If Plato were alive today, how would he react to modern times?
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
by: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND - If Plato were alive today, what would he think of our modern times? Specifically,
how would he react to a modern world where secularism and religious fundamentalism
are growing further apart?
Southeastern Louisiana University Psychology Professor Matt Rossano thinks the principles espoused by the ancient Greek philosopher can easily be applied today in confronting modern science. At the same time, he said, modern science and society can be critiqued using Platonic ideals.
Rossano’s latest book, “Seeking Perfection: A Dialogue about the Mind, the Soul and What It Means to Be Human,” seeks to do just that.
“Today, Plato has become a statue. We forget that he was a real man and that he lived a fascinating life,” Rossano said. “He wrestled and wrote poetry as a youth, and he fought in the Peloponnesian War.”
After the war, he was briefly associated with the Thirty Tyrants who ruled Athens. He soon came to recognize the brutality and corruption and severed his ties with the group, making a series of excursions to Sicily where he sought to mold a true philosopher king, Dionysus II of Syracuse. When that attempt failed he was arrested. Powerful friends had to engineer his escape by boat back to Athens.
“I always wondered what he must have been thinking about on that long boat ride home, and that’s where the book begins,” Rossano said.
The book is not set in ancient Greece, but instead in modern times. Plato – who lived between 428 and 347 BCE – was actually a nickname, his birth name being Aristocles. The name “Plato” referred to his broad build. Rossano takes liberties in the book, renaming him Paulo Aristocles.
“As he returns to Athens, ‘Paulo’ engages in a series of dialogues with the ship’s crew and captain, addressing issues of religion, science, secularism, and the uniqueness of the human mind,” the author states. “How would Plato react to a modern world where secularism and religious fundamentalism are growing, while the gap between the human mind and the animal mind is narrowing?”
In a heavily annotated and documented work, Rossano takes some creative license mixed with real history, science and philosophy, addressing that question in a narrative/dialogue format.
“Contrary to what some may think, Plato translates well into modern times,” he said. “He translates into any era because ultimately he was an idealist. He sought perfection. We may disagree with how he defined that, but if so, he forces us to propose an equally defensible alternative. In any time or place, engaging in that dialectic process is ennobling.”
Rossano is also the author of “Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved” and “Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us about Human Evolution.” His latest book, “Seeking Perfection,” is available through Transaction Publishers.