Justice and truth
Joseph Ratzinger: “Plato’s philosophy is utterly misconceived when he is presented as an individualistic, dualistic thinker who negates what is earthly and advocates a flight into the beyond.”
by Ken Myers
“Such a thought provides a fresh foundation for politics and so a new possibility for the polis as community. At the same time, Plato gives it a grounding of a religious kind. In developing this insight by reference to religious tradition, he wishes to identify primordial springs of wisdom which may take the place of the shallow religiosity of the by-now-faded myths. The philosophical martyrdom of Socrates belongs in this context. It is both a political martyrdom and a testimony to the greater degree of reality to be found in justice as opposed to simply biological existence.
“These reflections appear to be taking us far from our theological problem. Nevertheless, they are necessary. They show how untenable is that caricature of Platonism on which many current theological stereotypes depend. The real goal of Plato’s philosophy is utterly misconceived when he is presented as an individualistic, dualistic thinker who negates what is earthly and advocates a flight into the beyond. The true fulcrum of his thought is the new ground of possibility for the polis, a fresh foundation for politics. His philosophy finds its center in the idea of justice. It developed in a political crisis, and derives from the conviction that the polis cannot stand wherever justice is something other than reality and truth. The recognition of the living power of truth, which includes the thought of immortality, is not part of a philosophy of flight from the world, but is in an eminent sense political philosophy. These are insights which remain fundamental for an evaluation of contemporary ‘political theology’ and political eschatology. If these movements do not confront the problem of death in its relation to justice at that level of depth which Plato opened up for us, they can in the end only obscure the heart of the matter.
“If we try to capture the core of Plato's discovery we can formulate it by saying that man, to survive biologically, must be more than bios. He must be able to die into a more authentic life than this. The certainty that self-abandonment for the sake of truth is self-abandonment to reality and not a step into the night of nothingness is a necessary condition for justice. But justice is the condition on which the life of the polis endures. In the final analysis, therefore, justice makes possible biological survival itself. When we turn to consider directly the questions of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead, we shall have to discuss the mythopoeic and political instruments whereby Plato chose to express these insights. It will then become plain to what degree Christian faith had to intervene here, correcting and purifying. There is indeed a profound divergence between Plato and Christianity. Yet this should not blind us to the possibilities of a philosophical unfolding of the Christian faith which Platonism offers. These possibilities are rooted in a deep affinity on the level of fundamental formative intention.”
— from Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (The Catholic University of America Press, 1977, 1988)