What would Plato make of the modern world?

Joe Gelonesi in ABC Radio:

More than 2,500 years ago an urgent question arose: why should we matter to ourselves, or anyone else? The existential angst of the Axial Age unleashed a protean intellectual energy. Enter Socrates and his famed pupil. As Rebecca Goldstein sees it, there was no turning back. She tells Joe Gelonesi that if there was ever another place and time for Plato, it’s right here, right now.

PlatoRebecca Goldstein is a fan of Plato. That might be an understatement. It’s been said that all of western philosophy is but a footnote to the Athenian, and this highly accomplished, Ivy League trained philosopher doesn’t doubt it for one minute. For our crazy, mixed-up times, Goldstein has conducted what amounts to a 400 page thought experiment. It’s proved extraordinarily popular, beyond her expectations, and kept her busy for the better part of a year taking her Plato on a tour of a world hungry for answers, or at the least the right questions. Her premise is simple: if Plato could come back, what would he make of it all? In the process, she hopes to prove that the philosophy-jeerers, as she calls them, have wrongly trumpeted a premature death for one of humankind’s most extraordinary enterprises.

Plato at the Googleplex is subtitled Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. In it she handles Plato with deft hands, placing him in situations known all too well to us moderns: from clamorous cable talk shows to a brain imaging centre, where a neuroscientist declares to Plato that the game is up—science has solved the puzzle of free will. You can feel a soft wrath underneath these fictional whacky situations, from someone fed up with the crassness of a world desperate to move on to somewhere, anywhere, where doubt and uncertainty have evaporated. Goldstein, though, is not of the anti-science, touchy- feely kind. She understands string theory, evolution and genetics. She gets neuroscience too, sharing the stage on occasion with Antonio Demasio—he of impeccable mind-is-the-brain credentials. It’s just that for her, the technical explanation to life, the universe and everything won’t do on its own.

More here. (Thanks to Andrew Davies)

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