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Friday, August 31, 2012

Plato on the election

There's been mention of Thomas Aquinas, and thus Aristotle, in the presidential race ...

"If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas!" This statement by Paul Ryan in a 2012 National Review interview is an understandable attempt to distance himself from the Objectivism of Ayn Rand by claiming the priority of his own Catholic faith .... Philosophically, it is understandable that Ryan would seek to distance himself from Randianism .... Conversely, the Thomistic heritage of the great Catholic thinker Aquinas would seem to be a safe bet. St. Thomas was responsible for the Medieval Synthesis which many feel preserved the Christian tradition of Western culture at a time of attack from Islamic philosophy. The saint trumps the atheist! Who could fault basing one's view of knowledge and reality upon the "dumb ox" of Chesterton who stands as the foremost exponent of Christian teaching in the Catholic tradition? It is, however, not quite that simple. Both Ayn Rand and Thomas Aquinas share the same philosophical foundation: the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle ....

But let's forget Aristotle and ask ourselves instead how his teacher, Plato, would feel about the upcoming election. Or at least we can try, for as is mentioned in a post at the NYT's philosophy blog, though Plato lived in what is history's most famous democracy, he wasn't the biggest fan of democracy ;) In the NYT's post by Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting, he imagines talking to Socrates about the election and Socrates opines that we might as well just flip a coin rather than going through the whole election process ...

Gutting: You don’t see any difference between Obama and Romney?

Socrates: Oh, I do. I’m very impressed with Obama, no question. He’s intelligent, courageous, self-controlled and has a good sense of justice. Just the sort of person I had in mind for my philosopher-rulers. But none of that’s going to make a difference to the American voters. The election’s likely to be close, and in any case the outcome will turn on the October unemployment report, the price of gas, an Israeli attack on Iran, who has the most money for attack ads in the last two weeks or some other rationally irrelevant factor that you don’t yet have any hint about.

G: But surely you’d prefer to let Obama make his case to the American people rather than let blind chance decide the outcome?

S: I think letting the American people decide is no different from leaving it to chance. The vast majority of you don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates to make anything like a reliable decision. (It was the same in Athens in my day.) Take the economic issues all your commentators say will be decisive. I think Paul Krugman makes a decisive case that, for all its flaws, Obama’s approach to the economy is likely to be far more effective than anything Romney and Ryan have in mind. But there are prominent economists who reject Krugman’s argument. If Krugman’s right, you can’t trust the experts who disagree with him. So why should you trust the judgment of the non-experts whose votes will decide the election? ......

Wow, and I'd thought I was already depressed enough about the election ;)


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