A Dialogue With Plato

As I walked through the Professor Einsteins massive laboratory I remembered how lucky I was to be his assistant. At the back of Einsteins laboratory was a special top secret room that I had never been allowed access to. The professor was meeting the president and wouldnt be back until Thursday so Id be safe checking it out just this once. I opened the door and was disappointed to only find a small table with a large book laying open on top. I took a closer look and the only words the book contained were Plato 328 B. C.

I shut the book and was about to leave when I heard a whirling of hidden machines and a bright flash of light, suddenly I was in a sunny grove wearing a toga, sitting next to me was a man writing on a scroll labeled The Republic. I realized must be Plato. Plato: Ah hello my young friend, you must be one Professor Einsteins students. How can I help you? Jacob: I really have to get home if the professor realized I used his machine hell be furious. Plato: Really? You dont want to ask me anything? Jacob: Well I guess. In my time there are many different types of government.

What is your idea of the perfect form of government, an ideal state? Plato: An ideal state would be based on the model of the soul; well get to that later. The ideal state has three castes in which everyone would know their place, The Philosopher Kings, the Guardians, and the Laborers. The Philosopher Kings rule society. The Kings would not be a monarchy, they are the ones who train their minds to reason, and have gained wisdom. Above all, the Philosopher Kings must reason, because the creation of a good state depends on its ability to be governed with reason.

It is not enough to govern with senses, because they are based on the body and our unreliable. The Philosopher Kings must come to decisions based on sound reason. Then there are the Guardians who protect society and must aspire to courage. Neither the Philosopher Kings nor the Guardians raise children; have a family life, or own private property. They should focus their entire lives on serving the state. The vast number of people though would be laborers, made up of farmers, artisans and merchants. The Laborers are the ones who provide for society. They have natural appetites, so laborers must aspire to temperance.

Jacob: What would the role of women be in this state? Plato: Women would be equal. Women can govern just as effectively as a man, because they have they have the same powers of reasoning, and rulers govern through their ability to reason. Women though in order to rule must have the same education as men and be exempt from child bearing and housekeeping, like men. After all a state that does not educate and train is like a man who only trains his right arm. Jacob: Well since you are the greatest philosopher in the history as Western civilization what do you think about the nature of reality?

Plato: You see reality is divided into those two parts, the region of reality and the region of ideas. The region of the senses you see is everything around us its what you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste, the material world. We can never truly know, or have knowledge, about anything in the material world, because everything in it flows. What I mean is that everything in the material world is everything changes, nothing is constant; time dissolves any substance. And you can never have true knowledge about a world that is in a constant state of change, only opinions.

The realm of ideas is where we gain our true knowledge. This realm of ideas cant be seen or heard but its ideas are eternal and immutable. These ideas are the patterns on which everything in the material world is built on. For example in the material world for example there is a butterfly. That butterfly dies in the material world, but in the world of ideas the idea of butterflys remains; it is eternal, and because the idea of the butterfly is eternal we can have true knowledge about it. Jacob: How do humans fit into this? Plato: Humans have a body, which flows with the rest of the material world, and will eventually die.

But humans also have a soul, which is separate from the body. Our souls are immortal, this soul contains our reason; not being physical our souls can survey the world of ideas. But when our body dies the soul being immortal does not. It ascends back to the realm of ideas and learns the perfect ideas of that realm. But before leaving back to a human body it drinks from the river of forgetfulness. But when the soul reaches the body it still has a vague remembrance of the realm of ideas. When it sees the imperfect copies of the world of ideas in the material world it stirs the soul nostalgically for the realm of ideas.

This makes the soul want to return to the realm of ideas, I call this yearning eros. The soul is linked to the human body though. The human body contains three parts: the head, the chest, and the abdomen. For each part of the body there is a faculty of the soul, the head has reason, the chest has will, and the abdomen has appetite. Each soul faculty has a virtue: reason aspires to wisdom, will aspires to courage, and appetite must be curbed so temperance can be exercised. Jacob: How does this relate to the ideal state? Plato: The ideal state I talked about is built on this model.

The philosopher kings are the head, they lead the society like the head leads the body, they have reason and aspire to wisdom. The guardians are the chest they have will and must aspire to courage. The laborers are the abdomens they have appetite that they must learn to control through temperance. The state can only work when all these parts are in balance, just like the soul. Jacob: What is your view on mathematics? Plato: Mathematics is related to my philosophy. Mathematical states, unlike almost any thing else, never change. One plus one always equals two.

This illustrates what we were talking about when I mentioned true knowledge. We can have true knowledge about mathematics, because the rate never changes. Jacob: Ive read your Allegory of the Cave. Can you explain it to me? Plato: I modeled the Allegory of the Cave after my teacher Socrates life, and his death. He like all of us was facing the wall of the cave and marveling at the shadows of our world. But he thought beyond our reality and freed himself from the chains. He went up to the real world and even though it was painful, uncovered the real world. He learned that his entire world was just shadows on a cave wall.

I meant that as an analogy for Socrates going beyond our material world and uncovering the realm of ideas. Then Socrates went back into the shadows of the cave and tried to show his friends the wonders of the real world. Instead of sharing the wonders of the new world Socrates discovered they killed him. Just because they wouldnt accept that there could be something outside of the mere shadows they saw on the cave wall. They forced Socrates to drink the Hemlock, because he showed them that their entire world was just the shadows flickering on the cave wall. Jacob: Who was Socrates?

Plato: Socrates was my teacher, and the greatest philosopher I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Socrates would wander the agora pretending to be stupid. He would ask people basic questions about their existence. What is democracy? How should you raise your children? How do you know any of this? Socrates tried to help people question the world around them; make them think about there preconceptions of the world around them. When Athenians started to be disturbed by Socrates the Council of Five Hundred grew suspicious. He was charged with the crimes of introducing new gods and corrupting the youth.

By a slender margin a jury of five hundred found him guilty and sentenced him to death. He could of left Athens at anytime and he would have retained his life. But he was such an extraordinary man; he advocated democracy all his life. That was why, when a jury of five hundred declared he should die, even by such a small margin, he the main advocate for democracy couldnt turn his back on the jurys decision. He could have pleaded for mercy in front of the council. But Socrates believed he had a mission that he would have betrayed if he had not kept true to it until the end of his life. Jacob: Thank you for your time Plato.

What youve said (even if I didnt understand all of it), especially about the Allegory of the Cave makes me think about my preconceptions about my life and about the world. You said that time can dissolve any substances; it is true Plato that after a thousand years even your academy was destroyed. But thousands more have sprung up to take its place, all with the name academy. In that way I do believe ideas are eternal. Long after something is gone the memory of it remains. The idea of an academy survived long after the academy itself was destroyed. Time can destroy or change anything that is true Plato.

That made me realize that maybe in hundred and certainly in a thousand years everything I know and cherish will be gone. That cant be all there is to life though there must be something more something beyond myself. As for the idea of true knowledge I dont really know what that is. Mathematics of course may be one example, but what do I actually know. I realize I dont know anything for sure, in my world everything changes so fast; especially at my age. Maybe true knowledge is something only wisdom can give you, unfortunately wisdom takes time to build on. Once again thank you for your time, I better get back to the professor.


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