Episode 257: Mormonism and Plato

15 comments on “Episode 257: Mormonism and Plato”

  1. Christopher Allman Reply

    I loved this episode John, i hope you do more like these!
    I remember as a Mormon how much Plato’s forms spoke to me and my Mormon beliefs.
    And, considering the fact that the Roman Empire gradually lost it’s political cohesiveness and essentially became The Catholic Church, it is no wonder Christianity is so deeply influenced by Roman thought…it IS Roman thought. Christianity is Rome’s imperialism under a different guise.

  2. Christopher Allman Reply

    I was happy to hear you addressing how the Mormon Church’s success as an institution largely comes (I believe) from it’s ability to utilize Darwinian forces in selecting leadership.

    This occurs, primarily through the existence of the lay leadership. By having the members themselves asked to be part of the leadership leadership, it allows certain attributes to rise to the top while others sink to the bottom.
    With most religions, where the leaders essentially choose themselves, it is difficult, for the institution to select which attributes they wish to propagate, with Mormonism it is easy, choose the men who behave in ways that favor the heirchy and keep the men who don’t in unimportant callings.

    If someone chooses to be a preist or a pastor and aren’t any good or don’t have certain attributes favorable to reinforcing organisational power, it is difficult to remove them. Wheras in Mormonism, one need not even remove an overly liberal Bishop, just don’t call him to any other callings of leadership. (and, chances are, he wouldn’t have been called as bishop to begin with having first proven his liberal leanings as an elders quorum president or something)

    This also leads to the best and the brightest being more likely to stay involved, active and conforming to community standards, since they have a strong incentive to do so, ie. Leadership. Wheras, in other faiths, the incentive to obey is not nearly so great since whether you do or not your outcome is mostly the same.

    It truly is the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and in this case ‘fitness’ is being a good business man who is friendly and doesn’t masturbate (or whatever).

  3. Christopher Allman Reply

    I think there are plenty of legit criticisms of Philosophy as an area of study and Philosophy professors in particular, but they are not the one’s you ‘ve made.
    Of course INTRODUCTORY philosophy courses are merely historical overviews…but the same could be said of most introductory courses. Once you get to upper level classes, you (hopefully) begin to study contemporary philosophers (like, people that are alive and publishing) and engaging with contemporary discourse…However, if you studied philosophy at Byu, this will likely NOT be the case, since, unlike most universities, they don’t have the same publishing requirements for their Philosphy profs and many of them are simply historians of philosophical thought. But, at the UofU for example, things are way different.

  4. Christopher Allman Reply

    If you want my theory on why you don’t like to bring Phd’s on…I don’t think you like people who are at your level.
    I think you (john) like to be the Alpha Dog of your podcast…which is totally fine. If I had a podcast, I would likely be the same. You have a podcast because you want to talk about your ideas and discuss them with people. If you bring on Phd’s, it will cease to be about your ideas.

    Because, CLEARLY people with Phds (not ALL OF THEM, but in general), are going to be smart, interesting people. Anyone who is curious enough in one particular subject to dedicate that many years of study, and then the rest of their lives trying to learn more, is, by default, going to be someone worth listening to. Of course, some are more worth listening to than others and some aren’t good at presenting their ideas, but in general this is true.
    Why do I believe that your reluctance for Phd’s is because you don’t want someone to be your rival? WEll, a few reasons (like, that the explanations you do give sound like b.s.) but one of them is that whenever you have had a guest who is able to engage with you as an equal (and they generally have phds), they never, ever return.

  5. Kevin Krisher Reply

    Wonderful podcast, as ever. Thank you.

    There’s hardly any Western idea that didn’t somehow influence Joseph Smith because he was, as you put it, such a magpie. So I’m really looking forward to your other podcasts in this series. The possibilities are vast.

    That’s what’s so fascinating about Mormonism. It’s kind of a hobby religion, and you can glue almost anything onto it. This comes out most clearly if you look at the approximately 400 spin off churches, which include New Age Mormons, Nazi Mormons, peyote-eating Mormons, hollow-earth Mormons, etc.

    There are (or at least were) even professed atheists among the loyal members of the church. One of them, Sterling McMurrin, had his buddy David O. McKay order a halt to his excommunication. He also wrote probably the two best books on philosophy and Mormonism: “Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion” and “Philosophical Foundations of Mormon Theology.”

    Now that would be an interesting podcast: Similarities between atheism and Mormonism. There are more than a few.

  6. Shawn Reply

    In the April 1981 Ensign, there is an article by Edwin Firmage that makes explicit comparisons between Platonic forms, the Socratic idea of an eternal soul, and the Mormon idea of pre mortal existence. Firmage is a great mind and academic in his own rite and has since become disaffected with the church, but the article is worth checking out if for no other reason than to awe at how much higher the level of discourse in the Ensign used to be.

    I agree with Kevin’s suggestion above that Mormonism has much in common with atheism. May I suggest a future podcast: Mormonism vs. Nietzsche? Joseph Smith’s ethics as expressed in his letter to Nancy Rigdon bear some resemblance to Nietzsche’s ideas about morality, although, unlike Nietzsche’s, Joseph’s ideas tend to lead to contradictory positions if pursued to their logical conclusions.

  7. Crystal Reply

    I asked about hermaphroditicism and the SRY gene product that happens during development and that gender is a continuum once in a Sunday School class and mentioned that I am an embryologist and the teacher (who was in the Bishopric as first counselor) YELLED at me and said “WE WILL NOT DISCUSS THAT HERE!” Seriously. Smoke in my eyes, indeed. His wife sent me a “we miss you” card a few weeks later. I am sure they missed me. HAH!

    Also, Pursuit of Happiness is the name of my blog. I am very familiar with “that thing may not actually exist.” And also, reaching for that thing that was promised… It has been an amazing, awful, wonderful evolution since I started it, my sense of purpose is absolutely different now.

    I am really glad you talked about the grooming of the top church leaders and how they believe… I still can’t believe that they believe in the LDS church, etc., but you are likely exactly right as to why/how they can believe.

    PS lots of BIG WORDS in this podcast. Very thought-provoking.

  8. Ray Arias Reply

    I was just listening to the podcast and it occurred to me that most object-oriented procedural computer languages (like Java and C++) are inherently based the Platonic concept of ideal abstract forms. In these languages, one cannot just construct a chair out of thin air if the idea of a chair (“chair-ness”) has not been defined previously. You need a “class,” or object category (preferably one called “chair”) that defines all the abstract parameters that are entailed in a chair. You can also make sub-categories (“child classes”) that are types of chairs, like “SofaChair,” “TableChair,” “FoldingChair,” “LawnChair,” etc., but before you can put out any actual instantiation of the class (the “object”), the class must be defined. *shrug* Perhaps, the people that were coming up with these concepts in computer science were big Platonists. LOL!

    • Ray Arias Reply

      I was just looking into some of the sites on Java and was just reminded that it is even possible to have an “abstract class” whose “attributes” and/or “functions” are not specified, but that is the “parent class,” or more general category of other classes that are not “abstract.”

    • Ray Arias Reply

      So, may I lost everyone by staying with the example of the chairs, if I made a Java class for shapes (like my comp sci teacher did), it’d probably be clearer.

      You can have “shape” be the parent class for a whole bunch of different object child classes, like “circle,” “triangle,” etc. the shape class an have an attribute called area and a function called “CalculateArea(),” but how exactly how that function computes area could be left undefined in the “shape” class because the exact method applied for calculating area is actually implemented by the child classes, “circle” (area = pi * r * r), triangle (area = base * height / 2), etc. You can have a function called “draw()” in the class “shape” that would draw the shape, but the exact code for drawing the specific shape would again depend on it is a circle, or a triangle, or what have you.

      In fact, I once wrote a philosophy paper on the idea of what life would be life if everything were treated as computer functions, code objects, and software. Cloning people would be a very simple process, people could come into being, cease to exist, interact with other people in real time, all without anyone ever troubling themselves with silly questions like “How did I get here?” and “Where do I go when I no longer exists in this program?” mostly because the answer would be very simple: Everyone comes from and goes to the great garbage heap. I flunked because I turned the paper in a day late, but my TA was very intrigued. In fact, I have a feeling if it were up to the overworked underpaid TA and not the tenured professor, I probably would have aced the class LOL! Good thing I got to retroactively drop that sucker. LOL!

  9. Brandon Reply

    I thought this was a great podcast, John. I am a first time listener. My opinion, for what it’s worth, if you expand the allegory of the cave beyond even religion; aren’t we still chained to the wall? There are still “puppeteers”, in the form of convenience, corporations, money, government, responsibility, etc. Jim Morrison said it best, “you’re all a bunch of fucking slaves.” I don’t think we will ever experience truth, until we have died. Everything we know and accept as truth is based on our limited amount of information. If there is heaven or if there is nothing, it will no longer be a question. However, if there is a heaven when we die, how do we accept it as truth? There will still be a puppeteer.

  10. hans castorp Reply

    I’ve enjoyed Mormon Expressions since the beginning, but I urge you to leave philosophy (and theology, for that matter) alone. You know a lot about Mormonism, but not so much about those two. And if you have to do it, get someone who has a deep knowledge of the subject on the podcast.


    • John Larsen Reply

      Don’t be passive aggressive and play into the stereo types of philosophy types. If I got something wrong call me out on that.

      • Julian Reply

        I don’t think the relationship between Plato’s philosophy and Mormonism is as cozy as the podcast led on.

        Corporeal gods procreating eternally in a material realm is not Platonism (at least, not my reading of it anyway). We know that Plato found the behavior of anthropomorphic gods to be embarrassing. I don’t think his reaction would be any different to the god(s) in the four standard works.

        The Forms are not entirely mystical entities either. Ideal shapes can be investigated and known through reason. This method of knowing contrast sharply with the Mormon emphasis on emotional knowledge.

        What I’m really trying to say is: I don’t think Euclid wrote “The Elements” by sobbing at the pulpit every fast Sunday. 😛

  11. RP Reply

    You mentioned a couple of books on the podcast. A history of the church, and one on systematic theology. Can you share the title and authors?


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