Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Nicky Morgan vs Socrates

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Nicky Morgan vs Socrates

Article excerpt

After the Philae space-lab's triumph, one can see why Education Secretary Nicky Morgan should have hymned the 'Stem' subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). At the heart of our service industries, they solve physical problems from vacuum cleaners to Viagra and make life more agreeable for billions. Solve the problem of finite resources and pollution, and all should be peace and light.

But will it? In Phaedo -- a conversation reported by Plato between Socrates and his friends on the day of Socrates' execution (399 bc) -- Socrates talks of his enthusiasm as a young man for speculation about how the world worked. But it gradually became clear to him that understanding the mechanics of the physical world had nothing to say about 'how to do what we think is right'. It was through this train of thought that Socrates put man at the centre of a debate about nature, the understanding of right and wrong and the pursuit of happiness, all of which the ancients came to see as inseparable. …

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