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KPBS Midday Edition

Why Does Philosophy Matter In The 21st Century?

Author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is pictured in this undated photo.
Author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is pictured in this undated photo.
Why Does Philosophy Matter In The 21st Century?
Why Does Philosophy Matter In The 21st Century?
Why Does Philosophy Matter In The 21st Century? GUESTRebecca Newberger Goldstein, author, Plato at the Googleplex

This is KPBS Midday Edition on Maureen Cavanaugh. At a time when new discoveries and technology seem to appear in a weekly basis, it's remarkable to realize that some of our deepest philosophical questions remained virtually unchanged since the time of ancient Greece. That's why in the new book Plato at the Googleplex, the grateful officer hardly seems out of place as he appears on a cable new show. Or debates modern parenting. The book argues that philosophy is not only still relevant, but necessary to deal with the complexities of the modern world. I'd like to welcome Rebecca Newberger Goldstein she's the author of Plato at the Googleplex. Why philosophy won't go away. And welcome Rebecca. It's very nice to be here. How do you introduce Plato into the modern world in this book? I actually - - the first place they bring him to is the Googleplex. I should say you know that I based my character of Plato on a thorough immersion in the 26 dialogues that he left for us. That's very important he wrote dialogues. He didn't write treatises, inquiries, he wrote essays. He wrote dialogues. There lived conversation. That's exactly what I wanted to do with Plato, bring him into our time into conversation with us doing honor to the way that he himself wrote but also as a way of showing that he is still a living force. In our daily conversations. In your book where do these conversations take place with Plato? As I said the first places the Googleplex. At first he's extremely excited that the whole idea of the cloud is such a Platonic idea. It's knowledge existing you know abstractly not localized. He gets into a conversation with both his media escort, and an engineer as to whether ethical questions, the sort that he was - - he and Socrates were so concerned with whether they could be sourced. Whether he can come up with a search engine and the software engineer comes up with an idea for a search engine. His ethical answers search engine. To be answered with ease. These deeply complicated difficult question. And Plato's able to knock that idea down quite easily. One of the challenges to this was actually left out passages from Plato dialogues and just weave them in. I hope seamlessly to our conversations as a way of showing that there is a continuity in these questions, but also that we have made progress. That's one of the things I really wanted to show. Plato is constantly being surprised by many of the things that we take for granted that he had never considered. No slaves? Where the slaves? Now out of the famous ancient Greek philosophers why did you choose Plato for this time travel. It's not because I think Plato got it all right. I certainly don't believe that to be true. But Plato asked all the fundamental questions. It's really pretty amazing. It's amazing that philosophy is an area that has spanned many different fields of inquiry and concern. Just about every area of human concerned there's a corresponding philosophy of art, religion, art, education, science, leg which, - - line which. Plato short of mapped out that in higher landscape. He often asked the iconic question in all these different areas, and so he raised the entire submerged continent of philosophy like Atlantis. Which is a very apt metaphor to use because our first reference to Atlantis actually comes from Plato. The subtitle of your book is why philosophy won't go away. But hasn't philosophy actually gone away for many people? There is not many areas where people are actually encourage to discuss, to argue, the great questions of life. I think people are thinking about these questions. Maybe not particularly well but it may be in a muddled way, I think to be human is to reflect on these questions to add some level be asking what is all about. What are our lives was it to live a good life. We certainly think about that a great deal. For our children. And so it's one of the dialogues is Plato at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan it was sort of the hub of intellectual debate and he is on a panel with - - of child-rearing experts. Debating the question of how to raise the exceptional child. He's with a Tiger mother, and with a more psychologically inclined thinker, and they are debating how to debate, had to raise an exceptional child and of course Plato asked the fundamental question does a child need to be exceptional? What do we really want from our children? We want them to live good lives. What does that really mean? I think on some level, we always are thinking about these questions. It's good to turn to the great thinkers. And get some guidance here. The great thinkers, the great philosophers have gotten some pushback. By scientists. Notably physicist Stephen Hawking famously said philosophy is dead because it hasn't kept up with science. There are a number of scientific thinkers who basically say, you're speculating and arguing about the nature of things, science is actually discovering the nature of things. What is your response to that. First of all the charge that philosophers have not kept up with science I would say - - scientists who say that you are being wrong philosophers. It's incumbent on philosophers to keep up. To keep up with science. I come from a scientific ground. My background was in physics. I think that charge if it were true, would be in fact a very trenchant one. There are two kinds of questions, that we humans are always interested in grappling with. One is what is the case? What kind of universe is this that we find yourself in? What are we and what is our relationship with the universe. The kind of question is what matters. Does truth matter? Does beauty matter? Does good this matter? The science matter? Does it matter to know what is? There is a way in which these questions are of what matters do we matter? I think that's a deeply emotionally resonant question. That is a deeply existential question and that we all desperately want to know the answer to. We matter? Do we matter of the universe if we don't what kind of mattering can we achieve his mattering something we are born into yours is something that we have to do something to achieve and if so what. We're all thinking about that. Is it status, as if saying, is it money, is a virtue is that happiness what is it that will make this light matter? Is a religion? Is the love of God? God loving us? There is a way in which you are all thinking about these questions of why matter. They are not scientific questions. They are philosophical ones. I don't think we can really avoid these questions. I think that we have made a lot of progress, Plato and Aristotle as great as they were, didn't have the knowledge that we have that all humans matter. On the ethical level, we all matter. To Plato and Aristotle, other Greeks matter. He did not question the institution of slavery for example. Plato has an argument against the enslavement of Greeks against other Greeks. But the thought that non-Greeks should not be enslaved that their lives matter didn't really occur to these great ethical thinkers. Whereas he slowly incrementally made this discovery. It's a philosophical one. We bring these philosophical points forward into the modern time by our underpinning of cultural acknowledged wisdom. That we bring to the questions. That's right. We'll have to start from scratch each time, and reinvent the ethical wheel. It's transmitted. The way that we do this I think is to look at our own moral inconsistencies and to try to weed them out I think that is the technique that philosophers use. Of looking at inconsistencies. It began with Socrates and the dose I have to stop you but this conversation won't stop because I want to tell my listens Rebecca Newberger Goldstein will discuss her book Plato at the Googleplex why philosophy won't go away that is tonight at 7 PM at UC San Diego's Price Ctr., East all room. I can't thank you enough, Rebecca. Thank you. Thank you so much.

At a time when discoveries and technologies seem to appear on a weekly basis, it's remarkable to realize that some of our deepest philosophical questions remain virtually unchanged since the time of ancient Greece.

That's why in the book "Plato at the Googleplex" the great philosopher hardly seems out of place, as he appears on a cable news show or debates modern parenting.

In the book, acclaimed philosopher and author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein argues that philosophy is not only still relevant, but necessary to deal with the complexities of the modern world. She said people often ask themselves questions such as "what does it mean to live a good life."

"I think people are thinking about these questions," Goldstein told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. "Maybe not particularly well. But to be human is to reflect on these questions."

Goldstein chose to focus on Plato in her book because he initially raised all the fundamental questions about life.

"Philosophy is an area that expands many areas of inquiry," she said. "Plato sort of mapped out that entire landscape. He often asked the iconic question in all these areas."

Goldstein was a featured speaker at UC San Diego Extension's Helen Edison Lecture Series.

She also joined Roger Bingham, founder of The Science Network, for a conversation titled, "What Would Plato Think about Today’s Philosophical Debates?" in January, 2015.