Books and Code · A Miscellany

Plato at the Googleplex, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (A Review)


Goldstein is trying to do three distinct things here. First, a general introduction to Plato. Second, a series of pastiche dialogues where her incarnation of Plato interacts with moderns. Third, a defense of philosophy as a discipline from modern scientist critics (mainly represented by Lawrence Krauss in the book). She does a serviceable job on all three, however I was not a huge fan of the conflation of them.

By far, the most engaging sections of the book are the nouveau dialogues. Plato encounters a Google programmer, thinly veiled versions of Amy Chua and Bill O’Reilly, an advice columnist, and neuroscientists. I can see why these were interleaved with explanatory chapters that get the reader up to speed on the relevant broad strokes of Greek philosophy beforehand. You simply can’t expect a modern reader to come prepared with that anymore.

However, this left little room for a decent defense of philosophy. The arguments relating to that position felt perfunctory and ill-addressed. Sometimes the dialogues were a fruitful refutation; at other times, they appear to justify the criticism that philosophy hasn’t made progress. While she covers how and why science depends or otherwise presupposes Platonism, she does not adequately address how Platonic thought has been used as a crutch by various theisms, pseudosciences, and political ideologies past and present. Perhaps this is “why philosophy won’t go away,” but it doesn’t speak to why philosophy shouldn’t go away–which is what I take her position to actually be. She didn’t really sell me on the latter–and I really wanted to be sold to…

Regarding the Audible audiobook narrated by Dennis Holland: Holland is a great voice talent. He does the dialogues very well. However, the mispronunciations were so annoying. Thales doesn’t rhyme with “tails.” The butchering of the Greek was the worst though and it was rampant. I blame the producers, not the voice talent. This is akin to a print book with misspellings everywhere. It doesn’t take that long to get reasonably close and when recording a book on Greek philosophy you should have acquainted yourself with the pronunciation of all the names you will be saying over and over.