Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

Was Plato a precursor of Freud?

Despite the twenty-four centuries separating the two men, both Plato and Freud shared the same pessimism regarding human nature: man is driven by his desires or what Freud called ‘drives’ or instincts. The latter was a scientist who firmly believed in the power of rational enquiry. As a father who lost one of his sons in the First World War and who had to leave Austria for England in his old age in order to avoid the systematic anti-Semitic repression ...

On the proper use of Cyberspace

In his book ‘Free Speech’, Timothy Garton Ash proposes the following principle related to knowledge: ‘We allow no taboos against and seize every chance for the spread of knowledge.’ In his attempt to delineate the contours of his liberal ‘open society, the former journalist turned academic acknowledges the central place played by knowledge in every aspect of human life and endeavour. Yet, in an age driven by computer technology, it is essential to be aware of the differences existing between ...

Plato’s rejection of Athenian politics

In his alleged Seventh Letter, Plato recounts his three visits to Sicily at the court of Dionysius, the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse and his vain efforts to change his political views. However, before embarking on his first sea-journey, Plato casts his mind back to the period of the Thirty Tyrants and notes that: ‘When I considered all this, the more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult ...

Pacifying Our Cyberworld (1)

At a time when freedom of speech and particularly freedom to criticise is being threatened by a pervasive climate of suspicion and rejection of the liberal press in western democracies, a much respected British journalist, Timothy Garton Ash proposes ‘Ten Principles for a Connected World’ in his latest essay, ‘Free Speech’, published by Atlantic Books, in 2016. The Internet revolution has unleashed a nonstop flow of unlimited information but also myriads of unvetted spurious opinions, ranging from thumb-up positive reactions ...

Parrhesia and the post-truth age

After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is ‘post-truth’ - and adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Such is the entry to be found on the Oxford Dictionaries website. Socrates would, no doubt, be turning in his grave if he only knew the extent and triumph of the present doxa (or opinion) over truth ...

Is the Philosopher the best possible ruler? (Part 2 of the Allegory of the Ship)

In the Allegory of the Ship, Plato fails to raise some critical points regarding the aloof attitude adopted by his philosopher: 1) By choosing not to intervene in the various quarrels raging between the different popular factions, he is implicitly condoning any attempt to topple the captain of the ship and endanger the future of the crew itself. The philosopher’s silence underlines his rejection of the inevitable clashes taking place in democratic regimes. In fact, he seems totally detached from public ...

Aldous Huxley’s warning against a ‘Brave New World’

The prescient English writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, was through the 1930’s, a keen critical observer of the rise of political extremism, coupled with the irresistible progress of modern technology. Self-exiled in California, in 1938, for health and political reasons, he lamented the spread of fascist ideology across Europe and the absence of pacifist solutions to the imminent threat of a world conflagration. In March 1946, a few months after the end of the worst conflict ever, he published a ...

Plato’s Allegory of the Ship and the True Navigator (Part 1)

One of the most famous illustrations of Plato’s defence of philosophy is to be found in the section of The Republic dedicated to the Allegory of the Ship (488a-489c) in which Socrates illustrates the negative attitude of his contemporaries towards the true philosopher. On board the ship are the captain, the crew, the leader of the crew and a character called the ‘true navigator’: 1) The captain is described as ‘larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit ...

Iris Murdoch and the irresistible attraction of the Good

The writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was fascinated by the intimate connection between ‘truth’, ‘beauty’ and ‘good’ in Plato’s dialogues. In the late Timaeus dialogue, written after The Republic, Plato introduces a divine figure, the ‘demiurge’, literally ‘the architect’, who inspired by his love for the Form of the Good creates the universe from pre-existent and therefore necessarily imperfect material. Murdoch sees in the story of the ‘demiurge’ the answer to the previous limitations of The Republic. Through the ...

Plato’s dialectic as the exercise of pure thought

The mathematical sciences studied by the apprentice philosopher in The Republic are only a prelude to the crowning stage of the philosopher’s education, namely, the study of dialectic, leading to the intellectual apprehension of the Form of the Good. Mathematics is, indeed, the indispensable tool if students are to rise above a transient physical world and the partial information they can derive from delusive senses. Through the study of geometry, the mind reaches a conceptual understanding of plane and solid ...

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