Saturday, March 01, 2008

Plato on Tolerance

I ran across a wonderful quote from Plato:
"The unrighteous and vicious are always to be pitied in any case; and one can afford to forgive as well as to pity him who is curable, and refrain and calm one’s anger, not getting into a passion, like a woman, and nursing ill-feeling. But upon him who is incapable of reformation and wholly evil, the vials of our wrath should be poured out; wherefore, I say, that good men ought, as the occasion demands, to be either gentle or passionate." (Plato, Laws, 731.)
In essence, he's pointing out that tolerance is a virtue but only to a point. After that, it becomes a demonic weakness.


Dave Moody said...

So, Goldwater was paraphrasing Plato? Huh, learn something new everyday...

Doug Hagler said...

Right, and then pouring out our wrath is the best next step. Good point. We don't want to appear womanish, do we?

Chris said...


I think the better question to ask is how we can ethically establish standards whereby incapacity for reform can be ascertained. It is not merciful nor just for a Stalin or Hitler to be denied wrath.

john mcneese said...

Plato was a perfectionist and continues to impact Christianity today. I rather like what Adrienne Rich wrote in her Poem “Stepping Backward”:

“Let us return to imperfection's school.
No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
… This stepping backward for another glance.
I'd ask them that they carry what they are
With your particular bearing, as you wear
The flaws that make you both yourself and human.”

Chris said...


Thanks for the poem! I agree that Platonism (more accurately, NeoPlatonism) loomed large in the early church. Similarly, Aristotelianism is a large part of Medieval and Renaissance church thought. Kant is a big figure in modern thought, and Whitehead in postmodern thought. The issue is not "Why Plato?" but rather "Why not?" Same with the others. All truth is God's truth, and God's truth is most accessible to us in the Scriptures.

Viola said...

A couple of thoughts (just for fun) since all philosophy is considered a footnote to Plato does it matter which philosopher we choose it will all return to him.

With a hopefully more serious thought all the frame work of theology in some way springs from Plato's thoughts. (And notice I said frame work; the Church Fathers used his way of seeing not his view of God.)So the biblical God is more dynamic then Plato's classical view of the ultimate good but heretical views such as panentheism also come from Plato via Plotinus and his ideas of emanations. Anyway I guess what I am saying is one has to be careful how they use Plato.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

On that note Viola I wonder if it would be prudent for seminaries to go back to teaching philosophy. For since we used to rely on the academy for this and they have failed tremendously in this regard I would think it would be wise to make sure our seminary students at least had a cursory understanding of Plato because I hardly think one can properly understand the Pauline sections of the New Testament without first understanding the background milieu of which Plato plays a large part in the everyday thought processes of the Greek mind.

Viola said...

I think some philosophy classes ought to be a requirement in seminaries. But not too many. And more as a way of understanding the culture of the day, not as a way of understanding theology. And although there are earlier philosophers than Plato he is the place to start.

Chris said...

Ben & Viola,

In better days, Princeton required study in philosophy, even having a chair endowed for that very purpose. One of the professors to hold that chair, Diogenes Allen, wrote an excellent text called Philosophy for Understanding Theology. I tried - unsuccessfully - to get some sort of pre-seminary reading list that included an overview of philosophy and logic when LPTS was in the middle of revamping the curriculum. I was told that seminaries needed to be on the leading edge of incorporating and validating non-Western thought.

Okay, since when was deconstructionism, post-modernism, nihilism, feminism, et al. anything other than WESTERN? But maybe the mistatement was occidental.

Doug Hagler said...

"occidental"? I cringe.

Even unreformability doesn't deserve vials of *our* wrath. At least as far as God seems to be concerned. Depending on your ethics, you could probably come up with standards of some kind, but I'd hate to see them applied. Restraint is as far as I'm willing to go in terms of vials of anything. Its always nice to have a Plan B in case you're mistaken. Just ask the families of people who were wrongly executed and then exonerated by evidence that later came to light. Sure would be nice to un-pour those vials. Not a concern that Plato had, but one we should have, I think.

Chris said...


The proper response to a purposeful malapropism for the purpose of punnery is a groan...not a cringe.

Second, take your stack of people who've been executed by the state and later found innocent over the last 60 years in America. Next to it, start a pile of people who've been killed by those who were released from jail because the US refuses to execute the mandate of the sword against murderers and rapists. Guess which one is going to be bigger?

Third, for someone who thinks that God doesn't have any wrath (or none that is ultimate, at least), don't you find your statement a little nonsensical? I mean...if we're supposed to tax the productive in order to make the non-productive wealthier and thus usher in the kingdom on earth, don't you think that the obverse should also be a function of the government?

Anonymous said...



You're on the top of your game these days...