September 17, 2015
For Philosophy Course 605 at The University of Cambodia–-Readings on Plato and The Greeks –led by Adjunct Professor Din Merican, Tech Sen School
This is the latest Plato introduction – based on two principles for writing on the internet – truth and simplicity!
Read the Plato quotes – Plato was brilliant, astute, charming, amusing, profound, practical, sensible, logical, enquiring, seeking, exploring by considering the simple and obvious.
Plato Quotes on Philosophy Truth and Reality
And isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are. (Plato)
The philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge. (Plato)
Truthfulness. He will never willingly tolerate an untruth, but will hate it as much as he loves truth. … And is there anything more closely connected with wisdom than truth? (Plato)
What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from the twilight of error to the truth, that climb up into the real world which we shall call true philosophy. (Plato)
The object of knowledge is what exists and its function to know about reality. (Plato)
One trait in the philosopher’s character we can assume is his love of the knowledge that reveals eternal reality, the realm unaffected by change and decay. He is in love with the whole of that reality, and will not willingly be deprived even of the most insignificant fragment of it – just like the lovers and men of ambition we described earlier on. (Plato)
Plato the Philosopher
I have great affection for Plato, who is without doubt one of the greatest philosophers of the past 2,500 years. Thus it is unfortunate that many people imagine our post-modern society to have gained such knowledge that the Ancient Greek Philosophers are now irrelevant. In fact the opposite is true. As Bertrand Russell observed (History of Western Philosophy), it was the Ancient Greek Philosophers who first discovered and discussed the fundamental Principles of Philosophy, and most significantly, little has been added to their knowledge since. As Einstein wrote:
Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist’s snobbishness. (Albert Einstein, 1954)
It is therefore both interesting and important to consider the foundations which caused the blossoming of Ancient Greek Philosophy. First and foremost was the realisation that ALL IS ONE, as Nietzsche writes:
Greek philosophy seems to begin with a preposterous fancy, with the proposition that water is the origin and mother-womb of all things. Is it really necessary to stop there and become serious? Yes, and for three reasons: firstly, because the preposition does enunciate something about the origin of things; secondly, because it does so without figure and fable; thirdly and lastly, because it contained, although only in the chrysalis state, the idea :everything is one. … That which drove him (Thales) to this generalization was a metaphysical dogma, which had its origin in a mystic intuition and which together with the ever renewed endeavors to express it better, we find in all philosophies- the proposition: everything is one! (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Greeks)
Further, the Ancient Greeks realised that Motion (Flux / Activity / Change) was central to existence and reality, as Aristotle writes:
The first philosophy (Metaphysics) is universal and is exclusively concerned with primary substance. … And here we will have the science to study that which is just as that which is, both in its essence and in the properties which, just as a thing that is, it has. (Aristotle, 340BC)
The entire preoccupation of the physicist is with things that contain within themselves a principle of movement and rest. And to seek for this is to seek for the second kind of principle, that from which comes the beginning of the change. (Aristotle, 340BC)
Only recently (Wolff, 1986 – Haselhurst, 1997) has it been possible, with the discovery of the Metaphysics of Space and Motion and the Wave Structure of Matter (WSM), to unite these ideas with modern Physics, Philosophy and Metaphysics. And let me first say that it is ironic that the main problem for human knowledge also came from the Ancient Greeks, with their conception of matter as discrete Atoms (Democritus, Lucretius). Unfortunately, Physics took the path of the atomists (Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Lorentz) and this led to the creation of ‘Forces / Fields’ (generated by particles) to explain how matter interacted with other discrete matter at-a-distance in Space.
It seems that many people believe that Reality / Physics is too complex for them to possibly understand (and I suspect that Physicists enjoy this reputation as being the ‘high priests’ who comprehend such complex things). In fact the opposite is true – Truth is ultimately simple because Truth comes from Reality (as Plato correctly realised) which must be founded on One thing. And there is nothing more simple than One Thing. (This explains why Philosophy is also known as the discovery of the obvious!)
When you read the quotes from Plato below, you will also find Plato’s ideas to be very simple. This reflects his greatness as a philosopher, and partly explains why his work has endured for thousands of years. To me, it is his realisation that philosophy is fundamentally important to humanity, that without philosophy, without truth, there can be no wisdom – which leaves humanity blind and the future treacherous. Reason tells me that Reality has been discovered, that the source of all truth and wisdom has finally been found. And in our currently troubled times there is no more important knowledge than true knowledge of reality – of what it truly means to ‘Know Thyself’ as the foundation for living wisely and ensuring survival.
Plato ‘The Republic’ Quotes
I don’t know anything that gives me greater pleasure, or profit either, than talking or listening to philosophy. But when it comes to ordinary conversation, such as the stuff you talk about financiers and the money market, well, I find it pretty tiresome personally, and I feel sorry that my friends should think they’re being very busy when they’re really doing absolutely nothing. Of course, I know your idea of me: you think I’m just a poor unfortunate, and I shouldn’t wonder if your right. But then I don’t THINK that you’re unfortunate – I know you are. (Plato)
Plato is an astute and important philosopher, who writes beautifully and with great power and elegance on Truth and Reality. His work is still profoundly important in today’s Postmodern world, and can be easily understood due to its simplicity of language and engaging style of dialogue. The following quotes are taken from Plato’s great work The Republic, and speak grandly for themselves, thus I largely leave them as they are, with little commentary or analysis (though I of course hope that you will read them with the Wave Structure of Matter in mind).
Plato Quotes on the Understanding of New Ideas
We are like people looking for something they have in their hands all the time; we’re looking in all directions except at the thing we want, which is probably why we haven’t found it.(Plato, 380BC)
‘That is the story. Do you think there is any way of making them believe it?” Not in the first generation’, he said, ‘but you might succeed with the second and later generations.’ (Plato, 380BC)
‘We will ask the critics to be serious for once, and remind them that it was not so long ago that the Greeks thought – as most of the barbarians still think – that it was shocking and ridiculous for men to be seen naked. When the Cretans, and later the Spartans, first began to take exercise naked, wasn’t there plenty of material for the wit of the comedians of the day?’
‘There was indeed’
‘But when experience showed them that it was better to strip than wrap themselves up, what reason had proved best ceased to look absurd to the eye. Which shows how idle it is to think anything ridiculous except what is wrong.’ (Plato, 380BC)
Plato on Truth and Reality
And isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are. (Plato, 380BC)
The philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge. (Plato, 380BC)
Truthfulness. He will never willingly tolerate an untruth, but will hate it as much as he loves truth… And is there anything more closely connected with wisdom than truth? (Plato, 380BC)
Then may we not fairly plead in reply that our true lover of knowledge naturally strives for truth, and is not content with common opinion, but soars with undimmed and unwearied passion till he grasps the essential nature of things with the mental faculty fitted to do so, that is, with the faculty which is akin to reality, and which approaches and unites with it, and begets intelligence and truth as children, and is only released from travail when it has thus reached knowledge and true life and satisfaction? (Plato, 380BC)
What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from the twilight of error to the truth, that climb up into the real world which we shall call true philosophy. (Plato, 380BC)
The object of knowledge is what exists and its function to know about reality. (Plato, 380BC)
And those whose hearts are fixed on Reality itself deserve the title of Philosophers. (Plato, 380BC)
When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. (Plato, 380BC)
‘But surely “blind” is just how you would describe men who have no true knowledge of reality, and no clear standard in their mind to refer to, as a painter refers to his model, and which they can study closely before they start laying down rules about what is fair or right or good where they are needed, or maintaining, as Guardians, any rules that already exist.’ ‘Yes, blind is just about what they are’ (Plato, 380BC)
One trait in the philosopher’s character we can assume is his love of the knowledge that reveals eternal reality, the realm unaffected by change and decay. He is in love with the whole of that reality, and will not willingly be deprived even of the most insignificant fragment of it – just like the lovers and men of ambition we described earlier on. (Plato, 380BC)
Plato Education Quotes
…for the object of education is to teach us to love beauty. (Plato, 380BC)
And once we have given our community a good start, the process will be cumulative. By maintaining a sound system of education you produce citizens of good character, and citizens of sound character, with the advantage of a good education, produce in turn children better than themselves and better able to produce still better children in their turn, as can be seen with animals. (Plato, 380BC)
‘.. It is in education that bad discipline can most easily creep in unobserved,’ he replied.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘ because people don’t treat it seriously there, and think no harm can come of it.’
‘It only does harm,’ he said, ‘because it makes itself at home and gradually undermines morals and manners; from them it invades business dealings generally, and then spreads into the laws and constitution without any restraint, until it has made complete havoc of private and public life.’
‘ And when men who aren’t fit to be educated get an education they don’t deserve, are not the thoughts and opinions they produce fairly called sophistry, without a legitimate idea or any trace of true wisdom among them?’
‘ The first thing our artist must do,’ I replied, ‘ – and it’s not easy – is to take human society and human habits and wipe them clean out, to give himself a clean canvas. For our philosophic artist differs from all others in being unwilling to start work on an individual or a city, or draw out laws, until he is given, or has made himself, a clean canvas.’ (Plato, 380BC)
‘ Because a free man ought not to learn anything under duress. Compulsory physical exercise does no harm to the body, but compulsory learning never sticks to the mind.’
‘Then don’t use compulsion,’ I said to him, ‘ but let your children’s lessons take the form of play. You will learn more about their natural abilities that way.’ (Plato, 380BC)
For we soon reap the fruits of literature in life, and prolonged indulgence in any form of literature in life leaves its mark on the moral nature of man, affecting not only the mind but physical poise and intonation. (p134 R)
‘It is not only to the poets therefore that we must issue orders requiring them to represent good character in their poems or not to write at all; we must issue similar orders to all artists and prevent them from portraying bad character, ill discipline, meanness, or ugliness in painting, sculpture, architecture, or any work of art, and if they are unable to comply they must be forbidden to practice their art. We shall thus prevent our guardians being brought up among representations of what is evil, and so day by day and little by little, by feeding as it were in an unhealthy pasture, insensibly doing themselves grave psychological damage. Our artists and craftsmen must be capable of perceiving the real nature of what is beautiful, and then our young men, living as it were in a good climate, will benefit because all the works of art they see and hear influence them for good, like the breezes from some healthy country with what is rational and right.’
‘That would indeed be the best way to bring them up.’
‘And that, my dear Glaucon,’ I said,’ is why this stage of education is crucial. For rhythm and harmony penetrate deeply into the mind and have a most powerful effect on it, and if education is good, bring balance and fairness, if it is bad, the reverse. (p142, 401 R)
‘Then I must surely be right in saying that we shall not be properly educated ourselves, nor will the guardians whom we are training, until we can recognise the qualities of discipline, courage, generosity, greatness of mind, and others akin to them, as well as their opposites in all their manifestations’. (p143, 402 R)
Plato on the Mind
Do we learn with one part of us, feel angry with another, and desire the pleasures of eating and sex with another? Or do we employ our mind as a whole when our energies are employed in any of these ways? (Plato, 380BC)
We can call the reflective element in the mind the reason, and the element with which it feels hunger and thirst, and the agitations of sex and other desires, the irrational appetite – an element closely connected with pleasure and satisfaction. (Plato, 380BC)
‘So the reason ought to rule, having the ability and foresight to act for the whole, and the spirit ought to obey and support it. And this concord between them is effected, as we said, by a combination of intellectual and physical training, which tunes up the reason by intellectual training and tones down the crudeness of natural high spirits by harmony and rhythm.’
‘When these two elements have been brought up and trained to their proper function, they must be put in charge of appetite, which forms the greater part of each man’s make-up and is naturally insatiable. They must prevent taking its fill of the so-called physical pleasures, for otherwise it will get too large and strong to mind its own business and will try to subject and control the other elements, which it has no right to do, and so wreck life entirely.’ (Plato, 380BC)
Then let us be content with the terms we used earlier on for the four divisions of our line – knowledge, reason, belief and illusion. The last two we class together as opinion, the first two as intelligence, opinion being concerned with the world of becoming, knowledge with the world of reality. Knowledge stands to opinion as the world of reality does to that of becoming, and intelligence stands to belief and reason to illusion as knowledge stands to opinion. (Plato, 380BC)
Quotations from Plato on Illusion
In the analogy of The Cave, Plato shows the ascent of the mind from illusion to truth and pure philosophy, and the difficulties which accompany its progress.
‘Then think what would happen to them if they were released from their bonds and cured of their delusions. Suppose one of them were let loose, and suddenly compelled to stand up and turn his head and look and walk towards the fire; all actions would be painful and he would be too dazzled to see properly the objects of which he used to see the shadows. So if he was told that what he used to see was mere illusion and that he was now nearer reality and seeing more correctly, because he was turned towards objects that were more real, and if on top of that he were compelled to say what each of the passing objects was when it was pointed out to him, don’t you think he would be at a loss, and think that what he used to see was more real than the objects now being pointed out to him?’
‘ Because he would need to grow accustomed to the light before he could see things in the world outside the cave. First he would find it easiest to look at shadows, next at the reflections of men and other objects in water, and later on at the objects themselves. After that he would find it easier to observe the heavenly bodies and the sky at night than by day, and to look at the light of the moon and stars, rather than at the sun and its light.’
‘ But anyone with any sense,’ I said, ‘will remember that the eyes may be unsighted in two ways, by a transition either from light to darkness or from darkness to light, and that the same distinction applies to the mind. So when he sees a mind confused and unable to see clearly he will not laugh without thinking, but will ask himself whether it has come from a cleaner world and is confused by the unaccustomed darkness, or whether it is dazzled by the stronger light of the clearer world to which it has escaped from its previous ignorance.’
‘ If this is true,’ I continued, ‘ we must reject the conception of education professed by those who say that they can put into the mind knowledge that was not there before – rather as if they could put sight into blind eyes.’
‘It is a claim that is certainly made,’ he said
‘But our argument indicates that this is a capacity which is innate in each man’s mind, and that the faculty by which he learns is like an eye that cannot be turned from darkness to light unless the whole body is turned; in the same way the mind as a whole must be turned away from the world of change until its eyes can bear to look straight at reality, and at the brightest of all realities which we call the Good. Isn’t that so?’ (Plato, 380BC)
Plato on the Importance of Philosophy
The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers are kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands, while the many natures now content to follow either to the exclusion of the other are forcibly debarred from doing so. This is what I have hesitated to say so long, knowing what a paradox it would sound; for it is not easy to see that there is no other road to happiness, either for society or the individual. (Plato, 380BC)
…there are some who are naturally fitted for philosophy and political leadership, while the rest should follow their lead and let philosophy alone. (Plato, 380BC)
‘But the man who is ready to taste every form of knowledge, is glad to learn and never satisfied – he’s the man who deserves to be called a philosopher, isn’t he?’ (Plato, 380BC)
‘Then who are the true philosophers?’, he asked
‘Those whose passion is to see the truth.’
‘Suppose the following to be the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and doesn’t know much about navigation. The crew is quarreling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they know no navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it can’t be taught and are ready to murder any one who says it can. They spend all their time milling around the captain and trying to get him to give them the wheel. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs and drink, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and behave as if they were on a drunken pleasure-cruise. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds and other professional subjects, if he is really fit to control a ship; and they think that it’s quite impossible to acquire professional skill in navigation (quite apart from whether they want it exercised) and that there is no such thing as an art of navigation. In these circumstances aren’t the sailors on any ship bound to regard the true navigator as a gossip and a star-gazer, of no use to them at all?’
‘Yes, they are,’ Adeimantus agreed
‘I think you probably understand, without any explanation, that my illustration is intended to show the present attitude of society towards the true philosopher’ (Plato, 380BC)
And tell him it’s quite true that the best of the philosophers are of no use to their fellows; but that he should blame, not the philosophers, but those who fail to make use of them. (Plato, 380BC)
I feel like standing and applauding when I read Plato, for he is one of the true greats. The early Greeks were exceedingly smart and aware, and they created the system that then led to Aristotle, and his most profound work, ‘The Metaphysics’. Their knowledge lies at the very heart of the Metaphysics of Space and Motion and the Wave Structure of Matter.
Links / Plato, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Philosophers
Metaphysics: Problem of One and the Many – Brief History of Metaphysics and Solutions to the Fundamental Problems of Uniting the; One and the Many, Infinite and the Finite, Eternal and the Temporal, Absolute and Relative, Continuous and Discrete, Simple and Complex, Matter and Universe.
Philosophy: Greek Philosophers – All is One (Space) and Active-Flux (Wave Motion). Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Atomists (Democritus, Lucretius), Socrates, Plato, Epicurus.
Aristotle – On Philosopher Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Physics (Motion). (Aristotle was one of the greatest of the famous philosophers and should be read by all people interested in philosophy and wisdom.)
Socrates – ‘Know Thyself’ – Condemned to death for educating the youth to Philosophy and arguing that people are ignorant of the Truth. Information, Biography – On the Life and Death of Socrates (The Last Days of Socrates by Plato).