The Spell of Plato

At a friend’s request, I spoke to a sixth form class on “The Spell of Plato”, explaining how Plato’s philosophy is relevant today.

As the title suggests, I used Popper’s critique of Plato’s philosophy to explore these two propositions:

Government ought to control us to ensure social, political and economic justice.

We ought to control ourselves within the law to ensure freedom and progress.

We discovered that Plato’s Spell — his plan for building the perfect state in which every citizen is really happy — was at the root of some of the worst governments in history and we explored the echos of his philosophy in today’s political debate. We discussed Popper’s conclusion:

We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure, using what reason we may have to plan as well as we can for both security and freedom,

asking whether we should look to the state for every answer or whether we should take responsibility ourselves for making the world a better place.

It was a real pleasure to meet post-modern young people who were intelligent, thoughtful, attentive, polite and independent. They are another reason for optimism.

As an aside, I just rediscovered this in the preface to the 1950 second edition:

I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago. It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority of the merely established and the merely traditional while trying to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criticism. It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered.

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