The Pros and Cons of Intellectualism: Plato vs. Orwell
Intellectualism is the philosophical theory that holds that the predominance of intellect over sense perception should be given primacy in human affairs. This theory has been espoused by many thinkers throughout history, but perhaps most notably by the Greek philosopher Plato. In this essay, I will explore Plato’s intellectualism as it is expressed in his work “The Republic”. I will also compare and contrast this view with George Orwell’s more cynical take on life as expressed in his novel “1984”. Finally, I will offer my own thoughts on the matter.
2. The intellectualism of Plato:
In “The Republic”, Plato argues that there are two different kinds of knowledge-sensory knowledge and intellective knowledge. Sensory knowledge is based on our sense perceptions, while intellective knowledge is based on our ability to conceptualize and reason. Plato believes that intellective knowledge is superior to sensory knowledge because it is not subject to the vagaries of our senses. This is best illustrated by Plato’s famous analogy of the cave. In this analogy, Plato compares our sense perceptions to the shadows cast on the wall of a cave. These shadows are an imperfect representation of reality, and they can deceive us if we rely on them too much. By contrast, intellective knowledge is like the sunlight outside the cave- it is a true representation of reality. Therefore, we should base our lives on intellective knowledge rather than sensory knowledge.
3. George Orwell’s “Diary”:
George Orwell was a contemporary of Plato, and he also had some interesting things to say about the importance of intellectualism in human affairs. However, unlike Plato, Orwell was much more suspicious of intellectuals and their motives. This is evident in his novel “1984”, which is set in a dystopian society where the government controls everything and people are kept in line through a system of strict discipline and surveillance. In this society, intellectuals are not to be trusted- they are seen as dangerous rebels who could potentially overthrow the government. This suspicion of intellectuals is also evident in Orwell’s diaries, which he kept during his time working for the BBC during World War II. In these diaries, Orwell frequently criticizes his colleagues for their lack of intellectual rigor and their political naivete. He also rails against what he sees as the stifling atmosphere of intellectual conformity at the BBC. For Orwell, intellectuals were not to be trusted because they were often more interested in promoting their own agendas than in seeking truth.
Plato and Orwell both had interesting things to say about intellectualism and its role in human affairs. However, they came at this issue from different angles. Plato believed that intellective knowledge was superior to sensory knowledge and that we should base our lives on it. By contrast, Orwell was much more suspicious of intellectuals and their motives. In my opinion, both Plato and Orwell make valid points about intellectualism. It is important to have a strong foundation of intellective knowledge, but we should also be wary of those who would abuse their intellectual power for their own gain.