Book Review: 'Plato at the Googleplex' by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Socrates was charged with the capital crimes of impiety and corrupting the young, which basically meant that he questioned the establishment view of the good life, thereby undermining proud Athenian exceptionalism. When asked what punishment he deemed appropriate for his "crimes," he suggested free meals at the Prytaneum, a kind of city hall, in appreciation of his lifelong contributions to the city (he was 70 years old...). This piece of impudence seems to have sealed his fate. Not only was he found guilty of a capital crime; he remained unrepentant about his crime! All he was doing, of course,was being a true philosopher to the end..The authorities just didn't care for his unorthodox teaching methods, even though he brought more wisdom into the world than anyone else had ever done before. He was thus condemned to death for the crime of excessive truthfulness, by a city that prided itself on its enlightened democratic virtue...
..The pompous Euthyphro confidently tells Socrates that the holy is to be defined as "what the gods love." Socrates points out that this gets things backward: The gods love the holy because it is already holy, not because they regard it so. In other words, things are not good because a supposed God approves of them; rather, God approves of what is good in itself, quite independently of his will. This Socratic argument undermines the entire idea that theology can provide a basis for morality and opens up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue. As Ms. Goldstein remarks, this was a seminal moment in the history of moral philosophy and indeed in the development of human civilization..
Rebecca Goldstein has written a timely book about our own age by taking us back to an earlier age—that of the ancient Greeks. She wants to know what the works of Plato can teach us about the life worth living, about politics, child rearing, love and sex, about knowledge and reality, brain and mind, truth, goodness, and beauty. Ms. Goldstein's book is felicitously written, impressively researched, insightful, important, entertaining and glowing with intelligence. Plato is brought marvelously to life, and, as a welcome corollary, philosophy is vindicated against what Ms. Goldstein aptly labels the "philosophy-jeerers"—those who rashly claim that philosophy has no intellectual substance or future in this scientific era.