Aren’t we happier not knowing that our ‘real’ world isn’t real?

Amber asked:

If you do suspect that Plato’s theory of the forms may be true, and that the ‘real’ world is in fact fiction (this is extending the theory a bit) then what is the point in living? If the world wasn’t real, then there must be an actual real world. What is better? Living in ignorance but being happy, or knowledge but never being able to go back to your original happy state?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

You’re making a fundamentally mistaken assumption (although it’s relatively common): What makes you think “ignorance is bliss”?

All of human history points in the opposite direction — in fact you can go back to Homo erectus, if you wish.

The pattern conveyed by this history is that searching for a better life, for fulfilment and meaning in life, is what drives human beings, time and again, to discover and invent, to create and to think.

So the correlation between ignorance and being happy, which you put into your question, has not the flimsiest foundation. I believe, in fact, that you are mistaking the few escapists, drug addicts and fatalists as representing all of mankind. Although there have been episodes when whole cultures went into a slump of escapism, they also do not represent the trend that is typical of human history. They are retarding episodes in a general upward thrust.

Accordingly I cannot make head or tail about your question on Plato. What if Plato’s theory were true? Well, perhaps it is. So what? Do you think that Plato wrote 350 pages of the Republic to be misunderstood as meaning there is no real world? Isn’t that book on the contrary the clearest evidence of his worry that we are apt to fall into just the kind of delusion that you falsely attribute to him? Do you believe that the State which Socrates is constructing in its pages — his ‘kallipolis’, or beautiful city — is a dream or something he wanted to see in the real world? Near the end he tells you — perhaps you should read this a little more carefully! My city, he says, is a paradigm, a model; and I don’t expect anyone in the world to adopt it holus bolus. But everyone can take a little from it, which can only improve their society. Especially (which is the real point Socrates wanted to make) to improve human justice, which plays such a poverty stricken role in most societies, when it should be the first and most important criterion in the foundation of a community.

Now that’s not a dream. It is hope, and realisable, if only we wish.

But to accomplish this, you must cast off the delusions to which we humans are chained, such as (for example) today’s rampant consumerism. That is ignorance indeed, but not bliss!


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