Ancient & Medieval Philosophy: Plato’s Philosophy (Part 2)

History of Western Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy, Plato’s Philosophy
(based on Greg L. Bahnsen’s lecture series)

Ethics
There are three divisions of man’s soul: reasoning ability, appetite, temperament. A good man has reasoning governing his emotions and his will. Reason must govern the appetites and temperaments. People who live by emotions are not wise; they should not be trusted. Plato aimed to refute traditionalism, but at the same time wanted to refute skepticism found in the Sophists. Plato held that the form of all things existed in a realm separate from the natural world. Everything that we experience, is in this world imperfect. The paradigm of goodness is not to be found through our sensations, but through recollecting or intuiting. Plato believed that goodness is absolute, universal and unchanging. This form of goodness is even beyond the gods. Plato points out that piety must either be something separate from the gods or it depends upon the whim of the gods. This is the Euythyphro Dilemma. If morality is dependent upon the decisions of the gods, then morality can then be arbitrary.

Christian Response:
1. What Plato did not consider is that good is God’s own character. God is the standard of goodness; He declares something to be good because it conforms to his character. Christians are not bound by either voluntarism or autonomy.
2. The form of good is so heavenly that it is of no earthly value. No one can define this goodness; it is beyond our grasp. We can say that they have intuited properly the form of the good?
3. Plato believed wrongdoing arises from ignorances. He believed if we educated people, then they will live morally. We know from experience that teaching from what is right and wrong is not sufficient to make moral people. There are lots of educated drug addicts, rapists and murders. They know the consequences of their actions and do it anyways. Plato just doesn’t understand human nature. Education cannot change the depravity and immorality of the human heart.
4. If human nature is not morally good at base, then how can anyone rely upon their intuition of the form of goodness? Plato thinks that people need to be educated in order to be moral, so this assumes that Plato doesn’t think people are good.

Politics
He had three divisions of society which reflected the three divisions of the soul. There are people who are reasonable, people are let their appetites rule and people who let their temperance rule. The merchant class corresponds to appetite. The people who are controlled by will and appetite are the soliders. The people who are controlled by reason are the philosophers. Society is divided between merchants, soliders and philosophers.

Justice or goodness for the individual is to have reason dominate over temperance and appetites. Likewise, justice for a society is to have reason dominate the other two or the philosophers dominating the soldiers and merchants. Harmony of society is saved through each citizen being allocated to a specific function or job that they can handle. If a person is good at reasoning, then he should be a philosopher. If a person is governed by appetites, then he should become a solider.

Socrates accepted an unjust death sentence, which showed he wanted to be in harmony and accord with the One– the State and their decision to execute him. He did not exercise his own ability to rebel against their judgment and act as the Many. The One is more important than the Many. Plato was heavily influenced by the message of Socrates death and also agreed that the One is greater than the Many. He believed that the form of “fruitness” was greater than the specific instances apples, grapes and kiwis.

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