Big brain, big mistakesby Julian Baggini / September 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
In the early days of the Philosophers’ Magazine, we quickly realised that the easiest and surest way to get attention for our little publication was to run polls. The first of these revealed another truth: when it comes to reputation, people prefer tearing down to building up. In coverage of the results, hardly anyone in the press reported that the philosopher deemed to have made the greatest contribution to the subject was Aristotle. Instead they gleefully dwelt on the list of the most overrated philosophers, topped by Derrida, followed by Marx.
I felt a little guilty about this use of click-bait avant la lettre. Nonetheless, calling out those whose influence on western thought has been too strong remains an important task. I’m not being ironic when I say that one such philosopher stands head and shoulders above the rest. He came second to Aristotle in our poll and his book The Republic topped a later vote on the greatest ever work of philosophy. He is, of course, Plato.
You could never call Plato overrated. He was clearly a genius of sorts. He set the terms of philosophical debates that have run for millennia and many of his own positions have lasted as long, albeit with revisions. But on virtually every point that mattered he was disastrously wrong, and his errors entrenched fundamental mistakes that would hamper philosophy and intellectual culture forever more.
Plato’s argument that the soul could survive the death of the body established a dualistic model of mind and matter…