriate in formal setting, though not completely banned as suggested by this great philosopher.
Platonism – The Greatest Threat to Humanity?
A firm believe in logic and truth may have been a helpful guide in the past, but the risk of misunderstanding or a miscalculation have always been there. Platonism helped us to develop a very advanced technology and industry, but it did very little in terms of preparing us to use this knowledge appropriately. Fundamentalist believes in absolute truths, control and social order, that most of us share, creates several serious problems:
1. Very little space is left for compromise and mutual understanding. When two or more conflicting views collide the result is always violent. Somehow, it is difficult for us to accept that more than one opinion, race or religion can coexist. We need to be more flexible and tolerant.
2. The amount of information that we have to process today requires a much more socially engaging and compatible modes of thinking. We need to cooperate with each other to achieve success, and in order to do that we need to be able to build common ground, common understanding with each other. And for that we have to be able to accept multiple people’s different perspectives as our own, and not let it become a barrier between us.
3. There is a real limit to what you can understand using objectivism. At our current level of knowledge, science and philosophy can no longer advance forward without adopting relativity. In fact, the science have proved itself wrong already – our universe is relativistic, we act relative to each other and our circumstances and the same rules and laws may not apply in different contexts.
Perhaps, another ancient philosophy can give us a new platform that is better suited for XXI century? Perhaps, we need to resolve at last to ideas of Sophism? Perhaps we will rise to the challenges ahead and become as sophisticated as our technology?