Plato takes on Bill O’Reilly! The great philosopher, dead for 2,400 years, argues with Amy Chua! And Daniel Dennett! And Google! This is philosopher-novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s hook in her audacious new book “Plato at the Googleplex,” a hybrid of a careful overview of Plato and a series of imagined dialogues between Plato and contemporary interlocutors.
“Plato at the 92nd Street Y” pits him against the Chua-ish “Warrior Mother” Sophie Zee, discussing “The Republic’s” hypothetical “city of pigs” and testing out in the Myers-Briggs typology as an INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment); “Plato on Cable News” has him exchanging blows with a bloviating O’Reilly clone named Roy McCoy. And yes, here is “Plato at the Googleplex,” debating an engineer over the possibility of crowdsourcing ethics, as well as wryly comparing its communal environment to the training of young philosopher-kings in “The Republic.”
By alternating between these new “Platonic dialogues” and a serious chronicle of Plato’s life and philosophy, Goldstein makes a plea for the continuing importance of philosophy as Plato (427-347 B.C.) conceived it, and for the enduring relevance of Plato’s contributions. And she retells what clearly was a formative event in Plato’s life: how Plato’s mentor Socrates, through speech alone, came to be seen as so dangerous to Athenian society that he was put to death.