The Art of Leadership
The Art of Leadership
Emerging from the Darkness: Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
If you don't think too well, try not to think too often
In his best-known work, The Republic, Plato (429-349 B.C.) 1 describes a mariner standing on deck late at night gazing at the stars through a tangle of twisted metal held awkwardly over his head. A shipmate, unaware of his purpose, thinks him mad. Only a lunatic would stand thus. What the shipmate does not understand is that this tangle of metal is an early sextant, and, through its use, the "madman" is learning to navigate the globe.
Writ large, Plato's insight that there are ways to understand life more clearly than we do, sheds light on our growth as individuals and as a nation. We all know individuals whose lives are chaotic and whose every step is fraught with peril, uncertainty, and often enough, tragedy. And we know individuals who make life look easy. In his famous allegory of the cave, Plato describes the lives of those who dwell in the dark shadows of the cave where the human face, for instance, has no color, no details, no movement, no texture, no nose. And he describes the awakening when a cave dweller escapes the cave to the light of day where he can see faces in all their detail and glory. It is not too much to say that this person leaving the cave has escaped one life and found another; that those who live in darkness, without the full color and texture of life, live in a different world than those who see the colors and details fully revealed.
So let us take up Plato's challenge and seek a clearer understanding of our world. But how? What are the tools that will help us see life more clearly and find our way through it, in the same way that the sextant helps us to navigate the seas, and the light helped reveal the full beauty of a face?
Part of the genius of Plato's 'allegory of the cave' is that the allegory itself is one of the tools he urges us to seek. Deep, subtle truths are often best learned through allegory, simile, parable, or some other rhetorical device that makes plain a hitherto inscrutable concept. Plato's allegory of the cave conveys this point as does his allegory of the sextant. The sextant is a powerful tool for wringing truth from the movement of the stars, but only if you understand its purpose and function.
There are many useful tools that shed light on life, some of them so important that they simply must be understood if we hope to find our way through a world that is fraught with peril. Mathematics, navigation, statistics, the model of the atom, graphs, accounting, and many more. Once mastered, these tools can help us both manage life's threats and grasp its opportunities, if only we have eyes to see.
We will use here the model of the atom, a graph of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Plato's 'forms' to illustrate the nature of all tools and what they can do for us.
The Atom We are all familiar with the model of the atom with its neutrons and protons comprising the nucleus and electron particles flying in shells around the nucleus. This model, this "tool," provides the basis of virtually all chemistry, biology, and physics. But there's one more point we should understand about this model: it is not real, not fully accurate. The electron particles aren't particles at all, or not completely. We know this because, if they were particles, when shot from an electron gun they would leave a random display on a phosphorous screen. Instead, they leave a set of concentric circles, which is the signature of a wave. In some way that we do not yet understand, electrons are energy, not particles, at least some