Perceptive Plato

My colleague Bryan Caplan has emphasized for years that people treat politics differently from other topics.  This has seemed to me a deep insight, and I’ve long puzzled over it.  Wouldn’t you know it, Plato noticed the same thing (Protagoras, translated by Benjamin Jowet):

Now I observe that when we are met together in the assembly, and the matter in hand relates to building, the builders are summoned as advisers; …  And if some person offers to give them advice who is not supposed by them to have any skill in the art, even though he be good-looking, and rich, and noble, they will not listen to him, but laugh … But when the question is an affair of state, then everybody is free to have a say–carpenter, tinker, … and no one reproaches him, as in the former case, with not having learned, and having no teacher, and yet giving advice; evidently because they are under the impression that this sort of knowledge cannot be taught….

Our human willingness to have confident opinions on topics where we are poorly informed seems to me a key problem in politics.


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