Plato and Moral Education
- Jan wrote:
The Platonic psychology contains a danger: the reification of the
irrational �parts of the soul,� making these parts of the soul into so
many little homunculi inside a person. This sets up the basis for the
rationalization: �I could not help it, my reason was overpowered by my
desires [those other things that are not truly me]!� Aristotle
explicitly recognizes that our desires are our own and that actions
based on them are voluntary, even if not always deliberate. But the Stoa
goes one step further: our appetite-based desires and our ego-based
desires for victory and marks of social preferment are judgments
constituted in part by our assents to impressions. Our salvation from
violent feelings of the soul thus lies as close as our ability to refuse
assent to impressions that do not merit it.
Jan, I don't find much to disagree with here. I prefer the unified
psyche of the Stoa to the 3 part division of Plato's psyche myself. If
what you claim is true, that the Platonic model encourages
irresponsibility, then that makes an even stronger case for the Stoic
model, or one similar to it.
My insistence that we not get wrapped in Platonic / Stoic differences is
that in doing so we'll miss Needleman's main points. Ego attachment can
be explained in terms of false judgments as well as the desire to
satisfy our appetites, IMO. Ego attachment could be explained in
Buddhist terms, for that matter. It just happens Needleman uses Plato
as his example.
The point is that education in the dialectic, metaphysics, and even
science, should come after a certain moral maturity has been reached.
Why? Ego attachment. Consider the power of explanation that science
gives us, along with the ability to physically control and manipulate so
much of our environment. Both of these abilities can easily be misused
by the ego. The ego wants security. And that means stability, not
change. Science explains almost everything, so we think. That's pretty
stable; a huge temptation for ego attachment. On top of that add all
these wonderful technological solutions to our physical needs, and
science becomes an apparent panacea for everything. This leads to
dogma, low tolerance of other viewpoints (especially spiritual ones),
impedes the scientific method itself to investigate anomalies, and
ignores the human need for value. This is not a problem with the
scientific method, this is an ego attachment issue. And there are many
ways we can address this issue. A good one, IMO, is an education in,
and practice of, Stoic apatheia and Virtue, and the value system that
derives from these principles, early in life.
With this solid ethical foundation we can address our enviroment,
cloning, population, abortion, and host of other seemingly irresolvable
issues in a more cohesive, integrated, and reasonable fashion. Right
now all we're doing (in society, that is) is lining up on one side or
the other of a given issue polarized all out of proportion and arguing.
No dialectic. Total pathe. Apatheia has got to come first. If we
learn how to reason well before we develop any apatheai we will only
become very good at rationalizing. This is reason at the service of the
ego; in other words, a refusal to evaluate the judgments that make up
our own belief system. Rather than introspection we use our reason in
defense of our dearly beloved belief system. Part of that defense is to
tear down the beliefs of others and make them wrong. With this kind of
attitude it is a detriment, not a benefit, to have a high powered
intellect. Reasoning has become dangerous.
This is not only a problem with scientific ideas. I've already
mentioned religious zealots in another post. Metaphysical and spiritual
ideas have the potential for even more visciousness since the
requirement for empirical validation has been removed. So, no one gets
off the hook. Is this the fault of religion? No more than the other
was the fault of science. It is the power of attachment to knowledge
combined with an absence of a cohesive integrated value system. Easy
knowledge without self restraint, moderation, or justice. It certainly
is not wisdom.