Friday, September 25, 2009

Vernon, Mark. "Plato's Dialogues, Part 8: A Man for All Seasons." GUARDIAN September 21, 2009.

The most famous image of Plato is found in the Vatican mural by Raphael, The School of Athens. Positioned centrally are Plato, pointing to the heavens, and Aristotle, pointing to the earth. It conveys a presumed difference between the two philosophers, Plato being the idealist, Aristotle the materialist. And yet it was Aristotle who wrote the following: "We must be like immortals insofar as possible and do everything toward living in accordance with the best thing in us." That's a sentiment with which his teacher, Plato, could readily agree, and the painting is misleading. Moreover, if materialism is associated with humanism today, and so Aristotle tends to be preferred over Plato, for much of the Renaissance, it was Aristotle who was sidelined. He was the philosopher most closely associated with the theology of the Middle Ages. For the Renaissance humanists, Plato was the thinker who seemed new and free of the excesses of scholastic speculation. It's funny how the ancient Greeks fall in and out of favour. Plato is never likely to be forgotten; he's too seminal a figure. Bernard Williams once asked what makes a great philosopher. He listed intellectual depth; a grasp of the scientific, the political, the creative and the destructive capabilities of humankind; imagination; an ability to unsettle; and ideally the gifts of a writer. "If we ask which philosopher has, more than any other, combined all these qualities," he continued, "to that question there is certainly an answer, Plato." That said, a number of spheres in contemporary thought today suggest that Plato can play more of a role for us than just as a giant in the history of ideas. One is physics and mathematics. . . . Read the rest here:

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