The essence of philosophy itself can best be described as a toddler asking the question “Why?” Expect in this case, the toddler is spitting out that question in every possible direction and field to every answer in recieves. Where one can easily state that “1+1=2,” another can just as easily question the subject of mathematical existence entirely. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, expands upon Plato’s concepts being applied to the 21st century, as well as how Plato himself, would interact with the people and culture of the 21st century.
I was first really introduced to the concepts of philosophy in The Good Place, a show that really sparked my interest in the field, as it revolves around how and why one would become a better person. I was amazed by all the revelations and concepts that Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, some of the most influential philosophers in history had made in judging how and what actually made a morally good person. As I still watch the show to this day, I picked this book in an effort to try and understand philosophical ideas regarding morale more in depth. However, bearing comparisons between my own personal experiences and observations, as well as analyzing the ethical arguments presented in the book, I truly feel as though I have a better understanding of Plato, as well as his philosophical concepts and how they pertain to the world we currently live in.
In many respects, before reading this book, I had always thought of Plato as the old, greek, philosopher that we sometimes talked about in history class. His existence has always seemed so far away, that I have always identified him by his well-known concepts, never truly believing in the thought of him as an actual human being, What I found most creative, is that Goldstein was able to give Plato, someone who has been dead for centuries, a real personality.
Through stimulating conversations with Cheryl and Marcus at the Googleplex, advice columns with Margo, as well as heated panel discussions with Dr.Munitz and Professor Zee, I was able to truly understand Plato’s serene and mature nature; one that was invigorated at even the sight of a continual argument over ethical conflicts; one where his eyes would “[twinkle] for all they were worth (Goldstein 104)” as he explained that an ethical decision is simply arbitrary if there is no principle behind it. I was able to learn and understand from these complex scenarios involving Plato that a true philosopher does not oppose opposition or refutation, but rather welcomes it with open arms. It is Plato, who teaches us that we should “never be rest assured that our view, no matter how well argued and reasoned amounts to the final word on any matter (Goldstein 396).”
Plato is no longer just the old, greek, man I see mentioned in history class from time to time. He is, as Goldstein says, an esteemed mathematician, a poet, and an ethicist, but most importantly, an influential philosopher who has developed a field that has and will always be trying to uncover the assumptions and biases that “slip into our viewpoints” in an effort to render our society and our lives “maximally coherent (Goldstein 396).”
What surprises me most about the subject of philosophy is how subjective it can really be, as I was able to apply much of what I observed in 2018, to what Plato was essentially trying to argue in his ethical conversations with Cheryl and Marcus. Specifically, I couldn’t help but relate the devastating situation of one of Cheryl’s authors to that of the devastating situation concurrently going on in Yemen.
The author’s father was one that abused her and her younger sister frequently. However, it was the mother that “sort of” understood what was going on but “kept herself from really knowing, meaning she didn’t want to know (Goldstein 109).” This situation begs the question of which parent could be considered more immoral: the “sicko” that ruined the lives of his innocent children or the mother, who knowingly didn’t protect the lives of her kids so that her life would in turn, be more convenient. Although both are immoral in their own way, I have to agree that it is the mother, who hides behind her denial and ignorance that is more immoral than the father.
It was the responsibility of the mother, whose “brain [wasn’t] wired wrong (Goldstein 111),” to protect her children, but instead she deliberately turned the other cheek, ignoring what was happening right in front of her eyes. As I read on about how the others reacted and interpreted this situation, I began to think of how this situation is almost analogous to that of the bombings in Yemen. As I sit here in my home, surrounded by blankets and the comfort of my own home, I remember that there are children as young as my sister, who are dying from malnutrition and starvation. As we as a society, sit in the comfort of our homes, there are Saudi Coalition Airstrikes hitting Yemen school buses, instantly killing dozens of elementary school kids.
We acknowledge that this is happening; as we scroll through the news, we see the headlines, we see the pictures that show nothing but death of the innocent and the complete destruction of societies. We acknowledge the famished children and frequent bombings, and yet we do nothing when we in fact, have the power and the resources, to make a difference. Instead,we turn the other cheek, out of ignorance and denial and sit surrounded by blankets, in the comfort of our own homes. How does this make us any better than the mother who knowingly decided to not protect her kids? It was her responsibility to intervene because she was aware, just as we are aware of what is going on in Yemen.
The only revelation to be made here is that we too, by definition, are immoral. The only way we can fix and face the problem at hand, is to understand that we have the resources to help thousands of people across the globe, and therefore, should take action to help them in any way we can. Philosophy, I have learned has the ability to allow us to relate situations that have almost nothing in common. And it is the arguments expanded upon in the book, that have allowed me to see how the philosophy of those conflicts intertwine with the world that surrounds me.
A huge part of what my world consists of is my school environment, where philosophy has also allowed for me to look at our educational system in a different light. One term Plato expands upon beyond the mind of any normal person is the concept of “beauty.” Plato explains to his panel of experts that beauty is that which “provokes desire and love (Goldstein 210).” However, he makes it clear that we are not all the same in regard “to the beauty that lies within us to desire and love (Goldstein 210).”
Essentially, Plato is saying that beauty comes in several forms for different people, whether it be the beauty of poetry, words, mathematics, or colors. There is an “innate aspect about which beauty a particular child can love (Goldstein 210),” therefore an innate aspect of which beauty a child can be educated about. In order to retain what they are learning in school, Plato believes children should not be “force-fed information that doesn’t agree with their cognitive digestive system (Goldstein 211).” This is something I, as well as several others at J.P Stevens can relate to. Just as we have discussed in class, there are several students that are almost forced into A.P classes they do not want to take, where the only way to escape the class itself is to drop down a level.
Students with a love of the beauty of english and language are forced to take A.P Calculus BC; students, likewise with a love of the beauty of physics and chemistry are forced to take A.P World History and A.P Language and Composition. This information, not knowledge, will “pass right through their system, just as soon as they have passed the school system (Goldstein 211).” It is through the philosophical definition of beauty were one is able to realize that our education system should be expanding upon the beauties children are innately suited for, expanding upon what the students are passionate about rather than require they retain pointless information that will not nourish them in the future.
Reading Plato at the Googleplex really allowed for me to open my eyes and examine the world of philosophy that surrounded me. The most appropriate quote, I’d say, to describe this book would be: “[very] difficult stuff, but utterly beautiful (Goldstein 20).” Many of the ideas presented were quite difficult to grasp, but as I soon came to understand these complex concepts, I was able to understand and appreciate how delicately were woven into our society and how they impact our consciousness and our principles of morality and knowledge itself. In essence, philosophy will truly never go away, as we will keep asking questions that pertain to the world in which we live in, and we will keep needing answers.