Read How You Want Large Print, (2006), 180 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 22, 2010
All philosophy, yesterday's and today's, is a battle between the two ancient Greeks, Plato and his student Aristotle. Thus, people who wants to understand the world, needs to know what each of these sages is saying, what the different premises of the two men are, and what are the ramifications of what they are saying.
This is no exaggeration. Take religion as an example. Plato's approach to life affected the way the general population understand religion, while Aristotle offered the intellectuals a realistic rational view of religion. What is the difference between them?
Plato had an otherworldly non-naturalistic idea of the world. How can people define anything, how can they relate to it? There is, Plato answered, an ideal that exists outside this world. Plato never said where this ideal is located – in the mind or in heaven or floating around in the upper atmosphere. An object, he claimed, is defined by how much it is like the ideal. Thus, for example, there is an ideal table and the table on earth can be called a table if and only if it is like the ideal table.
Take love as an example. Plato's Symposium describes a drinking party where Socrates and his acquaintances try to define love. Plato is a masterful writer, and the dialogue is filled with very entertaining dissimilar ideas. However, Socrates, Plato's hero and teacher, states that true love is love that is like the ideal of love.
This is clever, but it is not informative. It seems like a joke. But it isn't a joke. People lived according to Plato's worldview and abandoned thinking during the medieval dark ages until the renaissance when individuals, at least the more educated, began to rethink and reaccept the ideas of Aristotle. Of course, even during the dark ages there were some scholars who lived as Aristotle taught, but only a handful of people.
Plato's notion of the otherworldly unnatural ideal affected many religions. People, said the clerics, must organize their lives according to ideals that are in heaven. People, they said must not think about religion on their own. Why should they think? There is only one way to think and act, and it is the ideal that is in heaven.
Aristotle had a radically different rational and natural view. He encouraged people to think. They must examine nature, experiment with it and discover the truth. A good table has nothing to do with heaven; it is an object that serves people best to eat on, work on, put objects on, etc. Love is not what matches a heavenly ideal; it is a human relationship built on respect and trust, on ability to work with another for mutual benefits.
So, too, with religion. One can if one wants believe in a divine revelation. However the revelation continues and grows as humans grow. The revelation occurs here on earth; it is not an ideal in heaven. Teachings are revealed in the events of history and in scientific experiments and advances.
Thus, Plato's views are significant, for they are the past and they are the present that should be avoided. People need to enter the world bravely, open-mindedly, think, act and grow.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.