Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 11, No 1 (2015)

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On the Varieties of Religious Rationality: Plato (and the Buddha) versus the New Atheists

Joseph Morrill Kirby

Abstract


Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl claims that human beings are spiritually and mentally free, and that it is possible to maintain one's dignity even in a concentration camp. If this tremendous claim is true, it is true regardless of who says it. However, it is only when the claim is made by someone like Frankl that it functions rhetorically, actually prompting the listener to reflect on what it might mean. In the Gorgias, Socrates argues for an even more extreme version of this same idea: that it would be better to be tortured to death than to torture someone else, because it is impossible for a torturer to be happy. This paper shows why, if what Frankl and Socrates say is true, both tradition and myth are perfectly rational modes of discourse, and why a culture that rejects the capacity of tradition and myth to disclose truth will almost inevitably reject these claims as irrational. This discussion is framed in terms of an interesting disjunct in the meaning of the term "atheist," as it is used by the New Atheists and as it is used by Plato, and is set in dialogue with the claims of as Vipassana meditation teacher S. N. Goenka, whose teachings bear remarkable similarity to Plato's.

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