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Thomas Jefferson on Plato’s “philosophy”

Which would you prefer, Plato or Jesus?
I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong however in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading thro’ the whimsies, the puerilities [childishness], and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? … bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him his sophisms [arguments used to deceive], futilities, and incomprehensibilities, and what remains? … Yet this which should have consigned him to early oblivion really procured him immortality of fame and reverence.
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, July 5, 1814

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
While finding Plato’s work nearly incomprehensible, Jefferson attempted to explain its popularity. He attributed much of that to the “Christian priesthood.” That group, he claimed, found the teachings of Jesus so simple to understand that he (Jesus) rendered a priesthood unnecessary. In Plato, Jefferson said the priests found a philosophy so obscure that they could bend it to their advantage and maintain their ascendancy over the ones they were supposed to serve, that it would provide “employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence.”
Jefferson’s “other home” is Poplar Forest, his plantation just outside Lynchburg, VA. He went there several times a year to escape the crush of guests, invited and otherwise, who often intruded on him at Monticello. Poplar Forest, as the house also was called, was of octagonal design. It had fallen to ruin by the early 1980s but has been rescued and nicely restored by the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. For more on Jefferson’s hide-away home, see http://www.poplarforest.org/.
The full text of the letter above can be found at http://bit.ly/pflgAb.

Thomas Jefferson will NOT confuse your audience like Plato would.
Invite him to speak and find out for yourself!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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One Response to Thomas Jefferson on Plato’s “philosophy”

  1. Clayton Edwards says:

    I find this fascinating. If I understand your point, Christian Theologians were able to appropriate Plato to themselves – arguably even hijack his dialogues and cover them over in flattery, in their own rhetoric on Christ and salvation to clothe him as a boring Theologian and even cook trouble as a routine, hence our current fights over whether the US is a Christian nation and the establishment clause among other legal sophistries. Muslim Theologians did not have the same level of access to Plato’s works. I wonder if Jefferson ever read Gorgias on bare rhetoric and its use by tyrants to threaten and implement political killings? One wonders what our Declaration of Independence would have looked like.

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