The school of Aristotle and Thomas holds that our ideas differ essentially from sensations and images, but that they are extracted from them by the operation of the spiritual light in us (intellectus agens)

Maritain

Core Terms

Core Idea

Core idea, in the plus system, means the deep significant meaning of a term sustained in a language though a period of time. The core idea is not necessarily the only meaning symbolized by the term in question but it is the most essential. The core idea matures via the give and take of language development. It is an aspect of language wisdom.

Occasionally a term has more than one meaning that is close to a core idea. The term 'idea' is a case in point. Idea can refer to several cases: a concept, a judgment, a reason, a plan, a proposal or any combination thereof. However, the true core idea of "idea" is the underlying idea that holds through the cases mentioned above.

Since this study is in English, the present concern is with English terms. However, the same tendencies apply in all languages. One of the major reasons that translating from one language to another is difficult is because terms tend to acquire an entourage of meanings that users of a language garner from the context. A translator must guess which meaning is intended by a writer in a particular usage. A good translator needs to know the languages involved well enough to appreciate the core meanings in all major cases and know how to convey meaning from one language to another. The more ancient the writing, the more challenging the translation. In troublesome cases, translators make the best guess they can and readers make allowances accordingly.

Juggling meaning-of-terms is something we all do. When we discourse with others, we continuously exchange thoughts back and forth to pick up what others intend to say. We work on our own language skills, so we can speak our mind in such a manner that others understand what we mean. People with cultivated commonsense know this. A good education helps this process along.

Using cultivated insight, most people know intuitively that many terms have core meanings more profound than the original metaphorical source. The word ‘spirit’ developed from a word that originally meant ‘breath’ but now has a core meaning much different from its original derivation. Usually people understand this difference without being told.

Sometimes we have difficulty articulating an appropriate definition of a core meaning but nonetheless we know it is there. The term justice is a good example. If you have a boss with a fine sense of justice, you know it. If your boss does not have a good sense of justice, you also know it. The whole department knows it.

Probably no one can give an exact and final definition of justice, but if your friend says "My boss is a just man", it is clear that his use of the term justice has a meaning with philosophical implications. This deep meaning is the core meaning. We do not have to define it in order to know it is there.

Over 2000 years ago, Socrates and his pupil Plato, sought to define justice and other core philosophical ideas. Two millenniums later we still employ the basic thoughts Socrates and Plato explored and we still have trouble discovering satisfactory definitions.

‘Justice’, ‘love’, ‘friendship’, ‘knowledge’, ‘truth’, ‘law’, ‘opinion’, ‘intuition’, and so on are terms that symbolize ideas with philosophical consequences that span time and place. These terms symbolize core ideas. There are many such terms.

Defining core ideas is a challenging task. If the definition is done well and in accord with mankind’s worthy aspirations, then the definition is a boon and a blessing. However, if the definition is not done well, distress can result. Plato’s Socratic definition of justice is a good example.

Socrates, in his dialogues, pointed out how difficult it is to define justice. Plato, his pupil, using Socrates as speaker aimed to solve this problem. In the Republic Plato, speaking as Socrates, argued that: in a smooth running city each person does his/her business well. In the dialogue, Socrates’s companions agreed that we admire and hire the brick layer who does a first rate job of laying bricks. We choose to play checkers with a partner who is good at playing checkers. We reward the boat builder who builds excellent boats. When sailing the sea, we prefer a pilot with a good reputation. In government, we want a ruler who knows the business of ruling and can rule well. We want philosophers, who can reason well. Plato maintains that the best state is a society where each person sticks to his/her own business and does it well. Justice, he says, is when each person does their own business and does not meddle in the business of others.

"I say Justice is that very thing … each one must practice that one thing, of all in the city, for which his nature was best fitted … this in a sense appears to be justice—to do one’s own business … present in woman and child, in bond and free, in craftsman and ruler and ruled, that each single one did his own business and meddled in no other business meddling in many businesses would be ruin for the city."

Plato

In his reasoning, Plato makes good points and is close to an appropriate definition of justice. Then, to the distress of following generations, Plato makes a few mistakes that add up to a disaster. In mistake one, Plato assumes each person has only one business and fails to appreciate that the pilot of a ship is probably also a husband and father and is involved in the business of being a good family man. Furthermore, the pilot must manage his own commercial affairs, or he can’t stay in business. Being a good citizen is also the pilot’s business and is a broader category than being a good pilot. This is true of all people. It is of our nature to have more than one business. Plato made a mistake not to emphasize this point.

Making his second mistake, Plato failed to sufficiently take into account the difficulty of determining who actually is the good pilot. Plato over looked the minor premise of the syllogism. (He is excused because he probably had not heard of the syllogism. This was one of Aristotlte’s contributions) In regard to who is a good pilot, different people will have different opinions. Glaucon may recommend one pilot and Cephalos another and the two might engage in a vigorous disputation over the virtues of the two pilots in question. This is true of doctors, statesmen and all people doing business, including philosophers. People, then and now, have great differences of opinion as to who is a good doctor and who is not. Even more so we disagree over who is the best philosopher.

The third mistake — the most important — was Plato’s failure to notice the role of reason in the affairs of mankind. Plato made the exact wrong conclusion and institutionalized a great error in philosophy that still sets us at odds today. Plato reached the wrong conclusion by misinterpreting his own argument. It is a mystery that generations of philosophers have fallen into the same error century after century with so little dissent.

Making a major root error, Plato failed to appreciate that reason belongs to all humans in virtue of our nature. It is the business of everybody to reason well, not just the philosopher. The ship builder, if he is to build a good ship, must be able to reason well. The pilot, to be a good pilot, must be able to reason well. The parent, to be a good parent, must be able to reason well. The citizen, to be a good citizen, must be able to reason well. And so with all businesses. Each of us, to do our business well, must be able to reason well.

Learning the philosophy of right reason is the business of everybody, not just the philosopher. Those educators who, for century after century, believed that only a handful of chosen men should learn logic were faithfully following Plato’s advise, but they were making a terrible mistake. Reason is everybody’s business. Society benefits when the whole body of citizens learns to reason well. It is a basic tenet of plus root theory that: reason is everybody’s business and that society benefits when citizens reason well.

However, the baker, who is busy baking bread, running his commercial affairs and being a good father, husband, and citizen does not have time to study all that is involved in learning the details of how to reason well. In this situation, it does becomes the business of the philosopher to examine the ins and outs of right reason to be of service to others who do not have time to do the studies.

Plato is correct in maintaining that the philosopher has a special relationship with reason. From a plus point of view: it is the philosophers business to discover how to tell right reasoning from wrong, to find ways to share this knowledge, and to make right reason attractive to the many. It is the business of the philosopher to make sound rational thinking accessible to society as a whole. This is the plus affirmative conclusion to Plato’s line of reasoning.

But this is not the conclusion Plato reached. Plato concluded that since reason (dialectic) is the business of philosophers that others should not meddle in the philosophers business. Reason is the business of philosophers and only philosophers. Others should leave the subject alone. Since only philosophers know how to reason well, the philosophers should run society and it is the business of others to obey. He emphatically promoted an elitist attitude as advantageous.

Plato promoted a distinct class of people who were to be philosophers. He concluded that these people should be the guardians of society with absolute power because these are the only people who know how to reason well. Through Plato, this totalitarian oriented idea became firmly planted in Greek philosophy and sent up shoots far and wide. This major root error still causes trouble.

In Plato’s ideal state, the guardians were to choose from among themselves the best philosopher and this person would be the philosopher king. Plato hoped that, in this manner, the city would be governed by the finest leader who would know better than anyone else what was best for the city. Plato decreed that the philosopher king should have absolute power because he is the best in the city. He is the one who knows what is best for everybody so he should be granted absolute Royal Prerogatives. It will be safe to give him absolute power because he is so good that he won’t abuse it.

Plato’s method of choosing who will be a philosopher was ingenious. He first divided accountable citizens into two parts, the military and the producers, each with their own sphere of business. He assumed that the choice young men would join the military and those left would be producers. After much training and experience, the philosopher class would be chosen from the military class because the military is a more noble class than the commercial class. In this manner, according to Plato, society would elevate the best of the best to be philosophers. Also, in this scheme, people would not become philosophers until they reach a mature age and could handle the dialectic.

Plato established a clear hierarchy with the philosophers as the most noble followed by the military, followed by the producers and commercial businessmen. Lower than this are the servants and slaves and misfits, but they are not counted as real people in Plato’s scheme.

In regard to women, Plato is more generous than many ancients, maintaining that women should be able to exercise with men, are worthy to own property, and possibly could even be philosophers. He was ambivalent in this matter. In the Republic, he said children should be raised by people whose business is raising children. Father’s should not know which child was theirs so they would not show favoritism. In this scheme, everybody has his or her own business and his or her own place. A person was expected to know their place.

This scheme for the ideal state, as presented here, only sketches Plato’s Republic" but there is enough to serve as an example. Failing to realize that reasoning well is the business of everybody is not the only mistake Plato made, but this one is extra serious. It is Plato’s Reason-Business-Justice mistake.

Understanding Plato’s Reason-Business-Justice mistake requires the ability to use affirmative sorting because his argument is a mix of plus and minus value. We would be foolish to reject the worthwhile remarks Plato made. Much that he said is worth keeping. Plato is right when he extols the value of everybody tending to their business and doing it well. When each person does his/her business as it should be done, the city runs smooth in an orderly manner and the result is a good life for all. Plato is also right when he points out that it is the business of a philosopher to reason well. He is also right when he argues that the business of a philosopher is very important. He is also right when he maintains that each person should practice that for which his nature is best fitted. Plato so far was building an excellent explanation of justice. But then he added the spoilers twist.

Plato’s huge mistake came from aiming to restrict reason and the dignity of reason to philosophers alone. He was wrong in a major way. Reason and the dignity of reason belongs to all people. The gift of reason is an aspect of human nature and is a treasure for us all. Everybody benefits in doing their business as they improve their personal ability to reason. Every person is a rational being. A genuinely just society will acknowledge the rational dignity of each and every person.

From a plus point of view, when we recognize that reason belongs to all in virtue of our nature, then it is unjust for those who have knowledge of right reason to withhold the science of reason (logic; dialectic) from the general populous. Logic is the one science that is the universal science. It is the science we all need to help us conduct our business well.

However Plato had a different view of justice and business and reason. In his view, reason and dialectic should be withheld from the vast majority of people. In Plato’s view, the vast majority should blindly obey the philosophers and the philosophers should obey the philosopher king. He then outlined a strict hierarchy of society where each person had his or her place and his or her business and stayed in their place. Slaves were the low in this order and obeyed their master. In Plato’s scheme, slavery was not considered unjust. Rather, according to Plato’s definition of justice, some people had to be at the bottom doing the dirty work so that free people would have time to do their more exalted business. Slavery, rather than being unjust as we see it today, in the Platonic political scheme was defined as an aspect of justice.

In this scheme, slaves were not the lowest of the low, because they had a worth. People tended to take care of their slaves for the same reason they took good care of their horses and estates. The lowest of the low were the head count who were totally expendable. Often these lowly people sold themselves into slavery, because as slaves they were protected somewhat. It was better to be something than nothing.

Plato did not invent his view of justice. More exactly, he rationalized the view of justice held by the dominant intellectual elite of his day. The intellectual elite loved Plato’s rationalizations because it granted them absolute power over subordinates. Plato’s theories excused snobbish attitudes and conveniently justified slavery, which was already in place.

If this were a history of philosophy, we would now begin tracing the influence of Plato’s dysfunctional definition of justice and business and reason and note how it affected subsequent philosophers.

Plato influenced both Eastern and Western thinking. Century after century, Plato’s reason-business-justice mistake came to the fore and helped suppress more equitable political ideas. For a brief time, the genuine Enlightenment came into dominance in some areas but was again suppressed in most of the world by a new phalanx of invert ideologists, all looking for their version of the philosopher king. George Hegel and Karl Marx can be seen as a reincarnation of Plato’s elitism. In the Hegelian and Marxist dialectic, the enlightened few are those chosen ones who understand the dialectic. These few are the only people who know what is best for society and they should have absolute power over those who do not understand the dialectic. When Marxist leaning dialecticians speak of the ‘will of the People’ they really mean the ‘will of the philosopher king and the kings cohorts’. The actual living masses of people in the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic are expendable. Karl Popper in the Open Society demonstrates this connection.

Tracing Plato’s "reason-business-justice" interpretation through history explains numerous puzzles that are otherwise hard to understand. It explains why there was so much resistance in academic circles in the Middle Ages to the education of the masses. In Western Society, in acquiring formal education almost everybody read Plato’s Republic and in the process, more often than not, absorbed Plato’s elitism even though they may not have agreed totally with all Plato said.

The above example shows some of the trouble that can result from a miss formed definition. Plato gave an invert twist to his definition of justice that allowed people to feel righteous and to own slaves at the same time. Following Plato’s definition of justice, people in power could talk themselves into feeling virtuous about going to war to expand territory. They felt righteous about killing people who were in their way and taking by force property that belonged to some one else.

What did Alexander the Great do? He organized a huge band of young restless men into a ruthless army that marched through neighboring countries, killed many people, took others property and then proclaimed himself a great conqueror. Did he do any good? Some say "yes", some say "no". He subjugated other bands of hoodlums who were doing the same thing and managed to established some order and communication. He spread Greek civilization with its many plus qualities that more often than not out weighed the negative. Maybe he was the lesser of two evils. But should we consider him as one of the worlds great heroes, as was done in much Western philosophy. What he did, had long term effects and should not be ignored. But that doesn’t make him a glistening hero as Hegel maintains.

Plus root theory holds as a tenet that: in a core terms, such as justice, we have a moral obligation to try to find a definition that fits with high ethical standards and also fits with the wisdom and elegance of our language and also fits with the requirements of sound rational thinking..

Before going on with this project we need to take into account some significant qualifications. These qualifications are important in developing a balanced understanding of epistemology and logic. In understanding plus root theory the next chapter is crucial.