Article Posted – “The Philosopher in Plato’s ‘Sophist'”

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Under the research section, I’ve posted a link to my new article on the depiction of the philosopher in Plato’s Sophist.

In lieu of an abstract, here’s the map of the argument from the end of the introduction:

In this article, I walk the arc of the Sophist’s argument from the Theaetetus to the Statesman as follows. First, I consider how the initial definitions of the sophist frame the dialogue’s famous digression on images, being, and non-being (Section II). I then consider how this frame necessitates the distinction of ‘spoken images’ (εἴδωλα λεγόμενα) into φαντάσματα and εἰκόνες, i.e. those that respectively distort and preserve the proportions of the beings, the very distinction that eventually allows the Stranger to distinguish between true and false opinions (Section III). Thereafter, I discuss how this distinction in spoken images necessitates the acquisition of a ‘dialectical science’ (διαλεκτική ἐπιστήμη), which very acquisition appears intractably problematic (Section IV). I then conclude with some general reflections on the stance of the dialogue as a whole, the possibility of defining false opinion, and how the interpretation advanced informs the search for the statesman in the Statesman (Section V). My basic aim throughout is to show that, in so situating the Sophist between its prequel Theaetetus and sequel Statesman, we come to see the place of the philosopher in Plato’s Sophist.

Article Posted – “Plato’s ‘Minos’ and the ‘Euthyphro'”

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Under the research section, I’ve posted a link to my new article on Plato’s Minos and its connection to the Euthyphro.

Abstract: At the start of Plato’s Minos an anonymous comrade argues that the variability of law according to time and place undermines the claim that it conveys moral truth. But by the end he has accepted Minos as the greatest of lawgivers because of his education by Zeus. How does he manage to slide so quickly from the moral laxity of conventionalism to the moral absolutism of divine revelation? Guided by this question, the author considers how the two divergent parts of the Minos form one whole, and so what Plato suggests is the common basis to conventionalism and piety. Plato’s Minos thus ends up having an unexpectedly close relationship to his Euthyphro.

Contents and Introduction to “Becoming Socrates”

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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.

Article Posted – “Parmenides on Reason and Revelation”

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Under the research section, I’ve posted a link to my new article on the fragments of Parmenides’ poem.

Abstract: In this paper, the author argues that the revelatory form Parmenides gives his poem poses considerable problems for the account of being contained therein.  The poem moves through a series of problems, each building on the last: the problem of particularity, the cause of human wandering that the goddess would have us ascend beyond (B1); the problem of speech, whose heterogeneity evinces its tie to experience’s particularity (B2–B7); the problem of justice, which motivates man’s ascent from his “insecure” place in being, only ultimately to undermine it (B8.1–49); and finally the question of the good, the necessary consequence of man’s place in being as being out of place in being (B8.50–B19).  What emerges is a Socratic reading of Parmenides’s poem, a view that Plato appears to have shared by using Parmenides and his Eleatic stranger to frame the bulk of Socrates’s philosophic activity.

Translation of and Brief Comment on Xenophanes’ Fragments

In this pdf, you will find my highly literal translation of the fragments of Xenophanes. They are based on the text of James H. Lesher, Xenophanes of Colophon (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), with any deviations from Lesher’s text detailed in the footnotes. I have not recently revisited the Greek since my initial translation some time ago, so corrections are likely necessary and certainly welcome.

A brief comment on Xenophanes’ significance. It is my opinion that this Pre-Socratic figure is among the most under-appreciated in Classical thought, perhaps owing to Aristotle’s deprecation of him in Metaphysics A. But Xenophanes is of paramount importance on the question of the gods, for in the scant writings of his that we possess, he runs the gamut from Homeric to Aristotelean theology. He is captivatingly both of the moment and ahead of his time, so that he is for all time.

A cursory glance corroborates this aspect of Xenophanes’ writing. He reflects, first, on the rituals and trappings surrounding everyday religious experience, culminating in a rejection of traditional standards of excellence (e.g., B1). From here, he embarks upon a critique of the traditional gods, such as one finds in Homer and Hesiod (e.g., B11). The Platonic Socrates borrows this critique in Republic III, thus allowing him to replace the Olympian gods with Platonic forms. And, indeed, the same Aristotle who finds Xenophanes unworthy of even the most cursory treatment borrows from this line of argument the rudiments for his criticism of Platonic forms in Metaphysics B. What takes the cake is that those fragments in which Xenophanes presents his revised theology look suspiciously familiar to the theology Aristotle lays out in Metaphysics Λ (e.g., B25).

Thus we see that the extraordinary breadth and depth of Xenophanes’ thought cannot be denied. A fresh study of the extant fragments would be much welcomed, especially one taking into account what appears to be Aristotle’s highly ironic stance toward an otherwise marginal character in the history of philosophy. I am hoping to turn my notes on Xenophanes into an article on this question with the title “Rehabilitating Xenophanes,” once time permits. For now, I hope you find my translation and this brief comment helpful.

Article Posted – “On Two Socratic Questions” (On Plato’s Euthypro)

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Under the research section, I’ve posted a link to my new article on Plato’s Euthyphro, which I consider to be an examination of the possibility of posing Socrates’ famous question, ti esti touto. It was just published in The St. John’s Review.

In lieu of an abstract, here’s a shortened version of the first paragraph:

The most famous Socratic question—ti esti touto?—is often preceded by a far less famous, but more fundamental question—esti touto ti? Though this question is posed in many dialogues with respect to myriad topics, in every instance it receives but one answer: it is something, namely something that is. The dialogue devoted to why this question always meets with an affirmative answer would appear to be the Parmenides, for there Parmenides throws into question whether the eidē are, only to establish that, if we have opinions that there is some unity in being, such unity must be. Nevertheless, the dramatic setting of the Parmenides is the quarreling of the Pre-Socratic schools, and the popular dismissal of philosophy that their quarreling engendered. For a dialogue that establishes that the object of inquiry is simply because we have opinions about it, we must, as I hope to show, turn to the Euthyphro.