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What of Ethics – What Did Plato Know?

The other day, I was at Starbucks and saw a familiar face. It was a young lady and she was taking notes while she was reading a small book. I asked what she was reading, and she said with a smile; The Bible. She also had another notebook with her, some sort of study guide, and so I asked what the topic was, knowing that The Bible is filled with many lessons and philosophical teachings. She was studying ethics, Christian Ethics. Okay so, let’s talk about all this shall we?

She seemed to indicate to me that those who did not follow the Lord, or her God or personal savior didn’t actually have any ethical foundation. It was for this reason that she thought that people who did not have any religious fiber ought to be people not to associate with. I found her reasoning problematic because those who are Christian or any other religion for that matter do not hold the sole keys to any golden ethical foundation. In fact, there is a book that I have that I think you should read, it is a classic, and is one that I have read with a highlighter. The name of the book which sits on the top shelf of my personal library is;

“Plato’s Ethics,” by Terence Irwin, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995, 436 pages ISBN: 0-19-508644-9.

In fact, the reason I recommend this book is much of it seems to have been captured and rewritten into the New Testament. The book has the dialogues of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. Along with the history of Greek ethics and the Socrates’ method, and if you want to learn about the arguments of virtue, it’s all here too. Perhaps, this book should be read by Christians studying ethics before they scour the Bible to find similar information.

There is a very interesting chapter on Protagoras and Socrates comparing the two and the argument of Gorgias which I think you’ll find quite enlightening as it talks about Callicles “moral position” and later discusses happiness and rational order, rhetoric and pleasure, and the ever present challenges of power and justice. Yes, in a way all these lessons are also in the Bible, but here they are laid out in no uncertain terms and completely explained.

How about the objections to virtue, happiness, justice, and even the objections to justice in the Republic? It’s also here. Along with platonic love, intelligence, and the labeling of what is good, along with what it probably isn’t. After you read all this you can decide, but I bet you have a better understanding of ethics than you’ll ever get from trying to understand what you’re rewritten version of the Bible is trying to tell you in the stories it has put forth. Please consider all this and think on it.

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