Category: Plato

One and the sameOne and the same

“The God of Plato and Aristotle, of Plotinus and Augustine, of Aquinas and Bonaventure, of Newman and C. S. Lewis; the eternal immutable, infinite, ubiquitous, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Being, Unmoved Mover, ens realissimum, whose existence is identical with His essence and who is without body, parts, or passions, is one of the sublimest achievements of the human imagination. He, not Yahweh, is the deepest mystery, for metaphysics (as His reluctant admire Nietzsche pointed out) is the subtlest psychology, the supreme fiction.” – George Scialabba, “God: A Biography”

The view from without the caveThe view from without the cave

“Intellectual pioneers are rarely gregarious creatures. In their isolation they lose touch with those who follow the beaten paths, and when they return to the community they speak strangely of strange sights, so that few have the faith to follow them and change their trails into high roads.” — Morris R. Cohen, The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVII, Ch. XVI, Sec. 18

Prisons as deterrentsPrisons as deterrents

“In punishing wrongdoers, no one concentrates on the fact that a man has done wrong in the past, or punishes him on that account, unless taking blind vengeance like a beast.  No, punishment is not inflicted by a rational man for the sake of the crime that has been committed–after all one cannot undo what is past–but for the sake of the future, to prevent either the same man or, by the spectacle of his punishment, someone else, from doing wrong again.  But to hold such a view amounts to holding that virtue can be instilled by education; at all events the punishment is inflicted as a deterrent.  This then is the view held by all who inflict it whether privately or publicly.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

This will be on the testThis will be on the test

“No one is angered by the thoughts which are believed to be due to nature or chance, nor do people rebuke or teach or punish those who exhibit them, in the hope of curing them; they simply pity them.  Who would be so foolish as to treat in that way the ugly or dwarfish or weak?  Everyone knows that it is nature or chance which gives this kind of characteristics to a man, both the good and the bad.  But it is otherwise with the good qualities which are thought to be acquired through care and practice and instruction.  It is the absence of these, surely, and the presence of the corresponding vices, that call forth indignation and punishment and admonition.  Among these faults are to be put injustice and irreligion and in general everything that is contrary to civic virtue.  In this field indignation and admonition are universal, evidently because of a belief that such virtue can be acquired by taking thought or by instruction.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)

Equality, entropy, and justiceEquality, entropy, and justice

“We mold the best and strongest among ourselves, catching them young like lion cubs, and by spells and incantations we make slaves of them, saying that they must be content with equality and that this is what is right and fair.  But if a man arises endowed with a nature sufficiently strong, he will, I believe, shake off all these controls, burst his fetters, and break loose.  And trampling upon our scraps of paper, our spells and incantations, and all our unnatural conventions, he rises up and reveals himself our master who was once our slave, and there shines forth nature’s true justice.” — Plato, Gorgias (trans. Woodhead)

Comin’ to life, stayin’ aliveComin’ to life, stayin’ alive

“Once upon a time, there existed gods but no mortal creatures.  When the appointed time came for these also to be born, the gods formed them within the earth out of a mixture of earth and fire and the substances which are compounded from earth and fire.  And when they were ready to bring them to the light, they charged Prometheus and Epimetheus with the task of equipping them and allotting suitable powers to each kind.  Now Epimetheus begged Prometheus to allow him to do the distribution himself–‘and when I have done it,’ he said, ‘you can review it.’  So he persuaded him and set to work.  In his allotment he gave to some creatures strength without speed, and equipped the weaker kinds with speed.  Some he armed with weapons, while to the unarmed he gave some other faculty and so contrived means for their preservation.  To those that he endowed with smallness, he granted winged flight or a dwelling underground; to those which he increased in stature, their size itself was a protection.  Thus he made his whole distribution on a principle of compensation, being careful by these devices that no species should be destroyed.

“When he had sufficiently provided means of escape from mutual slaughter, he contrived their comfort against the seasons sent from Zeus, clothing them with thick hair or hard skins sufficient to ward off the winter’s cold, and effective also against heat, and he planned that when they went to bed, the same coverings should serve as proper and natural bedclothes for each species.  He shod them also, some with hoofs, others with hard and bloodless skin.

“Next he appointed different sorts of food for them–to some the grass of the earth, to others the fruit of the trees, to others roots.  Some he allowed to gain their nourishment by devouring other animals, and these he made less prolific, while he bestowed fertility on their victims, and so preserved the species.

“Now Epithemeus was not a particularly clever person, and before he realized it he had used up all the available powers on the brute beasts, and being left with the human race on his hands unprovided for, did not know what to do with them.  While he was puzzling about this, Prometheus came to inspect the work, and found the other animals well off for everything, but man naked, unshod, unbedded, and unarmed, and already the appointed day had come, when man too was to emerge from within the earth into the daylight.  Prometheus therefore, being at a loss to provide any means of salvation for man, stole from Hephaestus and Athena the gift of skill in the arts, together with fire–for without fire it was impossible for anyone to possess or use this skill–and bestowed it on man.  In this way man acquired sufficient resources to keep himself alive.” — Plato, Protagoras (trans. Guthrie)


“The honor of parents is a fair and noble treasure to their posterity, but to have the use of a treasure of wealth and honor, and to leave none to your successors, because you have neither money nor reputation of your own, is alike base and dishonorable.” — Plato, Menexenus (trans. Jowett)


“If  no pure knowledge is possible in the company of the body, then either it is totally impossible to acquire knowledge, or it is only possible after death, because it is only then that the soul will be separate and independent of the body.” — Plato, Phaedo (trans. Tredennick)