(Don’t forget, she’s a speaker at Women in Secularism 3, a mere two months from now.)
The man who gave us philosophy as we know it is back, walking among us, going to TV talk shows, visiting Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., having his brain examined by a naïve reductionist neuroscientist, engaging with our current struggles.
For this we must thank Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s inventiveness and intellectual courage. Her book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, has just been published to rave reviews by people such as philosopher Colin McGinn. Goldstein’s goal is clear: to show to the “philosophy-jeerers” — those who claim philosophy has no value whatsoever — how absurdly wrong (and mostly ignorant) they are.
To show, that is, not to tell.
Philosophy has changed much since Plato, as it should. After all, its purview is precisely to examine and re-examine itself as a precondition to growth. No advance would be possible without this openness to criticism. (Incidentally, and not surprisingly, this is also how science functions. Plasticity is an essential property of any evolving knowledge system.) Goldstein’s brilliantly constructed narrative, combining Plato’s original texts with current-day events, shows how timely the central questions of philosophy remain, as the answers multiply.
Answers are never final, or, if they seem to be, they shouldn’t be interpreted as such. Yet, while in science it is easy to identify progress, in philosophy the task is harder. As Goldstein reflects upon Plato’s legacy, she offers a portrait of the shifting nature of our philosophical inquiries and our search for meaning:
Philosophical progress is invisible because it is incorporated into our points of view. What was tortuously secured by complex argument becomes widely shared by intuition, so obvious that we forget its provenance. We don’t see it, because we see with it.
Philosophy provides the goggles with which we make sense of reality.
And you want to know something about those goggles.