The Philosophy of Platonic Mythology
Culp, Nicholas J.
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By considering the broad foundational importance of mythology within classical Greek society, clarity is shed upon the Platonic texts, suggesting the importance of convention within any society. In looking at the relationships that exist between the characters within the dialogues, we the readers are capable observing the ways in which Socrates interacted with his interlocutors, the way that Plato intended for us to. The dialogue format does not read like an abstract, theoretical treatise, but rather, as a real world occurrence whose narrative reflects the imperfect reality of political things. We recognize Socrates as the true philosopher, who not only uses philosophy as a means to reach truth, but who also understands the imperfections and limitations of the world around him, including his peers, who are, to varying degrees, restrained by and reliant upon the conventions of their society. This does not simply make Plato a pragmatist, but moreover, one attuned to the condition of humanity and truly committed to the philosophical pursuit of truth (even on the more gradual, indirect path that his students may require). While at first Plato's candid language regarding the propagandistic use of myth within society strikes an understandably off tone with most contemporary readers-leading to accusations of tyranny and distopia-it merely reflects the reality of political institutions "that all human communities so far have developed," whether democratic, monarchical, fascistic, or otherwise (Wild 1953,53). Convention is an organic element of every society; one may accept a particular form of convention as more legitimate or true than another, but all forms save humanity from a nihilistic existence. While it is the duty of the philosopher to challenge the status quo and test convention, Plato recognizes the mythological as an imperfect replication of truth, and therefore, a safer alternative to the nihilism that irresponsible or unbridled philosophy may unleash. Plato is a physician of the soul, and while striving for the ideal, must account for burden of the realities that the philosopher must face.