The Spicy Lotus

October 24, 2010

Statesman, Plato

Filed under: Uncategorized — pha9 @ 3:57 pm

The Statesman (Greek: Πολιτικός, Politikos), also known by its Latin title, Politicus, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The text describes a conversion among Socrates, the mathematician Theodorus, another person named Socrates (referred to as “Young Socrates”), and an unnamed philosopher from Elea referred to the as “the Stranger” (ξένος, xénos). It is ostensibly an attempt to arrive at a definition of “statesman,” as opposed to “sophist” or “philosopher” and is presented as following the action of the Sophist.

According to John M. Cooper, the dialogue’s intention was to clarify that to rule or have political power called for a specialized knowledge.[1] The statesman was one who possesses this special knowledge of how to rule justly and well and to have the best interests of the citizens at heart. It is presented that politics should be run by this knowledge, or gnosis. This claim runs counter to those who, the Stranger points out, actually did rule. Those that rule merely give the appearance of such knowledge, but in the end are really sophists or imitators. For, as the Stranger maintains, a sophist is one who does not know the right thing to do, but only appears to others as someone who does. The Stranger’s ideal of how one arrives at this knowledge of power is through social divisions. The visitor takes great pains to be very specific about where and why the divisions are needed in order to properly rule the citizenry.



October 17, 2010

Sophist, Plato

Filed under: Uncategorized — pha9 @ 3:11 pm

The sophist is one of the series of dialogues that Plato wrote near the end of his life. It was supposed to be a trilogy with separate dialogues covering the meaning of the sophist, the statesman, and the philosopher. I believe that it was intended to be a series of steps that you should strive for in your life and each position is better than the next until you become a revered philosopher.

Most of the dialogue covers familiar themes: Sophists are interested in influencing opinion in exchange for money. They are not seeking truth, but only the appearance of truth. They don’t have real knowledge, only the appearance of knowledge. Socrates defines the sophist through a series of divisions that are entertaining. For example, the sophist is involved in the acquisitive instead of the productive arts, he is a hunter of men and not animals, he is interested in learning of the soul and not the body, etc.

The second part of the dialogue is harder to follow and involves what it means when we say something “is” or exists. In this second part, Socrates tackles the claim that Parmenides made that there cannot be false opinion or idea. He also attacks Parmenides claim that everything is really just one thing. I believe all this is just background information that one needs to define the sophist, because for the sophist to have false beliefs, false beliefs must exist.

In any case, Socrates has laid out the basis for the trilogy, so it will be interesting to see how the statesman differs from the sophist. Interestingly, the philosopher was never written by Plato, perhaps because he died before he wrote it, or perhaps because we are supposed to do the work ourselves and figure out what it means to be a philosopher.

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