Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What is it

From his theory of the Forms, to his views about morality, justice, and the soul Plato was one the greatest and most influential philosophers of all time. Indeed, it has been said that all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. Find out why as John and Ken dig into the philosophical views of Plato, with their guest, Chris Bobonoich, a leading Plato scholar.

Listening Notes

Why do people still read Plato? Plato wrote some of the most resilient philosophical works ever. Plato believed in things called forms, which were eternal, unchanging objects that were accessible only to reason. Plato also thought democracy was a sham and that philosophers should rule. Ken introduces Chris Bobonich, professor at Stanford. Plato's criticism of democracy stems from three propositions: knowledge is needed to make good decisions, it is possible to have such knowledge, and the people that have that knowledge, philosophers, should make the decisions. How do you get knowledge? Plato thought that knowledge was arrived at by revising theories in light of criticisms and contemplating the forms. In the Republic, Socrates and his interlocutors set out to design the ideal city and discover what justice is. The three parts of the Platonic soul are reason, the spirited part, and the appetitive part. Harmony among the parts of the soul, and the parts of the city, is justice.

Was the founding of our government influenced by Plato's ideas? Plato thought that the laws should include explanations. He also thought that education was an important function of the government. Ken points out that there is a tension between Plato's ideas about government and the philosophical idea of liberalism. Plato did not think government actions needed to be justified to the people. The Republic features the metaphor of the ship of state that exemplifies what Plato thinks ruling a state is like.

Plato thought there should not be private property among the ruling class. Plato did not think that ruling required the consent of the rule. Plato argues that being just, even under extremely harsh circumstances, is better than being unjust. He thought that the most important thing was the good condition of one's mind. Should one do the right thing at any cost? Plato thought that god was good and arranged things to aid the just person in the long run. Bobonich does not think that we have to accept Plato's argument to do good for its own worth. Plato was in favor of censorship.

There are no Amy Standen or Ian Shoales pieces this episode due to the pledge drive.


Chris Bobonich, Clarence Irving Lewis Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University


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