If the Ancients found themselves transported to the modern world, they would have much to learn about science, technology, and human thinking.
Sunday we consider whether ancient wisdom -- namely that of the Greeks -- can be applied to modern problems. Most Greeks thought the earth was flat, that slavery was OK, and that women were second-class people. Plato thought democracy sucked, that poetry and drama were bad things, and that freedom of speech is a sort of joke. He even thought that Philosophers, of all people, should be Kings. So, one might ask, where’s the wisdom in all that?
But there’s also a lot the Greeks got right. We moderns would do well to appreciate and adopt some of their wisdom -- especially their profound understanding of the nature of human virtue and human vice.
Modern philosophy sort of lost track of that understanding somewhere along the way, under the influence of Kant, Bentham, and Mill. They were more focused on the right than the good.
When the Greeks thought about ethics, they focused on the nature of a good or well-lived human life. Their basic ethical question: What does it take for a human being to live well and thrive? For modern philosophers, the basic ethical question has been: What are the ethical rules that govern our interactions with each other? The Greeks were far less concerned than the moderns with ethical rules. They were much more concerned about the cultivation of virtues like courage, honor, moderation, and the like.
Perhaps, with our focus on rules, we’ve lost something that the Greeks understood. Hypothesis: A lot of our problems are due to an excess of vice and a shortage virtue. So claims, Melissa Lane, Professor of Politics, Princeton University, our guest for Sunday's program. She's the author of Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living.
Consumerism and greed — what the Greeks think of as appetites run wild — have led us into a series of financial debacles, and have propelled us into a huge ecological crisis. Only willful ignorance about the future, what vice the greeks called hubris, can make us feel good about modern society.
We'll examine this hypothesis with Professor Lane on Sunday.