Introduction to Plato
The work of Plato is foundational to Western philosophy. As Alfred North Whitehead quipped: “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Addressing questions ranging from metaphysics to epistemology, psychology to aesthetics, morality to politics, Plato originated a system of philosophy that constitutes a kind of DNA of Western thought. In some sense, we can’t help but think through Plato—even if, in the wake of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the revolutions of modern science, we think against him. But what, exactly, constitutes Platonic thought?
In this course we will read, as an introduction to the philosophy of Plato, the entirety of the Republic, supplemented by excerpts from several other Platonic dialogues (including the Meno, Phaedo, and Io). We will examine, as we go, the thread of argument that weaves the fabric of Platonic thought, with its postulations on the forms, the soul, knowledge, morality, aesthetics, the city, and the nature and meaning of the good life. Among the questions we will address are: What is the nature of reality? Does it have a rational structure, and if so, how can we come to know it? What is the relationship between the rational order of things and the messy empirical reality we experience in our everyday lives? What is the proper role for art in society? What does it mean to lead a good life? How should we understand human flourishing? Does an individual need to live in a particular kind of political situation to achieve the good life?
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
September 14 — October 05, 2020