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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The disappointment of Plato

The genius Martin van Creveld considers how Plato would react to modern times:
First, he would have been disappointed (but hardly surprised) by our continuing inability to provide firm answers to some of the most basic questions of all. Such as whether the gods (or God) “really” exist, whether they have a mind, and whether they care for us humans; the contradiction between nature and nurture (physis versus nomos, in his own terminology); the best system of education; the origins of evil and the best way to cope with it; as well as where we came from (what happened before the Great Bang? Do parallel universes exist?), where we may be going, what happens after death, and the meaning and purpose of it all, if any.

Second, he would have questioned our ability to translate our various scientific and technological achievements into greater human happiness; also, he would have wondered whether enabling so many incurably sick and/or handicapped people to stay alive, sometimes even against their will, is really the right thing to do.

Third, he would have observed that, the vast number of mental health experts notwithstanding, we today are no more able to understand human psychology and motivation better than he and his contemporaries did. As the French philosopher/anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once put it, there was (and still) an uninvited guest seated among us: the human mind.

Fourth, he would have noted that we moderns have not come up with works of art—poetry, literature, drama, rhetoric, sculpture, architecture—at all superior to those already available in his day. Not to Aeschylus. Not to Sophocles, not to Euripides, not to Aristophanes. Not to Demosthenes, not to Phidias and Polycleitus. Not to the Parthenon.
I'm not at all surprised that the great Israeli military historian inclines more toward Plato than Aristotle. But despite being an avowed Aristotelian myself, I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. After all, it is not often that we have access to the contemplations and meanderings of one of the greatest minds known to Man's history.

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37 Comments:

Blogger Wario's Mart January 07, 2020 7:41 AM  

Because we live in a simulacrum of a society. Science, history, art and human relations have all been destroyed or deliberately disordered. This is a three tiered society where the true state of all these domains is kept obscured from the masses, or they're simply instrumentalised now for corruption and ideology. Like art, which is now seemingly designed to degrade the human impulses and soul and act as a money laundering channel. Or Science which clearly appears to be multi tiered with different levels of access to true current state based on bloodlines and commitment to evil.

I think that the world weaver's who fake the histories and collect all the data do understand human motivation - because they've done such a great job of debasing it.

It would be nice to think people still had the same kind of sincerity as Plato. If Plato were alive today he'd have been recruited or forced into the deep state and would be running fake narratives about climate change and black holes and all the cavalcade of worthless Jew non-science. He's be secretly incrementing on the real tech that is kept hidden, and wondering at how his Republic seems to both exist and not exist. Or maybe he was more noble and he'd have refused the ticket and been moved into the patent waiting list and have a blog somewhere read by a few hundred people.

The Greeks knew that streaming was the appropriate form of education. And discourse and multiple model contextualization. We've regressed in many ways. I feel an ancient Greek today would be full of vitality and vigour and humanity we no longer possess in our befuddled fluoride, BHP, PVC, 5g addled poisoned minds. No one really cares anymore about the state of the universe. And anyone who does no longer gets the ticket.

But Martin Van Creveld is a genius and his sanguine direct comparison is invigorating. Always wonderful to read and try to comprehend and understand.

I think Martin can be comforted that euthanasia will soon be ubiquitous and universal. What Plato would have to say about the willing election to euthanasia of so many would be interesting. In some area codes in the Netherlands, a literal majority of all deaths are now euthanasia or induced palliative sedation/de facto euthanasia.

Maybe I'm just too cynical. But I suspect Plato would have been deplatformed and blacklisted long before he could develop his ouvre today.

Blogger Shane Bradman January 07, 2020 7:42 AM  

Plato's Forms is his most useful idea that is necessary to understand before moving into tricky philosophy. Plato would be appalled and the total inability of most "intellectuals" to understand such a basic and fundamental philosophical trivia. As much as it is fun to side with Diogenes in his wild criticisms of Plato, I would take Plato in a nanosecond over what we currently have.
We are not smarter than we were in the past. Progress has not taken us forward. The wisdom of old is more true than anything we can come up with today. If we compare ourselves to ancient Greece or Rome, what have we accomplished that they didn't?

Blogger The Cooler January 07, 2020 7:54 AM  

But then what is the alternative?

*puts some Beats headphones on Rodin's The Thinker*

There. That's better.

Blogger patlalrique January 07, 2020 8:30 AM  

I'm confused about what the author of this piece aims to achieve. Is he an atheist or does he believe in God? I guess his religion is Judaism (obviously) and what he writes is very revealing about how Jews think. They want to believe, but at the same time insist to remove the sacred from the equation.

Nevertheless, all the questions he asks in his article can easily be answered: the purpose of us and our universe is sacred. In appearance there is no purpose, but there is one. There is one, because we are here. We won't get these answers served to us on a silver platter effortlessly.

There is no 100% proof that God is real. But he is. Of course, MVC goes through the same thinking process that many religious people go today, which is to manage to believe in God while simultaneously believing in modern science.

There is no answer to his question about what preceded the Big Bang because there is no Big Bang. Well, at the very least, there is no solid proof that our universe has started with the Big Bang.

Most abstract science function on the ground of that speculation. Thus the result will only be more speculations. The so-called BB is a non-answer (incomplete) to this question: what's our origin?

He says: ''he would have questioned our ability to translate our various scientific and technological achievements into greater human happiness''.

No, no, he wouldn't have. Because he would have witnessed that we actually have. Life expectancy is higher than before, we can cure most ailments the human body can suffer from, literacy and civility in our societies has never been more present, the quality and standard of life of an individual from modest background is higher than the kings of the past. There has never been an era with fewer wars. Name it : running water, hygiene, heating, gazoline engine, machinery, healthcare: all of which have incredibly rised the well-being of humans.

Our actual plight is spiritual.

Now, I'm not saying all humankind benefits from these achievements. I'm also not stating that this is eternal. We can loose what we have achieved.

He asks if ''whether the gods (or God) “really” exist, whether they have a mind, and whether they care for us humans''. This is a Promethean statement, Promethean questions.

He also guesses Plato's potential disapointement for our failure to provide ''firm answers'' to the ''most basic questions''.

There you go.

These are not merely ''basic questions''. The proof is indeed that there is still today no firm ''answers'' to them. And because of this, these questions are the most important of all.

Blogger David Ray Milton January 07, 2020 8:31 AM  

We could argue that since we have pursued point #2 at the expense of point #1 in the modern era that we predictably reap the consequences of point #2.

I’ve been listening to the Iliad on audio book (point #4). Not only have we failed to surpass the ancients, but we are getting progressively worse at creating art at a sharper decline. See banana duct-taped to wall.... or anything Disney touches.

Blogger Vaughan Williams January 07, 2020 9:11 AM  

What have we accomplished that they didn't? ICBMs.

Blogger tublecane January 07, 2020 9:17 AM  

I like how to-the-point are these ruminations. My experience of Creveld, apart from Transformation of War, is the more sprawling and involved Rise and Decline of the State, as well as Privileged Sex. My only reservations are about calling (((Levi-Strauss))) French and Plato's appreciation of the arts. If the Greeks mastered epic poetry, drama, oratory, and architecture, they can't touch our music or painting, for starters. Although I must admit we don't know exactly how their music sounded.

Also admittedly, Plato might not care for Western art not dedicated to his conception of the gods and civic order.

I continue to wonder just what it was Socrates was up to with his hand of followers. Those Greek secret societies and erotic rites of passages. Possibly he actually did corrupt the youth.

Plato is important to understand in context. He was born the year Pericles died and saw Athens fall. His later wackier stuff in Laws and with the tyrant in Syracuse may be explained by such experience.

I enjoy that he was also a physical man. Wrestler in youth and all that. Not just an ivory tower inhabitant credited with pioneering the now thoroughly-corrupt university system.

Blogger Brett baker January 07, 2020 9:22 AM  

People aren't any smarter than in Plato's time, so lack of progress isn't really surprising.

Blogger VD January 07, 2020 9:47 AM  

I guess his religion is Judaism (obviously).

That is incorrect. Martin van Creveld does not subscribe to the Jewish religion.

Blogger tublecane January 07, 2020 9:52 AM  

@5- The Iliad is a work of mighty genius. Vox once posted On Bad Writng, which was about the nonsensical similes and metaphors plaguing contemporary literature. This poem is a masterclass in the opposite.

Homer was so good at similes that there's a thing called the Homeric Simile. They not only aptly capture the meaning otherwise hard to define with straight poetry, but they're little dramas in themselves. For the pleasure of a professor I once counted them up (or the ones my edition had italicized), and the number was I believe in the hundreds.

Blogger patlalrique January 07, 2020 10:09 AM  

VD wrote:Martin van Creveld does not subscribe to the Jewish religion.

Thank you. I had no knowledge of this man prior of you mentioning him on your stream. I also should have read the whole text on his site before replying. But it seems to me that, him having been raised in the Jewish faith, this view of the world has somewhat molded him.

I'm lazy. I definitely have to start back reading more actual books.

Blogger Gettimothy January 07, 2020 10:24 AM  

The absense of Christ leaps from the analysis; the source of "Plato's lament" is painfully obvious when seen from Christian eyes.

However, one question begs to be asked: "What would Plato make of Baby Metal?"

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelphia January 07, 2020 10:24 AM  

Fourth, he would have noted that we moderns have not come up with works of art—poetry, literature, drama, rhetoric, sculpture, architecture—at all superior to those already available in his day. Not to Aeschylus. Not to Sophocles, not to Euripides, not to Aristophanes. Not to Demosthenes, not to Phidias and Polycleitus. Not to the Parthenon.

Well, I guess it depends on what you aspects of art, etc., qualify as "superior" and what he means by "we, moderns." Michelangelo's David, Brunelleschi's Dome, Turner's water colors, various Shakespeare plays, Milton's Paradise Lost, Emily Dickinson poetry -- these aren't from the Greek apogee, but they are awfully good.

Anyway, van Creveld is a smart guy, but maybe Plato wouldn't be as provincial as he appears to make him. But hey, we're all guessing, and guessing can be fun.

Oh, and pass the Barolo or the Brunello, please, and certainly not the Roditis. Those Greek olives are pretty good though.

Blogger LES January 07, 2020 11:28 AM  

The Great Questions

Where did I come from? Where am I going?
Who am I?

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf,
my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from
and where I am going.” John 8:14

“I came from the Father and entered the world;
now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” John 16:28

Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God.
I find my identity through Him.

Blogger Nostromo January 07, 2020 11:31 AM  

The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.--Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Blogger Latigo3 January 07, 2020 11:51 AM  

To be able to "peak under the hood" of the mind of Martin van Creveld is fascinating. We have a dearth of non-thinkers out there today, most supposed thinkers are always spouting the same old tripe. Thanks again Vox, gems like this are what I have anjoyed the most about your blog over the years.

Blogger Daniele Grech Pereira January 07, 2020 12:07 PM  

Plato in modern times: "Your thinking is even worse than the food around here. Send me back!"

Blogger Karl January 07, 2020 12:11 PM  

Read the seventh letter. I don't think he'd be surprised by the lack of progress. Philosophy always takes place in the individual. Translate philosophy into "love of wisdom" and it makes more sense. Can't be written down. Has to be done.

Blogger Newscaper312 January 07, 2020 12:15 PM  

David Ray Milton and Tublcane

My college son found in his YouTube wanderings a recording of some scholar type reading the Iliad in ancient Greek, using the current best guesses on pronunciation at the time. We listened for a bit, and the rhythm really added something to it. No, not simple rhyming generally.

Blogger peacefulposter January 07, 2020 12:52 PM  

VD, the other day you asked for suggestions on what book you should write next.

How about a one on Aristotle vs. Plato?

As you have said before, every debate ultimately comes down to Aristotle vs. Plato.

Blogger Ska_Boss January 07, 2020 3:00 PM  

How an atheist can look at today's world and see how far we've fallen and how things are getting systematically worse every year and not believe in any higher spiritual power pulling our strings, good or bad, is beyond my comprehension.

Blogger Scott January 07, 2020 3:10 PM  

With respect to the great mind, he's giving Plato more credit than a child of the lie deserves.

I've always found it interesting that Plato credited his ideas to Socrates while Aristotle had the balls to be his own man.

Blogger David Ray Milton January 07, 2020 3:12 PM  

@tublecane

That’s pretty cool. I’ve never heard of an Homeric simile. I’ll have to look that up and then pay attention to see if I catch them while listening.

@Newscaper312

I took NT Greek in college. The professors would talk about the guesses in pronunciation, but admitted the best scholarship believes that the different accents indicate vocal pitch. In other words, not only was Ancient Greek far superior in specificity to English, but the sophisticated bastards probably sang when they spoke to each other. Helps us understand why they called non-Greeks bar-bar-ians.

I’m sure hearing the Iliad in the ancient tongue would be impressive. If only I could understand it haha.

Blogger Akulkis January 07, 2020 4:15 PM  

"There is no 100% proof that God is real."

Don't be silly.

Your very existance is proof of God.

You wouldn't be here without the universe existing.
Now, when you find the creator of the universe, you have found God.
Now, the question of whether you have found God or not does not change the fact that God exists.


It's just like gold in various mines around the planet. All the gold in California existed for how long before it was discovered?

Likewise, the matter of whether there is a photograph of God, or whatever, does nothing to disprove His existance.


It's really that easy.

Blogger Kiwi January 07, 2020 4:27 PM  

The art thing is interesting. Recently, in the last three years, I've started to question, why is there a lack of unique creativity in nearly all individuals, including myself? Sure we do some sort of novel responses at a low level and I can create what looks authentically unique to most people at a slightly higher level, but the deflating self-realisation is, I am only adapting some masterful creation exposed to me from a previous mind. Not that is isn't an honour to carry on with the work of these people.

I've searched to find how these individuals came up with their unique ideas, what environmental factor might be responsible. Oddly, and a little unsettling, I haven't found any, even the scientific method types, who attribute it to themselves nor to another person. For example, I saw it in a cloud. What!

It sounds similar to incidental teaching with a child. You put an object where you know they will find it so they learn a specific thing. You bait their environment.

I don't know what Plato thinks about such things, unlike most on here, it's not an area I've read.

Blogger Manuel January 07, 2020 5:15 PM  

Plato needs some Logos. Don't forget "Logos became flesh and dwelt among us."
As for the art, I think Plato would have been impressed with anything Raphael, Bernini, and Caravaggio made.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine January 07, 2020 6:01 PM  

"How an atheist can look at today's world and see how far we've fallen and how things are getting systematically worse every year"

That's exactly the trick. They don't look at it. To be fair, a lot of things are mostly the same. Some things are better, some things are worse. It's not a simple view, there's always been shit going down.

Within that uncertainty, that's where you hear them loudly proclaiming the grand achievements of Science to further permit their simple hedonistic aims, or that transhuman technology is going to make us super immortal posthumans, and that Progress is increasing the "humane"-ness of culture and advancing civilization into the End of History.

History of course has to end because even a simpleton's understanding of cause and effect leads immediately to action and consequence, and that imperfect things cannot become perfect of themselves. Therefore it's always year zero, because the past puts the lie to their means and their ends both, exposing false prophets before they can spew the words that itching ears want to hear.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd January 07, 2020 6:47 PM  

Kiwi wrote:The art thing is interesting. Recently, in the last three years, I've started to question, why is there a lack of unique creativity in nearly all individuals, including myself? Sure we do some sort of novel responses at a low level and I can create what looks authentically unique to most people at a slightly higher level, but the deflating self-realisation is, I am only adapting some masterful creation exposed to me from a previous mind.
What do you consider unique creativity? Are you thinking of the great artists, Da Vinci and Michelangelo and Rembrandt and so on? They are not fundamentally different than you.

Every human is creative, because every human is created in the image of God. Still, every human is merely adapting the masterful creation of the mind of God.

Blogger Unknown January 07, 2020 8:37 PM  

What do you mean by "I am not surprised an israli historian leans towards plato over aristotle"

Blogger John Rockwell January 07, 2020 9:05 PM  

I judge art/architecture by the quality of its beauty as much as functionality.

Blogger James January 07, 2020 10:56 PM  

Warios Mart, exactly my thoughts. Although I do not subscribe to the term, mainly because of its associations, the 1% indeed know the answers to many of Martins questions. They are hoarding their discoveries and their insights only to be used by themselves. Give me a week to wander the libraries under the Vatican or access to the Intelligence organizations of the major powers and the knowledge we gain in one week could advance the growth of mankind by decades if not centuries. This knowledge is being hidden from The Great Unwashed. As to the scams of the art world, read the essays of Miles Mathis. Financial schemes and insurance fraud out the ass. Cheers all, Happy New Year.

Blogger Akulkis January 08, 2020 3:01 AM  

Plato was a collectivist and authoritarian. Aristotle was a liberty and personal responsibility kind of guy.

Blogger Dole January 08, 2020 8:16 AM  

The best system of education?

You can tell he is a Platonist. But I disagree, Plato would love the post-modern arts and the Euclidean axiomatic logic/mathematics. Plato is all lies and I would not understate how much Platonism has played a part in the rot.

Blogger xevious2030 January 08, 2020 10:38 AM  


Reminded of an aside. As to whether Plato/Socrates was as Greek as the 60%-ers in Tel Aviv are Italian.

At any rate, by Plato/Socrates, the height of understanding is in recognizing that the most learned of acquired knowledge, is an idiot compared to the all of us by what we once each individually knew, in totality, of the Forms, before we were born. From there, the closest semblance to disappointment is the expectation and anticipation of simply seeing those that do not recognize this, not in the failure to re-acquire but more than a fragment of the totality. This failure is always the starting place for the born. That would be the take of Plato/Socrates on any modern time period, then or now, based on his take on prideful knowledge. Which goes full circle to the exactly same worded question by the Rabbi about chimney sweeps and baths being at least three totally different questions.

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelphia January 08, 2020 11:00 AM  

Interviewer: Hello, I’m Alistair Toddwinkle GloboHomo from the BBC, and we have a special guest for tonight’s show: the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, who’s come back to modern world to give us his profound insights. Plato, welcome.

Let’s start with the current state of Greece. What are your thoughts?

Plato: Holy Zeus, I cannot believe how degraded and decrepit this country has become. It’s not the nation where philosophy, politics, art, athletics, and military science reached its flowering, it’s a fucking downscale tourist trap, with shitty wine.

And the Greek people!! The Gods weep. The people think the apotheosis of life is to have their own swimming pools and avoid taxes. And nobody learns how to think in order to lead an examined life, but instead learns the ins and outs of how pickpockets operate so they can hold onto the few drachmas they have—excuse me Euros.

As for the boys, none of them learn how to throw the discus or wrestle naked. Instead they kick this silly ball up and down the field, up and down, over and over again, to no purpose.

Interviewer: But the gorgeous climate, the great natural beauty, the wonderful sea, the lovely islands – aren’t those worth celebrating?

Plato: The Islands? You mean the places where GenX and Millennials, along with washed up British royalty, achieve unheard of levels of inebriation, collapsing on the beaches in a drunken stupor into a pile of used condoms? You mean those islands? At least our orgiastic rituals had some religious significance.

And we dressed like thinkers, you know, in white robes and sandals instead of the hideous slogan ridded t-shirts, ugly shorts, and Adidas sneakers you see everywhere.

Interviewer: Let’s move onto politics.

Plato: Politics, right, I wrote a whole book on the subject that nobody reads anymore. It also included some pretty good guidance on virtue.

Interviewer: What’s your assessment of the current state of Western politics?

Plato: It’s a total clusterfuck. Greece has gone from being the cradle of Western civilization, based on my work and the work of my protégé, Aristotle, to being beholden to the Germans. The Germans!! We were explaining how government should be organized and building great stone edifices while the Germans were living is mud huts and trying to figure out how flint worked.

Interviewer: Any guardians out there? Any philosopher kings?

Plato: Really? You gotta be kidding. This guy Trump comes close, true, he’s been pretty venal, but he’s past that state now, and seems to have the interests of the people at heart. The guy from Italy, Salivini, is trying, but, heck, he’s Italian, and we were figuring out what justice meant while those Italians were sucking on wolves’ teats.

As for Guardians, the elites today are complete fakes. They think they’re better, but they’re dumb, narcissistic, and contemptuous of the people they ostensibly rule.

It all makes you want quaff down some hemlock.








Blogger Beehive Bear January 13, 2020 6:02 PM  

Aristotle's textbook Metaphysics remains a "go-to" for a backdrop of contemporaneous metaphysical thought, including Plato's metaphysics. It seems to me that this textbook is a teaching anthology or compendium for the use of his academy. So if we read Plato, we should also read Aristotle.

Interesting side-note: Aristotle's textbook Physics is even more metaphysical than his Metaphysics.

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