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Aristotle’s Rhetoric: The Philosophy of Persuasion

by June 28, 2019

How to persuade someone
In this life, whether you are a philosopher or not, you will need to know how to persuade people.
Aristotle tells us as much within his work on rhetoric, aptly titled Rhetoric.
This was one of old Artie’s books that I only glossed over in my formative years. Depending on whom you read in your introductory to philosophy class as an undergrad, you might be of the belief that philosophy and rhetoric are mutually exclusive. They are as incompatible as cats and dogs, cops and robbers, Giants and Jets fans. You get the picture.
Plato was one such chap who despised rhetoric. He describes it, not as an art form, but as “a type of flattery”, within his dialogue Gorgias.
Illustration of Plato Gorgias

Gorgias is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC. The dialogue depicts a conversation between Socrates and a small group of sophists at a dinner gathering.

Plato’s distaste for rhetoric is perhaps not surprising. The rock stars of rhetoric during the age of classical Greece would have been the Sophists, the ancient equivalent of personal injury attorneys.
The Sophists were a series of wandering lecturers, skilled rhetoricians who would happily use their abilities to argue on behalf of anybody or any cause, so long as the price was right. Plato viewed them as the anti-philosophers. They did not care for objective truth or wisdom, only in convincing others through dubious and questionable means. To Plato, the Sophists, as well as rhetoric in general, was something of a disease that infected the minds of citizens and distracted them from the noble pursuits of philosophy.
Aristotle, on the other hand, was a bit more realistic about the state of human nature. He did espouse that through contemplation and rigorous study, we could come to an understanding of that which is virtuous and noble. However, it does little good if we are unable to convince others to believe us!

Plato and Aristotle

Rhetoric then becomes something of a necessary evil, a means to convince people who don’t already agree with us about the virtuous and noble lessons that we discover through philosophical contemplation.
Aristotle also makes the claim that rhetoric is not only essential to the field of philosophy, but to every other field of study as well. For in medicine it is crucial for the physician to persuade his patients to pursue the proper habits for health. A political scientist must be skilled in rhetoric so he can convince the lawmakers to enact laws that are beneficial for the polis. This goes for all crafts and art forms, Aristotle says.
Rhetoric, additionally, is also a means of defense for us. Just as we must be physically fit and strong in order to protect ourselves form physical violence, we must also be skilled rhetoricians so as to defend ourselves against discourse aimed at harming our reputation.
In short, the stakes are actually pretty high. So, what is rhetoric and how do we be better at it?
Rhetoric, Aristotle says, is in many ways similar to dialectic, or philosophical argumentation. It can be said that both rhetoric and dialectic are concerned with answering questions that are the concern of everybody. Both practices can be applied to any topic, and both are incredibly useful.
Painting of Aristotle

Painting of Aristotle

Dialectic, however, is more clinical while rhetoric, out of necessity, is more emotional. Dialectic demands that we arrive at a conclusion by virtue of the plausibility of the argument. Rhetoric, however, cares only that we arrive in close proximity to the truth by any means necessary. Dialectic, therefore, is the best method for teaching, while rhetoric is used as an art form for getting people to agree with you.
Pivoting momentarily, we can see the difference between dialectic and rhetoric within Plato’s The Apology. Within the dialogue, Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, is defending himself in court against charges of impiety and corrupting the youth.
Rather than make use of the tools of rhetoric, Socrates leans heavily on what we might consider a philosophical, or scientific argument to make his case. He does not appeal to the emotions of the crowd. He does not parade his children before the jurors. He does not flatter or appeal to the emotional proclivities of his jurors.
Socrates is interested in convincing others of his position via the merits of his arguments. He has his own reasons for this. As a man who championed wisdom and understanding above all, it would have been slightly hypercritical for him to make use of rhetoric, which relies heavily on emotional appeals, to win his case.
Socrates teaching

Crop of Alcibiades being taught by Socrates, by Marcello Bacciarelli c. 1776

Still, it might have been in the best interest of the philosopher to utilize some of rhetorician’s tools. Socrates’ dispassionate argument is insufficient. He is found guilty and subsequently shuffled off of this mortal coil.
But now back to Aristotle.
A good persuasive argument often appeals to commonly held beliefs. Depending on your opinion on the state of humanity, this might be a very bad thing indeed. However, Aristotle is insistent that human beings have a tendency to lean towards truth and that they mostly arrive at truth on their own. Appealing to popular beliefs, therefore, will often land us in close proximity to the truth.
“Moreover human beings have a sufficient natural tendency toward what is true, and they mostly reach the truth. Hence the one who is good at aiming at the truth is also the one who is good at aiming at what is commonly believed.” –Aristotle (Rhetoric)
To craft a good persuasive argument, we must consider three things.
  1. The character of the speaker
  2. The condition of the listener
  3. The strength and plausibility of the argument itself
The character of the speaker is defined by the speaker’s intelligence, virtue, and goodwill. An intelligent, virtuous man will be deserving of confidence, and he will inspire confidence quickly within the listeners.
While Aristotle is speaking of virtue within the context of making a persuasive argument, this small bit of information also supplements Aristotle’s ethical philosophy. Namely that the best life is one that actively expresses virtue.
We must also consider the condition of the listener in order to craft a persuasive argument. We must recognize and soothe people’s fears. We must identify the emotional side of the argument. Is somebody’s pride on the line? Are they feeling embarrassed? Are they fearful that retracting their position will make them look weak?

We must also consider the condition of the listener in order to craft a persuasive argument.

We must recognize and acknowledge these possibilities and edge around them accordingly if we hope to be persuasive. We must also recognize that people’s attention spans are notoriously short! Consider inserting witty remarks within your argument to grab people’s attention. I like to consider myself a good student of Aristotle in this regard.
How many philosophers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Four- one to screw in the light bulb and three others to say “Most assuredly Socrates!” “Excellent point Socrates!” “I believe you are correct Socrates!”
Finally, a good persuasive argument must still lean heavily upon the same rules that make a good philosophical, or scientific, argument.
Identify premises that are true and demonstrable. Construct these premises in such a way so that they naturally support a final, previously unknown supposition that we call a conclusion.
Ask yourself, “Are my premises plausible?” “Do they naturally follow and support the conclusion?” “Are their any lapses in my logic that could leave room for implausibility?”
Aristotle’s insistence that a good persuasive argument must still be founded upon a good logical argument is demonstrative of his idea of rhetoric in general. Rhetoric is not some unwieldy weapon that we can use for our personal glory or interest.
Illustration of Socrates and Gorgias

The Philosopher Socrates with the Sophist Gorgias

The sophists were guilty of such a crime. They used a bastardization of rhetoric to convince people of a position no matter the truth-value contained within that position. They were self-serving in this regard and were subsequently damaging the souls of their fellow citizens.
It is likely that Aristotle had it in his mind to combat such dangers when he laid out his philosophy of rhetoric. He wanted to equip thoughtful, serious, well-intentioned people with the intellectual ammunition that would allow them to cut through the infuriating malarkey of public debate.
He was something of a realist in this regard. He recognized the infuriating tendency for convenient nonsense to win out over logical arguments, and he set about to discover a way to correct such an injustice.
The reason I find Aristotle’s Rhetoric to be of such interest is because he wrote on the topic not for his own curiosity or even for the sake of knowledge itself. In many ways Rhetoric is very much a public service announcement. It is the philosopher’s attempt to better humanity by equipping us with the tools to guide our fellow man away from ignorance, away from prejudice, and toward the light of understanding.

Leucippus, Democritus, and Atomism

by June 14, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
Most folks know something about atomic theory…  its surprising ancient history, however, is often less discussed.
The current modern atomic theory is the prevailing scientific theory of matter and explains the physical world in terms of discrete units referred to as atoms. Atoms are made up of various subatomic particles such as electrons, protons, and neutrons.
However, the term “atom” actually comes from the Greek adjective atomos, which means “indivisible.” Like many other modern scientific and philosophical theories, atomic theory has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy.


Leucippus, living in the 5th century BCE, was the founder of atomism. This early account of atomic theory arose in response to Parmenides’ denial of the void. Leucippus claimed that without the void, motion was impossible. He also claimed that equating the void with nonexistence was a false equation.
Leucippus argued that the void existed as empty space and he used this as a foundational assumption in his atomic theory. He went on to expand this notion by insisting that the world was made up of one type of substance, namely atoms.
Leucippus went on to claim that this fundamental substance was infinite in number, indivisible, moved through empty space, and came together in particular combinations which gave rise to the visible objects of the world.
We don’t know much more about this first encounter with atomic theory because we don’t know very much about Leucippus and only have a few surviving fragments of his work.
Fortunately, much more is known about Democritus, who was a prolific writer and student of Leucippus. Democritus lived from 460-370 BCE.
Democritus elaborated on the theory of atoms, could predict weather changes, and dissected various animals throughout his career as a natural philosopher.
Intent on finding wisdom, he spent his entire inheritance traveling and studying. During his travels he visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Persia, and India. When his money ran out, he returned home to Abdera, where his brother took him in.
Democritus was given two rather interesting nicknames: “The Laughing Philosopher,” and “The Mocker.”
His fellow citizens gave him such titles because he would routinely make public appearances in which he mocked, condemned, and laughed about the foolishness and silliness of human affairs.

Painting of Democritus portrayed as “The Laughing Philosopher.”

Despite being given such seemingly unprofessional nicknames, Democritus became well-known for his knowledge of the physical world. He wanted to explain the world in natural terms and without reference to dogmatic mysticism.
In his expansion of atomic theory, he maintained the indivisibility of the atom because he claimed that it would be impossible to divide matter ad infinitum. He argued that each atom has a density that was in proportion to its volume, and he claimed that the void (empty space) was eternal in its existence.
Atoms, for Democritus, are too small for the naked eye to see. They float around the void, consisting of various shapes, and collide into one another.
Maintaining the notion that every physical object is made up of the same stuff, Democritus believed that a type of image must emerge from the combination of atoms which give rise to external objects. This image causes an impression upon our senses, which results in the appearance of the object in question.
Not only is our vision caused by a combination of atoms resulting in the appearance of a physical object, but all of our sensations are the result of atomic combinations. For instance, Democritus claimed that the taste of bitterness is caused by small, angular, and jagged atoms passing over the tongue. In contrast, the taste of sweetness is caused by larger-smoother atoms.
Perhaps most radically, Democritus claimed that the only things that can be said to truly exist are atoms and the void. Everything else that is thought to exist is simply a matter of social convention.
Democritus went on to claim that sensations such as the feeling of hot or cold had no real existence and were simply produced in organisms through a particular combination of atoms moving through the void.
Because we can perceive only the physical conglomeration of atoms that results in a visible physical object or subjective sensation, Democritus claimed that we were incapable of fully understanding the cosmos. There would always be something of which we could not observe, deduce, or understand due to this indirect experience of atoms and the void.
These early conceptions of atomic theory predate our modern theory of the atom by more than 2,000 years. It wasn’t until the 19th century that chemists began to refer to particular irreducible elements as atoms.
The 21st century notion of what an atom consists of is vastly different than that of the ancient Greeks, but that doesn’t diminish what many would claim is a kind of genius that went into developing such a theory.
Leucippus and Democritus were intuitive and wise beyond their years. Like many other Greek philosophers, they looked past tradition and cultural convention, forging their own path and establishing their own worldview. Idyllic in their innovative nature, they remain a great source of inspiration to this very day.

Chrysippus the Under-Rated

by June 7, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
“If Chrysippus had not existed, neither would the Stoa.”
This became a popular catchphrase of the Stoics. The Stoics viewed Chrysippus as a central figure in helping to establish the core doctrines and principles of Stoicism. Chrysippus is often hailed as the “second founder of Stoicism.”

Roman copy of a Hellenistic bust of Chrysippus (British Museum)

The Stoics who we often think of as central to the tradition, such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus (known as the big three of Stoicism), considered Chrysippus as one of the most important figures within Stoicism. So I think it is due time that we give Chrysippus the recognition that he deserves.
Chrysippus was born in Soli, modern day Mersin, Turkey, and lived from 280-207 BCE. Before studying under Cleanthes, Chrysippus trained as a long-distance runner. Not much else is well known of his personal life.
He was the third head of the Stoic school and wrote voluminously on a wide range of philosophical subjects.It is reported that he wrote more than 700 books during his time! The accuracy of this number is often questioned, however, as we don’t have a single book of his in its entirety. Instead, we have just over 400 fragments from his original works.

Mersin, Turkey (Soli)

Chrysippus developed an empirical theory of epistemology and a metaphysical theory. He wrote on free will and determinism and produced  what might be considered the first theory of compatibilism, which seeks to reconcile a deterministic cosmos with the idea of human free will.
He believed that happiness and living virtuously are tied to one another. For Chrysippus, wisdom and virtue are essentially the same thing. He taught that it was through the study of natural philosophy that we are likely to gain wisdom and thus become virtuous and happy.
As though all of this wasn’t enough, he also developed a theory of logic, known as propositional logic. This differed from the logic of Aristotle and Chrysippus was the first philosopher to formalize this type of logic.
Chrysippus was clearly an all-star in philosophy…
He developed a metaphysical theory known as materialism, which was in direct contrast with Plato’s ideas. Essentially, a materialist believes that everything that exists is matter in motion.
His metaphysical theory includes the concept of God, which may seem strange in a materialist worldview. Unlike the traditional western notions of God,. Chrysippus thought of God as the universe or nature itself. Thus, the universe, for Chrysippus and many other Stoics, is determined through the laws of nature (i.e. God).
With this mindset the universe is deterministic and follows a pattern of cause and effect. Chrysippus, however, argued that future events are not necessary, only fated. By fate he meant an ongoing natural order of things where one series of events is followed by another.
It seems natural, following this line of thinking, to conclude that we have no free will. After all, if everything is fated or determined by the laws of nature or God, how do we maintain any ability to act freely in the world? Wouldn’t we simply act and think in such a way that was determined or fated by previous events?
Chrysippus tried to save free will, but nonetheless many philosophers believed he failed. A single passage, which is sometimes attributed to Chrysippus and other times to his teacher Cleanthes, is one of the few pieces of writing left behind which attempts to justify free will within a deterministic framework.
Cleanthes illustration

Cleanthes, engraving from 1605

The passage goes…
“When a dog is tied to a cart, if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case. So it is with men too: even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any case to follow what is destined.”
In this thought experiment, the dog wants to follow the cart, but even if he didn’t want to, he must follow the cart. He has no choice in the matter because he is tethered to the moving cart. There may be an illusion of being free in this example, but let us not mistake an illusion for the real thing.
Okay, so the Stoics might not have been the best meta-physicians… but that’s okay, because Stoicism is more about ethics, virtue, and living well, right?
The Stoics believed that happiness was the end goal of life, and that virtue would lead us to this end goal. Chrysippus also taught that vice leads to unhappiness.
So, if virtue and happiness are intertwined, what exactly is virtue?
For Chrysippus, to live virtuously and thus happily is “to live in accordance with one’s experience of the things which come about by nature.”
This has often been interpreted to mean that one must live in accordance with their particular type of nature. We are human beings and as such we have the unique ability to reason – this is part of our nature.
Thus, in order to live virtuously, one must live in accordance with reason, which begets wisdom, and happily ever after we all shall live.
That’s the idea, anyway…
Chrysippus fleshed out the Stoic tradition through his elaborate writings, which he passed on to his successors. Without Chrysippus, it is likely that we wouldn’t have the timeless wisdom of the later Stoics, which include the likes of Marcus Aurelius.
The importance of Chrysippus can hardly be overstated, and this importance extends not just to the Stoics, but to western philosophy in general.
So, what do you think… Does Chrysippus deserve a spot among the big three?

Protagoras & Relativism

by May 31, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
“Man is the measure of all things…”
It is likely that you have heard this phrase uttered at one time or the other. It is an explicit declaration of relativism, and one of the earliest accounts of such a theory.
It was Protagoras who made this statement. He lived during the 5th century BCE and was part of the older Sophists, which included Gorgias, Hippias, and Prodicus.
The Sophists were traveling instructors who had expert knowledge regarding the art of rhetoric and persuasion. They understood the importance of appealing to the emotions as opposed to trying to convince someone of something through the use of pure logic and reason.
Because of their emphasis on evoking emotions and igniting passions, the Sophists are often interpreted as immoral charlatans rather than real philosophers. Regular readers may remember my Sophistry article regarding profit and selfish-gain…
Today I wish to approach the Sophists as true philosophers who were capable of great insights.
The idea that “man is the measure of all things” is essential to understanding the Sophists. One can interpret such a statement through the lens of crude relativism, which seems to be the most common interpretation.
It is also, in my opinion, a false and indignant interpretation.
Crude relativism would claim that all of our notions of justice, morality, knowledge, virtue, wisdom, and ethics are a matter of what one thinks is just, or moral, or true, or virtuous. With this view, there is nothing from which we can determine a higher order truth – all truth stems from what a society or individual thinks or believes to be the case.
This position leads one to claim that relativism is ultimately a theory of self-refutation. If all truth is relative to a person or society and their beliefs, and no thesis is more valid than any other, then relativism cannot be a more true or valid theory, either.
A crude relativistic view destroys itself before it gets off the ground.
I think this is a poor way of interpreting Protagoras and relativism. It commits the strawman fallacy, which is to intentionally misrepresent an argument or statement in order to make it a weak position which can be easily defeated.
We can’t know exactly what Protagoras had in mind when he claimed that “man is the measure of all things,” because we don’t have much of his original writings. But I wish to steelman this statement and create a strong argument through a more sophisticated interpretation of relativism.
Essentially, relativism is the idea that what is good, bad, true, and false is relative to a particular framework. I don’t think this statement can be refuted. We were born, evolved, and grew out of this world. We always have a perspective and a framework from which we navigate the world.
We cannot separate ourselves from the world in order to view anything from an objective standpoint. This doesn’t mean, however, that all views are equally valid, and it definitely does not mean that any statement is just as true as any other.
Protagoras of Abdera /Painting by Ribera -

Protagoras of Abdera, Painting by Ribera

Now, before you curse my existence and accuse me of being a charlatan, let me explain…
Let’s talk about board games for a moment. A board game is arbitrary in the sense that someone made up an entire framework from which to view and play the game. They created a story, rules for how to play, and an ultimate goal. It is all a fictional creation and a human construct. This does not mean, however, that all strategies for playing the game are equal, and one can certainly make truth statements regarding the rules and the best way to play the game.
We have similar human constructs and frameworks from which we view the world. These include values, motives, and goals. The values, motives, and goals in one culture may not be exactly the same as another culture, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw our hands in the air and declare everything equal.
We are still capable of making real truth statements about the world, and some strategies are better than others when we navigate the world in pursuit of certain goals. There also seems to be a wider-more-basic framework that has been embedded into most of mankind – probably through our shared evolutionary history.
There is also an important distinction that must be made between our personal-subjective experiences and the intersubjective world.

You can say the taste is subjective… but the nutritional value not… source

It is true that we all view the world from a particular framework, and it is true that we may see things differently from one another, but when I claim that it is cold outside, and you say that it is warm, we are projecting a relative value onto an intersubjective situation.
By intersubjective, I just mean a situation that is publicly accessible. We can both feel the air, experience the atmosphere, and talk about it. My personal-subjective experience of the intersubjective circumstance might be different than yours, but that isn’t what is important.
The importance is on the intersubjectivity of the situation and our ability to agree on particular aspects of the circumstance. We can both measure the temperature of the air, and we can agree that it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside – this is our intersubjective experience. I can then claim that it feels cold to me, and you can claim that it feels warm to you, this is our relative or personal-subjective experience of the intersubjective phenomena.
You might interpret the data differently, but the intersubjective data is presented to both of us equally.

Intersubjective Data: 60 degrees outside
My personal-subjective experience of the data: Cold
Your personal-subjective experience of the data: Warm

Am I right in claiming that it is cold? Or are you right in claiming that it is warm? I don’t think it even makes sense to ask or answer such a question, because we have moved from the intersubjective to the relative or personal-subjective.
The same reasoning can be applied to truth-statements about the world. If you claim that the earth is flat, and I claim that it is spherical, we aren’t obligated to believe that we are both right. The earth is part of our intersubjective world. We both have access to the earth in the same sense. You might not believe the evidence, but your belief doesn’t change the structure of the earth.
Protagoras provides us with the foundation for relativism. He was ahead of his time in positioning mankind away from absolutist types of thinking. Protagoras was a true philosopher, and not a mere rhetorician.
He recognized that we couldn’t be objective observers because we are always viewing things from a subjective framework. This was a radical truth for his time, but one that seems undeniable. Moreover, it opened a new way of thinking and reasoning about ourselves, the world, and our being-in-the-world.

Mind, Matter, and Monism: Philosophy of Mind in Ancient Greece

by May 24, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
Mind and matter or physical and mental – these are distinctions that we are familiar with. We needn’t have studied philosophy extensively or have had any type of specialized training in order to recognize these terms.
An example of this is when we hear the phrase “mind over matter,” and we understand the implications of such a phrase, namely the mental overcoming the physical or the power of our will to overcome physical obstacles.
But what do these terms refer to, what are they attempting to distinguish, and… what exactly does it all have to do with ancient Greek philosophy?
I’m glad you asked…
The concepts of mind and matter, philosophically speaking, are explored within the branches of metaphysics and philosophy of mind.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy which is interested in exploring the nature of existence, being, and the world. According to Aristotle, metaphysics deals with, “first causes and the principles of things.” It tries to get at the essence of existence, and asks questions such as “what is the nature of reality?”
Philosophy of mind is intertwined with metaphysics, and seeks to understand the nature of the mind, consciousness, and mental events. A fundamental question that philosophy of mind asks is “how does the mind relate to the body?”
Or, in other words, “how does physical stuff and mental stuff interact with one another?” This is termed the mind-body problem.
Traditionally, mind has referred to those things which cannot be objectively observed, and do not contain physical qualities such as mass or extension in space. This might include thoughts and conscious experience.
Say, for example, you eat an orange. Sure, we experience the sensation of taste, but this experience of tasting the orange isn’t an objectively observable or quantifiable event.

Now, you may thinking to yourself… “What about brain scans? Can’t they show the experience?”

And you may be right!

There are a great many neuroscientists attempting to squash this part of the debate with modern technology. Some claim that an MRI can observe and record the experience, while others argue that they aren’t actually observing the subjective experience itself, and that the data from the scan is simply evidence for the biological underpinnings of the experience. They claim that the experience itself is something over and above this data.
Matter, on the other hand, refers to the physical-material stuff that the objects of our everyday world are made up of. The orange exists in space and time and has physical properties which can be scientifically measured.
Let’s say that I tell you two things about the orange. One thing being related to the physical properties of the orange, the second being related to the conscious experience or mental aspect of the orange.
Let us also imagine that I am a pathological liar.

The Physical or Mental Experience of an orange?

First, I tell you that the orange weighs 38 grams. You can verify the weight of the orange for yourself, simply by putting it on the scale. You weigh it and find out that it actually weighs 42 grams.
Second, I tell you that the orange tasted great to me. I say that it was refreshing and sweet, but what I actually experienced was disgust and I thought that it tasted repulsive.
You cannot verify the truth of my statement in the second instance. There is nothing you can objectively test or observe to see if I am telling the truth. It was an inner experience of subjectivity that you do not have access to.
And thank Zeus for this – I am sure we have all told a similar white lie during a holiday gathering, when we eat something our dear aunt made with love, but which tastes like last year’s leftovers…
This idea of mind and matter as separate phenomena is called dualism. It is the default theory for most of us because our culture has embedded such distinctions into everyday life.
But this wasn’t always the case. The pre-Socratics were monists. A monist, for those who want a recap, believes that there is a single underlying substance for everything in the cosmos. They hold an opposite perspective from the dualist.
Thales believed water was the single underlying substance from which everything was made up of, Anaximenes believed it was air, Anaximander argued that it was apeiron (the undefined infinite), Heraclitus argued in favor of fire, and Democritus claimed that it was all atoms.
Interestingly, Democritus’ theory of atoms is related to the modern monist theory of physicalism. Physicalism argues that everything is made up of physical-material stuff, such as atoms. It states that the mind, consciousness, thoughts, and sensations will eventually be explained in reference to the physical. But back to the ancients…
It wasn’t until Plato that dualism became a prominent theory within metaphysics and subsequently the philosophy of mind. Plato’s theory of forms indicates the separation of the material world and the world of the mind.
For Plato, concepts, thoughts, and the ideal forms are more real than the material world. The material world is simply an imperfect shadow of the perfect and ideal world of forms. Though formally categorized as a dualist, Plato’s theory has leanings related to a type of monism, called idealism, which claims that everything is mental. (So the exact opposite of the modern physicalists).

Bust of Plato

According to this theory, our mind actively arranges the sense data in a particular and intelligible order, essentially making the world around us a product of our mind. If all that can be known is our mental representations of the world, a physical reality outside of our mental representations cannot be said to exist.
The most widespread modern theory of metaphysics and philosophy of mind, which has imbedded itself into our very language and culture, is Cartesian dualism. Descartes has been extremely influential, and it is no surprise, seeing how he is often considered to be the father of modern philosophy.
Descartes claimed the mind and body were distinct entities. He argued that the mind was immaterial and could be separated from the body, which was material. He claimed that the immaterial mind and material body interacted with one another, and this is what came to be known as the mind-body problem.

It’s a problem because if the mind is immaterial and the body is material, how do they causally interact? This is a problem that philosophers and scientists alike are attempting to solve to this very day.  
So, what do you think? Is everything made of one fundamental kind of stuff? Is that stuff mental or physical? Is the nature of reality dualistic, and so there exists two fundamentally different types of stuff? Or, perhaps the true nature of reality is unlike any of these theories…

Tyrannical Hell or Harmonious Utopia?

by May 15, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
Republic's Utopia


Imagine this… You are born into a political and social structure which has three classes. The class you are born into depends upon your lineage and will determine the career you have for your entire life. This structure is upheld by a noble lie which is embedded into each citizen of the city-state.
The lie claims that each citizen, being a creation god, has within him or her one of three metals. Those endowed with gold during creation are part of the ruling class. Those with silver are part of the warrior class. Those with bronze are part of the craftsmen and farming class.
Now, it is possible for someone of the gold demarcation to beget a child of silver or bronze status, and it is also possible, but rare, for someone of the lower classes to beget a child of higher status. It is also possible, but difficult, for someone to move up the classes during their lifetime.
Men and women receive the same education, and both are capable of ascending to the highest class, because in this society, the soul is more important than the structure of one’s body.
Soviet Education

Equal education for men and women during the USSR

A plan of eugenics is established, and a careful strategy which seeks to breed the best with the best is enforced. Children are raised collectively and according to political and social dictation.
The silver and gold classes are not allowed to marry or have a private family. They are also not allowed to obtain private property or wealth. They are sustained on what is necessary and nothing more.
The bronze class is allowed more in way of material goods. They receive the biggest portion of their work as farmers and craftsmen, but they have no say in how the city is run. Rules and law come from the top down.
Education is rigid and includes both academic studies and athletics. What one is allowed to read is dictated by the ruling class; mass censorship is put into practice. They will tell you which poetry you can read, and they will destroy the rest. They will rewrite the works of great poets, allowing only the poetry that encourages moral behavior. The so-called immoral and amoral works are destroyed.
Say goodbye to much of Homer…
Achilles with Hector's body

Achilles with Hector’s body – Not moral enough?

The city-state is closed off to immigration, and travel is discouraged. Everything must be closed off if this delicate and fragile political structure is to exist. Once so-called real knowledge is established, it must be permanent and unchanging. Once the myths are in place, they must be permanent and unquestionable. Questioning the structure of this society and attempting to enact change are both viewed with contempt.
Before we continue, let’s reflect on the city-state outlined above, and ask ourselves if this is a society that we would like to live in. Further, let us ask ourselves if this city-state sounds more like a harmonious utopia or a tyrannical hell…
Got your answers locked in?
As some of you might have already guessed, the city-state outlined above comes from the dialogue titled the Republic. This political and social structure is, for Plato, the ideal state.
Now, I can only speak for myself here – but I’m not much of a fan…
I value freedom and autonomy as a living-breathing individual, this city-state sounds extremely oppressive and tyrannical. I don’t think anyone should dictate what I read, and to establish a city-state on a foundation of self-recognized lies sounds altogether insane.
Although the gold-ruling class is to be comprised of philosopher-kings, I don’t think much philosophizing will be going on. If knowledge is set in stone, there is no room for creative or original thinking.
I think that the ruling-class would be more like computers. They are taught a very specific mode of thinking, and mathematics is of the utmost importance to their education. They would be programmed for certain thought patterns, and they would be instructed to perpetuate the noble lies.

Bust of Plato

Plato’s vision for a harmonious state – for a utopia – is just that, a vision. It is part of his theory of forms, which is to say, not a part of this world.
In the same dialogue, Plato wants to claim that if his theory of forms – his ideals – cannot be realized in this world, it is because something is wrong with the world that we find ourselves in.
Plato denigrates this world for the transcendent world of forms; he refuses to accept this life. He wants to exist free of the human condition; free of body, desire, and sensation. He wishes to exist as a disembodied soul.  
In trying to free himself and his peers from the illusions of this world, he unwittingly stumbles further into a fictional realm.
As much as he hated the thought, Plato was human, and even the most recognized and decorated philosophers are wrong about some things.