The Corner

“Jonah Channels Plato”

From a reader:

I thought you might like to know that you were channeling Plato in today’s column.

You wrote:

“That’s one of the funny things about doing the right thing: You can come up with an endless supply of reasons why it’s right. . . . In mathematics this principle is demonstrated in its purest form. 2 + 2 = 4, because 2 and 2 add up to four. But four is also four because 2 times 2 equals 4. Also, one plus one plus one plus one equals four. And pretty much every way you come at it, four is going to be four if everything that goes into it adds up (subtracts down, or whatever) to four.”

In the Republic, Plato gives us this exchange:

Thrasymachus (to Socrates): “I say that if you want really to know what justice is, you should not only ask but answer . . . for there is many a one who can ask and cannot answer. And now I will not have you say that justice is duty or advantage or profit or gain or interest, for this sort of nonsense will not do for me; I must have clearness and accuracy.”

Socrates: “You are a philosopher, Thrasymachus, and well know that if you ask a person what numbers make up twelve, taking care to prohibit him whom you ask from answering twice six, or three times four, or six times two, or four times three, ‘for this sort of nonsense will not do for me,’ –then obviously, that is your way of putting the question, no one can answer you.”

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