Cancel Culture, Then and Now: A Platonic Approach to the Shaming of People and the Exclusion of Ideas

Journal of Cyberspace Studies 7 (2):147-166 (2023)
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In this article, I approach some phenomena seen predominantly on social-media sites that are grouped together as cancel culture with guidance from two major themes in Plato’s thought. In the first section, I argue that shame can play a constructive and valuable role in a person’s improvement, just as we see Socrates throughout Plato’s dialogues use shame to help his interlocutors improve. This insight can help us understand the value of shaming people online for, among other things, their morally reprehensible views. In the second section, I argue that it is required for the proper functioning of democratic institutions that some views be excluded from the public sphere, which follows some Platonic ideas from the Laws. In neither case do I argue that this approach is good in an unqualified sense or even ultima facie good. However, I maintain that these important insights from Plato’s dialogues illuminate crucial aspects of how we should think about cancel culture.

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