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.”

Forthcoming in 2018 from the University of Rochester Press.