Rebecca Newberger Goldstein | Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (Vintage Books)

Plato_Googleplex_75In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein offers some rather illuminating insight into why the same philosophy that was espoused by the ancient Greeks has survived these few millennia past the dark ages and the age of enlightenment, past the existentialists wearing big black shoes and speaking French for no apparent reason, and into today’s curriculum for anyone who is looking to gain an understanding of philosophy in general.

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As an eighteen-year-old college freshman, I was welcomed to my alma mater during my first week of school when each academic department held a dinner for those individuals who had declared their majors already.  When I asked why I got the feeling I was going to be the only student dining with the faculty of the philosophy department, the answer was as much expected as it was foreboding: Because no one declares a philosophy major as an incoming freshman anymore. In fact, I’d been the first in a handful of years.

Students of philosophy were regarded as dreamers by a lot of those who dared into physics or business or mathematics or psychology.  Even those in the schools of fine arts would sometimes look with mild derision at those of us who had schedules filled with the classical thinkers and the postmoderns and all the hubbub in between.  Sic transit gloria mundi, as if anyone knows what that means these days.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein has a point though.  In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, she offers some rather illuminating insight into why the same philosophy that was espoused by the ancient Greeks has survived these few millennia past the dark ages and the age of enlightenment, past the existentialists wearing big black shoes and speaking French for no apparent reason, and into today’s curriculum for anyone who is looking to gain an understanding of philosophy in general.  It’s really quite simple in the end.  Plato is known for framing the questions that philosophy still tries to answer (What is a good life? What is reality? What is knowledge? et cetera, ad nauseum), as well as the various processes of answering them and the way each argument is constructed.

But still, who cares?

Why does philosophy matter these days in our age chock full of electronic gimcrack that makes sure everyone on the planet can read what you’re doing every minute of your day?  In a world increasingly driven by the hard sciences and the computer engineers, why has philosophy not slipped away into the night as easily as Greek mythology?  Those answers, it turns out, are also fairly straightforward.  Not only does ancient philosophy address questions that are still relevant to the modern world citizen, but the science that seems to drive the society in which that citizen lives finds its inception in philosophy as well.

The book goes back and forth from nonfictional lessons in ancient Greek history, philosophy, politics, and culture, to fictional dialogues which involve Plato himself as a participant. These dialogues are the heart and soul of Goldstein’s examination of philosophy and are unabashedly Platonic themselves, as Plato’s writings consist of dialogues used to convey his ideas which were both instructional as well as works of literature in their own right.

Goldstein then reveals not only an encyclopedic knowledge of the seminal setting for Plato’s philosophical inquiries, but also a talent for the application of those very inquiries in a modern world that seems to be increasingly un-philosophical.  Her dialogues suggest that they only seem to be though, and that for the foreseeable future there is a place in the way the world works for those of us who ended up at that table during freshman week all those years ago. | Jason Neubauer 

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