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Education: Plato's Body of Truth

Lecturer: A.J. Bartlett

Originally Taught: Winter School 2015

If we consider the history of Platonic scholarship (as distinct from the history of philosophy as such) we note that it has wrestled with a series of relations supposed prevalent in the dialogues: those between Plato and Socrates; between the Athens that condemned Socrates and the Athens he fought for and whose laws he dutifully followed; between the Republic as ideal city and as blueprint for a Platonic politics; between the sophist and philosopher; between forms and appearance; between the discursive and the poetic; between mathematics and poetry, and so on. As part of the tradition of 'footnotes to Plato', these relations (and that they are in relation) have influenced the history of philosophy in turn. In this vein, contemporary Plato scholar Terence Irwin has noted that the problems generated by these relations are difficult to track because Plato's work, Irwin claims, is 'unsystematic'. For Irwin, the dialogues are read as questions that provoke only more questions and as the dialogues do not constitute a system, they are not philosophy in the sense that one might understand the work of Kant, Hegel and Aristotle. Since Nietzsche, the default position in continental philosophy has been a generalised anti-Platonism: that it is a sickness from which we must be cured. The effort of cure has been nuanced and not lacking in genius. In the analytic world anti-Platonism takes more indirect forms: an Aristotelian inflection; splitting the Socratic and Platonic; a linguistic emphasis that eschews metaphysical speculation for the security of rule bound procedures of analysis.

Putting aside the various 'prejudices' animate in the varieties of anti-Platonism, it is possible to wonder if perhaps a viable way of reading the dialogues that demonstrates both the subjective force of their orienting idea and their 'systematicity' has not yet been found.

This course will contend and present three things:

  1. that the received image of Plato given to us in the last century or so occludes the radical, subjective core of Plato's intervention and thus its history
  2.  that from the first to the last dialogues, the Platonic corpus is oriented by one key Idea – education. Education is the core of the dialogues, around which it produces its form or its 'object body'
  3. that this radical and subjective intervention into the dominant intellectual and pedagogical ethos of 'all Hellas' not only traces out an educational trajectory anathema to this 'state' ethos but in doing so provides education with its concept.

In this way and with this direct emphasis on education Plato will be seen to be our contemporary.

The framework for this reading of the dialogues is set out in my book, Badiou and Plato: an Education by Truths. The course will not teach the book but use the framework developed there to read Plato. The course will range across the dialogues of the corpus but most attention will be given to: Apology, Phaedo, Sophist, Cratylus, Republic and Laws. The idea of education manifest in these dialogues is that education is a matter of truth. The course will explore this Idea.


Course Schedule

Lesson 1. Introduction: with regard to this question of an education by truths.

Lesson 2. In the dialogues: representation or known knowledge.

Lesson 3. In the dialogues: what is unknown in known knowledge and what 'makes a hole in it'.

Lesson 4. In the dialogues: the obscure subject of education.

Lesson 5. In the dialogues: from what is no-where to be seen, to what is not impossible.


A series of passages from the dialogues will orient each lecture and will be available to everyone in the Box.