Plato the Failure of Rationalism: Term Paper

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and, through the scientific study of modern, cognitive science, the idea that 'I' am doing the thinking in a way that is separate from my body and that this can be rationally deducted, simply by thinking and without scientific experimentation would be confounded.

However, those using empiricism as their main philosophical view of the world have also been able to twist the empiricism to use science's supposed rationalism and objectivity to justify tyranny of 'the best,' as in the case of eugenics, and the notion of 'survival of the fittest,' which suggests that the 'best' (morally, racially, and ethically) thrive and should be allowed to triumph over the 'weak.' In reality, Darwin's actual theory merely supports the idea that those best suited to an environment survive, not that survivors are innately better or superior creatures (a mutated moth that can blend in with a coal-blackened environment is not 'better' than the white moths who are now more apt to die than before, because they are more obvious to predators when before they could be camouflaged by foliage in a pre-industrial society). Both deductive and empirical rationalism are problematic when filtered through emotional and subjective human biases. Humans are invariably influenced by emotions, and often use rationalism or scientific empiricism to justify absolute rule, or prejudices of various kinds. In fact, in a kind of mirror-image of Platonic deductive rationalism, this zealous Social Darwinism suggested that 'the best' would naturally rule, according to the laws of science, not philosophy or religion.

In a climate that celebrated first religious rationalism, then scientific, empiricist rationalism, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in "The Antichrist" celebrated what he called the death of God. He celebrated the inability to know anything 'certainly.' Now that science had shown that, rather than a moral intelligence, there was only a brute intelligence behind what he saw as survival, he believed there would be a return to a kind of wild, Dionysian pagan misrule -- not a Platonic ideal of society or a perfect, rational society. Without the moral glue of Christianity (which Nietzsche characterizes more in terms of myth, rather than Platonic rationalism like Descartes) or Aristotelian rationality, society would begin to devolve into a series of multiple, personal perspectives -- a kind of prediction of the current era of postmodernism, where a singular, uniting cultural ideal seems forever elusive and indeterminate. However, even Nietzsche forecast the development of an eventual 'superman' in a harsh, irrational world, while today it seems that multiplicity, rather than a singular, dominant philosophy or leader is the reality of the postmodern era.

Of course, it is easy to respond to Nietzsche that God is not dead -- look at the enthusiasm, if nothing else for the current Republican vice presidential candidate's evangelical beliefs in many pockets of America! But the divisions that characterize America -- of red and blue states and values, and the divides that characterize the globe in terms of East vs. West, developed vs. developing nations do reveal the fundamental weakness of Platonic rationalism and also extreme, scientific empiricism. These rational systems are constantly confronted with the messy irrationality of human beliefs and desires. The triumph of irrationality (or multiplicity rather than Nietzsche's prophesy of a superman) has not always lead to 'the best' succeeding, and seems to yield the triumph of many pockets of different clashing world views, some democratic, some autocratic, some biological and scientific, others hostile to science. But it is a better, more representative solution than the tyranny of rationalism and Social Darwinism, which are, in reality, the most irrational systems of governance of all.

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