Socrates and Plato disturb the universe

Today in CoPhi it’s Bertrand Russell’s take on Socrates and Plato, and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s prologue to Plato at the Googleplex.

We’ll consider the charges against Socrates, both formal and insinuated. His most notorious offense was “corrupting the youth,” a charge all subsequent philosophy profs have worn with honor inasmuch as the corrupting influence is simply the instigation to think, to question, to challenge uncritical conventions and traditions, to sapere aude.

To fear death is unwise and ill-informed., said Socrates. We simply don’t know if our terminal state is something dreadful, something wonderful, or merely something we’ll not be present for. Wisdom is a refusal to speak authoritatively whereof one is ignorant, and in this matter of mortality we must learn to hold our tongues and repel our terror. “To philosophize is to prepare to die.”

A new Stone essay says the best preparation is to live well and realize we’ll live on in “multiple dimensions in the physical world, in the material and cultural vestiges we leave, as well as in the psychological and social effects we have on those around us.”

Our existence has numerous dimensions, and they each live according to different times. The biological stratum, which I naïvely took to mean life in general, is in certain ways a long process of demise — we are all dying all the time, just at different rhythms. Far from being an ultimate horizon beyond the bend, death is a constitutive feature of the unfolding of biological life. In other words, I am confronting my death each day that I live.

If we can learn to identify with dimensions of life beyond our own small biological boundaries, we’ll also confront the rich and rolling spectacle of life on the grand scale each day as well. Goldstein puts it this way:

We become better as we take in the universe, thinking more about the largeness that it is and less about the smallness that is us. Plato often betrays a horror of human nature, seeing it as more beastly than godlike. Human nature is an ethical and political problem to be solved, and only the universe is adequate to the enormous task.

Don’t just take it in, though. Don’t just think about it, Prufrock. Do we dare disturb the universe? That’s why we’re here.

5:45/6:20, 75/91/70, 7:14

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