I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s republic. I am wrong however in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading thro’ the whimsies, the puerilities, & unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world indeed should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it? and particularly how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato? Altho’ Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world, & honest. He could not be the dupe of mere style, of which he was himself the first master in the world.
With the moderns, I think, it is rather a matter of fashion and authority. Education is chiefly in the hands of persons who, from their profession, have an interest in the reputation and the dreams of Plato. They give the tone while at school, and few, in their after-years, have occasion to revise their college opinions. But fashion and authority apart, and bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him his sophisms, futilities, & incomprehensibilities, and what remains? In truth he is one of the race of genuine Sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly by the adoption & incorporation of his whimsies into the body of artificial Christianity.
His foggy mind, is for ever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen thro’ a mist, can be defined neither in form or dimension. Yet this which should have consigned him to early oblivion really procured him immortality of fame & reverence. The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from it’s indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power & pre-eminence.
The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained. Their purposes however are answered. Plato is canonised: and it is now deemed as impious to question his merits as those of an Apostle of Jesus. He is peculiarly appealed to as an advocate of the immortality of the soul; and yet I will venture to say that were there no better arguments than his in proof of it, not a man in the world would believe it.
It is fortunate for us that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like the beasts of the field or forest. Yet ‘Plato is a great Philosopher,’ said La Fontaine. But says Fontenelle ‘do you find his ideas very clear’?—‘oh no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable.’—‘do you not find him full of contradictions?’—‘certainly, replied La Fontaine, he is but a Sophist.’ Yet immediately after, he exclaims again, ‘oh Plato was a great philosopher.’—Socrates had reason indeed to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for in truth his dialogues are libels on Socrates.—but why am I dosing you with these Ante-diluvian topics? Because I am glad to have some one to whom they are familiar, and who will not recieve them as if dropped from the moon…
~Thos. Jefferson July 5, 1814
“Some years ago, as Your Serene Highness well knows, I discovered in the heavens many things that had not been seen before in our own age. The novelty of these things, as well as some consequences which followed from them in contradiction to the physical notions commonly held among academic philosophers, stirred up against me no small number of professors — as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands in order to upset nature and overturn the sciences. They seemed to forget that the increase of known truths stimulates the investigation, establishment, and growth of the arts; not their diminution or destruction.
Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. To this end they hurled various charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments, and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes.
These men would perhaps not have fallen into such error had they but paid attention to a most useful doctrine of St Augustine’s, relative to our making positive statements about things which are obscure and hard to understand by means of reason alone. Speaking of a certain physical conclusions about heavenly bodies, he wrote: “Now keeping always our respect for moderation in grave piety, we ought not to believe anything inadvisedly on a dubious point, lest in favor to our error we conceive a prejudice against something that truth hereafter may reveal to be not contrary in any way to the sacred books of either the Old or the New Testaments.”…
Persisting in their original resolve to destroy me and everything mine by any means they can think of, these men are aware of my views in astronomy and philosophy. They know that as to the arrangement of the pars of the universe, I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs while the earth rotates on its axis and revolves about the sun. They know also that I support this position not only by refuting the arguments of Ptolemy and Aristotle, but by producing many counter-arguments; in particular, some which relate to physical effects whose causes can perhaps be assigned in no other way. In additgion there are astronomical arguments derived from many things in my new celestial discoveries that plainly confute the Ptolemaic system while admirably agreeing with and confirming the contrary hypothesis. Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved themselves to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply, with little judgment, to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.”
“I define responsibility (response-ability) as the ability to choose how we respond to stimulation coming in through our sensory systems at any moment in time.
Although there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.
My anger response, for example, is a programmed response that can be set off automatically. Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over.
If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run. Moment by moment, I make the choice to either hook into my neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that reaction to melt away as fleeting physiology.”~Jill Bolte Taylor
“He who knows only his own generation remains always a child.”
“From time immemorial white elephants have been known in the East and are still believed to be an incarnation of the lord Buddha. In spite of this, the kings of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia used to present white elephants to people who had incurred the king’s displeasure as a mark of punishment. Their owners were obliged to maintain them without giving them any work to do and the drain on family resources often led to starvation and death; that is why a ‘white elephant’ came to mean economic ruin.”
James Madison: Protecting the Rights and Possessions of the Minority from the Passions of the Majority
“[I]n all cases where the majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger.”
Comment: Today we consider the words of James Madison on the subject of minority and majority rights. James Madison is known as “the Father of the Constitution,” because his Virginia Plan provided the basic framework and guiding principles of the Constitution. He was also, as an elected Representative in the House, sponsor of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
Madison’s words serve as a guiding light in times of doubt and uncertainty about the role of government in our Republic. Today, it would seem that those who believe government should be used to provide all manner of services and “standards of living” for its citizens are on the side of the angels. They are “are united by a common interest or passion” to expropriate more of the earnings of its citizens in order to institute social programs for all. However, as the majority gains the unimpeded ability to confiscate the income of some of the citizens, who are defined as “wealthy,” in order to pay for these services, a very basic principle is violated. The government ceases to protect the rights and possessions of a certain group of people, who are called “rich,” and begins to use its force to seize more and more of what they have. This is a problem, because as soon as this is done to the “rich,” the argument is effectively made – and won – that government may seize half (or more) of the possessions of all citizens.
One potential solution to the problem of allowing an unrestricted majority to pluck the rights and possessions of a minority is to move toward instituting a flat tax. This would bring simplification of the tax code and the protection of upper income couples, while introducing neutrality into the tax system towards the earnings and rights of both the minority and the majority.