Plato in the Kitchen – Free Ebook

Plato was born in Athens 2,400 years ago and is widely recognised as having been the founder of philosophy. In order to convey what he believed philosophy could do for us, he made up a now-famous metaphor about a cave. He compared human beings who had not learnt how to philosophise to people living deep in the side of a mountain, in a cave illuminated only by the dim light of flickering torches. In such gloom,  they regularly mistake one thing for another: halloumi for chicken, spam for ham. The task of philosophy is – quite literally – illumination. It is to help guide us to more meaningful and fulfilled lives. For Plato, we are so often in the dark about our lives because we exist under the sway of DOXA – the Ancient Greek term for “public opinion”. Doxa is a tangle of prejudice and ill-thought through impulses. It is the task of philosophy to straighten out how we think and to be more precise in our ideas. One of the things Plato thought a lot about was love. He came to the view that we would not fall in love if we were not in certain psychological ways ‘incomplete’. We are drawn to people we dimly sense can compensate us for certain of our deficiencies of character, who can make us whole. Love grows when we identify in another person qualities we need more of in ourselves in order to become better, more rounded individuals. So the shy will often feel a distinct attraction towards the confident. The carefree towards the thoughtful. The mild cheese towards the astringent pickle. The sweet chocolate towards the tart berries. In his theories, Plato accords an important role to beauty. It would have been easy for him to dismiss beautiful things as merely superficial. Many philosophers have. But he believed that beauty is an embodiment at a physical level of what we would, at the psychological plane, call goodness. When we say that this miniature Yorkshire pudding is ‘beautiful’, it is because we are sensing the promise of what might be admirable psychological qualities too. If it turned into a person, we’d like who the miniature Yorkshire pudding was: it would be optimistic, open to experience, a little cynical but generous. Beautiful things therefore have a hugely important function. They invite us to evolve in their direction, to become as they are. Beauty can, for Plato, educate our souls. It follows that for Plato ugly things are serious matters too, for they parade dangerous and damaged characteristics in front of us. We need to stay away from them, for they can otherwise encourage us to be like they are. Athenian society was very focused on the rich, like the louche aristocrat Alcibiades, and sports celebrities, like the boxer Milo of Croton. Plato wasn’t impressed: it really matters who we admire, for celebrities influence our outlook, ideas and conduct. And bad heroes give glamour to flaws of character. Plato therefore wanted to give Athens new celebrities, replacing the current crop with ideally wise and good people he called Guardians: models for everyone’s good development. These people would be distinguished by their record of public service, their modesty and simple habits, their dislike of the limelight and their wide and deep experience. Plato was a noted anti-democrat He simply didn’t believe everyone should be allowed to vote. But he wasn’t in favour of a voting elite based on money or class. He believed that people should be allowed to vote only if they could demonstrate that they had exercised thought and judgement. He was an aristocrat of the mind. He was also an idealist, someone who looks at the way things are now, and tries to imagine how they could be better one day. We still sometimes use the term ‘Platonic Ideal’ in his honour. This is a Dolmades This is a platonic Dolmades. This is an egg. This is a platonic egg. In Plato’s perfect society, described in his book The Republic, It wouldn’t just be boxers, merchants and chefs who would be venerated, but primarily philosophers, people devoted to self-knowledge, wisdom and kindness. As he put it, ‘Society will only be put right when philosophers become kings; or kings philosophers.’ We continue to agree.

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