Many atheists have a view that religions first sprung from collections of popular beliefs which were codified and institutionalized by the changing opinions of the (primitive, native) masses affected in part by their relationship to nature. Some believe that the causes of religions are rooted in our psychology. “Religious” feelings and experiences are sometimes accounted for by modern atheists in the false mental-health quasi-scientific language of the therapeutic state. Mental projections of a life without death are said to be childlike. A desire for an absolute moral standard for human behavior is even called psychotic. The need for hidden wishful-thinking provides solace from our personal demise: the idea of supernaturalism, and especially an after-life is called a necessary comfort. Many mystical “experiences” are explained in the most scientific and critical terms; however, why we would go into the desert (and walk along the edge of insanity for so many days and nights) to attain the “vision” from or to “speak” with the gods is never adequately explained. Although many of these charges are near the mark, leftist atheists like Harris, Onfray, Dawkins and their allies say that adult religious belief is this kind of self-inflicted delusion and that human beings are automatons formed from memes and circumstance–that our freedom is an illusion. They don’t just imply this, they explicitly state it; part of their doctrine is that humans have no “real” control over themselves. Our choices are the end of a causal chain and stretch back in time to the big bang. No agent is free and has no conceivable responsibility for any action. They are scientists and hold that metaphysical speculation on free will is tantamount to theology.
I want to remark on this elitist attitude among scientists, mathematicians, linguists and analysts; in fact, I want to argue like Santayana, that religion and religious belief is directly related to reason. First reason produced it, then reason (on evidentiary grounds), rejected it, that it isn’t produced by popular belief, psychological need for certainty and markedly is not a delusion in the same light, for instance, as the omnipresence belief in Platonism among the educated class of The New Ancien Régime. By this we mean also Neoplatonism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hegelianism, Marxism, Existentialism, Phenomenologism, Linguisticism, Analysism, Positivism and many other manifestations of Platonic doctrines [especially Bentham and Mills' *Utilitarianism] the belief that induction, sensual comprehension, democracy, individual liberty, self esteem, are second-rate and that left to our own devices human beings will go wrong. Platonism is the covert philosophic and psychologic default position of Western Civilization. This dogmatic unquestioned temperament among the established intelligentsia is startling in its singularity. They are of course as divided as a Marxist is from a Christian or as a Christian is from a Muslim; however, here, to the extent they are religionists, socialists or elitists, they are Platonists. They are at any rate, rife inside with similarities in political, religious and ethical beliefs.
"Reason . . . is an open-ended combinatorial system, an engine for generating an unlimited number of new ideas. Once it is programmed with a basic self-interest and an ability to communicate with others, its own logic will impel it, in the fullness of time, to respect the interests of ever-increasing numbers of others. It is reason too that can always take note of the shortcomings of previous exercises of reasoning, and update and improve itself in response. And if you detect a flaw in this argument, it is reason that allows you to point it out and defend an alternative." Better Angels
What makes homo-sapiens human beings is idea, specifically our advanced and progressive ability to picture another world, especially, an afterworld. Idea is our central characteristic as explained in my many articles on the subject.
Big brains allowed us to invent alternative possible outcomes as a means to deception in the social reality; that is, along with the other motivations acting in tandem, such as language and concept development. As social (tribal) creatures, we competed with other members of the tribe for supremacy. With a big brain social deception became our reality. We are the great deceivers; but, our Machiavellian beginnings don’t negate the power of idea on the mind of humankind and the ultimate outcome of our collective adventure. Our animate nature and the design of our mind may have been helped as well by sexual selection. In tribe or collective, the individual gains access to mates by reason, humor, inventiveness, artiness and other activities which appeal to people. Singers and actors haven’t done well only recently in getting the mates they favor, but also from time immemorial.
For over 2500 years – much of it from purposefully driven design – Platonism has progressed insidiously to become the backdrop to all matters of metaphysical importance, especially ethics. This has been noticed by many thinkers, but the worldwide intellectual response has been a bored shrug: “Western Philosophy,” after all, to quote A N Whitehead from Process and Reality “Consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” (Whitehead was the son of a vicar who became a mathematician who became a philosopher who became a supernaturalist. When he was young, he co-authored the momentous Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell and was a landmark in modern academic philosophy.) The Platonists bet that any rational antiplatonic sentiment would be ignored as absurd, uncaring and even immoral. They exaggerate the certainty of mathematics, the importance of linguistics, the ignorance of humankind and our dependence on the specialized knower. They are everywhere, and unfortunately for humankind, have produced the context for all the important moral issues of the last two thousands years.
How Could There be a Default Setting to Western Civilization?
To quote Whitehead further, “So far as concerns philosophy only a selected group can be explicitly mentioned. There is no point in endeavoring to force the interpretations of divergent philosophers into a vague agreement. What is important is that the scheme of interpretation here adopted can claim for each of its main positions the express authority of one, or the other, of some supreme master of thought - Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant. But ultimately nothing rests on authority; the final court of appeal is intrinsic reasonableness. The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them. His personal endowments, his wide opportunities for experience at a great period of civilization, his inheritance of an intellectual tradition not yet stiffened by excessive systematization, have made his writing an inexhaustible mine of suggestion.”
But what if?
What if instead of Plato being the default philosophy of the West, (in as much as I am correct in this regard), it had been Democritus, a philosopher Plato hated so much he wanted to burn his books? He was infinitely superior to Plato on so many counts: he was a superb and venerated thinker, a giant among the ancients, the leading thinker of his time but we know too little about him. Just our luck (or not) that his writing was lost and Plato’s saved. A mere accident of coincidence you think? Philosophy is not just an objective referee. Ideas have consequences and those of Platonism have been devastating for human kind. Academic philosophy did not have a free democratic debate about his fascist ideas. From the beginning, under the auspices of theology, especially after the Jesus Christ myth bloomed, it bore deep roots and it took sides in a civil war of ideas. The revolutionary results are what academic philosophy looks like today: the internal rot is everywhere. “The ruler,” Plato stated in the Republic, “must wipe the slate clean: the philosopher king must perforce expel from society all over age ten so that he may begin with fresh young minds.” That’s how ferocious philosophy can be and how vicious Plato was.
Democritus and Plato had two diametrically opposed ways of understanding: one produced philosophical materialism, and the other, philosophical idealism; that is, the dirty sensualist up against the benevolent Catholic otherworlder; the atheist up against the elitist-mystic; the realist opposed to the subjectivist; the atomist versus the creator of the obnoxious ‘Theory of the Forms’; and the rational mind up against the wishful thinker. After Plato, philosophy took a wild turn for the worse. He conveyed it from a search for truth based on facts to mystical speculation and it has never recovered. [I understand that in many quarters, Plato is called a realist. He believed in the world outside of mind. This doesn't change the fact that like Marx, Jesus and Muhammad, his focus was that the "real" reality was hidden from humankind and available only to the initiated.]
We know now that Democritus came closer to the truth than anyone else from Roman Greco times. He (with his mentor Leucippus) developed an excellent mechanistic view of nature in which every material phenomenon is seen a product of atomic structure. Democritus is sometimes called ‘The Laughing Philosopher’. He taught that the true end of life is happiness to be accomplished through self regulation. He held that the earth was round. The universe is comprised of nothing but tiny invisible parts – atoms – churning in chaos, until they collided or attracted together to form larger units, including the earth and everything on it. Many worlds exist, some growing, some decaying, some with no sun or moon, some with several suns–every world has a beginning and an end, some can even be destroyed by collision with another world. Reports suggest that Democritus was committed to a kind of rational hedonism in which the good was held to be an internal state rather than something external or that the good was cheerfulness and the lack of fear; of moderation and mindfulness in one’s pursuit of the pleasures in life; that it was necessary to free oneself from dependence on fate or fortune by moderating desires. The human ability to act on nature by means of teaching and art (i.e., by creating ideas) suggests that he preached that managing our morals was like taking care for our physical health.
Plato Has Been Elevated While Democritus Has Been Disregarded
The rulers of society have very good reason for wanting us to revere Plato and to be ignorant of Democritus. Plato through Christianity, Marxism, socialism and other belief systems, would lead us eventually into where today we stand: we live throughout the world in a reactionist statism with modern handmaiden governments. With Platonism, freedom is always diminished and personal liberty abhorred. Never mind John Lennon’s Platonic lament, “Imagine no possessions.” Envision no Plato; no platonic love, no ‘Republic’, no ‘Theory of Forms, no possibility of innate knowledge usurping hard-won created ideas, no Neo-Platonistic mysticism and no viral infection of what might have been a simple harmless sun religion (turned instead) into an imperialistic world-conquering force. Picture no Platonic altruism put to the governed from the philosopher-rulers, no elitist autocrats such as the Marxists produced and no dumb-downs tolerated from inside the cave, (see, Imagine No Faith); but instead, see them replaced with reason, science, democracy, sensual perception, discovering ideas from reality as apposed to uncovering them from inside the mind. There would evolve realism over idealism. And from the time of Plato's era, the growth of civilization instead of the actual 1000 year devolution of the Dark Ages. This might have developed into sympathetic pro-libertarian ideological disposition, and therefore, sacrificing the individual to the herd would be as morally repugnant as it should be. Rather, a romantic view of humankind might have come about: a belief that we can escape our ignorance (and get out of the cave) by using our mind, that we can reason and manage our lives without gods, religions, philosopher-kings or governments. Maybe this is too much to ask of ourselves but we should at least try.
Leucippus was the earliest philosopher to develop “The Theory of Atomism”. His pupil, Democritus was the hypothesis’ best proponent. “Excelsior,” we might say, and maybe Leucippus in fact did not even exist. The evidence is scant. As Democritus well knew, there was likely no god or gods. But much of what the atomic philosophers stood for, despite how much they produced on papyrus, is unknown. So, it’s uncertain, and I’ll tell you why. Atomic philosophers were for this life: pleasure/pain as the standard of goodness, sensualism versus mysticism, science versus supernatural-speculation, moderation in all things, toleration of each and everyone’s views, and in general, living a life of reason. Here’s the point—it’s exceedingly important—Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, Lucretius and other’s plentiful works were all lost. However, the Platonists, (Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Boethius and the many others), their works were kept (mostly) intact. The Christians destroyed the Atomic philosophers’ works through neglect or on purpose. There’s no smoking pistol. No absolute proof. Just the results of this bleak history since the Christians took over in the Dark Ages. All the antiplatonists works were lost. Period. You decide for yourself, and you folks who think human sacrifice is worth the gain; you who wish for egalitarianism and vampires of human nature, you choose as well. The Platonists certainly weren’t democrats. Wherein, it is often their accusation that freedom carries with it the seed of its own destruction either through misery, poverty and revolution or conversely through greed, success and apathy. Oh that they were completely wrong on all points, but still, the sensual atomic life is not the world of the perfect; it’s good and evil living side by side.
When homo sapiens ascended into the stratospheres of the human brain, it was the advance of idea, the becoming of the human mind as, essentially, a frontal-lobe projector, imagining different futures, and especially an afterlife. It was created in Africa with a group of archaic homo sapiens on the edge of life 30 to 40,000 years ago when we became self-aware. Perhaps in a time of necessity – a crisis of life or death in a hot desert climate – a group of humanoids survived by planning for the future. From this small group of planners and managers, evolved the human beings that we are today. The advancement of our imagination grew in tandem with reason. Primitive speech led reason to explain the general situation with its limited resources. It projected the story of the gods (verbally at first) to account for answers for the mysterious matters it didn’t understand. While this animated thoughtful activity was not irrational, today with hindsight, it looks ridiculous; however, it was not. It was purposeful and deliberative and pointed to some explanation as opposed to absolute ignorance. It developed reason, offered order to the crazy world through the stories of its anthropothiestic deities. Through these remote thousands of years, human reason lead to farming, animal domestication, collecting and storing seeds, counting possessions, and eventually, to forming primitive civilizations, all autocratic and inefficient (and brought about with violence), but nonetheless, offering order. The written word caused another revolution in our being as an accumulative factor in single generations. The dissident rational individual came into being, a phenomena that would lead to progress about what arrangement in civil order would better suit human beings. The claim was made that we were special in every sense. Nearly all regular people felt that their humanity was attached to value and that value was fact. No autocracy followed the advice of its dissidents, but the Ionian philosophers came into being and gave a viable alternative to autocratic order, and for the most part, held an intellectual regimen that value was indeed fact and facts certainly had value. We see this phenomena in many civilizations throughout the world, but in Greece, there was, by purpose or accident, a revolution of individualism and primitive democracy (for some of its inhabitants).
Why Plato is one of the most important evil geniuses of history is because he betrayed this promising development and his malevolent philosophy was absorbed by an ambitious sun religion which, via Platonism and Neo-Platonism, filtered through Saul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle) and Saint Augustine went viral and attacked sensualism, democracy, freedom, personal liberty, materialism, and especially, reason. Uninterrupted through the centuries, it became aggressive, intolerant, blood-thirsty and saturated everything in the Western world' -- "The Dark Ages ensued, an era of widespread barbarity during which almost all the best values, technologies, knowledge, and achievements of the Greco-Roman era were forgotten or abandoned and had to be relearned and reinvented all over again many centuries later. In this period Christianity neither corrected what had gone wrong nor reintroduced any striving for the dreams and aspirations of earlier Greek and Roman idealists, but to the contrary, Christianity embraced a partial and sometimes full retreat from them. Christianity did not decisively kill science or the last glimmer of hope for democracy. But it made no effort to rescue and revive their ideals, either, and instead let them drown, with little sign of regret, and in some cases even to praises of their demise" (Richard Carrier) -- until they ran straight into Christianity's bastard son, Marxism. Here in 2020 we argue with Platonism, a covert hateful philosophy of human sacrifice which is always present at the execution of individual human liberty and laughs at any attempt of a human being to stand by their own reckoning.
How can we recognize and rid ourselves of the pernicious vestiges of Platonism if we are so inclined? There are six philosophers of reason who can help, (see Six Reasonable Men): they are, Blanshard, Hayek, Mises, Popper, Santayana, and Szasz. As well as being the world’s most important modern philosophers, they are all moderate in their views, atheists, democrats, and have for the most part, cast off the puerile and insulting shackles of **Platonism.
There's a site out there, "Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong," and they take exception to the science behind The Swerve. I posted the following response: 'Here's a quote from The Swerve, S Greenblatt: "At the end of the fifth century CE an ambitious literary editor known as Stobaeus compiled an anthology of prose and poetry by the ancient world’s best authors: out of 1,430 quotations, 1,115 are from works that are now lost. In this general vanishing, all the works of the brilliant founders of atomism,Leucippus and Democritus, and most of the works of their intellectual heir Epicurus, disappeared. Epicurus had been extraordinarily prolific. He and his principal philosophical opponent, the Stoic Chrysippus, wrote between them, it was said, more than a thousand books. Even if this figure is exaggerated or if it counts as books what we would regard as essays and letters, the written record was clearly massive. That record no longer exists. Apart from three letters quoted by an ancient historian of philosophy, Diogenes Laertius, along with a list of forty maxims, almost nothing by Epicurus has survived."
I'm an unbeliever, and I think that anyone who thinks this was an accident of circumstance is a capital 'B' believer. Moreover, anyone who thinks the Middle Ages weren't the Dark Ages but rather a reset where we gathered our moral fortitude, carefully hid all the books from the idiot-wind invaders and courageously kept in tact the intellectual heritage of Greek Atomists and Roman Epicureans and Stoics are to put it bluntly, also 'Believers'. Articles like the one above [Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong] always try to get to a point on a technicality, but the authors never let you know where they stand. It's like a closet Marxist criticizing the free market but pretending he's objective (and seldom ever publicly admitting his bias). I wonder where the author stands on this matter? His criticism of The Swerve seems a bit too emotional. As someone who thinks Christianity had much to do with the fall of the Roman Empire and the incremental descent into darkness, I have taken the time to read many historians who vehemently dispute this very conclusion. I don't think for a minute this matter is anywhere settled and perhaps never will be.' Be sure you read this delicious book filled with so much verifiable data and controversial, yet defensible, conclusions.
To quote S J Gould from The Mismeasure of Man: "The spirit of Plato dies hard. We have been unable to escape the philosophical tradition that what we can see and measure in the world is merely the superficial and imperfect representation of an underlying reality. Much of the fascination of statistics lies embedded in our gut feeling—and never trust a gut feeling—that abstract measures summarizing large tables of data must express something more real and fundamental than the data themselves. (Much professional training in statistics involves a conscious effort to counteract this gut feeling.) The technique of correlation has been particularly subject to such misuse because it seems to provide a path for inferences about causality (and indeed it does, sometimes—but only sometimes)".
© 2020 - E. A. St. Amant