For me, one of the most compelling concepts from Plato’s work is the notion, broadly referred to as “platonism,” that the material world we live in is but an imperfect copy of a divine ideal. Every chair you sit in, for instance, is but a flawed attempt to replicate the perfect form of the ideal chair. The perfect ideal chair does not exist in this world, but its ideal form exists in some metaphysical realm where the form and function are flawlessly and beautifully matched. This is true for all things; everything is pointing to the ultimate forms of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. They are embodied, however imperfectly, in our endeavors to capture form and function in the world around us.
Likewise, artists who are seeking through their art to discover a more and closer connection with reality are bringing us closer to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Plato was an admirer of playwrights and poets in his day whose works attempted to bring viewers and readers to a better understanding of what might be called The Platonic Trinity. I’d like to imagine that today Plato would approve of the works of artists like Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Bruce Springsteen, Banksy, and even the comedy of Louis C.K. Any artist whose work seeks to enlighten, challenge, edify, or otherwise invite the participant into an exploration of the True, the Good, the Beautiful is worthy of our interest. Plato was less impressed with artists whose art seemed more interested in the expression of its own mastery. This was, in a sense, artistic sophistry: art simply for art’s sake. (We might include the films of David Lynch, the paintings of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack, or avant-garde jazz. I suppose we might also include – but distinguish in quality – Miley Cyrus, Michael Bay, or Thomas Kinkade. But I digress….) However, art is just as essential in the search for the True-Good-Beautiful as math, science, or philosophy.
I bring all of this up for this reason: It is my desire as a parent to raise my child as close as possible to the True-Good-Beautiful. I don’t suppose I always know exactly what that is, but I was reminded of it as I pondered her trip to MerleFest a few weeks ago. Would Plato have loved MerleFest? Perhaps, who knows. I know that we love MerleFest. But what I loved most is that my child perhaps found some new ways to explore the world, with music and play and freedom, which would, I think, draw her a little closer to the flames of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
When she was around eighteen months old, she brought home a painting she’d done at daycare. By itself, it’s just a messy finger-painting in greens and purples. But at the top, her teacher wrote “Today we listened to classical music. My fingers danced on my paper!” What a gift that, before my child had been alive two years, she was already listening to Beethoven and Bach, whose music displays the very beauty of mathematics that Plato so extolled, and was given the free space to play with color and paint and the ten beautiful paintbrushes on the ends of her hands.
I want my child to learn the love of searching for these things. That is, after all, what is meant by the word “philosophy” – the love of wisdom. I want my daughter to get as close as she can to what is true about herself, what is good about herself, what is beautiful about herself. Music, art, play; MerleFest, swim lessons, stacks of books; a safe home environment where she is free to explore. These are the values I hold for her as a parent. Perhaps my home isn’t exactly Plato’s Academy; I’m certainly no philosopher-king. But when I see her lost in play, I see Truth and Goodness and Beauty. I’m a philosopher in that I love the wisdom waiting to be born in her.