[MaFLa] invitation to a seminar series on`Plato against the Sophists` by Chloe Balla (University of Crete)- 26-28 September

Krisztina Biber Biberk at ceu.hu
Wed Sep 21 14:03:31 CEST 2011


Dear All,
 
You are cordially invited to attend the seminar series on `Plato
against the Sophists` by our Erasmus visiting scholar Chloe Balla
(University of Crete) between 26-28 September
Please see the details below:
 

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Monday, 26 September, 3.30 PM, Zrinyi 14/room 411
 

1. On the alleged origins of social contract theory. 
Scholars have often suggested that the origins of social contract
theory can be traced in 5th century sophistic thought (the most
developed arguments in favour of this view are developed inC.H.Kahn,
«The Originsof the Social-Contract Theory», in G.B. Kerferd, ed., The
Sophists and Their Legacy, (Hermes Einzelschrift 44, 1982), 92-108). An
important assumption of this view is thattexts like Glaucon’s speech in
Republic II and the speech of Callicles in the Gorgias express ideas
that had been previously introduced by members of the Sophistic circle
(such as Lycophron, Antiphon, Hippias, or the author of the Sisyphus
fragment). Starting from a comparison of the arguments presented by
Plato with our extant sophisticsources I propose to draw attention in
certain very important respects in which Plato departs from earlier
ideas that have been considered as forerunners of contractarianism. In
particular, I would like to suggest that both (a) the pessimistic view
of human nature according to which personal ambition or desire is the
ultimate drive for human action,and (b) its possible implication
according to which people do not need to observe the law if they have
the power to get away with itare seen as premises of Plato’s account of
contractarian arguments, are absent fromearlier theoreticians. Assuming
that this absence is not merely accidental (i.e. notdue to the failure
of the relevant sources to survive), I propose to attribute the
emergence of these arguments to a certain anti-democratic mentality
which was developed after the second half of the fifth century,
expressed in particular in authors such as Thucydides, Aristophanes and,
last not least, Plato.
 
Arguments based on the idea of human nature as essentially egoistic are
not the only arguments that have been used in support of the attempt to
trace the origins of contractarianism in early Greek thought. Scholars
have often drawn on fragments of authors such as Archelaus, Archytas,
Protagoras, Empedocles to stress the importance of the notion of
communication and agreement as a condition that allows humans to leave
the state of savage nature. In the second part of my paper, I discuss
these sources andexplain in what ways they too fail to qualify as
forerunners of contractarian arguments. 
 
 
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 Tuesday, 27 September, 1.30 PM Zrinyi 14/room 309
 
2. Plato’s criticism of Polus and the origins of empiricism
 
One of the most striking contributions of Plato's Gorgias is its
introduction of a sharp distinction between techne and empeiria. Used as
a premise of Socrates' criticism of rhetoric in the course of his
conversation with Polus, this contrast marks a shift from earlier views
concerning the development of arts, which focused on the opposition
between techne and tyche, and at the same time took for granted the
association between empeiria and techne. The clearest statement of such
a view is attributed to Polus, who is regarded as a student of Gorgias
and Anaxagoras; and hence it is probably not accidental that our
earliest evidence of it occurs in the first pages of Plato's Gorgias.
Scholars have often suggested that Socrates' criticism of rhetoric both
in this dialogue and also in the Phaedrus establishes and presupposes a
wedge between empeiria and techne, which is intended to replace the
earlier one between empeiria and tyche; and that, unlike Aristotle, who
offers a much more generous understanding of the realm of empeiria in
the beginning of the Metaphysics, the connotations of empeiria in Plato
are mainly negative. 
 
In this paper, I propose to qualify the above account, by drawing
attention to the particular contexts in which Plato’s criticism is
presented and to the aims it is supposed to serve. In particular, with
regard to the Gorgias, it is important to notice that Socrates' argument
depends on a rather questionable association of empeiria to flattery;
and, similarly that, in the case of the Phaedrus, Socrates' arguments
against empiricist approaches are not directed to the way experience
quite generally may still lead to art, but to the very uncritical and
slavish way in which people like Phaedrus himself copy the example of
any 'authority'. 
As an introduction to my discussion of Plato’s criticism, I offer a
review of the evidence that allows us to reconstruct the early
background of empiricism (I focus mainly on: Galen, On Medical
Experience, ch. 9; Hippocrates On Ancient Medicine, ch. 1-4; Plato,
Republic VII, 529a-532c; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1180b ad fin.). 
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Wednesday, 28 September, 3.30 PM Zrinyi 14/room 309
 
3. Who is attacked in the digression on misology? 
Socrates’ last words (“Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. See to it,
and don’t neglect it” Phaedo 118A) have given rise to a number of
diverse interpretations, the most prominent of which is that Plato is
here referring to the beneficial separation between body and soul which
occurs during what people misleadingly describe as death. This reading
seems to tie in what many scholars in the past have regarded as
Pythagorean overtones of the dialogue. But recent studies on this matter
have given rise to an alternative reading. In particular, some scholars
have challenged the “Pythagorean” reading of the text,drawing our
attention to more subtle characteristics of Socrates’ interlocutors [see
especially D. Sedley, «The Dramatis Personae of Plato’s Phaedo», in T.
Smiley, ed., Philosophical Dialogues: Plato, Hume and Wittgenstein.
Proceedings of the British Academy 85, Oxford, 3-26]; while others have
offered alternative answers to the question concerning the nature of the
debt to Asclepius. In this paper I offer a review of the main arguments
that have been proposed and I endorse an idea best developed by J.
Crooks[«Socrates’ Last Words: Another Look at an Ancient
Riddle»,Classical Quarterly 48 (1998): 117-125), according to
which the disease that Asclepius is supposed to have cured is distrust
to logical argumentation, described by Socrates in the so-called
digression on misology, (89d-000). Developing this suggestion, I propose
to raise a further question, concerning the possible identity of the
recipient or recipients of Plato’s criticism in the digression of the
Phaedo and, in particular, its connection to certainmembers of the
Socratic circle, including Socrates himself (drawing on A. Nehamas,
«Eristic, Antilogic, Sophistic, Dialectic: Plato’s Demarcation of
Philosophy from Sophistry», inVirtues of Authenticity. Princeton, N.J.,
1999, 108-122 [first appeared in: History of Philosophy Quarterly 7
(1990) 3-15]).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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