On Reading the Past

Reading is a societal aspect of life. In one sense, reading is life. We are trained from our earliest days to read the world. This is what our Dutch Reformed forefathers referred to worldview. We are trained to look at the world and interpret it according to our backgrounds, contexts, etc. Some never develop their reading skills and thus are left to foolishness or a certain inability to communicate with the world around them. Western Civilization did triumph in developing a sophisticated sense of reading, especially in that its past works have become resources, and in many ways, the primary sources for modern and classical education. Nevertheless, classics– or the writings of the past– however profound and philosophically saturated it may be, and however foundational to the civilizations of the future they still do not contain  the last word. In 1,000 years will Plato and Socrates still be the high class of philosophy or will they be one among many of the greats? My suspicion is these names will only be mentioned in passing. Their theories will have been refined or rebuked. Plato may be replaced by Plantinga…we’ll see.


After much discussion of this on facebook, my good friend John Fraiser summarizes:

We might be confusing a couple of things in this discussion. Unless it is considered a holy book, the average person isn’t reading anything anyone wrote 1,000+ years ago. That fact says more about our culture than those who wrote 1,000+ years ago. Whether or not the average person reads ancient literature is hardly a measure of it’s value. Even if Plato’s thought is largely rejected (as it certainly is – Uri’s right about this), it will still be valuable for putting the history of thought in perspective. Even bad ideas deserve to be studied if they have been held widely enough and long enough. In the sense of understanding the history of ideas, Plato will and should be read till kingdom come. And all the while, no one will really believe him.

What Uri seems to be concerned about is whether Plato’s influence of our current thought will wane. On this point I think he’s right: it won’t last. Though his influence on contemporary thought is still present, it continues to dissipate. But even if his influence should vanish entirely, he will still be read for monumental role in the history of the world.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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