Is it wrong for a Christian to admire Plato and the Stoics

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Anglicanorthodoxy

Puritan Board Freshman
ive been studying philosophy for quite a while. I took a Philosophy course in high school where I read quite a bit of Plato and Aristotle. I'm a freshman in college this year, and I'm in an ancient philosophy course. So far, we've read Plato's Gorgias and Meno. I have read the Apology several times. Many of Plato's ideas really appeal to me( I much prefer Plato to Aristotle) St. Augustine viewed Plato favorably, and Luther even said some nice things about Plato. I also generally enjoy reading the Stoics( Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, etc) All this being said, whenever I read Philosophy, I always remembers Paul's warning. I realize that one can not accept Plato and he Stoics in totality as a Christian, but I also believe that there's a lot of truth in both. You have to separate the good from the bad. What do y'all think?
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
There is a lot to admire in those men, and I think we're right to acknowledge it, all the while using careful discernment. The same goes for remarkable natural men in any age.
 

JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
I bought a used copy of the Dialogues of Plato 40 years ago. Reading his views on sexuality caused me to toss it in a trash can and never look back. I stated this in an old thread on PB and a member whose knowledge I highly respect pointed out to me that unless you had a grounding in philosophy you wouldn't be able to understand some of the leading systematic theologies. Since that post, dipping my foot in that water, I see he is absolutely right and I am now trying to rectify my error of 40 years ago and learn philosophy at this, for me, late date. So if you intend to read the leading systematics philosophy seems to be an essential.
 

Anglicanorthodoxy

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for the answers guys. By the way, I'm also taking Elementary Greek, and Elementaty Latin this year. I hope to read these works in the original languages soon. Im a Classics major.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I was a militant Platonist a few years ago. He's important to read because Western thought doesn't make much sense without him. On the flip side, he says weird things:

1) Gay Armies (see Symposium)
2) Communal wife-sharing
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
I was a militant Platonist a few years ago. He's important to read because Western thought doesn't make much sense without him. On the flip side, he says weird things:

1) Gay Armies (see Symposium)
2) Communal wife-sharing
And?
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
I've admired stoics. They are Buddhist like. Buddhism is my 'favorite' non Christian religion.
 

Joshua

Administrator
Staff member
I liked play-dough and storks growin' up. Hadn't really thought of 'em much lately, though.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Plato is correct in that there are extra mental realities that aren't reducible to matter. He's wrong when he can't solve his "3rd Man Problem" and when the forms have godlike status.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
The natural man lives in God's world, so some of the things he writes will be true. And, because he's an unbeliever, some of the things he writes will be false. Eat the meat and throw away the bones.

(By the way, I don't think it's true that one needs to read philosophy in order to understand systematic theologies. I've read a lot in systematic theology and it never occurred to me that I needed a grounding in philosophy in order to understand them.)
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The natural man lives in God's world, so some of the things he writes will be true. And, because he's an unbeliever, some of the things he writes will be false. Eat the meat and throw away the bones.

(By the way, I don't think it's true that one needs to read philosophy in order to understand systematic theologies. I've read a lot in systematic theology and it never occurred to me that I needed a grounding in philosophy in order to understand them.)
I realized I did when systematic theologies started talking about God's nature, essence, etc. Those are philosophical terms.
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
I was a militant Platonist a few years ago. He's important to read because Western thought doesn't make much sense without him. On the flip side, he says weird things:

1) Gay Armies (see Symposium)
2) Communal wife-sharing
Read the Laws by Plato. There he condemns homosexuality as a perversion. Plato was no pedarast.

Plato is correct in that there are extra mental realities that aren't reducible to matter. He's wrong when he can't solve his "3rd Man Problem" and when the forms have godlike status.
I've always thought that third man objection is pretty weak. Plato recognizes that it's at least an ostensible problem in the Parmenides. It is solved, however, by Plato's understanding of the self-predication of forms, which most scholars understand as some identity claim. The form of F just is what it is to be F, and so asking for some common property that F and F-things share is misguided.

You actually probably have the same position on this, but my problem with Plato is that he gives forms extra-mental existence, i.e. existence out of God's mind. The Neo-Platonists and Christians corrected this.

The construal of Plato as otherworldly and unconcerned with matter is a gross overexageration of certain themes in Plato that is easily corrected by reading over his whole corpus carefully.

As for Aristotle, he's a genius as well but his prose sucks (what we have extant are more or less lecture notes, which are incredibly elliptical). Platonism and Aristotelianism aren't wholly incompatible, but they do depart at points. My rule is when Plato and Aristotle agree, they are both usually right, Aristotle usually pointing things more exactly. When they disagree, Plato is usually right. Christians, on the main, have been mostly modified neo-platonists throughout history. Augustine, and many of the church fathers, thought that Plato was a Christian before the Christians. Do with all that as you may.
 

Held Fast

Puritan Board Freshman
In some ways, I believe Paul embraced stoicism as close as he could while preserving his heart against vain philosophies. I have written during my ThM studies that stoicism seemed the most compatible of philosophical schools with Christianity, as it relates to daily living. The first chapter of Aurelius is fascinating reading as a Christian; he gives thanks to friends and families for the wisdom, example, and moral character lessons they instilled in him. Discipleship one might say. It would be hard to say stoicism is "vain" ... but it is not biblical, and therefore suspect. There is certainly much about it that is more edifying than much of what passes for Christian discipleship today.
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'll revisit that. I've heard of the solution but I never thought that Plato offers it.
The identity claim is an interpretation of his explicit doctrine of self-predication. It could well be that somehow Plato believes that the form of the color blue-- if there is such a form-- really just is blue, but it would be weird given his description of the forms and their other properties, i.e., that they are immaterial et al.
 

Clark-Tillian

Puritan Board Freshman
I was a militant Platonist a few years ago. He's important to read because Western thought doesn't make much sense without him. On the flip side, he says weird things:

1) Gay Armies (see Symposium)
2) Communal wife-sharing
He does go off the ranch sometimes. You are correct; Western Civ. is impossible to understand without at least a familiarity with some of his ideas. Aristotle had as much, if not more influence. Aquinas' interface with Aristotle had an obviously profound impact on Medieval Catholicism. And Aristotle was tutor to a young lad named Alexander, who went on to make quite a name for himself.
 
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Clark-Tillian

Puritan Board Freshman
ive been studying philosophy for quite a while. I took a Philosophy course in high school where I read quite a bit of Plato and Aristotle. I'm a freshman in college this year, and I'm in an ancient philosophy course. So far, we've read Plato's Gorgias and Meno. I have read the Apology several times. Many of Plato's ideas really appeal to me( I much prefer Plato to Aristotle) St. Augustine viewed Plato favorably, and Luther even said some nice things about Plato. I also generally enjoy reading the Stoics( Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, etc) All this being said, whenever I read Philosophy, I always remembers Paul's warning. I realize that one can not accept Plato and he Stoics in totality as a Christian, but I also believe that there's a lot of truth in both. You have to separate the good from the bad. What do y'all think?
The answer to the title of your post is--"It depends". That is--what is the level of one's admiration? We must always be on guard for the subtle affect of idolatry and the terrible effects that invariable creates.

The answer to the contents of your post is--"With care and experience." Read--Write--Analyze... then rinse and repeat. You're a freshman in college? Kudos for starting well. Not to add to your workload but you might want to purchase a copy of Kreeft's "Socratic Logic". He's a RC author with a decidedly Aristotelian bent. I'd also do everything you can to shore up your English grammar. That's not a critique of your post, btw! You'll discover that grammar is essential to clarity of thought, and clarity of thought is required for any study--especially the classics. And working hard in English grammar will aid your language studies in ways you cannot possibly imagine yet.
 
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jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I admire that you're studying the classics, so good for you! As great as it is to study them, so keep it up.
 

Haeralis

Puritan Board Freshman
Though it is true that, as sinful human beings, famous church fathers could very well be wrong about Plato, I think that they have interesting things to say about this subject.

"For none of the other philosophers has come so close to us as the Platonists have, and, therefore we may neglect the others. . . . Some of our fellow Christians are astonished to learn that Plato had such ideas about God and to realize how close they are to the truths of our faith." (Augustine)

Justin Martyr was also convinced that Plato was a "pre-Christ" Christian, though that claim is certainly dubious.

Nietzsche--no Christian he--also argued that most of the bad things in the West came out of the influence of Christianity and Plato. In The Gay Science, he claims that "even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year-old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato's faith, that God is truth; that truth is divine."

Nonetheless, I think that we have enormous things to learn from Plato as long as we make sure that we do not subordinate Jesus Christ and the Word of God to his philosophy. This was precisely the sin of the Roman Catholic Church in idolizing Aristotle at the expense of the Scriptures.

I do think that what Plato is seeking, the eternal truth and the good above the world, finds its perfect fulfillment in Christ, the Logos. In a way, Jesus Christ is the only thing that makes Plato's philosophy make sense, since it actually answers and clearly defines the character and person of "the Good" / "God."
 
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