Re: origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Aug 06 2001 - 09:01:27 MDT

On Mon, Aug 06, 2001 at 10:15:14AM -0400, Mark Walker wrote:
> 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.

Well, according to his own philosophy he should have been able to remember
reading it if it was true :-) Seriously, I agree that we are in the same
big stream of philosophy that proclaims human perfectability (or at least
improvability), but that in the end we have to part ways with Platon since
his philosophy doesn't seem compatible with the full individualism of

> >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.

OK, I'm not that well read on Platon as I ought to be. The interesting
question is whether "everything that rises must converge" towards some
ideal eudaemonic flourishing which is essentially the same, or whether the
rising instead leads to divergence in kinds of virtues, which may still be
unified and harmonious within the individual but different from individual
to individual. I would think the later view is more in the Aristotelian and
transhumanist direction.

> > 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
> objectively.)


Overall, my impression is that Plato was no fan of having a dynamic,
changing society, and the profound and accelerating changes we discuss are
very much the antithesis of this. Someone who suggested outlawing new music
in the ideal society is not likely to like the idea of people getting new

> >- 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.

True. This is of course an area where modern transhumanism has to do some
serious work too. We need a better definition of human and what is worth
improving in the human.

> 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?)

My impression of Plato's view.

> 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

Somehow I can't see change being part of perfection in the original
Platonic system, it was very much based on the idea of eternal unchanging
forms being the important stuff. Maybe it got changed in Platonism 2.0 or
95, but it still seems a bit incompatible with the rest.

This is where I think things would have been very different if Platon had
read Darwin, thermodynamics, modern cosmology and Kevin Kelly. We live in a
rather different universe these days - it is inherently dynamic and
changing, and not obviously for the worse. Rather for the more complex.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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