Lullabies for the dying

Open lecture | Existentialist Society (Melb) | 2-4pm, Sat, 2 Oct | zoom UPDATED: recording here

Last Judgment 1306 Fresco, 1000 x 840 cm Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua
The Last Judgment by Giotto (1306) Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy

For Plato, scientific discourse (logos) is all about making arguments that can be found to be true or false either by reference to experience (empirical science) or otherwise by reference to the formal nature of things (the formal sciences). These days we would say that physicists and mathematicians make and defend “falsifiable” hypotheses.

But what about discourse that can’t be falsified? Well, that’s where we come to good old fashioned storytelling. In The Republic, Plato rejects traditional literary education based on the myths of gods and heroes, not so much because they aren’t true, but more because these stories don’t promote good psycho-social health. To serve this purpose in his ideal republic, Plato proposes the development of a new mythology.

These new morality tales would include stories about the soul’s afterlife that could help overcome fear of death for those who have led a just life but to exacerbate fear for those who have not. Samples of such inventions that appear in Plato’s Socratic dialogues bear a striking resemblance to the myths of the afterlife that subsequently made their way into the folklore of Christianity and that then became the prime motive of popular Christian morality. One of these stories is told by Plato’s ideal man, Socrates, just before taking the poisonous hemlock, to “enchant” himself as he says, as though a lullaby for the dying.

Join us at the Melbourne Existentialist Society (zoom, 2pm, Sat, 2 Oct) where we consider the extent to which the success of Christianity is based on a Platonic propaganda strategy in which the inherent fear of death is manipulated to effect social control.

UPDATE: See lecture recording here