Posted by: HAT | March 30, 2011

Things I Dislike About Plato

Plato as someone pretty likeable

Hi, Gang!

Thanks to Hessler34 for the quick question about why I dislike Plato. For one thing, the question and its placement made me notice that I am no longer a graduate student. !!! (So yes, the About page needs some editing.) For another, the question made me realize that I it had been a long time since I thought about that, so I didn’t have a quick answer for that question any more.

Nevertheless, and upon reflection, it seems less cluttered to put the answer here.

First, because I am trying to moderate my too frequent practice of issuing sweeping condemnations, I realize that it would be more restrained and accurate to identify things I dislike about, or rather in, Plato. “In” Plato, because presumably we are talking here about “Plato’s philosophy” or “Plato’s works,” rather than about Plato the individual, whom I have never met. (Another reason it seems wrong, after all, to say I dislike Plato.) Perhaps, in that imaginary place where people from radically different cultures and times meet, we would enjoy one another’s company – although I doubt it. I don’t imagine myself as the kind of person whose company Plato would have enjoyed, at any rate.

Second, and worse, I have read less Plato than I probably should have to make that claim with the full force of self-righteous conviction. Perhaps I am wrong about Plato, and would find that out if I had a proper education. There is even some evidence in that direction. I liked the Symposium a lot, for instance, for the idea that love is the guide of knowledge and truth. However. I suspect that the experience of reading more Plato would be like the experience of studying Greek. That experience was something like this: intense hatred, which would gradually diminish to the point of my beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, this language was not so despicable and might be likeable somehow after all, until I would run across something else that would make me gnash my teeth, hate Greek with renewed intensity, and wish I could just take double Hebrew. It was at this time that I formed the mantra “The Greeks are the villains of western civilization.” [These are the ancient Greeks, it does not quite go without saying.] I expect this is how it would go with Plato.

Unfortunately, saying what I dislike is a lot less quick than asking what it is. Here is a list of some things I dislike about Plato, with a few thoughts on the first one. (I will try to add comments to the others in another post.)

Methodological over-valuation of analysis, with a consequent under-valuation of association. In practice, Plato uses associative methods. He relies on metaphor and allegory, for instance, to carry some of his points. (Think of the cave.) But the method that he holds up as the laudable exercise of reason is analytic, dividing phenomena into ever more specific and discrete phenomena, with the ultimate paradigm of knowledge being the capture of the essence – the isolate – of something. Insofar as he relies on non-analytic methods as well as analytic methods, without acknowledging this reliance, but rather presenting them as aids to analysis, he is dishonestly failing to give credit where credit is due. Insofar as he sets western philosophy on the track of thinking that knowing a thing means isolating it from its relations to other things, its web of similarities to and differences between other things, and its dynamics, he sets it on a track that leads to a life-denying understanding of knowledge.

The analytically separated and hierarchically organized treatment of Body and Mind, and the notion of the higher and lower faculties within the mind.

The idea that what comes later, or derives from something, is inferior to what comes before, or serves as the model for something. This may be more of a neo-Platonic notion, and I am taking it on faith from one of my instructors, but it is an idea with which I take issue. Subsequents or derivatives may be improvements.

The idea that the Forms/Ideas are more real than what we encounter in transitory life, and that the variations that constitute individual phenomena’s deviations from the Forms make them less real, and are, in a sense, faults.

The idea that art is a copy of something.

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