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  • Platonism:An Atrium to Christianity
  • Alice von Hildebrand (bio)

One of the marks of a truly great philosopher is his or her concern with crucial questions. Many a thinker is tempted to devote his or her talents to problems that—although interesting and challenging—have no bearing on the meaning of human existence. They evade questions that—to quote the French philosopher Jacques Chevalier, "every man raises when he faces death": what is the meaning of human life, is there a God, do I have an immortal soul, what is truth, can we attain it? C.S. Lewis remarked that many modern scholars show little interest in the question of truth; they put the emphasis on "interesting," "new," and "challenging."1

Independently of the answers that Plato gives us, he stands out as a thinker whose exclusive concern was to shed some light on metaphysical questions of "life and death." That he had a passion for truth is something that no one can deny. He puts the following words in Socrates' mouth; "I am interested in nothing but the truth."2

Analytic philosophy (the philosophical coqueluche of the twentieth century) certainly has made valuable contributions to human thought but cannot quiet the human longing for truth, as expressed in St. Augustine in his confessions: "Truth, truth how did the very marrow of my bones yearn for thee." But the thinkers who limit [End Page 29] their intellectual horizons to such questions will find out on their death beds that they have concentrated on the accidental and missed the essential. Intellectual greatness calls for more.

That Christianity opened up totally new horizons in philosophy cannot be denied. We are not referring to Christian mysteries that are beyond the pale of human reason (such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, etc.) but rather to truths that man's mind, in principle, could have perceived but de facto did not, his mind being obscured by original sin. Once perceived, however, man is bound to marvel at the fact that he did not see them before; they were luminous, but his eyesight, blinded by light, was too weak to perceive them. How right Plato was when he claimed that some sort of purification is needed in order for man to see what is there to be seen, but is overlooked because of prejudice or fear of truth. There are truths that man could not perceive without revelation; there are truths that are unpalatable to man's fallen nature, and that he does not want to perceive, or rejects and opposes when perceived.

In this light, it is illuminating to study key insights of a philosopher who has been called a precursor of Christ—a "pagan"—whose paganism did not prevent him from loving truth and longing for its possession, and from having an exclusive concern about classical questions. Whether he has succeeded in answering them satisfactorily is not our concern here. His greatness lies in his knowing that they were key issues. There are errors that are caused by stupidity; there are accidental errors (when a truth-loving thinker falls into error); there are errors that are the result of a basically wrong philosophical posture—that is, to quote Plato, "to prefer oneself to truth"3 Yet, he also remarks that such thinkers can—accidentally—give us some valuable insights. In his Phaedrus, he tells us that in the worst of authors, there can be something to the point. In the modest framework of this article, I shall limit myself to examining some key ideas of Plato on God, the immortality of the soul, good and evil, truth and error, real evils (immorality) and relative evils. [End Page 30]

The superficial mind for whom to philosophize is an amusing game enjoys flirting with ideas, carefully avoiding committing himself to any one position, and drawing consequences from his theses. To be human, to deserve to be called a man, a person must turn his attention to issues that will give his life meaning. The key issue for Plato is God's existence, for the answer given to that question will give human life an orientation that is...


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