My Progress Studies conversation with Jon Baskin of The Point
No, not Nilsson’s The Point, the other one! Here is one excerpt:
JB: What did you learn from reading Plato?
TC: Reading Plato, it struck me—I’m thirteen years old here—but it struck me how much the whole rest of the world is by no means on board with the things I thought were good. So Socrates is constructing his ideal republic, and you can debate whether Plato really favored it, or whether Socrates really favored it, but those ideas are out there. You ban the poets? You want to be like Sparta? Those are big issues.
And even then, when I read Plato, I saw it as a dialogic mode of thinking, rather than believing that Plato was endorsing everything Socrates said. The dialogues are rich and fruitful. And people hold a lot of different points of view. So to try to refine dialogic modes of thinking about progress, and indeed everything: that was the biggest lesson I got from Plato. And then just how smart some of the early people were. And that’s not unrelated to progress studies. In the modern world there are a whole bunch of ways we’re clearly much smarter, like programming computers. Are we smarter in every way? Will we produce our own Adam Smith or Plato? Tough questions.
JB: I want to talk a little bit about Tolstoy. Max Weber, in his famous 1917 lecture “Science as a Vocation,” says that Tolstoy is the person who most sharply raises the question of whether the advances of science and technology have any meaning that go beyond the purely practical and technical. And he quotes Tolstoy saying that, basically, for the person who puts progress at the center of their life, life can never be satisfying, because they’ll always die in the middle of progress. How would you respond to this charge from Tolstoy about progress?
TC: I’m pretty happy and Tolstoy was not, would be my gut-level response.
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