Saturday, April 15, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

In establishing the Academy, Plato didn’t forsake the people of the agora, who, as citizens, had to deliberate responsibly about issues of moral and political import. It was with these issues in mind that he wrote his dialogues—great works of literature as well as of philosophy. The dialogues may not represent his true philosophy (in the Seventh Letter, he explained that he had never committed his teachings to writing), but for more than 2,400 years they’ve been good enough for us, as inspiring and exasperating as Socrates himself must have been.

In 25 out of Plato’s 26 dialogues—and we have them all—Socrates is present, often as the leading spokesperson for the ideas that Plato is exploring, though sometimes, in the later dialogues, as a silent bystander. It’s as if Plato wants to take Socrates along with him on the intellectual quest he pursues during the course of his long life. It’s as if he wants us, too, to take Socrates along as we return again and again to the Herculean effort of applying reason to our most fervently held assumptions. Socrates’s message could not be more timely. The mantle of glorified greatness belongs to no society by right or by might, or by revered tradition, he taught. It belongs to no individual who, ignoring the claims of justice, strives to make a name that might outlast him. Exceptionalism has to be earned again and again, generation after generation, by citizens committed, together, to the endlessly hard work of sustaining a polity that strives to serve the good of all.

- Making Athens Great Again, Rebecca Goldstein

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