Was Plato "White"?

Students at "a prestigious London university" are wanting him and Kant stripped out of the philosophy curriculum, which makes about as much sense as structuring a math program without addition or algebra. The claim is that they are "white," but there's no way Plato would have seen the sense of that characterization. Leaving aside that we don't know that much about his pigmentation, it's not a category he would have recognized. He'd have said that he was an Athenian, and if you wanted something broader than that, a Greek.

You want to put him in a category with a German? Germans were literally barbarians to the ancient Greeks.

Roger Scruton charitably said that the demands suggested "ignorance." Truly: not only are they too ignorant of philosophy to know the value of what they are throwing away, they're too ignorant of history to know why their demands make no sense.


jaed said...

Can't they tell them he was "gay"?

(Not that that would have made any more sense in cultural context than calling him "white", but it may get the SJWs off the philosophy department's back. "Are you saying you want to eliminate this proud gay man from the curriculum? To other him? To call him less than? SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!!!!")

Don't look at me like that. Plato might not have approved the expedient, but it would work.

Tom said...

They are also deeply ignorant of race. And probably gender as well, while we're at it.

Grim said...

Well, ignorance of race is no affront: Plato was, also, though he had a sense of 'Greeks' and 'barbarians.'

For that matter, we might all be better off if we 'knew' less about gender, and more about sex.

Tom said...

Well, I consider race an invented category, like mythical beasts, so I don't think Plato was ignorant of it so much as it hadn't been invented yet. Therefore, there was nothing to know about it.

I'm not sure whether I want to accept the division between sex and gender. We did not in the recent past; they were pretty much synonymous terms 30 or 40 years ago, and it has only been relatively recently (in the historical sense) that we've been asked to accept the re-definition of "gender." Why should we accept this re-definition?

Grim said...

Courtesy, though you'd never know it from the way they've framed the debate.

What's really being said is that there are some people who would feel most comfortable if they were allowed to act as if they were a member of the opposite sex; and some few other people who are genetic anomalies and don't really belong to either sex. In order to make their experience most agreeable, wouldn't we be kind enough to let them behave as they prefer -- provided, of course, that it does us no harm.

Phrased that way, I don't see any reason not to agree to do them this favor.

However, I notice that it is never phrased that way. It is always phrased in terms of this being not a favor we are asked to do for certain people, but a duty of right that they should be able to compel from us.

Thus, I find myself in the odd position of refusing to do something I would be quite happy to do if only I were asked to do it, instead of being told I must do it or else. I feel a positive duty to resist such commands unless they are very well grounded philosophically.

jaed said...

I find myself in a similar position to Grim's: I can say that, for example, Caitlyn Jenner is a man who has chosen to live as a woman. That's fine with me: Jenner is a grown adult and can make his* own choices. And in fact I think that is the most meaningful and true way to express the situation.

But that's not good enough, I am told: if I won't affirm that Caitlyn Jenner is as much a woman as I am, I am a "hater" and "transphobic".

*A few years ago, I would have been happy to say "she" here, in deference to Jenner's preference. But I find I am unwilling to do that any more, because if I used the feminine pronoun now, I'd be doing it under threat. No. (Which is really too bad in this case, because Jenner hasn't threatened people, and I would prefer to be considerate. But no.)

Tom said...

I agree with both of you about the issue of courtesy.

However, while I think Grim has accurately described what some people are really saying, what a lot of people are saying is that dividing sex and gender their way reflects reality. If we accept their language, we are implicitly agreeing to their claim about reality.

For this group, it is not that some people would be more comfortable if we acted as if sex and gender were separate things, but rather, sex and gender are different things in reality and therefore we are both factually and morally wrong if we treat them the same. That is why it is never phrased as a request. They are making an ontological claim, and from that "fact" they derive a moral obligation to act accordingly.

There is a powerful strain of non- / anti-realism on the left, particularly with anything coming out of academia like gender theory, and if we adopt their language, we cede key terrain.

Coming back to courtesy, there is nothing discourteous (though the gender benders would shriek at this) with insisting that the terms sex and gender are synonymous and at the same time treating individuals the way they are most comfortable. If I am talking with a transsexual person, I have no problem with treating them as if they are their preferred gender, just out of common courtesy, as you two suggest.