LAWRENCE, KS – The paper I presented here today, entitled The Politics of Truth, argued that Socratic politics is a matter of speaking truth with a concern for justice and the good. I suggested further that the practice of Platonic writing is also a kind of politics in which texts are crafted in ways that enjoin readers to consider the course of their lives and the degree to which their lives are animated by a concern for justice.
I pursue this largely by a reading of the Gorgias in which I contend that Socrates establishes a philosophical friendship with Gorgias that in fact transforms Gorgias’s own understanding of his art of rhetoric.
One of the central issues that was raised in the question and answer period concerned the meaning of the erotic in Plato generally and in my use of it specifically as an important dimension of the political. This is an issue I need to develop more fully as I continue to work on my book about the practices of Socratic and Platonic philosophy.
For Socrates and, I would argue, for Plato, cultivating a proper erotic relation to the good and the just is a political activity – I might even say, it is the political activity par excellence … although I offer that tentatively here. I say this because the practice of Socratic politics involves using words to turn those he encounters toward the question of the good and the just as ideals toward which we should strive even as he recognizes that, as erotic, these ideals remain forever elusive. No human can possess determinate knowledge of the good and the just in an absolute sense, but in orienting one’s life toward the attempt to bring the good and the just into being by and through the words we speak to and with one another, we can begin to cultivate healthier human relationships.
In my essay, The Politics of Music, I do develop the meaning of an erotic principle along these specific lines.
Precisely what a “proper erotic relation to the good and the just” would look like, remains in need of further articulation. We all are drawn to one degree or another by a sense of justice, but we also too easily fall into the delusion that we possess an adequate understanding of what is just. The proper erotic relationship toward the good and the just would need to involve allowing ourselves to be animated by a concern for justice without deluding ourselves that we possess it adequately.