Plato’s political use of the ‘noble lie’

What would Plato have made of our ‘post-truth’ era where ‘alternative facts’ are likely to receive equal attention and are sometimes given more credence than analytic arguments, standing to reason? Well, Plato also had his own political agenda when writing The Republic and devising the most perfect society or what purports to be the most just society. The educational programme laid out by the alleged ‘founders’ of this utopian state, does not cater for the producers of material commodities. However, ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Popular Sovereignty and Representative Democracy

Was Plato right after all when he remarked in ‘The Republic’ that the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavey rises out of the most extreme form of liberty.? For students of this political classic, contemporary events have never been so meaningful as Western democracies are going through a crisis of confidence in their social, political and financial élites. Popular sovereignty is being reclaimed throughout Europe by movements such as Indignados in Spain, Direct Democracy Now! in Greece or Nuit ...

William James and ‘The Will to Believe’

When analysing the origins of belief behind truth claims, matters of faith often seem to be reduced to pure blind faith on the part of candid believers or sceptical doubt when expressed by rational thinkers such as Hume. In his lecture ‘The Will to Believe’, published in 1896, William James offered six different options open to the ‘believer’ which can equally apply to a non-believer in his quest of epistemological truth: An hypothesis is anything that might be offered for ...

John Dewey on Democracy and Education

In his essay ‘Democracy and Education’, published a century ago this year, John Dewey champions cultural diversity and the paramount priority for educators to develop a ‘common intelligence’ as the foundation of an harmonious, tolerant community. The idea of a ‘participative’ approach of education where the ‘learner’ is at the core of the learning process sounds like a forerunner of the very philosophy behind the International Baccalaureate, launched over fifty years after Dewey’s seminal publication. Dewey cherished the multi-ethnic dimension ...