5 lessons for the modern life from the great philosopher Plato


A marble statue of ancient Greek philosopher Plato stands in front of the Athens Academy. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis, File)


The Greek philosopher Plato lived almost 3000 years ago. So he wouldn't have any relevant life lessons for the modern-day, right? Author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein disagrees. She believes that Plato doles out some very clear advice on modern life: how to raise a child, how to think about money, who should go into politics and more. She outlines it all in a new book, Plato at the Googleplex, and she recently stopped by CBC Radio's Tapestry to discuss Plato and the present day. You can listen to her conversation with Mary Hynes in the audio player:

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What lessons can we take away from Plato? Goldstein broke them down in her conversation with Mary Hynes. We highlight a few below.

1. Our obsession with fame is misguided.

"This lust for fame and celebrity and for applause would be very, very familiar to Plato," Goldstein said, because it also occurred in ancient Athens, where recognition from "fellow mortals" was indicative of a worthwhile life. Plato disagreed with this valuation. "He thought it was a mistake," she said. "The way you evaluate whether you are on the right track or not is not by how much applause you get, how much fame."

2. Politics shouldn't be about power.

A big dilemma for Plato was trying to figure out how to get politicians to put the needs of people they are serving ahead of personal ambitions. "He thought that one of the major problems in political thinking is, 'How do we have rulers who don't love power? How do we put in people who don't want power but do it for the sake for the good of the whole?'"

3. Children should be raised with the greater good in mind.

Every parent wants their child to be extraordinary. The question for Plato was "Why?" Plato believed strongly in raising extraordinary children - especially those who had the potential to be future leaders - but thought it shouldn't be done for the children's sake, not the parents' reputation. "It's so that they can give their all, and their all will be so much to the good of everybody."

4. There is a difference between information and wisdom.

In the book, Goldstein takes Plato to Google and postulates what a conversation between the philosopher and the founders of Google might look like. Plato is astounded by the fact we have more information at our fingertips than ever before, but that having more information doesn't make us wiser. It just means we have more information.

5. Life should be guided by "what is good, what is beautiful, and what it true."

Goldstein recognizes this is "very much at odds with the values in our culture" but says that this was also true in Plato's time. The ancient Greeks are credited with inventing modern science, democracy, philosophy and mathematics - and rightly so - but Goldstein points out that this was done by only a small percentage of the Athenian population. This is not unlike the great breakthroughs happening today. "They weren't all running around philosophizing," Goldstein said. "It's always good to remember that the Athenians, they executed Socrates."