This is an "Old Age" book. Its theme is that we have lost sight of reality and attempted to substitute "what we think we want to be true" for "what is in fact true". In doing so, we have turned our life both as individuals and as a society on its head. We have attempted what Jesus of Nazareth warned us would never work. We have intruded a new philosophy into existing external structures, institutions and patterns of life. We have attempted to put "New Wine in Old Skins" and found that they have burst open. The rational response to our present predicament is to declare our experiment with Subjective Relativism a failure and to reverse that fateful decision. It is now well past the time that we should rescue what we can of the old philosophy and re-express it in those new external structures, institutions and patterns of life which are now appropriate.
I hope that you will find a refreshing perspective in these pages and be motivated to take forward some of the ideas they contain into the battle between ignorance and deceit that rages about us.
|In the first few theoretical chapters I first try
to answer the question: "What is life and what is its purpose?" I then
consider what it is to be human, and attempt to establish an anthropology
that is at core personal, spiritual and individualistic.
Next, I explore what it is to come to know or to believe something. I then elucidate how faith - rightly understood - is basic to all knowledge, whether philosophical or scientific. Next, I discuss what it means to say that something is "good" or "evil".
In the more practical chapters that follow I first consider why it is rational and right for the individual to be gentle and just - and how it is in their own selfish interest to be kind to others. I then discuss the nature of friendship - arguing that this is the base value on which all human society is constructed.
Next, I discuss the dangers inherent in the popular view of multiculturalism and propose an alternate approach. Then I criticize contemporary educational theory and practice before offering some thoughts on medical ethic, one of today's most divisive issues. Finally, I discuss Democracy in theory and practice and suggest options and alternatives.
|I hope that you will find the book intellectually
stimulating, and not too annoying. If it brings to a clearer focus in your
mind ideas that were always latent, then my task will have been largely
achieved. If it stimulates in you an interest to learn more of Plato and
Socrates, then I will be pleased. If you come to have a desire to search
for truth, beauty and justice whatever the cost, then I will be well content.
"O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place; grant that I may be beautiful within. Let all my possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him. Do we need anything else, Phaedrus? I believe my prayer is enough for me."
New Skins for Old Wine ranges widely over vast territory: from Plato himself, to Karl Popper, Dungeons & Dragons, Greek and Latin Church Fathers, modern popes, and J.R.R. Tolkien to name but a few of Dr Lovatt's sources. The book reads as a series of personal reflections, not necessarily disconnected, but certainly not systematic in their presentation. One will easily be reminded of Nietzsche (not in content, I hasten to add, but in method); for Dr Lovatt writes as he thinks, with a thoughtful approach to each topic, yet one which dispenses with lengthy explanations. In short, the reader is expected to follows Dr Lovatt's train of thought over the course of many pages and many ideas. Dr Lovatt's book is not a series of aphorisms, but it comes close. Not a bad thing, in my opinion.
An example of Dr Lovatt's admirable Platonism is on page 299, when he asks the question: "Which comes first: Good or God?" In Platonic philosophy, the Good is sometimes identified with the highest principle, the One, or, in some cases, with Beauty, the highest intelligible principle i.e., the highest principle to which souls can attain through knowledge [as Proclus states, this is the paradigmatic virtue, attainable only by divinized souls = gods]. Neoplatonic hairsplitting aside, the basic Platonist view is that the Good is the source of all existence, and the source to which all existing beings shall return; or, to borrow St. Paul's quotation of a 'pagan' poet, that in which we "live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28 KJV). It cannot be said, of course, that the Good precedes God, or vice-versa; for God is the source of Good, and Goodness is the human word used to define as far as possible the essence of God.
Daringly, Dr Lovatt also delves into the deep waters of Plato's politics (see, especially, p. 393, "The case against Plato"), drawing upon Karl Popper's criticisms. Indeed, the Republic and to a much lesser degree the Laws advocate a form of communism not quite amenable to modern Anglo-American sensibilities. Yet much work has been done in recent years on this very topic, by Plato experts such as Malcolm Schofield and Julia Annas (to name just two) who give strikingly non-Popperian expositions of the Laws and show us that Plato's political ideas were far more nuanced than Popper allowed.
The basis of a successful state, essentially, is life-long education. Such is Plato's ideal. The life of the intellect must hold sway not the life of the loins. In the United States, especially, obsession with children is at a fever pitch: everyone wants children, and takes great pride in the fact that their copulative act results in yet another human being. As Dr Lovatt so elegantly puts it: "When parents seek for personal meaning in terms of their children, they try to supplement their own worth with that of their offspring" (71). Plato's perhaps ill-advised attempts to control family life were, in my view, an atttempt to curb the parents' natural desire to view their children as pathways to immortality. One must love oneself before loving another. Dr Lovatt makes this point in an admirably concise way. I just hope that people listen to it.
Dr Lovatt strikes me as the kind of fellow I'd like to hang out with and talk philosophy (or any subject) over fish and chips and a pint of Guiness. His writing is to quote one of my old professors from Middlesex College, Dr. Gaffigan "crisp, crackling, and biting as a winter breeze." The union of compelling ideas and good writing is in short supply these days. Dr Lovatt's book is a refreshing reminder that some people still think and write remarkably well.
Review by Peter Cowlem,poet, dramatist and author of "Marissa"
In positing a Christian eschatology, Stephen Lovatt presents a persuasive and thoroughly thought-out argument in its support. Millennia of human soul-searching have gone into difficult and pressing questions as to how civilisations should organise themselves, and how we the beings constituting them should live. Plato thought this wasn't solely a matter of politics, and nor does Dr Lovatt. It is desirable, of course, that we uphold ideals in fairness, justice, good governance, etc., but if these concepts are borne only of our material life what does that say for our spiritual being, supposing we have one?
'For a mortal being to somehow gain an association with God, and to be granted a participation in God's divine life, would be to gain a firm basis for its existence, not subject to the vicissitudes of the material universe. No greater good is possible.' [p223]Dr Lovatt, as Plato did, believes in humanity's divine aspect, the flesh not merely clay, but inspirited:
'[The gods] having taken the immortal origin of the soul gave it the entire body as its vehicle.' [p118, quoting Plato's Timaeus (69b-70b)]The learning process our life experience subjects us to, and the institutional tents we raise on its behalf schools, laws, parliaments, and a lot more things besides are not just the instruments of social progress.
'The basic point of being human is that a person can relate to the material world and in that relationship the soul can learn what it is to be just. This requires consciousness, because the spirit is only aware of conscious thought, and conscience can only act through consciousness. Life without consciousness (or the prospect of consciousness, as in a sleeper or an embryo) is sub-ethical and so sub-human.' [p360]This vale of tears our earthly life is, is a prerequisite of the path of enlightenment the soul is purposed to take, for eventual communion with God, and that is the point of all our agonising over the right models of community being. No other outlook will do, particularly that espoused by the philosophers of relativism, all too prevalent today, whose
' common attitudes arise from their shared subjectivist assumption that truth is personal. This implies that truth differs from one individual to the next and so each man's truth is his own affair. Each of us is an island, cut off from each other, without any hope of meaningful communication. This is a truly sad and frightening prospect to face, and anyone who fully adopts this perspective, it seems to me, is liable to despair.' [p244]According to Dr Lovatt, it's all in fact quite to the contrary, there being just one form of the good (as set out by Plato in his theory of forms), and this it is the soul's duty to aspire to, having first been enmeshed and possibly more than once (though a theory of metempsychosis is not fully adduced) in the complicated circuitry of flesh. How an individual human soul must navigate the world is systematically set out in Dr Lovatt's book, with insight into the meaning of, for example, friendship, education, human sexuality, and the relationship of person to state.
For myself, a man in a blinkered life here in this corrupted Eden, it's a step too far to share his faith, and in my mind raises the question why some people are predisposed to a belief in the Christian God and an afterlife. Is the whole thing just a matter of acculturation, or are some of us closer to God than the rest? And how are we supposed to spend our eternity?
I don't know the answer, but Stephen Lovatt explores the question in an extremely eloquent and thought-provoking way.
|Review from a Professor of Computational Neuroscience
The book covers scattered topics of contemporary relevance, linked by the author's personal interest and connected to an underlying Platonic and Christian viewpoint of the world. The author covers topics of academic interest --- from life and consciousness to sexuality and religion --- in an opinionated style that brings the subject matter to life and should encourage lively debate in any classroom setting.
In an attempt to address issues of importance today through a philosophy based on Platonism and objective realism, the author is to be commended. The book will appeal to many and should, as the author hopes, encourage readers to think more deeply about topics where everyday thinking can be muddied.
In some topics (eg Islam) I fear the author strays beyond his area of expertise, but attempts to address such deficiencies by incorporating various personal exchanges in a manner reminiscent of Socratic dialog within the text. Such debates will add to the value of this book in a classroom setting and I recommend its use in an introductory course in philosophy.
Prof Paul Miller
|Extracts from the first professional review
Dr Lovatt's book is a comprehensive look at how the teachings and philosophy of Plato have relevance in today's complex world. Every aspect of human experience falls under the microscope of the author's understanding of Plato's maxims, including sexuality, politics, the exterior world of nature, and the process of scientific discovery. The author invites his readers to see the world through Plato's eyes, and make their own conclusions about the meaning of life.
"Old Wine in New Skins: Plato's Wisdom for Today's World" is exhaustively researched and Plato's works and those of other thinkers such as Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Popper, various popes, King Charles I of England and even Voldemort (the villain of the popular Harry Potter books) are liberally sprinkled throughout the text. Dr Lovatt invites his readers to questions their own beliefs, and offers his point of view as an explanation of questions which have been posed through the ages. This work should give readers much to ponder as they reflect on the author's perspective on the meaning of life.
|Review from a young reader
For those who are familiar with much of contemporary philosophy- they will know that it is almost entirely "spiritual" and pretentious nonsense. Lovatt's book is a return back to logical thought and reasoned conclusions.
He ranges a broad spectrum of topics with views that generally take concepts from both sides of the aisle to create what he believes to be the correct answer. This is a wonderful guide to many of Plato's thoughts, and raises pertinent issues in often unique ways.
To the atheists out there- Lovatt will often raise the topic of God, but takes it as a given that God exists. Speaking as an atheist and or an agnostic, this is NO deterent to reading the book. Nearly everything Lovatt says will still carry weight in worldview without God, and you may find yourself pleasently surprised at his explicit use of logic.
The only thing I have against he book is that I found parts of it a bit "dry". But if you are on the pursuit for truth, beauty, and justice - this book is an excellent place to start, continue, or finish.
Mr Jake Kramer
Review by Derek Jay PGCE BAHaving taught Plato at "A level" for several years, it has always been difficult to fund easy-to-understand books. Dr Lovatt's is considerably more user-friendly than most, with illustrations from popular culture films, games and so on. The chapter on Friendship is excellent, as is the one on Sexuality I'd never realised that Plato's "Aristophanes myth", included a double male. I loved the quotation:: "and man is created as a toy for God and should spend his whole life at play." I have preached on play and will remember this if I get a chance to do so again. I agree with Dr Lovatt as to the destructiveness of much modern philosophy and the need to return to its classical roots. An OFSTED inspector once told me that I wasn't doing 'real philosophy' when teaching Plato. Only linguistics qualified in his view!
I liked Plato's view that the written word compromises the living process of relation and discovery; that it is necesary to continually challenge "conventional orthodoxy" because doxa (belief or opinion) is always provisional and also the teleological idea that all processes in the cosmos tends towards the optimum, which prefigures Darwin. It was good to be told that "fideism" and "secular rationalism" are both characterised by rigidity and intolerance! I liked Dr Lovatt's idea that religious belief is justified by experience whereas (as Popper has pinted out) science works by guesswork and disproof Richard Dawkins needs to read this!
Dr Lovatt reminds us that God is "no person". Would that fundamentalists would understand this! I liked the idea that some suffering is necessary to help humans develop and flourish but disliked 'man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven'. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? It seems to me that Platonism here is opposed to the incarnational heart of Christianity, even though Dr Lovatt insists that Plato was not really a "dualist" in thinking of humans as "souls imprisoned in bodies".
I think Dr Lovatt overstates the case that relativism leads inevitably to tyranny. It seems to me that because truth is more than we can comprehend, our apprehension of it is bound to be partial; so the truth we perceive is relative, even though truth itself is, ultimately, objective. Nevertheless, I agree with the comment that Britain's inability to accommodate strangers and immigrants is largely due to its own basic rootlessness. I welcome the idea that the root cause of poverty is injustice. It was good to see an acknowledgement of structural sin. Too many Christians see charity, rather than political change or revolution, as the solution to social ills. However, I don't accept Dr Lovatt's too easy dismissal of altruism and his insistence that what fundamentally matters in any ethical dilema is "what is good for me".
It seems to me that Dr Lovatt is right when he argues that neo-conservativism, under the present and previous pontiff, are more abut hierarchical power than about truth. It is good, therefore, to be reminded of Aquinas' exortation: "the precept of fraternal correction extends also to the prelates, so that they may be corrected by their subjects." On the other hand, Dr Lovatt advances a good argument in favour of secular monarchy - and I speak as an anti-monarchist! I agree that Pope Benedict is spot on when he says, 'Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person'.
Dr Lovatt's treatment of the "Euthrypho dilema" is good. This was an issue that most of my students found really difficult Dr Lovatt's discussion of the issues would have greatly helped them. His reference to the Jewish Sages - especially Sirah - was a good antidote to those who caricature Judaism as a legalistic religion. However, when Dr Lovatt turns to discuss Islam, things go badly wrong. He rightly point out that a tendancy to self-denegration and destruction can also be found in Calvinism and Roman Catholism; but his muslim correspondent S. Khan says some very odd things e.g. about reincarnation on p. 319. The idea that muslims do not see the business of humans as being to grow into mature friendship with God - but rather to unquestionable obey Allah is wrong, or at least a caricature. Indoctrination is not a characteristic of Islam! I believe that most muslims would agree with Pope Benedict's account of the relationship between faith and reason. They see nature and reason as being as much Allah's "book" as the Qur'an; which is why they didn't have the big disputes between "science and religion". Dr Lovatt's unsympathetic account of muslim states ought to be tempered with the acknowledgement that the West was responsible for the imposition of the nation state and the disintegration of the ummah and that the dictators running such states rule politically, not islamically. Dr Lovatt's comments about the so-called danger of Islam taking over pander to the baser instincts of most islamophobes very few BNP members would be intelligent enough to read Dr Lovatt's book but this aspect of it is exactly the sort of thing they peddle!
Dr Lovatt captures the meaning of "soul" very well. So many Christians are basically dualists and think in terms which Jews don't and which are alien to orthodox Christianity. His analogies are also good and similar to ones I have used in preaching and teaching, e.g. hardware/software similar to John Hick's use, in pre-computer days, of a book written in pen on paper being burnt in a fire but its contents living on in the mind of the author who is able to rewrite at some future date. That we have a "persistent continuity" contrasts with Buddhist philosophy and it would have been an interesting tangent to pursue what "anima" really means, as opposed to the popular misunderstanding.
Regarding essentialism; the idea that, for example, Socrates happened to have homosexual "properties" rather than "being homosexual" more needs to be said. This is an age-old debate which has been re-ignited by the post-modernist rejection of any objective reality. Dr Lovatt portrays evil as an absence of order, in a very orthodox manner; his brief mention of Buddhist thought about craving and suffering was inadequate and the issues should have been treated with more sympathy.
I greatly enjoyed the chapter on education, though I detect sour grapes. I strongly agree that education is for its own sake, not for vocational and economic reasons. Dr Lovatt advocates a return to 'traditional educational practice' (p. 295) yet what he seems really to long for is more in keeping with the ideals of those "liberals" like me. The teacher as midwife (p. 276) is obviously Plato - but that was our ideal in the 70s! It was in reaction to us that the Tories, under Ken Baker, bought in the 1988 Education Reform Act that led to OFSTED and measuring everything to the detriment of unmeasurables. True, Labour made it work "better" by their obsessive target-setting but this a return to "traditional educational practice" - payment by results in the Victorian board schools. Education as "training" is something else the Tories bought in 1988 along with the earlier TVEI all theory, when all asking "why" was banned from the PGCE syllabus.