Re: origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 08:15:14 MDT

Anders Sandberg wrote:

> Actually, I would say far more separates us from Plato.
I agree with some of the specifics you list below. But as insiders to this
tradition we are likely to notice various "nuances". Many of the differences
between us and Plato and can be traced to his little ontological mistake:
namely that our ancestry traces back not to the divine but to slime. But I
suppose we can forgive Plato for not having read Darwin.

>W are not claiming
> the telos just for humanity's best (although I guess we all from time to
> time see ourselves as the select philosophers of the future; just a bit of
> self-serving pride) but for all of humanity. As Carl Feynman put it:
> Godlike powers can be mass-produced and inexpensive.
Agreed. In some ways, Plato was not exactly egalitarian. He held that only
philosophers are born with a gold soul, others have silver or bronze souls.
Of course we must remember that Plato allowed that one might upgrade (or
downgrade) one's soul on the next incarnation depending on one's progress
this time around. So the difference may not be as great as it first seems.
Furthermore, from an outsider's perspective it looks like a small matter
whether some or all are to become Godlike. It is hubristic either way.
(Furthermore, it is, at least for some, an open question whether all of
humanity will choose to become Godlike. Some may opt out).

>Also, this telos is
> not seen as some single Platonic ideal, but rather ethically at least
> (after all, we have plenty of convergentists here who think future
> development will converge on some state or another) we can select many
> different possible directions. The telos is towards greater self
> actualisation, but that might be something more akin to the plurality of
> Aristotelian virtues rather than a single ideal.
Aristotle held that there was a plurality of virtues, but so did Plato. (See
Julia Annas, _Platonic Ethics Old and New). Of course this plurality is
supposed to be unified, hence the doctrine of human flourishing,
(eudaemonism). Both held that the best account of human flourishing is to
become as godlike as possible.

> I think Plato would be horrified by the idea of transhumanism
I am not sure myself what Plato would have thought. His writings are
exploratory and tentative, not doctrinaire. But even if he was horried so
what? Some philosophers get very upset with the idea that their views might
need changing or updating. (We can all think of at least one, if we think

>- we are
> seeking to become something different from human, and we gladly accept
> change.
With respect to Plato, it depends what you mean by 'human'. Plato held that
some of us have a divine element in us. With the help of philosophy we can
cultivate that element and sublimate the less rational parts of our soul. So
Plato sees this sort of change as good: overcome the "human all too human"
part of your soul and emphasize the divine element of your soul.

In Plato's view (which in this respect seem amusingly similar to
> Jeremy Rifkin's in _Entropy_) change is a bad thing, due to our remoteness
> from the Ideal. The only acceptable change is towards an ideal state, and
> then it would stop.
I am not sure what you mean by the last two sentences. (Is this your view or
Plato's in the last sentence?) Plato's view is that change towards the ideal
is good. The project on earth here is to order our world to make it more
godlike. The political part of this project, of course, is described in The
Republic (and elsewhere). Plato sees change as terminating once we have
reached perfection. Indeed, it would be wrong to change once perfection is
reached. Of course if change for its own sake is part of perfection then
Plato is wrong. Mark

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