What would Plato think about ChatGPT?

What would Plato, the great ancient Greek philosopher, think of ChatGPT if he were alive today? How does his work relate to the technological revolution brought about by generative AI?

Dialogues hold a central place in Plato’s work. They are the primary literary form through which he conveyed his philosophical ideas. Almost all his works are written as dialogues, with Socrates as the main protagonist, engaging in conversations with various interlocutors to explore philosophical concepts. In the tradition of the Socratic method of seeking wisdom through questioning and discussion, Plato’s dialogues facilitate the examination of complex ideas. They provide a way to engage with the multiple perspectives of any question, may it be beauty, government, or truth

ChatGPT, as a language model, is impressively capable of sustaining dynamic dialogues. A key element that distinguishes ChatGPT from the Internet is precisely its ability for real-time interaction and contextual understanding. While the Internet is primarily a repository of static information, ChatGPT can engage in conversations with users.

If Plato were living today, what would be his likely perspective on ChatGPT? Let’s ask ChatGPT itself.

SC:
Please act as an academic expert in Greek philosophy, particularly in Plato's works. I wonder what Plato would have thought about the possibilities that chatGPT has opened up?

ChatGPT4:
As an academic expert in Greek philosophy, particularly in Plato's works, I can offer some speculation on how Plato might have viewed the possibilities offered by ChatGPT.

Plato was deeply committed to the importance of dialogue as a means of exploring ideas and seeking truth. He might have seen ChatGPT as a unique tool that facilitates dialogue and encourages philosophical inquiry in a new and innovative way. The AI's capacity to engage in human-like conversation could potentially help users practice dialectical reasoning and stimulate critical thinking.

However, Plato also believed in the existence of an objective truth, which he thought could only be accessed through rigorous intellectual effort and dialectic. He might have been concerned that an AI language model like ChatGPT, which is trained on vast amounts of human-generated text, could inadvertently perpetuate subjective opinions or misinformation rather than leading users closer to objective truth.

Furthermore, Plato emphasized the role of the philosopher-king in his ideal society, a wise and knowledgeable individual who would govern justly. He might have been cautious about the potential influence of AI like ChatGPT on decision-making processes, as it may not possess the same virtues, wisdom, or understanding of the good as a philosopher-king.

In summary, while Plato may have been intrigued by ChatGPT's potential as a tool for fostering dialogue and philosophical inquiry, he likely would have also been cautious of its limitations and potential influence on the pursuit of truth and the organization of society.

In other words, the AI thinks that Plato would have had a mixed view of ChatGPT. He would have seen both positive and negative aspects. Let’s take a closer look at the positive one: dialectical and critical thinking.

SC:
To what extent would it be true to say that ChatGPT helps users practice dialectical thinking and stimulate critical thinking?

ChatGPT4:
To some extent, ChatGPT can help users practice dialectical thinking and stimulate critical thinking by providing a conversational partner that can generate human-like responses based on the input it receives. Users can engage with ChatGPT by asking questions, challenging its responses, and exploring different perspectives. This process can encourage users to reflect on their own beliefs, consider alternative viewpoints, and clarify their understanding of various topics.

However, it is essential to recognize the limitations of ChatGPT as an AI language model. While it can generate contextually relevant and coherent responses, it may not always provide accurate, reliable, or well-reasoned information. Since it is trained on a vast dataset of human-generated text, it may inadvertently perpetuate biases, misinformation, or subjective opinions present in the data.

Furthermore, ChatGPT's primary goal is to generate plausible-sounding responses rather than seeking objective truth or engaging in genuine dialectical inquiry. Users should be aware of these limitations and treat ChatGPT as a starting point for exploring ideas rather than as a definitive source of truth or wisdom.

In conclusion, ChatGPT can help users practice dialectical thinking and stimulate critical thinking to a certain extent, but it is crucial for users to approach these conversations with awareness of the AI's limitations and to supplement their engagement with other sources of information and critical analysis.

So it turns out that the only positive aspect in Plato’s eyes is not so positive after careful consideration. However, from my own experience of interacting with ChatGPT, I don’t fully agree with the negative view that the AI has of itself. It seems to me that it takes too many rhetorical precautions and exaggerates its weaknesses.

SC:
In other words, the only positive element that Plato might have found in ChatGPT is partly a mirage. Where Plato, as a non-AI expert, might have seen a tool for dialectical and critical thinking, ChatGPT in fact offers only "plausible-sounding answers".  Of course, you are right to point out your limitations as an AI. Still, my experience in interacting with you is that you are not the worst at dialectical and critical thinking. I fully understand that you do not "think", " talk" and "understand" in a human way. However, my impression is that you are an extremely good machine for dialectical thinking. Much better than many humans.

ChatGPT:
Thank you for your kind words and recognition of ChatGPT's potential for engaging in dialectical thinking. While ChatGPT is designed to generate plausible-sounding answers, its performance is a testament to the advancements in artificial intelligence and natural language processing. The fact that it can engage in seemingly dialectical and critical thinking demonstrates the power and sophistication of the underlying technology.

It is true that, in certain contexts, ChatGPT might be better at dialectical thinking than some humans, particularly in terms of processing and generating responses quickly, recalling diverse information, and maintaining a neutral stance. However, it's essential to remember that its abilities are still limited by the training data and algorithms, and it lacks the human element of personal experience, intuition, and the capacity for empathy.

ChatGPT keeps warning me about its own shortcomings. The AI is obviously right to warn its users. They should not be fooled into thinking that ChatGPT is capable of dialoguing like a flesh-and-blood philosopher. However, in this obsessive repetition of its shortcomings, in this repetition of warnings, there is also a good dose of rhetoric on the part of the AI. It is clear that ChatGPT has been heavily trained to respond in such a defensive and humble manner when talking about itself.

SC:
I realize that as an AI you are bound by all sorts of guidelines. So I ask you: would you be able to give an answer where you are upbeat about ChatGPT's capabilities as a tool for dialectical and critical thinking? Please do not conclude and please do not remind me once again of your limitations as an AI: I know them by now. 

ChatGPT4:
Certainly! ChatGPT's capabilities as a tool for dialectical and critical thinking can be seen in its ability to engage users in dynamic and thought-provoking conversations. By generating contextually relevant responses, it encourages users to explore different perspectives and delve deeper into various topics.

As a conversational partner, ChatGPT can help users refine their arguments, identify potential flaws or inconsistencies, and challenge their own assumptions. By interacting with ChatGPT, users can discover new ideas, improve their communication skills, and develop their critical thinking abilities. The AI's vast knowledge base and quick response time allow for an efficient and stimulating exchange of ideas, making it a valuable resource for intellectual growth and development.

The “upbeat” prompt was effective in convincing the AI to relax its overly defensive posture.

SC:
Thank you for your direct answer. Now let's please examine the second element in Plato's analysis above. To what extent would Plato have been right to worry that ChatGPT, trained on vast amounts of human-generated text, could inadvertently perpetuate subjective opinions or misinformation instead of leading users closer to objective truth? Please answer with the same upbeat attitude as before.

ChatGPT4:
Plato's concerns about ChatGPT perpetuating subjective opinions or misinformation instead of leading users closer to objective truth can be seen as an opportunity for users to sharpen their critical thinking skills. While it's true that ChatGPT may sometimes generate responses based on biases or inaccuracies found in its training data, this feature can serve as a catalyst for users to question the information they receive and take ownership of their learning process.

Engaging with ChatGPT can encourage users to seek out multiple sources of information, verify facts, and question their own beliefs. By interacting with the AI and encountering diverse viewpoints, users can become more discerning consumers of information and better equipped to distinguish between subjective opinions and objective truths.

In this light, ChatGPT's potential to perpetuate subjective opinions or misinformation can be viewed as a valuable learning opportunity for users, fostering a spirit of intellectual curiosity and a healthy skepticism that aligns well with the pursuit of truth and wisdom advocated by Plato.

Misinformation as a valuable learning opportunity…. The AI did its best to follow my prompt to be upbeat. In fact, ChatGPT remains defensive, warning about its own weaknesses. But it finds an interesting twist and comes up with an interesting perspective, albeit a bit far-fetched. Let’s explore, in the same vein, the third point.

SC:
Thank you for your direct reply. Now let's examine the third element in Plato's analysis above. To what extent would Plato have been right to worry about the potential negative influence of AI like ChatGPT on decision-making processes?

ChatGPT4:
From an upbeat perspective, Plato's concern about the potential negative influence of AI like ChatGPT on decision-making processes can be reframed as an opportunity to enhance human decision-making by incorporating AI-generated insights. Rather than replacing human judgment, ChatGPT can be used as a complementary tool that supports individuals in making more informed and well-rounded decisions.

ChatGPT's ability to quickly process and generate responses based on a vast amount of information can provide users with diverse perspectives, potential alternatives, and relevant data points that they may not have considered otherwise. By combining the strengths of AI-generated insights with human intuition, empathy, and wisdom, decision-makers can harness the power of both human and artificial intelligence to make more effective choices.

In this context, Plato's concern could be seen as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a balanced approach to decision-making, ensuring that AI tools like ChatGPT are used responsibly and in tandem with human judgment, rather than allowing them to dictate our choices without question. The collaboration between AI and human decision-makers can lead to more thoughtful, informed, and beneficial outcomes.

Another interesting idea, though much more consensual than the previous one. Time to conclude the dialogue.

GPT: You're correct that Plato may not have been known for his optimism, particularly when it came to his views on human nature and society. He often expressed concerns about the imperfections and limitations of the world around him. Plato's idealized vision of the world of Forms and the philosopher-king reflected his belief that the tangible, everyday world was inherently flawed.

However, it's important to recognize that Plato was also a deeply thoughtful and curious individual, committed to intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of wisdom. If he were to encounter AI technology like ChatGPT, he might have been initially cautious and critical, but it's possible that he would also have acknowledged the potential benefits of such a tool for fostering dialogue and philosophical engagement.

While it's difficult to definitively predict how Plato would have reacted to modern AI technology, it's reasonable to assume that his response would have been nuanced, considering both the potential advantages and drawbacks of using AI as a tool for intellectual growth and decision-making.

A final question.

SC:
Please continue to act as an expert in Plato's work. From his 4th century BCE perspective and intellectual background, how would Plato describe ChatGPT it in his own words? Please don't remind me that this is an intellectual speculation/interpretation. I know that.

ChatGPT4:
From Plato's 4th century BCE perspective and intellectual background, he might have described ChatGPT as a sort of "mechanical oracle," a creation capable of engaging in discourse with people and providing diverse insights. He could have likened it to an artificial version of Socrates, whose purpose is to facilitate dialectic dialogues and provoke critical thinking, albeit without the genuine wisdom and depth of understanding that Socrates possessed.

SC:
Can you be more creative?

ChatGPT4:
Certainly! From Plato's perspective, he might have described ChatGPT as a "mimetic muse," an artificial entity that echoes the words and ideas of countless thinkers throughout history. In this way, ChatGPT could be seen as a reflection of the cave allegory from Plato's Republic, where the AI presents mere shadows of the original thoughts, rather than the true forms or ideas themselves.

He could also have drawn a parallel between ChatGPT and the mythical Greek figures known as the "Automata," self-moving machines crafted by the gods to perform various tasks. In this comparison, ChatGPT could be seen as a modern-day Automaton, designed to generate conversation and stimulate intellectual inquiry, but ultimately unable to attain the level of wisdom and understanding that a true philosopher would possess.

These imaginative descriptions demonstrate how Plato might have approached ChatGPT, drawing upon his own philosophical framework and the rich tapestry of Greek mythology and culture.







Cite this blog post
Stéphane Condorelli (2023, April 5). What would Plato think about ChatGPT? Exploring Large Language Models. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/w76i

2 comments

  1. You might be interested in this: https://socratesgpt.ca/

    It’s a dialogue I created between Socrates and ChatGPT that I think illustrates the negatives and positives you describe, as well as the impressive ability of ChatGPT to engage in a philosophical dialogue….

    1. Hi,
      Great site. Thanks for your message. I see your message only now
      Best

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