14 May Plato would say that anyone who cannot make sense of the small questions – such as “What is one plus one?” – stands little chance with the bigger ones. (LOU MARINOFF)
It’s also true that the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything! The human world is an increasingly complex place, more and more difficult to understand.
Yet people strive unceasingly to make sense of things. How do we do so?
Primarily by building on reliable knowledge. Plato had a famous sign posted outside his Academy (the very first university), which said “Nobody destitute of geometry may enter”. Why? Be- cause Plato thought that mathematical truths were the most certain things, and should be learned before approaching more uncertain subjects like ethics and politics.
He believed that the bigger questions in life (such as those about rightness and justice) could not even be properly formulated before the smaller ones (such as those about geometry) were answered.
Millions of people like Kathi are grappling with many issues in the global village, issues that concern us all and that can bring us considerable disease: from economy to ecology, from health care to homelessness, from tolerance to terrorism.
Plato would say that anyone who cannot make sense of the small questions – such as “What is one plus one?” – stands little chance with the bigger ones. If you can’t do arithmetic, which is easy, how can you even begin to tell right from wrong, which can be very difficult at times?
Plato would also say that any system of education that fails to guide its students out of the Cave must either reform itself or face collapse. And one of the first lessons in my reformed curriculum is – you guessed it – how to distinguish offense from harm.
A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy must first have become so degenerate that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it.
– JOHN STUART MILL
The Big Questions: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life