Lesson Eight, Part One, How to Read Ancient Philosophy. Remember that Descartes quote from the first video last lesson? The ivy which never strives to rise above the tree that sustains it. And which frequently even returns downward when it has reached the top. The tree is some ancient author. Descartes mentions Aristotle. We should substitute Plato because he's our guy. The ivy is all those who interpret this ancient figure. That would be me, Polo. The concern is that nosing around too much in ancient writings can prevent you from learning. How so? You get over-invested in finding all the answers in your long dead author even if, as Descartes says, the most plausible view is that the dead guy didn't have a damn thing to say about, at least, some things. And about other things, he was just totally wrong. If you keep finding him to be right and brilliant about everything, he said it all and he said it first, what are the odds that you aren't hallucinating? At least some of that. Trying to find a way in which your ancient author makes sense is often called interpretive charity. Often, ancient writings are obscure. And often the reason why you don't get it is you're having trouble casting your mind back across the centuries or millennia. And being charitable can help you get across that gap. Then again, there's a way in which charity flips over into motivated reasoning, and confabulation. Jonathan Hyde has taught me a lot about this. Here, we see a picture of a Holbo's brain on Coursera or Holbo's brain on Plato. There's so much Plato in my course, that if he doesn't look good, I don't look good. There's thousands of people watching me. It kind of freaks me out sometime. I want to look good. All the same, Plato's probably an idiot about some things. And worse, maybe he is, as some readers think, fundamentally, morally offensive in certain ways. Maybe he was the forefather of modern, totalitarianism. I have an obvious PR motive, to massage such findings away. Do I confess the worst even if some of it rubs off on me by association, or do I use my cleverness to sweep it under the rug? Of course, being a genius who said it everything, who said everything first, Plato said it first. Here, we see John Holbo, attempting to interpret Plato. There's a lot of good stuff in Plato. But some of it is, kind of stubbornly dumb, frankly. How are you going to drive smoothly, that being the way of it? The humanity of it. Here's how I'm going to steer. I will argue, have been arguing. But Jonathan Haidt is a lot more like Plato than Haidt thinks. Haidt is an intutionist. He doesn't see that this is perfectly consistent with him being a rationalist in his own sense. Hence, he misses that he is a rationalist in his own sense. But the point won't be to knock Haidt down from his elephant and put Plato on its back again. Plato! Plato! Plato! The point, is to improve Haidt's theory. I say he doesn't notice how much like Plato he is. In a way, that's irrelevant. Who cares whether he's similar to some dead guy, 2000 years ago. What matters is whether he's right, what's right. But pointing out that he doesn't see how much he looks like Plato is just my way of bringing out what Haidt is really like and what's really good about that position. In general, I'm trying to sell Plato as helpful for understanding contemporary stuff. Having studied Plato enables us to understand Haidt better than he understands himself, I hope. Bold claim but, in a sense, not. As Haidt argues, but Plato argued it first, people have trouble seeing what's true about themselves, but they can see other people. Dialogue is healthy. I think there's a lot of good in Haidt. Otherwise, I wouldn't be bothering to do him the honor of letting him follow Plato in the parade of my eight-week course. Also, there's a lot of bad in Plato. At the same time that I'm saying Haidt is a rationalist, although he himself doesn't know it, I also want to emphasize that, in a lot of ways, he's a better rationalist than Plato. He's right about rationalist stuff that Plato was frankly wrong about, or I'm going to say so. Here's my final word of advice for those of you who may go on to interpret ancient philosophers. Interpretive charity is a wonderful thing, but don't make stone soup, kids. That is, don't add a bunch of stuff and say it was already in there just to boost the reputation of your dead famous author. Everyone who studies a dead famous philosopher should be willing to say loud and proud, here is what is wrong with what he says, even what's kind of stupid and awful about him. Because honestly, what are the odds there isn't something wrong or awful about what some ancient dead guy said, even if he was a super smart ancient dead guy, when he was alive? If you aren't finding anything awful, what are the odds that you aren't just fooling yourself? The beam in Plato's eye could become the beam in my own, unless I'm careful to avoid it. Where is Joshua Greene in all this? We haven't gotten to him yet. Short version, once we have eliminated Haidt's confusions about rationalism, he just turns into Joshua Greene, kind of. But we can't let Greene just win. I'm going to sort of ding him about some things before we're done because this is philosophy. One more point about the lesson before I'm done with this first video. Who's my ideal reader listener? I said this last time but I'm kind of going to remind you. Who's going to get the most out of this stuff, the way I'm presenting it in these videos? On the one hand, it would be nice if, as Haidt and Greene scholars, you were all like the Pegasus on the left, very disciplined. You did all the reading first, and you basically understand it. So, all my critical points will instantly be correctly connected to that stuff in the reading that you already know. On the other hand, probably more of you are like that donkey on the left. You haven't read any of this stuff yet. No offense, nothing personal, but a lot of you are confused and not very disciplined about philosophy, not yet anyway. Like the charioteer, I have to sort of split the difference. I don't want to lecture just for beginners. Mostly because I feel Haidt has done that already, at least about his own stuff. And done it well. If I gave my own version of Haidt's TED Talks to explain his view, that would be pointless. If you're in the market for a Jonathan Haidt TED Talk, or an intro to Jonathan Haidt's psychology, you should watch Jonathan Haidt's TED Talks, or read his quite clear introductory books, written for general audience, especially The Happiness Hypothesis, which, I think, is really a better book than The Righteous Mind. I'm going to be talking at a slightly higher level than that, basically talking as if you sort of get it already, but not presuming you know too many details. From my point of view, that's tricky. Not being too introductory that I just repeat stuff that's already presented very well in introductory form, and not just firing over your heads so you all get lost. From your point of view, if you find my lecture is difficult, probably you should read more Haidt and Jona and Joshua Greene before watching them. Reading? But that's like homework, professor. Tell us a story, tell us a story. Our emotional dogs love stories. Oh, very well. Gather around, children. No one knows better than Uncle Plato that you're a bunch of intuitionist moral dogs, just little intuitionist puppies jumping around at heart out there in Coursera-land. So let me tell you a colorful myth from the pages of Republic Book Ten. This isn't such a famous myth, as Plato myths go. I think maybe that's because most dogs fall asleep before they get to book ten. Republic is kind of long. Anyway, here it is, an image of the soul and a story, to go with it.