Monthly Archives: September 2009

Platonism and its unintended consequences

By quirk of fate rather than by design, I ended up studying philosophy as part of my university degree. Of course philosophy generally involves either navel gazing and togas or beret wearing and chain smoking, depending on how much you prefer Aristotle to Sartre. The really radical students accessorized their togas with berets and looked down up the rest of us; that is they looked down upon us when they actually believed we existed and hadn’t developed a predilection for solipsism.

I always liked Plato, mainly because Plato is relatively easy to read. In case you are unfamiliar with him, Plato wrote dialogues. Scripts designed to prove a point using logic. In a typical Platonic dialogue Socrates would come up trumps (Socrates being Plato’s sock puppet and mentor figure rolled into one) and vanquish the opposition using logic. Incidentally Socrates was quite possibly the first Troll (in the internet sense), he would hang out in market places, griefing people and starting philosophical flamewars until they succumbed to his dialogues in much the same way people use internet forums today.

One of Plato’s key ideas is the concept of ideal forms. This states that for all the things in the world (cars, the colour red, governments etc) there are ideal versions in a sort of alternate world (often referred to as Plato’s heaven). Sort of like IKEA, there is a perfect bed in the catalogue and there is the imperfect bed you are frantically trying to assemble in the real world.

The problem with studying Platonic philosophy is that it can encourage the mentality that nothing you can do will ever be as good as the stuff in the ideal world. My real world blog post won’t have the wit and thrust of the Platonic Ideal blog entry. I can redraft and rewrite but it won’t ever get there. Ditto for job applications. Somewhere out there in Plato’s heaven is the ideal CV to which my CV is a mere shadow, a dark image (see http://tinyurl.com/yeu2wl). This kind of thinking can really stymie effort. Damn Plato!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that studying philosophy can really mess you up.