Reiner Schürmann: Care of Death

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“Care of Death: On the Teaching of Reiner Schürmann.” Philosophy Today, January 31, 2017. doi:10.5840/philtoday201713141.

A homage in the guise of an essay, this is the story of the last course Reiner Schürmann taught. As a text, it attempts to describe, situate, and come to terms with the power of Schürmann’s teaching in the context of his last lectures on Heidegger’s Being and Time. But if it is to be true to the deepest lessons of Schürmann’s thinking, it will also need to be heard as an invitation to interpret together the significance of his reading so that it may be permitted to shape the course of the lives of those who encounter it. Read More

Tracking Plato’s Dogs

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“Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life Among the Wolves and Dogs of Plato’s Republic.” In Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Snakes, Stingrays, Swans, and Other Philosophical Beasts, edited by Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015). Available in Open Access Format: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/19576

Identifying a sustainable model for open access publishing in the humanities is a challenge that calls for creative experimental solutions. The model that sustains the growth of open access scholarship in the sciences is rooted in federal funding mechanisms that are unavailable at the same scale for the humanities. This situation requires innovative collaboration between humanities scholars and publishers to develop sustainable ways to provide open access to humanities scholarship at scale.

I am happy to report here on one such collaborative experiment in open access publishing in the humanities. Read More

Philosophy and the Networked Public

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Philosophy has always been a public activity, although its relationship with the public and its own public nature have long been fraught with anxiety for philosophy and the public both.

At this year’s Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy, the advocacy committee organized a panel entitled “New Media, Social Networks, and Philosophy.” Each panelist was asked to frame the conversation in ways that might open a wider discussion.

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Adventures in Open Access: Plato's Dogs, Unleashed

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | One Comment

It was paragraph three, section b) of the Contributor Publishing Agreement from Indiana University Press that gave me pause.

In it I read that I would not be permitted to post the final published version of my article, “Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life among the Wolves and Dogs of Plato’s Republic,” on my website until a full year after the date of its publication.

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Socrates, Plato and Digital Scholarship at #ECDS

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The Emory Center for Digital Scholarship asked me to give a version of the presentation at gave at #DH2013 last summer entitled eBook as Ecosystem of Digital Scholarship

Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing the Politics of Reading (forthcoming Cambridge University Press) is an enhanced digital book that attempts to use digital media technology to cultivate the political practice of collaborative reading for which it argues.

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Reading the Death of Socrates

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Returning to Wittenberg for the first time since graduating in 1991, I gave an interactive, live-tweeted, lecture on Reading the Death of Socrates. The paper argues that the Phaedo is Plato’s most eloquent political dialogue, and it seeks not only to argue that both Socratic and Platonic politics recognized the transformative power of words, but also to use social media to experience the way words can enrich, or impoverish, community.

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eBook as Ecosystem of Scholarly Communication

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Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing the Politics of Reading (forthcoming Cambridge University Press) is an enhanced digital book that attempts to use digital media technology to cultivate the political practice of collaborative reading for which it argues.

The book’s central argument is that there is an analogy between the ways Socrates practices politics with those he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Platonic writing turns us as readers toward ideals of speaking and acting capable of transforming our lives and the community in which we live.

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Digital Dialogue 60: Socratic Narrative

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Anne-Marie Schultz, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core at Baylor University, joins me at the 13th annual meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society  She is author of many articles in Ancient Greek Philosophy and on Plato specifically, including most recently:

  • “The Narrative Frame of Plato’s Euthydemus,” Southwest Philosophy Review 24 (2009):163- 172;
  • “You Are What You Read: Reading the Books of Augustine’s Confessions,” Augustinian Studies 39 (2008): 101-112; and
  • “Socratic Reason and Emotion: Revisiting the Intellectualist Socrates in Plato’s Protagoras,” in Socrates: Reason or Unreason as the Foundation of European Identity, ed. Ann Ward (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007): 1-29.

She has recently completed an excellent book, entitled, Plato’s Socrates as Narrator: A Philosophical Muse, to appear with Lexington Books any day now.

Anne-Marie is on the Digital Dialogue to discuss the paper she delivered at #APS13: “The Narratve Frame of Plato’s Lysis: Toward a Critique of Socratic Intellectualism.”

Digital Dialogue 60: Anne-Marie Schultz on Socratic Narration
To subscribe to the Digital Dialogue through iTunesU, click here.

Public Philosophy in Digital Dialogue

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There is a difference between the ways Socrates turns those with whom he speaks in Plato’s dialogues to consider questions of justice, beauty and the good and the ways Plato’s writing turns his readers to consider the same ideals. But there is also a strikingly analogous set of philosophical practices by which Socratic speaking enjoins interlocutors and Platonic writing enjoins readers to orient our lives toward the question of justice. This presentation traces the contours of this analogy that is at the center of my enhanced digital book: Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy.

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Plato and the Politics of Reading

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – To give a lecture on the politics of collaborative reading without inviting one’s listeners to become active participants would be a performative contradiction.

So, in this lecture, Plato and the Politics of Reading, delivered at the University of San Francisco, I have sought ways to use digital technologies like twitter, Storify and, of course, this blog, to invite my listeners to participate in the lecture itself. (I wrote a post about live tweeting my own lecture to explain the rationale and logistics of this.)

As this post is designed to be a platform for further discussion, let me offer a brief synopsis of the position the lecture articulates.

Socratic politics may be characterized as the practice of using spoken words to turn those individuals one encounters toward the questions of what is just and beautiful and good. These ideas function as erotic ideals that entice those animated by Socratic questioning to live a life seeking justice, beauty and the good. Of course, one of the main things we learn from the figure of Socrates we meet in the Platonic dialogues is that those ideals, however alluring, remain always ultimately elusive to finite human beings. Even so, Socratic politics is designed to turn individuals toward those ideals and to enjoin us to weave a concern for them into our relationships with one another.

The main argument of the lecture is that what Socrates attempts to do with those with whom he speaks, Plato attempts to do with those to whom he writes.

Platonic writing is political not because it presents manifestos, but because it requires each of us who encounters his texts to become actively concerned with the ideals of justice, beauty and the good and to consider how the course of our lives and our relationships with one another can be enriched by an engagement with those ideals.

The lecture ultimately seeks to articulate three dimensions of Platonic writing that demonstrate its profound political power.

  1. By calling our own beliefs and opinions into question, Platonic writing opens us to what is beyond ourselves.
  2. By confronting us with Socrates’ public failures and pointing to his more private interpersonal successes, Platonic writing cultivates in us the ability to imagine new, more just political realities.
  3. By depicting a Socrates unwaveringly animated by a concern for the erotic ideals of justice, beauty and the good, Platonic writing invites us to consider how these ideals themselves are capable of transforming the nature of our relationships with one another.

But if this is what Platonic writing does with us, the politics of reading points to what we might do together as engaged readers of his texts, for the most transformative possibilities emerge from Plato’s writings only when we take them up and actively read them together.

Works Cited in the Lecture

Plato and the Politics of Reading is a group in Education, Philosophy on Mendeley.

In an attempt to perform something of this in public, I have sought below to curate some of the collaborative discussion that emerged from the lecture in the Storify story embedded below. I invite you participate in the Storify by way of twitter (@cplong and #bapca) or by commenting on this blog post.

Here is the Storify:

Socrates: Platonic Political Ideal

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Christopher P. Long, “Socrates: Platonic Political Ideal,” Ideas y Valores, 61, 149: 2012.

This essay articulates the differences and suggests the similarities between the practices of Socratic political speaking and those of Platonic political writing.

The essay delineates Socratic speaking and Platonic writing as both erotically oriented toward ideals capable of transforming the lives of individuals and their relation- ships with one another. Besides it shows that in the Protagoras the practices of Socratic political speaking are concerned less with Protagoras than with the individual young man, Hippocrates. In the Phaedo, this ideal of a Socrates is amplified in such a way that Platonic writing itself emerges as capable of doing with readers what Socratic speaking did with those he encountered. Socrates is the Platonic political ideal. Read More

The Book As Ecosystem of Scholarly Dialogue

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Consider this an invitation to continue along a path we have traversed together over the past three years.

This path, which began in the wake of my 2009 Summer Faculty Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellowship, has now, with the completion of a draft manuscript of my book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading, reached a kind of crossroads.

The book itself came to life in dialogue, digital and otherwise, with many of you. It has been enriched by our ongoing conversation about ancient philosophy, Socrates, the writings of Plato, and the transformation of literacy in a digital age.

With the submission of the manuscript, however, we approach a crossroads in which the digital dimension of the dialogue we have been having can either wither away as the book appears in traditional print, or further grow and blossom with the publication of an enhanced digital book that combines the virtues of print and digital scholarship and communication.

Consider this, then, an invitation to continue together along that second path, which, like the path that led us here, cannot be traversed alone.

An outline of the manuscript itself points in the direction of the proposed path. At the center of the manuscript is an analogy between the ways Socrates practices politics with those he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Platonic writing turns us as readers toward ideals of speaking and acting capable of transforming our lives and the community in which we live.

The manuscript argues that Platonic writing itself cultivates in readers specific habits of thinking and creative habits of responding that are able to integrate a concern for the erotic ideals–of justice, beauty and the good–into the relationships we have with one another. Platonic political writing is shown to require a peculiar politics of reading in which the community of readers is called to consider how a commitment to speaking the truth and acting toward justice can, in fact, enrich our lives together.

If, however, the book is not to be a mere abstract academic exercise, it will need to be published in a way that performs and enables the politics of collaborative reading for which it argues. 

The manner in which the research for the book was undertaken in dialogue with you here in this public space has already cultivated such a community of readers. The path forward is to create an interactive and evolving ecosystem of print and digital content capable of enlarging and enriching the existing community of scholarly discourse we have cultivated through the Digital Dialogue.

Before we explore what such an ecosystem of scholarly dialogue would involve and how we might together accomplish it, let me chart the itinerary of the manuscript itself.

The Itinerary of Socratic and Platonic Politics

The seeds for the book were planted more than a decade ago in those courses on Ancient Greek Philosophy I taught as a young professor just out of graduate school. In dialogue with students over the course of semesters, the question of the peculiar manner in which Socrates says he practices the true art of politics in the dialogues presented itself with increasing urgency.  As we discussed it and focused more attention on the practice of Socratic dialogue, two things became clear: 1) we began to thematize and reflect upon our own dialogical practices and 2) we began to sense that Platonic writing itself was cultivating in us certain practices of engaging one another in dialogue.

The idea for this book, however, began to take determinate shape in the summer of 2009 when, as a Summer Faculty Teaching and Learning with Technology Fellow, I developed the Digital Dialogue, a podcast dedicated to cultivating the excellences of dialogue in a digital age.

The book that emerged from those digital dialogues, augmented and enriched by face to face dialogue at conferences and on campuses here in the US and abroad, is divided into seven chapters:

  1. Philosophy as Politics introduces the central distinction between the things Socrates says to those characters he encounters in the dialogues and the ways Plato writes to move readers to consider questions of justice, the beautiful and the good. The first I call the “topology of Socratic politics,” because it points to the place (topos) of Socratic political speaking (logos); the second I call the “topography of Platonic politics,” because it points to the place (topos) of Plantonic political writing (graphein). This chapter also indicates the rather peculiar way in which Socrates says he “practices politics,” and illustrates that politics for him and thus for this book means something different from taking power through the political institutions of a city or state.
  2. Crisis of Community illustrates how Socrates practices politics with Protagoras in the Protagoras, focusing on Socrates’ concern for the soul of Hippocrates, his young associate who comes at the start of the dialogue to ask Socrates if he would accompany him to see the great sophist Protagoras. This is one of the two chapters in the book that have been published elsewhere: Long, C. P. (2011). “Crisis of Community: The Topology of Socratic Politics in the Protagoras.” Epoché: a Journal for the History of Philosophy, 15 (2), 361-377. Digital Dialogue episode 31 with Ryan Drake and episode 32 with Anne Bowery focused on ideas articulated in this chapter.
  3. Attempting the Political Art is a reading of the Gorgias in which Socrates explicitly claims to be one of the few Athenians to practice the art of politics truly. This chapter illustrates how Socrates speaks differently with different interlocutors depending on their philosophical commitments. The result is an image of philosophy as an activity not opposed to rhetoric, as has been typically argued, but as intimately bound up with a specific kind of rhetoric commited to putting words in the service of the ideal of justice. This is the second of the two chapters that have been published elsewhere: Long, C. P. (2012). “Attempting the Political Art: Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth.” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 271, 153-74. The chapter itself grew out of a presentation and a reading seminar at Boston College in the spring of 2011.
  4. The Politics of Finitude is the fulcrum of the book. It marks a transition from a focus on the practices of Socratic political speaking to those of Platonic political writing. A reading of the Phaedo, this chapter demonstrates first how Socrates is able to create a powerful community of people committed to speaking truth to and with one another and, second, how Plato writes in ways that encourage his readers to commit themselves to the same. A version of this chapter was presented at the Freiburger Hermeneutisches Kolloquium in June 2011.
  5. Socratic Disturbances, Platonic Politics considers the Apology of Socrates as both an account of Socrates’ self-defense before the Athenian citizens and a Platonic attempt to defend the life of his teacher in the wake of his death. Here the topography of Platonic politics is brought further into focus by attending to the way Plato has Socrates say provocative things at specific points in order to provoke us as readers to consider the roles speaking the truth and a concern for justice play in our own lives. This chapter was enriched by a seminar on the Apology given in Bogotá, Colombia in February 2011.
  6. The Politics of Writing traces how the collaborative reading of Lysias Socrates undertakes with Phaedrus in the Phaedrus opens the possibility of developing an understanding of reading itself as a political activity capable of transforming a community of readers by orienting them toward questions of justice and the beautiful.
  7. Politics as Philosophy further develops the manner in which Platonic writing cultivates in readers specific habits of thinking and creative habits of responding that are able to integrate a concern for the erotic ideals–of justice, beauty and the good–into the life of the community itself. Here Platonic political writing is shown to require a peculiar politics of reading in which the community of readers is called to consider how a commitment to speaking the truth and acting toward justice can, in fact, enrich our lives together.

The book thus argues for a politics of reading and suggests that a reading of Plato offers a unique opportunity to cultivate such a politics. In order to accomplish something of what it argues, the book must be capable of combining the best of print scholarship with the best of digital scholarship. As an enhanced digital book, the text might be able to perform what it argues.

Research by Public Dialogue

In her book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, Kathleen Fitzpatrick articulates the intuition that animated the research and writing of this book.  She writes:

If we were to shift our focus in the work we’re doing as authors from the moment of completion, from the self-contained product, to privilege instead the process of writing, discussion, and revision, we’d likely begin to “publish” work–in the sense of making it public in readable form–earlier in its development (at the conference paper stage, for instance) and to remain engaged with those texts much longer after they’ve been released to readers (p. 12, see findings.com).

Although Socratic and Platonic Politics has not been “published” online and publicly peer reviewed, it has been exposed to the wider public from its earliest beginnings.  The decision to open it to the public in the form of audio podcasts that attempt to perform the practices of scholarly dialogue in a digital age was intentional, rooted in the recognition that Socrates articulates something of the truth in the Phaedrus when he says:

In a way, Phaedrus, writing has a strange character … if you question [written words] with the intention of learning something about what they are saying, they always just continue saying the same thing” (Phaedrus, 275d3-10).

Podcasting, because it is more dynamic, fluid and less easy to cite, offered the inchoate ideas of the book a space in which to move and grow. They developed, however, not simply in as I engaged primary and secondary texts in the quiet, private spaces of the library and my study — though they developed there too, and importantly so — but also in dialogue with others.

Further, these dialogues were for the most part staged around the scholarly work of those I invited to the Digital Dialogue, as opposed to being centered on the Socratic and Platonic Politics project itself. The podcast thereby exposed the ideas ultimately articulated in the book to a wider range of scholarship by forcing me, in preparing for each episode, to read a wider range of work in a responsible way that would lead to an enlivening and fulfilling public dialogue on the podcast itself.

The public nature of this philosophical research had a powerful motivating effect. In fact, I would not have read nearly as much nor as diverse a collection of scholarship for the book had I not been motivated by the knowledge that my colleagues would be joining me for a public discussion of their work on the podcast.

Cultivating the Politics of Reading

If the book was born in public dialogue, it should continue to live in public dialogue.  If the book argues for a politics of collaborative reading, it should be published in a way that embodies the possibilities of precisely such a politics.

To do this I envision a dynamic enhanced digital book that will embed the audio of the eleven podcasts cited in the manuscript into the digital book itself, enabling readers to listen to the podcasts directly as they encounter them in the text. In order to cultivate a community of collaborative reading, the enhanced digital book should also enable the reader to make all highlighting and annotations public if desired.

Those annotations and markings should then themselves generate a feed that interfaces with a blog plug-in like Comment Press or some other form of integration by which the annotations and highlights can appear in public in ways that are open to further response. Although readers might decide to publish the annotations to a preferred social media site, the annotations should also be accessible to a blog managed and moderated by me so that I can respond to and engage with readers as they engage with the book itself.

The publication of this enhanced digital book is designed to facilitate an ongoing dialogue about the book, its ideas and the larger question concerning the politics of reading. As the conversation develops, I envision recording new episodes of the Digital Dialogue podcast with readers who have had particularly insightful annotations or comments. Those podcasts too, if desired, could be made available in the enhanced digital book.

I envision the printed version of the book as another way to give readers access to this enhanced digital version and the community of dialogue to which it is intimately connected. I would like to have QR codes or some other method of moving the reader from the physical book to the online conversation. I would hope that the enhanced digital book would interface with existing systems of curated annotations as those found on the Kindle via Amazon.com and sites like Findings.com and Apple’s iBookstore.

This vision for Socratic and Platonic Politics combines the best elements of print scholarship with the best elements of digital scholarship: by bringing the print culture of rigorous, creative and careful reading, clear and compelling writing, peer review, and detailed and attentive editing together with the digital culture of dynamic interaction, exposure to a widely educated public, and the cultivation of a community of actively engaged and creative readers, the publication of the book would perform the very politics of collaborative reading for which it argues.

An enhanced digital book designed to create an ecosystem of scholarly dialogue is the above mentioned second path I hope to chart; but it is a path that cannot be embarked upon without you.

Attempting the Political Art

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Christopher P. Long, “Attempting the Political Art,” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 27 (2012): 153-74.

The main thesis of this essay is that the practice of Socratic political speaking and the practice of Platonic political writing are intimately interconnected but distinct.

The essay focuses on the famous passage from the Gorgias in which Socrates claims to be one of the few Athenians who attempt the political art truly and goes on to articulate the nature of his political practice as a way of speaking toward the best (521d6-e2). Read More

Digital Dialogue 54: Plato’s Philosophers

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For episode 54 of the Digital Dialogue, I am joined via Skype by Catherine Zuckert, Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Zuckert is the author of many on the history of political philosophy and the relationship between literature and politics. I will link to her CV on the blog, but I want to mention a few of her excellent books here in reverse chronological order:

  • Natural Right and the American Imagination: Political Philosophy in Novel Form (Savage, Md: Rowman and Littlefield, 1990), 277 pages.
  • Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss and Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 351 pages.
  • The Truth about Leo Strauss: Political Philosophy and American Democracy, with Michael P. Zuckert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 352 pages.

But it is her most recent book, Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues (Chicago UP, 2009) that brings her to the digital dialogue today. I had the privilege to review the book for the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews and upon its recent appearance, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to engage in a more dynamic discussion of the book together here on the digital dialogue. So, Catherine Zuckert, welcome to the Digital Dialogue.

 

Digital Dialogue 53: Pindar and the Phaedrus

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Christopher Moore joins me for Digital Dialogue, episode 53. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 2008 and is currently Lecturer in Philosophy and Classics at Penn State.

His areas of specialization include: Ancient Philosophy, Socrates, Aesthetics and Democratic Theory.

He has a number of articles in press and forthcoming, including:

  • “Chaerephon, Telephus, and Cure in Plato’s Gorgias,” Arethusa (forthcoming May 2012)
  • “The Myth of Theuth in the Phaedrus,” in Status, Uses and Function of Plato’s Myths, Catherine Collobert, Pierre Destrée, Francisco Gonzalez, edd. (Brill, forthcoming Spring 2012)
  • “Socratic Persuasion in the Crito,” British Journal of the History of Philosophy (forthcoming November 2011)

I was very happy when Christopher joined the faculty here at Penn State because it offered me the opportunity to work closely with someone who really understands the nuances of Greek. What better way to welcome Christopher, I thought, than to invite him onto the Digital Dialogue to talk about his very interesting paper on the connection between Plato’s Phaedrus and Pindar’s First Isthmian, a poem from which Socrates quotes early on in the Phaedrus.

I hope you will enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Digital Dialogue 52: Politics and the Phaedo

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Episode 52 of the Digital Dialogue was recorded at the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy.

I was joined by Sara Brill, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fairfield University and graduate from the Philosophy Department here at Penn State in 2004, where she wrote her dissertation with John Sallis entitled, Hygieia: Health and Medicine in Plato’s Republic.

Sara has appeared on the Digital Dialogue a number of times including episodes:

So this episode is part of an ongoing dialogue about our ongoing work on Plato.  Sara has completed a manuscript on Plato’s psychology and I am completing a manuscript on Socratic and Platonic Politics.  The Phaedo plays an important role in both of these manuscripts and we take up our readings of that text in our discussion.

Platonic Writing and the Practice of Death

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FREIBURG, GERMANY – Today at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, I presented a paper entitled The Politics of Finitude in Plato’s Phaedo at the 2011 Freiburger Hermeneutisches Kolloquium, whose theme was Hermeneutik (in) der Antike.

The paper, written specifically for this conference, will also be the middle chapter of my book on Socratic and Platonic politics.  This chapter traces the differences and continuities between what I have been calling the topology of Socratic politics and the topography of Platonic politics.

The Phaedo, I argue, is perhaps Plato’s most eloquent political dialogue. To quote from the paper:

Its eloquence, however, is not heard in the political theories it sets forth or in the dogma it allegedly establishes, but in the way the poignant things Socrates says to and with his friends on the last day of his life are woven together into a written recollection that requires those who enter into dialogue with it not merely to reflect upon, but also to act differently in the footsteps of the words encountered there.

You can, I hope, hear the influence of Gadamer here, who argued that genuine interpretation requires the willingness of the interpreter to risk entering into dialogue with the text in such a way that the interpreter’s own thoughts and possibilities are brought into play (Truth and Method, 388).

The paper traces the way Kebes and Simmias are themselves transformed by the power of the things Socrates says to them, moving then in the second half to trace the ways Platonic writing attempts to transform the course of the life of the interpreter of the text by showing Phaedo practicing what Socrates calls a “second sailing” with Echecrates.

If politics, for Socrates, is a way of caring for the soul, then Plato has given us a provocative vision of politics in the Phaedo.

BACAP Presentation: Attempting the Political Art

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BOSTON, MA – The main thesis of the paper I delivered today at the Boston Area Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy is that the practice of Socratic political speaking and the practice of Platonic political writing are intimately interconnected but distinct.

To develop this position, I focused on the famous passage from the Gorgias in which Socrates claims to be one of the few Athenians who attempt the political art truly and goes on to articulate the nature of his political practice as a way of speaking toward the best (521d6-e2).

I then trace the ways Socrates attempts to use words to turn Gorgias, Polus and Callicles toward the best in the course of the dialogue.  What emerges is a picture of a philosophical friendship between Gorgias and Socrates rooted in a common concern for justice.

Yet, Socrates’ success with Gorgias is overshadowed by his failure to convince Polus or Callicles to allow a concern for truth, justice and the good to animate the course of their lives. Even so, the political practice of Platonic writing is shown in the paper to be designed to awaken in us, the readers, precisely such a concern to live a life in which words are spoken in ways that uncover the truth and are directed toward the best.

Here is a slideshow of images from the visit:

There were a number of important points developed in the question and answer period to which I will point here, but they remain issues I am thinking about as I develop this larger book project on the practices of Socratic and Platonic politics.

Nalin Ranasinghe of Assumption College, who received his PhD from Penn State in the late 1980’s, delivered a very generous response to the paper in which he agreed in large part with the project in general and my reading of the Gorgias in particular, a text on which he has written a book himself: Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias.

He did raise, however, a number of concerns that echo some of the things I heard in response to the seminar I gave on the Apology in Colombia last month.

Just as Catalina González Quintero had pressed me in Bogotá to delineate the negative side of Socratic politics in which Socrates provokes and punishes his interlocutor, Nalin was concerned that I did not do full justice to the agonistic dimension of the Gorgias, and particularly the fact that Socrates was punishing Callicles and Polus with public shame.  In the question and answer period, this issue was amplified with a number of questions about how rarely Socrates actually succeeds in cultivating in those he encounters a disposition to speak words “toward the best” and to respond to others with a shared concern for the truth.

To respond adequately to this issue requires detailed textual analysis of specific dialogues in which it can be argued that Socrates does succeed in cultivating the active desire to speak and seek the truth, as for example, I argue happens to some degree with Gorgias in the Gorgias, and in a different and less developed way with Hippocrates in the Protagoras; and Glaucon shows some signs of this in the Republic too.

Other questions that arose concerned the degree to which the Socratic activity of philosophizing can be called “political” in any meaningful sense.  To this, however, I would defend the central claim of the project which is that “politics” needs to be rethought in terms of the activities that most effectively open the possibility of cultivating healthy communities of relationship between people. Such an understanding of politics would imply that “politics” is at work each time two people enter into relation with one another.

Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth

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Next week I am giving a lecture on Plato’s Gorgias at Boston College for the Boston Area Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy. The title of the lecture is Attempting the Political Art.

Prior to the lecture, I will hold a seminar in which we will focus on those passages in the Gorgias in which truth is at stake as a political question. The seminar, entitled Socrates, Plato and the Politics of Truth, will begin with that strange passage from the Gorgias in which Socrates claims:

I think that with few Athenians, so as not to say the only one, I attempt the political art truly [ἐπιχειρεῖν τῇ ὡς ἀληθῶς πολιτικῇ τέχνῃ] and I alone of those now living do political things [πράττειν τὰ πολιτικὰ]; for it is not toward [πρὸς] gratification that I speak the speeches I speak on each occasion, but toward [πρὸς τὸ βέλτιστον] the best, not toward [πρὸς] the most pleasant … (Gorgias, 521d6-e2).

This passage invites us not only to ask about the nature of the “art” that Socrates claims to be one of the few to attempt, but also to consider the question of the political nature of Platonic writing.

The distinction between the ways of saying endemic to Socratic politics and the ways of writing endemic to Platonic politics will frame the discussion in the seminar.  In an essay on Plato’s Protagoras that has recently appeared in Epoché, I have thematized this distinction in terms of the “topology of Socratic politics” and the “topography of Platonic politics.” (For a more detailed discussion of the distinction, see Digital Dialogue 31: Shame and Justice, and more recently, see, Digital Dialogue 44: The Apology.)

For those students and faculty who will attend the seminar, we will focus our attention on the following passages in addition to the one cited above:

  • 453a8-b3: Where Socrates claims that he and Gorgias are each the sort of person who wants to know “the very thing for which the logos exists.”
  • 453c2-4: Where Socrates connects the proper way to proceed with a way of speaking that makes things as evident as possible.
  • 457c4-d5: Where Socrates distinguishes between a way of speaking animated by a desire to win and one committed to making the matter at hand evident.
  • 458a2-5: Where Socrates insists that he is as happy to be refuted as to refute.

These passages point to the nature of the relationship between Gorgias and Socrates, which, I argue, grows through the dialogue into a kind of friendship rooted in a shared desire for the truth.  This can be heard in these passages, which we will also consider:

  • 463a1-5: Where Socrates is empowered by Gorgias to continue his discussion with Polus so as to make what they have been discussing evident. This leads to the discussion of the difference between a techne and an empeiria, an art or a knack.
  • 464e2-465a6: Suggests the nature of a techne, as Socrates uses it in the dialogue.
  • 500c1-503a9: Where Socrates articulates the beautiful rhetoric associated with philosophy.
  • 506b2-3: The final words Gorgias speaks in the dialogue, in which he encourages Socrates to continue the logos even when Callicles refuses to respond any longer.

Crisis of Community

By | Articles, Publication: Journal, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | One Comment

Long, Christopher P. “Crisis of Community: The Topology of Socratic Politics in the Protagoras,” Epoché: a Journal for the History of Philosophy, 15, 2 (2011): 361-377.

In Plato’s Protagoras Alcibiades plays the role of Hermes, the ‘ambassador god’, who helps lead Socrates’ conversation with Protagoras through a crisis of dialogue that threatens to destroy the community of education established by the dialogue itself.

By tracing the moments when Alcibiades intervenes in the conversation, we are led to an understanding of Socratic politics as always concerned with the course of the life of an individual and the proper time in which it might be turned toward the question of justice and the good.

The full text of the article, Crisis of Community: The Topology of Socratic Politics in the Protagoras is available for download from my Humanities Commons page.

To hear an audio recording of a version of this paper with a response from Anne-Marie Bowery and questions from the audience at the 2010 Ancient Philosophy Society, listen above.

Digital Dialogue 44: The Apology

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For Digital Dialogue episode 44, I have joined Nicolas Parra, Norman Mora and Sergio Ariza in their home city of Bogotá, Colombia to discuss the seminar we held today on Plato’s Apology and a paper I wrote entitled Socratic Disturbances and Platonic Politics.

Sergio is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad de los Andes, who work focused on Ancient Greek Philosophy; his currently working on a translation of the Meno with commentary, he has recently published an essay entitled “Gorgias and the Incommunicability of Being”, which is a critique of Mourelatos’s interpretation.

Norman Mora is an undergraduate student working on his degree in literature and philosophy. And Nicolas Parra has been on the Digital Dialogue before when he was studying at Penn State. It was episode 21 and we discussed the relationship between Philosophy and Rhetoric in the Gorgias. Nicolas is working on his MA in Philosophy and a degree in law. His work focused on aporia in Socrates.

Seminar on the Apology in Bogotá

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Socratic and Platonic Politics, Vita | 2 Comments



Seminar on the Apology

Originally uploaded by cplong11

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – Today I gave a seminar on Plato’s Apology at the Universidad de los Andes to graduate and undergraduate students and faculty. The seminar was based on a paper I wrote entitled, Socratic Disturbances and Platonic Politics.

I argue in that paper that the Apology is a dialogue between Socrates and the “men of Athens.” In order to discern the dynamics of this dialogue, the paper follows those moment when the “men of Athens” create disturbances (thorubein) in response to the things Socrates says. These disturbances suggest the degree to which the practice of Socratic politics provokes those with whom he is engaged to think and act differently.

The paper also further develops the difference between the practice of Socratic politics as it is performed in the Platonic dialogues and the politics of Platonic writing as it presents itself to us in the written texts. The end of the paper attempts to lend some determination to the way Plato practices politics in his writing by thinking through the deep symbolism of the proposal Plato puts into the mouth of Socrates that his punishment should be to receive free meals for life in the Prytaneion. The Prytaneion was the center of Athenian life, the site of the hearth of Hestia, and the suggestion, which is quite likely a Platonic creation, emphasizes the importance of attempting to integrate the practices of philosophical politics into the very heart of the city.

The participants in the seminar were excellent. They had prepared by reading the Apology with great care and considering the details of my paper. I was encouraged to think more deeply about a few of the issues I raise in the paper, particularly about the differences between Platonic and Socratic politics.

One suggestion by Catalina González Quintero was particularly helpful insofar as it invited me to consider further if the Socratic practice of politics is essentially provocative and negative – as suggested by the gadfly metaphor – and Platonic politics is more educative and positive, concerned to cultivate habits of thinking and acting in the citizens of the city.  I am concerned about divorcing these two dimensions of politics, but there might be a sense in which Socratic politics leads with provocation and moves only hesitantly toward education, while Platonic politics is concerned primarily with education, even if it retains always a provocative dimension.

The discussion of these and other issues continued on Digital Dialogue episode 44 in which I was invited by Sergio Ariza, Nicolas Parra and Norman Mora to articulate the difference between Platonic and Socratic politics in more detail.
Here are some images from the seminar:

Digital Dialogue 42: Remembering

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Walter Brogan, Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University, editor of Epoché: Journal for the History of Philosophy and a founding member of the Ancient Philosophy Society joins me for episode 42 of the Digital Dialogue.

Walter is the author of numerous publications on ancient philosophy, hermeneutics and contemporary continental philosophy. His most recent book is Heidegger and Aristotle: The Twofoldness of Being, published by SUNY press in 2005 which is essential reading for anyone interested in the Heideggerian engagement with Aristotle.

This recording was made in Montreal, Canada, where we were both attending the annual meeting of SPEP. In it we discuss an essay entitled “In the Wake of Socrates: Impossible Memory” in which he focuses on the problem of remembrance in the dialogues and specifically the complex dynamics associated with Plato’s attempts to remember the life of Socrates.

Digital Dialogue 32: Crisis of Community

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Episode 32 of the Digital Dialogue is a recording of my paper on Plato’s Protagoras entitled, “Crisis of Community: The Topology of Socratic Politics,” delivered at the 10th Annual Independent meeting of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

The paper is part of a larger project that investigates the nature of Socratic Politics by attending to the manner in which Socrates practices politics in the dialogues themselves.

In this essay, I argue that Socrates interrupts his plans for the day in order to go with Hippocrates to the house of Callias where Protagoras is staying.  The discussion is facilitated at certain important points by Alcibiades who, I argue, plays the part of Hermes in the dialogue itself.

The podcast includes the comments by Anne-Marie Bowery of Baylor University and the questions and discussion from the APS gathered at Michigan State this spring.

Digital Dialogue 15: Plato’s Analogical Thinking

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Holly Moore, who defended her dissertation, entitled “Plato’s Analogical Thought” at DePaul University on October 12th, 2009, joins me for episode 15 of the Digital Dialogue. Dr. Moore is a graduate of Penn State’s Undergraduate Program in Philosophy. She did her honors thesis with Professor Mark Munn, who joined me for episode 12 of the Digital Dialogue in which we discussed his project on the relationship between eros and democracy.

Holly is currently a faculty fellow at Colby College.
Her dissertation argues for the intimate connection between Plato’s use of images and his ultimate philosophical teaching. More specifically, she insists that the images Plato articulates and the story his philosophy has to tell about images are inextricably connected. For Holly, Plato is an analogical thinker because the self-reflection and relational structure of analogies expresses something decisive about Platonic thinking.

Digital Dialogue 15 with Holly Moore: Plato’s Analogical Thinking

 

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Related Resources

  • The Sun-Good analogy and divided line: Republic, Book VI, 505a-511e
  • The Third Kind and “Chorology”: Timaeus, 48e-53c
  • Division and Definition of Weaving: Statesman, 279c-283a
  • Application of weaving as a mode for statescraft: Statesman, 305e-311c

Digital Dialogue 13: Psychology and Politics

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Sara Brill, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fairfield University, joins me for episode 13 of the Digital Dialogue. Sara graduated from the Philosophy Department here at Penn State in 2004, where she wrote her dissertation with John Sallis entitled, Hygieia: Health and Medicine in Plato’s Republic. Since graduating, she has published numerous articles on Plato and Ancient Greek tragedy, including “Medical Moderation in Plato’s Symposium”, published in Studies in the History of Ethics, 2006; “Violence and Vulnerability in Aeschylus’ Suppliants” in a 2009 volume edited by William Wians entitled Logos and Mythos: Philosophical Essays in Greek Literature; and “Politics and Exoribitant Platonism”, published in Epoché, 2009.

In this episode of the Digital Dialogue, we discuss the relationship between the Platonic conception of the soul and the political dimensions of the Phaedo, in particular. We also discuss the question of how Plato uses myths to capture something of the violence and vulnerability endemic to the human condition.

Digital Dialogue 13 with Sara Brill: Psyche and Politics

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Related Resources

  • People interested in the Phaedo myth should take a look at 107c-115a; in the Republic, the myth of Er (of course) from 614b-621d; and for the Laws, the series of preludes against impiety that take up most of Book 10, from 888a-907d.
  • Sara Brill’s current CV (pdf).

Digital Dialogue 06: Attentive Listening

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In episode six of the Digital Dialogue, I am joined by Marina McCoy, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and longstanding member of the Ancient Philosophy Society.

Marina has written extensively on Plato, focusing on the role of rhetoric in his thinking. Her recent book, Plato on the Rhetoric of Philosophers and Sophists, published by Cambridge University Press, investigates the relation between Socratic questioning and the rhetoric of the sophists.

She shows, convincingly, that part of what differentiates the Socratic practice of philosophy from other rhetorical activities is that the activity of philosophy involves at once a commitment to the truth and an openness to questioning the human relation to the truth itself.

In the podcast we focus on passage from Plato’s Protagoras in which the issue of the nature of Socratic questioning is at play.  These include 331c5-d1, 333c9-d6 and 348c-d.  We then turn to the question of what Marina calls “sympathetic listening” and the degree to which this is an important for the transformative possibilities of dialogue.  There the passages we touch upon are: 328e-329b.  For examples of Hippocrates listening, see 312a and for the scene at the doorway, see 314c-e.  For the passage that suggests that Protagoras is not a bad listener, see, for example, 359d.

Related Links

Of Note
It was rewarding to see that the Agora Portal at Boston College highlighted Marina’s appearance on the Digital Dialogue.  Because that site updates with new stories so frequently, I thought I would post a screenshot here to preserve it for posterity.
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