The waves furiously crash against the jutted cliff. Far from the agora, Plato is seen staring into the distance as the sun starts to sink into the sea. A young philosopher by the name of Kakistocles chances upon the wise Athenian and sees no better opportunity to question him.
KAKISTOCLES: Why so pensive, Plato?
PLATO: Ah, Kakistocles. I’m quite disconcerted about the sun there, right in front of us. It is slowly descending.
KAKISTOCLES: But of course! Should it not be doing so?
PLATO: Naturally, it should. But it seems to be mocking us in some way.
KAKISTOCLES: Whatever do you mean?
PLATO: The sun bestows upon all men, the ability to see. Its light guides us in our daily exploits, be it carpentry, shoemaking or farming. It is, necessarily an inanimate celestial body, but yet it selflessly contributes to our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. But when night arrives, the sun in turn, disappears. The warmth it provides, gone. The light it provides, gone. The hope it provides, gone.
KAKISTOCLES: I understand what you mean, but not necessarily why hope should cease. Surely, the sun will rise again?
PLATO: Why no man would doubt that, Kakistocles. But is it the same sun?
KAKISTOCLES: Plato, spare me the sophistry and explain what you mean to say.
PLATO: It was a sincere question. Is the sun that we saw today the same sun that appeared before us yesterday? Or does it merely resemble the sun? Perhaps, Kakistocles, there is no consistency in the world. Perhaps all we retain in our minds is an idea of the sun. Thus, what we perceive, every single day, is the new sun conforming to our idea of what the sun should look like.
KAKISTOCLES: Curious. But surely, you must believe in the geometers who can descry no difference between the sun of yesterday and the sun that we see today?
PLATO: I do not see why that should matter. What concerns me, Kakistocles, is this notion of change.
KAKISTOCLES: What is it that concerns you about change?
PLATO: It seems to suggest that life is but an attempt to scale a mountain which is constantly being rained upon. The water fills every foothold, guaranteeing no support for us. We envision theories which resemble the instrument rather than the tool. Uncertainty seems to reign in our lives and the only thing which does not change is change itself.
KAKISTOCLES: Well said. But does it necessarily matter that we do not firmly grasp the world we live in? I agree it can be frustrating, but it seems to promise us an unending line of inquiry into reality. It seems that wanting to understand the world is for children, but being satisfied with misunderstanding it is for slaves.
PLATO: But don’t you see, Kakistocles? If you can no more grasp the world as it currently is, you will never be able to grasp how it was or how it will be. It seems utterly futile. Returning to the sun, which is unmercifully sinking beneath the horizon, it seems that we are being forever pushed away from it, from what is good.
KAKISTOCLES: I do not understand you.
PLATO: It seems to be just within reach, but is forever escaping from us. When will this interminable mockery cease? Never. Men, by nature, do not understand the significance of the sun’s altruism. It is an invitation:
“As goodness stands in the intelligible realm to intelligence and the things we know, so in the visible realm the sun stands to sight and the things we see.”
Ideally, the sun would never perish. Surely, there could be no greater gift than that of permanence in the world we live in. Rest is a thing divine. Change is evil.
KAKISTOCLES: I have to say, Plato, you speak eloquently and your ideas are wont to attract the youths of today, but surely you must see the power of your influence as potentially harmful.
PLATO: How so?
KAKISTOCLES: According to you, change is evil and rest is divine. What value can be conferred on that which does not change?
PLATO: I beseech you, this is not an issue of aesthetics.
KAKISTOCLES: I agree. It is an issue of great political importance. Surely, you will grant that Socrates’ execution was a democratic travesty?
PLATO: How could I not?
KAKISTOCLES: Such a system is necessarily flawed in some respects, yes?
PLATO: But of course.
KAKISTOCLES: Then how could you insist that change is evil and that rest is divine, when clearly the system has faltered? For it to remain that way is certainly an evil than something good?
KAKISTOCLES: Then change is divine and rest is evil.
PLATO: It appears that you have deceived me.
KAKISTOCLES: That was never my intent. I only wished to conceive of a world of permanence. What it would mean for change to be nonexistent. I realised that, among other things, time would stand still. As would our opinions of the world.
PLATO: That certainly follows.
- Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume One.
- Plato’s Republic.
- Heraclitus’ Fragments.