Plato, Aristotle, and Moses
"Households, cities, countries, and nations have enjoyed great happiness when a single individual has taken heed of the Good and Beautiful. Such people not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind." Philo of Alexandria
Athens, via Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and Jerusalem through the Hebrew Scriptures, refer to two general and fundamental ways of life: the life of free inquiry on the one hand, the life of obedience to God’s law on the other. As discussed in class, the fact that most do not read the Hebrew Scriptures as a politically philosophical text, they are overlooking some fundamental political principles that are similar and complimentary to the Greeks.
The book of Genesis to the end of the book of
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Moses hesitantly heads back to Egypt, to engage in his fruitless negotiation with the Pharaoh; fruitless in part due to the Lord’s “hardening of his heart”. The ultimate plague set upon the Egyptians is the Angel of Death’s reaping of the first born of each household who does not possess the mark above their doorway. This was not a simple sweeping away of children, intent on causing anguish amongst the citizens, in an attempt to incite them against the Pharaoh (that seems to have been just a bonus). It was a direct assault on the socio-political fabric of society: primogeniture upended, filial duties confused, and the vanishing of an entire generation. The Athenians feared something somewhat less immediately disruptive, the corruption of a few well-placed “youths”. Socrates’ actions were, they feared, going to destabilize Athenian society, similar to a malignancy, growing and spreading, infecting the very marrow. Moses, Plato, and Aristotle believed that there was no distinction between morality and politics. If one cannot restore order to his soul, Plato reasoned, than there can be no order in society. Just as the God of the Pentateuch understood when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue presents a mix of the ordering of one’s soul (mostly the first 4) and the ordering of society in the last 6. The Greeks knew that the liberation of the soul ought to be the chief object of individuals on earth. Cleansing the soul frees humanity from the