How the Desire for ‘More’ is Killing Us: Lessons From Plato’s Republic

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Image2All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison.
— Paracelsus

If Plato were alive today, he might be a hipster. He’d have the beard, for sure; he’d challenge ideas coming from institutions and people in authority; and he’d likely embrace a life of minimalism.

Minimalism[1] is the recent movement that encourages people to declutter their homes, simplify their lives, and reject consumerism. Popular blogs like that of Joshua Fields Millburn and Joshua Becker exemplify the movement, offering simple insights and instructions on living a stripped-down yet richer life.

But minimalism is not new; the term may be, but the practice is ancient. And Plato, being one of those old dudes from ancient Greece, knew a thing or two about the dangers of over-consumption.

Although Plato was from a wealthy family, as a young man he was smitten by Socrates, and Socrates was poor—a true street prophet—unkempt, homely, and shoeless. But despite Socrates’ grubbiness, Plato declared: “[Socrates] was the wisest, and justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known.”[2]

It was Socrates who most influenced Plato’s thinking. And Plato’s adulation of Socrates led him to cast the stout philosopher as the central character of his literary ensemble. Perhaps that is why the Republic, Plato’s most renowned work, reads like a prophetic warning against ‘wanting more.’

A Word About Justice

Republic is essentially a conversation, a dialogue, spearheaded by the ever-inquisitive Socrates. The topic of discussion is the ‘true nature of justice,’ and Socrates is inclined to believe that justice is good in and of itself. On the other hand, Thrasymachus, a politically savvy and silver-tongued sophist, believes that justice is good only if personally advantageous. The disagreement launches Socrates on a quest for the truth.

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