Taking on Today’s Sophists


Plato At The Googleplex – Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

There are times when I want a challenging read, and when Goldstein’s book came out, with hot to tepid reviews, I knew I had to read it. Philosophy, you see, has been an interest of mine for quite a while, particularly the proto-philosophy of Plato. The book did prove a challenge, as any by an academic might, but it proved well worth the effort.

So how did she put forth her position that philosophy is here to stay? She took an indirect path, pitting a 2400 year-old Plato against various intellectual disciplines from a Google coder to a Bill O’Reilly sound-alike to a scientist involved in brain studies. These rather charming inventions alternated with Goldstein’s own take on Plato and his mentor, Socrates, depict the modern intellectuals she allows Plato to take on as neo-sophists. In each fictive account, the author has Plato wait politely for his adversaries to stake out their positions and defend them with gaping holes in reasoning, then gently guide these intellectual miscreants back toward the beauty of truth.

Is there a fault in Goldstein’s depictions? Just one, in my view: that today’s sophists are likely to remain in their argument’s bubbles, never open at all to reason. And likely we’re now entering an age in which emotion and power prevail over a desire for truth, one in which Plato and Socrates would be seen by too many as kooks and intellectual provocateurs. But then this is very likely the same situation these two ancients put themselves into over two millennia ago.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars


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