Rebecca Goldstein in Conversation with Professor AC Grayling on Plato in the 21st Century

Rebecca Goldstein at Kings Place


Rebecca Goldstein spoke passionately in defence of philosophy and its relevance in today’s world: she reworked Plato’s Dialogues for the 21st century in her book Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.


Goldstein did not accept all of Plato’s theories at face values and highlighted how much moral progress society has made over the centuries (the abolition of slavery being one of the main achievements).


Philosophy is attacked by scientists for its lack of empirical evidence, but even scientific theories must start as philosophical arguments.


Bertrand Russell recognised the genius of Ancient Greece and Goldstein talked about a “normative explosion” during 800-200 BC when most religions, philosophies and norms were created.


Ancient Greeks wanted answers to fundamental existential questions and used a secular approach (the gods did not intervene or interfere in this vision).


[Tweet “What would Plato do if he lived in today’s society?”] According to Goldstein, he would be carrying his laptop with him everywhere, consulted the oracle that is Google and would be asked for his expert opinion on Fox News.


However, Plato believed that knowledge had to be passed on face to face using the oral tradition: that would exclude most of the learning modalities we have today.

Extract from the book:

“When, in Apology, his rendition of Socrates’ trial in 399 B.C.E., he has Socrates declare that the unexamined life is not worth living, he is both endorsing the Ethos of the Extraordinary shared by many in his culture and, at the same time, modifying it sufficiently to outrage his fellow Athenians.”

In his Dialogues Plato wanted to simulate real conversations so Goldstein adapted his scripts (the ones that were unequivocally attributed to him) to day-to-day conversations.


Goldstein wanted to capture the spirit of philosophy at its best in her book: it’s an idealistic vision of Plato characterised by playfulness and openness plus an insatiable curiosity. She believes that Plato was a proto-neuroscientist as he described how the mind and body are interconnected: “The self is the marrow in the skull”.


As a final remark, Goldstein warned us that the Internet is a “pleasurable distraction” playing on our dopamine receptors (the places in our brain that trigger a response to pleasure). However, there are serious issues that philosophy has to deal with, namely responsibility and accountability, particularly for people in power.