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History of Philosophy II: Plato and his Contemporaries

Lecturers: Matthew Sharpe and James Garrett

Originally Taught: Summer School 2008

Monday: What is the Best Way of Life?
In this lecture, after some methodological preliminaries (for no, we are not smarter than Plato), we will begin by looking at Aristophanes' famous criticism of Socrates and philosophy in the hilarious play, Clouds. Via a brief look at the Euthyphro and Apology of Socrates, the claim that Plato's oeuvre can be read as an 'apology for philosophy' as a bios or way of life will be raised. In this light, we will turn to the REPUBLIC, the heart of the first half of the course. Having noted the setting and apparently bizarre structure of the text, we will proceed into Book 1, noting that the text asks two questions: what is justice? And: is it better to live an unjust life or a life of justice? In the second hour of day 1, we will examine the second of these questions, which goes to Socrates' central question raised here by Thrasymachus: what is the best way of life?
Students who wish to are encouraged to read Republic, books 1-II and books VIII-IX

Tuesday: What is Justice? (And what's love got to do with it?)
We ascend towards the heart of Republic and the Platonic conception of politics and philosophy. On this day, we consider the dialogue's first framing question: what is justice? The solution of Glaucon's 'shorter way' to answer this question is raised, ramparts and all--although Socrates indicates that he is unsure whether there is enough light on this way to yield anything much. The infamous 'Platonic' proposition that injustice will not cease until philosophers are kings or kings philosophers will be raised and examined, with Glaucon at Socrates' side. Following the text into its heart in book VI, we will look at the education of Glaucon's philosophical guardians and what has been taken to be Plato's ontology of the ideas, above all of which is ho agathos: the good.
The second half of the lecture moves from an analysis of the famous 'cave eikon' at the start of Republic Book VII into another nocturnal, quasi-Orphic setting: the banquet described in Plato's wonderful dialogue on love: Symposium. Here, with drinks in hand, we will raise a question seemingly abstracted from by Republic: what is eros, and what place might it have in philosophy or the good political city? We will also not fail to notice who is in attendance at the party: one Aristophanes (Whom we met in day 1), and also Agathon (the good), a tragedian--the very figures whom we might see as holding up the ideals for the Greek citizens to emulate. Finally, another character will burst in, who crashes the party: the tyrannical, erotic figure of Alcibiades, a politician who got Socrates, and Athens, into a good deal of trouble.
Students who wish to are encouraged to preread as much as they can of Republic, II-VII and Symposium, especially 197a and beyond (Socrates' speech and Alcibiades' interruption).

Wednesday (First Hour): The Ancient Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry
Plato's Symposium ends with Socrates lecturing a very drunk tragedian and comedian about how the best poet should be able to write both tragedy and comedy. Why? How does this sit with the old chestnut that Plato wanted all poets out of the ideal city, based on one line of Republic X? In this first hour, we can draw in some threads. Is Republic meant to be read literally (whatever that would mean), or as a piece of magisterial, political poetry, one pitched to upset or override the Homeric orbit? Is Glaucon's city a political ideal for Plato or anyone sensible, and if not, what might Plato have wanted Glaucon (and thereby us) to see concerning the nature of politics? Can the philosopher who ascends out of the cave towards truth ever meet anything but a Socratic fate when he descends again to speak to his more worldly fellows? On the third day, these questions will be raised.
Students who wish to are encouraged to read Republic X

Wednesday (Second Hour): O My Prophetic Soul!
Taking the baton from Dr Sharpe, we shall begin our journey in the metaphysics of Plato with the poets. The works of Homer and Sophocles in particular are rich with examples of wisdom that shall allow us to get a foothold in types of knowledge that have dropped off the radar of modern science. We shall discuss in a preliminary way the relation of such wisdom and the soul as it occurs throughout a variety of Ancient Greek sources in order grasp the background of some of Plato's own battles.
Students are encouraged to read the 13th book of the Odyssey and/or Sophocles' Antigone.

Thursday: The Sensible and the Intelligible
Aristotle can often be more forthcoming that his teacher and so we shall begin by examining some of the positions that the two share as well their disagreements regarding the ideas. We can then proceed to collocate many of Plato's most explicit statements on the central metaphysical arguments from such dialogues as the Meno, Phaedo, and Republic 7. We shall finish with brief examination of the most curious of dialogues, the Cratylus, specifically in light of the material it shares with the Theaetetus.
Students are encouraged to read the Republic VII (521b-541b)Phaedo (74a-75d, 78c-84c, 89d-91b, but especially 96a-103a)

Friday: The Theaetetus
Our last day shall be given over entirely to the study of the Theaetetus, a favourite text of the anglo-american literature because of its resonance with contemporary epistemology. We journey alongside the young Theaetetus as he attempts to answer Socrates' question 'what is knowledge (episteme)?' All of Theaetetus' answers, 'knowledge is perception', 'knowledge is true opinion', 'knowledge is true opinion with a further distinguishing statement', are found in the course of the dense dialectical examination to fail. Is there some hidden assumption behind Theaetetus' failure? What are the assumptions in our normal mode of life that cause a black spot when faced with metaphysical issues?
Students are encouraged to read the Theaetetus (especially 151e-160e)