Saturday, May 06, 2006

It's All Academic

A classical scholar makes the following observation: “Plato emancipated himself from the tyranny of custom.” This is instructive. You have Plato on the one hand, founder of the Academy and inventor of the universal ideal, and you have custom on the other, the morality of time and place. Here is true antithesis. The opposite of Platonism is not sophism, but custom. Note also the innocently assured lack of objectivity in the phraseology. Our enlightened scholar leaves no doubt about the righteouness of one side over the other, that is to say, about his own bias. Does Plato really represent the West’s first great step toward some sort of cosmic freedom, for which it is necessary to reject the local in favor of the universal? Or has the time come to reconsider this moment in our intellectual history as being perhaps the most fateful and fatal of them all? One thing does seem certain to me. After Plato the holy vocation of scholarship, the ministry of universalism, became an historical inevitability.

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