Institutt for filosofi og førstesemesterstudier

Paideia, Power and Persuasion: Political Thinking in and around Plato

This year’s Ancient Philosophy symposium was dedicated to investigations of political thinking and practice related to Plato. Keynote speaker was Professor Ryan Balot, a highly esteemed scholar who is well-known for his work on Ancient political theory.

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UiB, FoF


DAG 1 (12. juni)

0900-0915 Welcome

0915-1115 KEYNOTE: Ryan Balot (University of Toronto): “The 'Truest Tragedy' in Plato's Laws”

1130-1215 Kristin Sampson (University of Bergen): “The Ambiguity of Music in Plato”

1215-1330 Lunch

1330-1415 Vivil Haraldsen (University of Oslo): “Paideia and Freedom of Thought in Plato’s Republic”

1415-1500 Andreas Staurheim Enggrav (University of Bergen): “Justice for All?”

1515-1630 Olof Pettersson (Uppsala University): “Politics of the Voice: Writing & Speaking in Plato’s Phaedrus”


DAG 2 (13. juni)

0915-1030 Charlotta Weigelt (Södertörn University): “The power of nature: Paideia and the Dissolution of the Nuclear Family in Plato's Republic”

1045-1200 Hayden Ausland (University of Montana): “Sagacity and Politics”

1200-1300 Lunch

1300-1415 Ellisif Wasmuth (University of Oxford): “What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do: Plato on Non-Ideal Politics”

1430-1515 Hallvard Fossheim (University of Bergen): “The Political Force of Friendship”

1515-1600 Oda Tvedt (Uppsala University): “Politics and Private Life: The Oikos’ Role in Political Decline”

(1615-1645 Project meeting)



The 'Truest Tragedy' in Plato's Laws / Ryan Balot

This paper examines a contested passage in Plato’s Laws – the section in which the Athenian Stranger says that he and his co-legislators have composed the “truest tragedy.”  This passage has provoked diverse reactions across the scholarly and theoretical continuum.  “Optimistic” readers propose that the Athenian has redefined tragedy, in a typically Platonic way, in order to suggest that the conversation depicted in the Laws constitutes a serious, elevated attempt to clarify the character of the “most beautiful and best life.”  Others discern more profound and darker overtones, which suggest that Plato’s dialogue manifests certain continuities with Greek tragedy.  Highlighting the dialogue’s “intertextuality,” I argue that these interpretive strategies illuminate two different levels of meaning, which correspond roughly to the gap between the Athenian Stranger and his Dorian interlocutors.  I explore the interplay between the two different levels and chart the consequences of this reading for our understanding of the dialogue’s qualified utopianism.

The Ambiguity of Music in Plato / Kristin Sampson

Music – or rather mousikê – is deeply ambiguous in Plato. On the one hand, Plato’s views on music (mousikê) and art are commonly portrayed as negative. It is well known how he warns against music and art as potentially dangerous, both for the soul and for society. According to Plato, mousikê, as all art, is imitative, and as such not attributed a high status within his thinking. On the other hand music (mousikê) is an important part of the education of the soul, and as such valuable both for the human being in possession of this soul and also for the political society to which he belongs as a citizen. Plato even – famously – proclaims philosophy to be the highest form of music. The aim of this paper is to consider the ambiguity that surrounds mousikê in Plato, in order to shed light upon the difficulties sometimes  involved with discerning between philosophy and sophistry. That is to say, the intention is to explore how the ambiguities surrounding mousikê illuminates not only the pedagogical and political in Plato, but relates to ambiguities affecting philosophy itself, and its role in relation to paideia and polis.

Paideia and freedom of thought in Plato’s Republic / Vivil Haraldsen

In the Republic, Socrates and his interlocutors found a “city in words” in order to help them answer the question what justice in the soul is. However, how to understand the political level of the dialogue and what the relation is between this level and the level of the soul are contested issues among scholars. A common view has been that Plato’s political concerns take precedence to the degree that they dictate the account of the soul. In contrast, this paper contends that the relation between the political and the psychic levels is in fact the opposite, in the sense that the political level is fundamentally grounded in psychology. One way this becomes apparent is the importance accorded to paideia, education. The paper submits that the overall description of the good city cannot be intended as practicable, but that this does not detract from the importance of the political level. Rather, it indicates how Plato’s perspective on the political realm in this dialogue is different from that of many other political thinkers. The political level of the dialogue serves, it is suggested, several functions, more often levelling criticism against existing political practices and institutions than presenting ideals, and also illustrating an attempt at political education, aimed to foster freedom of thought.

Justice for All? / Andreas Staurheim Enggrav

Glaucon and Adeimantus want to know why they should act justly, and why they should seek to be just, and Socrates’ utterance that justice is “to be valued by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness” (358a) indicate that justice is something everyone should strive for. But by Socrates own accord the happiest and best of lives are the ones that are being lived by the philosopher kings (587b), and it appears that it is only them that can be just. The challenge is to show that justice indeed is available to all so that everyone can aspire to be just. If not, then Socrates has only managed to show that justice exists, but if it is only attainable by a select few in a very precise setting, it follows that no one should seek to act justly because justice is (roughly) unattainable. The challenge is to show that justice indeed is available to everyone, at least to a large enough degree that one should seek to be just.

Politics of the Voice: Writing and Speaking in Plato’s Phaedrus / Olof Pettersson

Plato’s Phaedrus ends with a discussion of authenticity.  In order to distinguish genuine from inauthentic forms of discourse, Socrates draws on the difference between writing and speaking. In the literature, Socrates is either taken to identify inauthentic discourse with writing tout court or he is taken to use writing as a more general standard with some of its features also transferable to speech. The problems, however, are the same in both scenarios. Socrates’ account of writing is understood as the key to understand where language goes bad.  All possible problems specific to the voice are thus ruled out in advance, and this makes some of Socrates’ wordings impossible to understand. As this paper suggests, Plato is neither out to dismiss writing nor to show how the flaws of ink also imbue the fabric of the voice, but to isolate, identify and criticize a number of reified forms of discourse emerging in the wake of a certain distinct language-political transformation of fifth century democratic Athens. 

The power of nature: paideia and the dissolution of the nuclear family in Plato’s Republic / Charlotta Weigelt

In this paper I suggest that one of the more fundamental assumptions of the Republic is that man is not a political being by nature. Not merely the aptitude for political rule but also the very ability to perceive oneself as a citizen in a community is something that must be planted in men, by means of paideia. More precisely, paideia, as the fostering and education of citizens, is primarily a means to discipline and correct human nature. It is an integral part of the larger project outlined in the Republic, to construct a unifying basis for the future political community. That such a construction is also a violent enterprise becomes perfectly clear not least in Book V of the Republic, where it is suggested that the traditional nuclear family has to be dissolved, precisely in order to create a new kind of bond among the citizens that does not consist in blood or family ties. Against this background, I argue that the Republic on the one hand is a serious attempt to construe an efficient and rationally organized state, whose building blocks are citizens who have been educated to assume responsibility for the whole, but that it on the other hand also involves an extensive criticism of the kind of instrumental rationality that warrants an education program for citizens in the first place.  

The Political Force of Friendship / Hallvard Fossheim

In contradistinction to Plato' s tyrant, who is described in great detail in the Republic, Aristotle's version of the turannos is a mystery. In my talk, I will try to shed some light on this shady character. Not least, I will suggest that friendship is a crucial asset to any political life, due to the nature of such a life. A question then is whether or to what extent the tyrant can avail himself of this resource.

The role of the oikos in the political decline in the Republic / Oda Tvedt

In Book VIII of the Republic Plato lets Socrates give a mythos accounting for the decline of the Kallipolis, where the private sphere, that of the oikos, takes a prominent role. This paper aims to explore the role attributed to the oikos in the Republic and provide a suggestion to the the question of why Plato finds it necessary to have Socrates argue for the abolishment of the private life in the ideal state. This paper will argue that, with Plato, it is not only prudent, but also necessary to dissolve the nucleus family and the private realm for the sake of pursuing the just state. The oikos is in Plato portrayed as having several problematic aspects, but most frequently it is the relation between the oikos and private wealth that seems to make out the crux of the problem. In order to establish that there is a necessity in abolishing the private sphere, that the private houses and families are incompatible with justice, the important question that needs to be answered seems to be whether the private households are a prerequisite for greed and the worshipping of private wealth, or if the two merely coincide.

While the human inclination to strive for, on the one hand virtue, on the other hand money, is the primary form of stasis, I see the oikos in Plato as a foundational condition for allowing the citizens, at least those who are thus inclined, to collect and store their wealth and to further develop this desire. This claim rests upon two different strings of arguments in the Republic: i) The oikos provides the occasion, and the incentive to desire and accumulate wealth. ii) The oikos provides occasion for, and the incentive to, exercise of hidden power and give rise to factions and alliances (stasis), thus destroying the unity of the city.

This paper will explore both strands of argument, as they are presented, especially, in the Republic, and let Book V and Book VIII mutually inform each other in this regard. It concludes that the oikos, in Plato, is in fact a prerequisite for the desire for private wealth and that the just state is dependent on abolishing the oikos as primary organizer for family life.