What is Real?

Just a quick post on Plato’s Republic. Toward the end of the book Plato describes the life which is most satisfying as one in which an object (or a person) is satisfied by real things. For Plato, the most real things are the intelligible mental conceptions of things and therefore the most satisfying life is lived by a person that receives these intellectual pleasures. However, if one adds a spiritual dimension to the these intelligible mental conceptions and defines those eternal and spiritual things as the true reality, there is real power in the following statements:

Is it the case, then, that an object which is satisfied by more real things, and which is itself more real, is more really satisfied than an object which is satisfied by less real things, and which is itself less real?

It turns out, then, that people to whom intelligence and goodness (his equivalent to God) are unfamiliar, whose only interest is self-indulgence and so on, spend their lives moving aimlessly to and fro between the bottom and the halfway point, which is as far as they reach. But they never travel any further towards the true heights: they’ve never even looked up there, let alone gone there; they aren’t really satisfied by anything real; they don’t experience steady, pure pleasure. They’re no different from cattle: they spend their lives grazing, with their eyes turned down and heads bowed towards the ground and their tables. Food and sex are their only concerns, and their insatiable greed for more and more drives them to kick and butt one another to death with their horns and hoofs of iron, killing one another because they’re seeking satisfaction in unreal things for a part of themselves which is also unreal–a leaky vessel they’re trying to fill.

I just thought that this was really profound and explains many of the problems we have in the world with violence, vengeance, selfishness, and hatred. We are trying to get satisfaction from things that don’t satisfy. And even Plato’s ideal philosophers who receive satisfaction from pondering reality can’t feel the satisfaction that comes from embracing and acting on eternal truths.

2 Replies to “What is Real?”

  1. Yeah, audiobooks are probably not the best way to get a lot out of Plato, but it would be a good introduction…if you can stay awake.

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