In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and his friends try to solve anumber of questions about issues in politics, education, justice, and even the ultimate good by contructing an imaginary state.
It seems this technique has stood the test of time, or at least come back into use in modern electoral politics. Look at this description of a new type of political poll from a recent New York Times article:
“No campaign or client is sponsoring the research, and no one is looking to “move” the voters with slogans or ad scripts. In fact, very little, if anything, is even mentioned about partisan politics. Instead, the facilitator asks the half-dozen or so voters to invent their own countries and to compare their idealized versions with the country they actually live in. ”
This again shows the value of the humanities and taking part in The Great Conversation. By reading these great works, we have a way to think about what the current issues are and separate them from the problems that have bedeviled people throughout our history. Maybe we can avoid going in circles by learning about what has been considered before and the arguments that have been made.
While our situation is very different than the ancient Greeks, we can learn from the conversations we have. We also might learn something about how to ask the questions.
Learning how arguments are made is just as important as learning what arguments are made. The better we do both, the closer we wil be to actually solving problems.
Is this all too ‘pie-in-the-sky’ optimistic? I don’t think so. I think that everyone can learn from the Great Books and improve our collective ability to solve problems. By using these works, perhaps we can create some new additions to Great Conversation that carries the lessons of these turbulent times forward.