Learning Classics is a bit like putting on a magic pair of 3-D glasses. Once you start delving into the language and the culture, you'll start to see it all around you. This blog is a record of the club's journey through the worlds and language of ancient Rome and Greece... and through modern times, too, searching for the influence of classics all around us. You'll also be able to find vocab, home tasks, links and generally enlightening info here, too.

13 May 2016

Lesson 21 - What's wrong with democracy?

We spent a whole lesson today contemplating human imperfection. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato explores the idea that people are flawed creatures, with a complicated relationship with 'truth' and 'goodness'. As a result of this human frailty, in Plato's ranking of government systems, democracy (i.e. 'rule by the people') is only one step up from anarchy (i.e. 'no rule at all'). We discussed the Platonic notions of oligarchy, timocracy and aristocracy (which, don't forget, means 'rule by the best': it could be argued that the word is mis-applied in its modern context!). We also explored some of the possible pitfalls in Plato's ideas. As many in the class protested, saying that people are too stupid to govern themselves in a democratic system can be argued as highly disrespectful.  Yet it is possible to reconcile the idea of human irrationality with a workable version of democracy, thanks to Ken Taylor of Stanford University and the application of the modern science of psychology:

We then spent the rest of the lesson discussing the idea of cognitive bias, the ways in which science has identified pervasive 'wrong thinking' in humans. This led to a very interesting debate about the following (controversial) experiment on why people can justify seemingly inhumane actions:

We'll explore this notion of human imperfection and cognitive bias more next week as we encounter Aristotle's important idea of 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' ('gnothi seauton') or self-knowledge.