“Becoming Socrates”

Becoming Socrates: Political Philosophy in Plato’s Parmenides

Interpreters of Plato’s Parmenides have long agreed that it is a canonical work in the history of ontology. In the first part, the aged Parmenides presents a devastating critique of Platonic ontology, followed in the second by what purports to be a response to that critique. But despite the scholarly agreement as to the general subject matter of the dialogue, what makes it one whole has nevertheless eluded its readers, so much so that some have even speculated it to be a patchwork of two dimly related dialogues.

In Becoming Socrates, Alex Priou shows that the Parmenides’ unity remains elusive due to scholarly neglect of a particular passage in Parmenides’ critique—a passage Parmenides identifies as the hinge between the dialogue’s two parts and as the “greatest impasse” facing Platonic ontology. There Parmenides situates the concern with ontology or the question of being within the concern with political philosophy or the question of good rule. In this way, the Parmenides shows us how a youthful Socrates first learned of the centrality of political philosophy that would become the hallmark of his life—that it, and not ontology, is “first philosophy.”


“Alex Priou addresses here the crucial role that the Parmenides plays in Plato’s account of the ‘Socratic turn,’ that is, in the thinking that led Socrates to turn away from natural philosophy and initiate a new way of philosophizing that we now call political philosophy. This impressive and valuable new interpretation helps us to understand better a notoriously difficult Platonic dialogue about the beginning of both political theory and the tradition of Western rationalism.”

– Mark J. Lutz, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“For the first time, Plato’s presentation of the young Socrates being schooled by the great Parmenides in ontology is shown to illuminate, and to be illuminated by, Plato’s presentation of the mature Socrates analyzing justice in the Republic. What results is a deeply thought provoking new perspective on Platonic-Socratic political philosophy.”

– Thomas L. Pangle, University of Texas at Austin

Available from the University of Rochester Press.

Front matter and the first chapter.

Mary Townsend’s review in The Review of Politics 82.2.

Joe Cimakasky’s review in Ancient Philosophy 39.

Fred Erdman’s review in Interpretation 45.2.

– Listing on Amazon.