How Plato Treats Tradition and Formulates His Argument

At first glance, it might seem that traditionalism belongs to the category of sensitive historical phenomena firmly associated with antiquity. Thus, as a rule, when individuals reflect on tradition, the mind directs the flow of thoughts toward past experiences and events. As a consequence, an erroneous belief may be created that thinkers of the ancient world were inclined to regard traditionalism as a valid strategy for knowing reality: however, this is wrong.

Perhaps one of the most notable figures of ancient Greek civilization was Plato, a disciple of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. Plato, throughout his life, formed his own system of knowledge and vision and created the historical legacy of Socratic philosophy. From extant sources and numerous chronicles, contemporaries may know that Plato was hostile to tradition. This form of knowledge, according to the philosopher, lacked criticality and meaningfulness and therefore was not characteristic of a developed mind.

Plato was extremely strict about traditionalism as a form of knowledge. According to him, traditional knowledge can be regarded as blind faith, passed down between generations but not requiring critical reflection. Based on these words, it is clear that tradition does not form the highest level of thinking since such forms of human cognition as analysis, comparison, or doubt are not used. An individual guided by traditional knowledge is inclined simply to believe in what has been handed down to him from the previous generation but is not inclined to check the source and value of such knowledge.

It is worth adding that tradition, as a form of human knowledge, has serious implications for the study of the moral attitudes prevalent in society. Since traditional belief is transmitted between generations — and thus more deeply rooted in the structure of a nation — it is appropriate to study tradition as a source of public morality. This approach has been called moral traditionalism. Thus, it is true to say that tradition strengthens morality and maintains order in society. Since traditions are generally shared by most members of society and a departure from them can be seen as unethical, immoral behavior, the study of society can be based on the study of traditions. Nevertheless, it is fair to acknowledge that Plato did not hold such views but instead believed that moral knowledge was possible only through reason: this formed the current known as moral rationalism. As a consequence, it can be safely asserted that Plato was strongly opposed to treating the concept of tradition as a valuable tool for cognition of objective reality.

It is extremely interesting to determine what arguments Plato used to persuade a larger audience. This rhetorical analysis of the contents of the chapter allows us to identify that Plato’s essential tool is the use of personal experience, urging the reader to explore his own experiences. There are many such illustrative examples in the lives of individuals where parents have given a child knowledge that does not require verification. For example, modern people often believe that a child must eat soup to grow in the body and that going to school guarantees a successful career. However, such traditional stereotypes can be refuted in two Platonic ways. First of all, if the content of tradition does not dock with an individual’s personal experience — this already requires the use of critical comparison — then the tradition is invalidated. Secondly, common sense can disprove the idea of tradition, just as laboratory tests can disprove the medicinal properties of a particular plant.

Finally, it should be noted that Plato was highly critical of the traditional form of knowledge. The philosopher did not accept tradition as the highest level of human thinking and did not support the idea of using moral traditionalism. Plato truly believes that knowledge has a higher priority for human thinking than opinion or tradition. Plato was persuasive, however, because he used examples from personal experiences that touched the reader’s attention. As a result, tradition was not regarded by Plato as a precious form of knowledge.

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