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August 30, 2012

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Greg Linster

Kent: What do you make of Plato's idea of the 'just state'? I think it seems like a totalitarian nightmare! We're all human and even the most philosophically and logically minded among us are prone to the myriad cognitive biases that affect our understanding of things as they really are.

How do the philosopher kings gain knowledge of the Forms in the first place? Do Forms even really exist? How are we sure that what the philosopher kings perceive to be reality isn't just another illusion?

It seems to me to be a great act of hubris on the part of Plato to claim that one type of person (i.e., philosopher kings) have access to the knowledge of reality that others are incapable of knowing about.

Democracy isn't perfect, but it beats totalitarianism.

Kent Thune

Great point, Greg. Perhaps this would be a good dialogue for us to elaborate upon in the future?

I believe that Plato, like many other philosophers, would say that one's own ideas, although not a part of physical reality, are the highest of forms. Therefore, to disagree with Plato is natural and even encouraged.

You ask: "How do the philosopher kings gain knowledge of the Forms in the first place? Do Forms even really exist? How are we sure that what the philosopher kings perceive to be reality isn't just another illusion?"

A loose interpretation of Plato (and where I believe his ideas overlap with existentialism) is that Knowing can best arise from Being.

In other words, introspective questions, such as "Who am I?" and "What is the meaning of existence?", can begin with death.

When one thinks honestly and deeply of death, all material desires slip away. For example, immediately following life changing events, such as natural disasters and near-death experience, the thought of money, material wealth and social status disappear. One sees through the illusion--the shadows of reality--and into the authentic self and the true spirit of others around them.

In summary, I believe Plato is a great place for one's philosophical education and ideas to begin. However, even Plato would tell his students not to follow in his footsteps but to find their own path.

This is not to say, as the Sophists did during Plato's time, that reality is whatever you make it. But reality can not be known, experienced or understood if one is caught up in the illusion of materiality and the obsession with the future.

On your final sentence, Plato agrees with you (at least to some degree):

"Democracy... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike." ~ Plato

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