Friday, 23 June 2023, 8pm
Keynote Address – Professor Angie Hobbs
Public Philosophy in an Age of Uncertainty
We unquestionably live in profoundly uncertain times. However, philosophy – both inside and outside the academy - can still assist us in many ways. It can help us cut through the confusion, half-truths, falsehoods and lies to work out which (perhaps rather few) things are certain and which things are not. In dealing with the uncertainties, it can help us work out which of them are at least partly under our control, and in addition it can help us not simply to analyse the situation but foster the creative imagination and mental suppleness needed to work out ways forward. In situations where we really do not have the power to shape events, ancient Greek philosophy in particular can provide techniques and therapies for helping us respond to them in the most positive – or at any rate least destructive – way. It can particularly achieve this by offering us a secure framework for what it might mean for an individual or community to flourish (Greek eudaimonia), even in those situations where feeling happy is neither possible nor appropriate. Philosophy can also help us appreciate that uncertainty is not always bad: the stage of aporia (perplexity), for instance, plays a crucial role in the Socratic elenchus, a technique also embraced by Plato. We cannot make intellectual or moral progress unless we come to realise what we do not yet know or understand, and feel a painful confusion which drives us to move forward in our enquiries and moral growth.
Angie Hobbs gained a First Class Degree in Classics and a PhD in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. After a Research Fellowship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, she moved to the Philosophy Department at the University of Warwick; in 2012 she was appointed Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, a position created for her. Her chief interests are in ancient philosophy and literature, and ethics and political theory from classical thought to the present, and she has published widely in these areas, including Plato and the Hero (CUP). Her most recent publication for the general public is Plato’s Republic: a Ladybird Expert Book.
Saturday, 24 June 2023
First Session 9.15
Can Theurgy Save the World? John Dillon
The occasion for this (slightly whimsical) paper has been the reading over a projected new edition of Proclus’ treatise On the Hieratic Art, which is a commendation of theurgy. The premiss behind theurgy, as I take it, is that the physical world has in fact been sown by the gods with a great variety of symbola, or ‘clues’, which, if put together correctly and respectfully, can draw down the power of gods or daemons, and achieve many practical advantages. What I wish to argue here is that an increased respect for the way the world is put together should prove the basis for a properly ‘ecological’ approach to our environment, and that would equate to a modern version of theurgy. I argue that the ‘theurgic’ attitude to Matter, largely adopted by Iamblichus, is in stark contrast to that adopted by Platonism in general, and indeed by the Christian tradition following on from it, into the ‘scientific’ mind-set of the modern world.
John Dillon is Regius Professor of Greek (Emeritus) at Trinity College, Dublin. Educated at Oxford (BA, MA) and University of California at Berkeley (PhD, The Fragments of Iamblichus’ Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato). On faculty at Berkeley; Regius Professor of Greek, TCD. Widely published: main works The Middle Platonists, Alcinous: The Handbook of Platonism; Iamblichus, De Anima; The Heirs of Plato; The Roots of Platonism; Philo of Alexandria: on the Life of Abraham.
Relational Philosophy, Theurgy and Contemporary Environmental Crisis Crystal Addey
Does philosophy – specifically the philosophy of Plato and that of his philosophic successors – have anything to offer us in relation to thinking through, dealing with, and responding appropriately to the most urgent problems of our time - the interlocking environmental issues and crises that face us today, especially climate change? While some environmental philosophers have dismissed the relevance of Plato’s philosophy, arguing that Plato’s apparent emphasis on dualism, anti-body stance, and championing of reason instigated and has led to the development of anthropocentrism in Western philosophy and culture, others have explored the relevance of Plato’s and Plotinus’ approaches towards the natural world to thinking through environmental problems and issues. Yet, to date, there has been no examination of the possible relevance of theurgy to these issues, a term which refers to a set of ritual practices (coupled or synthesised with late Platonist philosophy) through which theurgists attempted to establish contact, assimilation to, and mystical union with the gods and, ultimately (at least according to Iamblichus), with the One (cf. Iamblichus, De mysteriis 5.21–22). A further goal of theurgy was to make manifest or express the (pre-existing) presence of the gods in the natural world. This paper will explore the ecological and eco-centric dimensions of theurgy, focusing especially on: (1) the roles of the gods associated with place and landscape within theurgic practice; (2) the eco-centric dimensions of theurgic cosmology, metaphysics and ritual practices; and (3) theurgic iterations of the connections with and presence of the divine in animals and the natural world, including plants, trees, sea and land. The paper will also consider some parallels between theurgy and the philosophy of indigenous peoples and communities and will suggest ways in which these traditions envision philosophy as relational and explore how relational philosophy might help us to respond appropriately to the environmental problems we face today.
Crystal Addey is a Lecturer in the Department of Classics and a Principal Investigator of the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland, as well as a Tutor for the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, University of Wales TSD, UK. She is the Founder and Co-Convenor of the UCC Eco-Humanities Research Group. She is also a Trustee of the Prometheus Trust. Her publications include Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the gods (Ashgate/Routledge 2014), the edited volume Divination and Knowledge in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Routledge 2021), and many chapters and articles on ancient philosophical and religious approaches towards the environment and the natural world, on the connections between ancient Mediterranean religions (especially divination) and philosophy, and on the roles of women in ancient philosophy.
Narrative Self-understanding: Exploring points of confluence in Plato and African storytelling Omowumi Ogunyemi
Humans are storytelling animals. Whether in the forms of oral storytelling or in the use of proverbs, humans have employed the use of narratives to educate each other, stimulate growth in practical reasoning and to foster the acquisition of virtues. Such activities were an essential part of the process of character development in many African traditions. Non-African scholars have also stressed the importance of narrative for understanding human actions and for making sense of activities set within broader contexts of communities. Such narratives, at an individual level are tools for growth in virtues, enriching the person and their society. Plato’s works include narrative tools sometimes useful in expressing ideas guiding society.
This paper explores an interpretation of the role of narratives in some of Plato’s works connecting them with the concepts of African storytelling and other narrations which contributed to developing the society by developing the character of the individual members of communities. It explores storytelling, and other similar activities employed in indirect virtue promotion in many traditional African and non-African settings presenting points of confluence and divergence with select platonic literature.
The practice of storytelling and narrative self-understanding was indeed helpful for preparing individuals to lead themselves and lead others at different levels in the society. Implications of the work include application of some interpretation of Plato’s writings as a framework to enrich our understanding of age old practices which shaped African communities. Platonic philosophy was not generally in the ancient African context; thus this paper brings together concepts from disparate contexts. It also highlights the potentials of narrativity, seen from personal dimensions within the context of human interactions involving shared stories, to cultivate shared virtue and practical rationality which is subsequently lived out in communities.
Omowumi Ogunyemi is a senior lecturer of philosophy (Ethics and Anthropology) at the Institute of Humanities of the Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos. Her first degree is in medicine and surgery. She also holds a licentiate degree and a doctorate in philosophy (Anthropology and Ethics - with summa cum laude) from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. Research interests include: implications of anthropology for the practice of virtues in different fields including computing ethics and business ethics. She has special interest in virtue theory for the temporal experience of humans and narrative self-understanding for the practice of virtue.
Second Session 11.30
Who Owns Renewable Energy? An Argument for Aristotelian-Influenced Ownership in Households Paul Fagan
Renewable energy will become a more important resource in the future and this allows us to ask the question, who owns renewable energy? It should be noted that the majority of households could obtain a sufficient amount of energy from renewables for three reasons: firstly, renewables are both widespread and unlimited; secondly, adequate equipment for both harnessing and storing energy is currently available; and thirdly, beneficial technology tends to introduce itself into society when people see its advantages.
From his Politics, Aristotle favoured the private ownership of property, whereby individuals could engage in ‘household management’ and produce enough goods to live a virtuous life. Quite easily, this notion may be applied to renewable energy where households could acquire their own energy.
Aristotle also believed in sharing produce. Indeed, the notion of a common element within produce could be strengthened as the education system preferred by Aristotle would encourage persons to both, moderate their desire for goods, and acquire a ‘benevolent disposition’. Hence, when a household had harnessed a sufficient amount of energy, any excess gained could be donated to others.
Overall, a situation could arise where energy owners freely avail their energy to others, and those in need of energy tap into such reserves: energy benefactors should expect to be generous whilst energy appropriators would be expected to take moderately. A situation of ‘give and take’ could be envisioned where one would sometimes give and sometimes take.
To conclude, the applied Aristotelian-influenced thought described above, when enacting the virtues of generosity and moderation, could provide a beneficial ownership type for renewable energy in domestic settings. It can be expected to contribute to more equality of energy usage within society by making energy more of an asset to be shared.
Paul Fagan holds a PhD from the University of Hull and has read widely in business, science and the arts. His interests within the world of philosophy include ethics, political philosophy, and environmental philosophy; but particularly any areas where philosophy may be applied to solving problems we experience in the present. Using this knowledge, Paul has devised a business ethics course for an accounting body, which will be used internationally. Also, Paul teaches a philosophy of art course in northeast England.
Heidegger and Technology as a Philosophical Project Jonathan Krude
In my talk, I will argue that Heidegger’s analysis of technology allows us to examine the essential links between contemporary technology and the project of philosophy. Heidegger understands the essence of technology is a mode of engaging with the world in terms of total accessibility. The aim of technology is to drive out all mystery from the world. This totalising tendency turns technology into a world-threatening danger. Most scholars take this analysis as a line of contrast between contemporary technology, on the one hand, and philosophical thinking, on the other. Instead, I will argue that Heidegger’s analysis allows us to bring out how contemporary technology is rooted in philosophy.
To illuminate the connection between contemporary technology and philosophical questioning in Heidegger’s thought, I will focus on the concept of the strife (Streit) between concealment and un-concealment. Heidegger describes this strife as the process that constitutes the world itself. Both parties are oriented towards surmounting the other. Striving against concealment, being entities become visible as they begin to be un-concealed as representable objects. This conflict constitutes a bridge between philosophy and technology. In the beginning, philosophical questioning has started off the strife by opening a world that “as the opening-up, can tolerate nothing closed” (GA 5: 35). Technology, at the end, becomes recognisable as the conclusion to this programme, as it brings everything into a stock (Bestand), from where it is “accessible […] without distance” (GA 79: 25).
From this rootedness of technology in philosophical questioning, it becomes understandable how Heidegger can say that “the coming to presence of technology harbours in itself […] the possible arising of the saving power” (GA 7: 33). As technology remains rooted in the questioning that started the strife, it offers the possibility to restart the philosophical project.
Jonathan Krude is a DPhil student at Corpus Christi College Oxford, working on Heidegger's philosophy of technology under the supervision of Mark Wrathall. Previously, he completed an MA in philosophy at Universität Potsdam and Sorbonne Université and a BA in philosophy at Trinity College Cambridge.
Third Session 2pm
“Persons grouped round a common object”: Philosophy, Criticism, and Aesthetic Societies Robert Chodat
“Uses of words by persons grouped round a common object,” says Iris Murdoch, “is a central and vital human activity. The art critic can help us if we are in the presence of the same object and if we know something about his scheme of concepts. Both contexts are relevant to our ability to move towards ‘seeing more,’ towards ‘seeing what he sees.’” Murdoch is not describing a “philosophical society,” but what might be called “aesthetic societies.” This paper will explore the significance of this distinction, and recommend that we take the latter at least as seriously as the former. Two figures will help me make the case: Thi Nguyen, one of the few people to discuss the role of trust in artistic contexts; and Stanley Cavell, who highlights speech situations that lack—as aesthetic contexts often do—antecedent legal or social conventions. To be sure, aesthetic societies are rife with disagreements. The endless debates that surface among persons grouped around a common object—what does Hamlet mean? is The Castle more worth our time than Spiderman?—can make us yearn for certainty and systematic knowledge, and participants in these endless debates can often seem to lack expertise (recall Plato’s Ion). But for those very reasons, aesthetic societies demand our attention. They may offer a realistic model of how to confront what the prompt for this conference calls the “challenges” of our “globalized and rapidly changing society.” Aesthetic societies arise precisely from the need to make judgements in the face of anomalous objects and situations, when nobody’s evaluations are above reproach and nobody gets to be king.
Robert Chodat is Professor of English at Boston University, where he teaches courses on modern and contemporary fiction and the relations between literature and philosophy. He has published two monographs, the most recent of which is The Matter of High Words: Naturalism, Normativity, and the Postwar Sage (Oxford, 2017). He also co-edited the volume Wittgenstein and Literary Studies, which was published earlier this year by Cambridge University Press.
Virtue Ethics and Goodness Rodger Sykes
In thinking about philosophical ethics my aim in this paper is to stress the social viability of virtue ethics whilst recognising that there is nothing more practical than a good idea. There is acceptance here of a traditional consensus that ethical problems can only be understood by considering philosophy as a whole. Our conference title, Towards A Philosophical Society, is therefore crucial to thinking about ethics in that it implies human motion or having a sense of purpose. It suggests a current moral standpoint in which human knowledge recalls the causes and effects of beliefs, values, and choices. Yet as we speculate how an ethical society may prevail in future we should first consider the temporal reality of now. By having a historical view we can learn how traditional ethics accepts the Good in imitative virtue ethics thus enabling a way forward. Plato’s Phaedrus begins with a hint of motion, or moral purpose, as Socrates opens the dialogue, “It’s good to see you, Phaedrus. Where are you going, and where have you come from?” Their conversation on the merits of poetic myths and dialectic discussion, and the soul’s conflicting emotions and reasons, aims to show that virtuous conduct reveals true knowledge and transcendent beauty in the Good.
The historicist approach of my paper argues that we should now consider virtue ethics as a concern for happiness, the human good. For individuals and communities, it raises a vital question: why and how should we live? Philosophical ethics, understanding what is good, relies on theoretical and practical reasoning. My paper brings together the ethical thought and modes of language of Plato and Aristotle, the 14th century poet Dante, the 18th century empiricism of David Hume, and the 20th century analytic method of G.E. Moore. References to Roger Scruton are included in memory of an Ethics Seminar he gave in November 2015.
Rodger Sykes has an MA in Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, and an MA by Research in Philosophy, University of Buckingham, with a thesis on Petrarch’s classical scholarship and humanist Italian poetry supervised by Roger Scruton. Since 2018, he has contributed to the Neoplatonic Studies Research Seminars organised by the Warburg Institute.
Philosopher or political activist? The voice philosopher should have in society Dorina Mihaela Patrunsu
Where intellectuals are silent, says Dahrendorf (1997), society has no future. Should, then, the philosopher’s voice be a political one?
My aim here is to show that any attempt to reduce political philosophy to political activism creates mutual dis-economies, each losing both legitimacy and functionality.
In pursuing this task, I first offer a generic account of a political philosophy-based activism argument, drawing on those most salient defenses of the necessity of a philosophical justificatory framework as a way to improve political action and activism in society.
I then offer a counter-argument that defeats the argument in favor of reducing the philosopher’s voice to that of political activism and its various operationalizations. A valid objection here is that any political arena parasitizes the value of political ideas, making them ideologically vulnerable and manipulable. It follows that the philosophical backup of political activism precludes neither unintended (undesirable) consequences nor hidden costs. It follows also that the low probability of getting what is pretended to be moral, just, and desirable is not a matter of contingency.
Losing the political aim (or idea) that political activism promises to get represents a significant risk, but this is not something political activism cannot internalize. Political activism speculates political opportunities; a failure to achieve a political aim affects neither the idea nor future opportunities. But things are different if those who are behind political activism are philosophers. For philosophers, this failure means to compromise both the idea and the moral exigencies behind political activism. This is fatal not only for their further credibility but also for the future of what might be a just society.
In conclusion, political philosophy and political activism should remain in an ‘uncomfortable dichotomy.’ Only this way each of them would have a legitimate and appropriate political voice in society.
Dorina Mihaela Patrunsu, PhD. (2009) Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy (2017), University of Bucharest, specializes in social and political philosophy, institutional analysis and Public Choice theory. Authored books (in Romanian): Efficacity or Democracy? Philosophical dilemmas regarding the role of political institutions (2016), Evolutionism vs. institutional constructivism. Perspectives on institutional change in post-communist Romania (2017) and several articles published in prestigious Romanian scientific reviews.
Fourth Session 3.55pm
Mysticism and Philosophy in the “Letter to Flaccus” Mark Roblee
The so-called “Letter to Flaccus” is never mentioned by scholars as part of the Plotinian corpus yet it has appeared as a “lost letter” by Plotinus in spiritual, esoteric, and occult works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. P.D. Ouspensky refers to it in Tertium Organum (1912). American idealist philosopher William Ernest Hocking cites it in his article, “The Meaning of Mysticism as Seen Through Psychology” (1912). Lewis Spence’s An encyclopedia of occultism (1960) reprints it entirely in the entry on Neoplatonism. More recently, James Luchte’s Pythagoras and the doctrine of transmigration: wandering souls (2009) includes a short chapter devoted to its contents. Although this paper’s author first wondered if the “Letter to Flaccus” as such, might be an obscurity from Ficino or Taylor’s day, it appears to have been the creation of Robert Alfred Vaughan (1832-1857), an English Congregationalist minister who wrote Hours with the Mystics: a contribution to the history of religious opinion (1856). Vaughan’s book is a conversation among three characters over “wine and walnuts” about the history of mysticism including the Neoplatonism of Plotinus. Some writers after Vaughan’s time have taken the letter as fact despite its conspicuous absence from centuries of Plotinian scholarship. This paper proposes to 1) examine the transmission and popular reception of Neoplatonic philosophy via Plotinus’s spurious “Letter to Flaccus” and 2) consider the role of mysticism in a philosophic society that draws from Neoplatonism.
Mark Roblee works on intellectual and cultural history in Late Antiquity, particularly the intersection between religious and philosophical thought. He received his doctorate in history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he now teaches for the Commonwealth Honors College. Mark is writing a book about reading, imagination, and personal divinity in Neoplatonic and Hermetic texts. As a public historian, he wonders about the presentation of antiquity, "numinous objects," and why people love old things.
The Platonic Diagrams Luis G. Castañeda
A diagram is generally understood to be a two-dimensional graphic device used to reference, communicate, and simplify the understanding of complex information or data. Because of its abstract nature and simplified construction, diagrams have become ubiquitous in order for us to process the vast amount of information production and distribution made available today.
This paper/presentation sets out to introduce a comprehensive research project which will focus on diagram design for qualitative purposes. Its purpose is to produce a resource to aid the study and understanding of the Platonic doctrine its source being “True” knowledge.
The impetus for this project is as follows:
To provide another resource to be made available through the Prometheus Trust. More specifically the resource becoming an archive of diagrams which will complement the text-based content—the Platonic dialogues and commentaries —being equally accessible, translatable and dialogical.
To connect the same research to an external project, Diagrammatica, which, beginning with manuscript traditions, analyzes diagram use historically and across various disciplines. It “seeks to analyze visual and representational strategies of key diagrammatic examples in order to inform future practice”.
To help activate and contribute to Diagrammatology, the science of diagrams in general, via graphic design. Graphic design is a practice-oriented discipline that seeks to construct and communicate ideas and to produce meaning using symbols i.e., graphics, text and/or image for a particular audience. Therefore graphic design principles will be applied here, within a particular context and for a specific philosophic tradition.
Finally, the essence of this project is to revive an approach or a mode—perhaps a forgotten one—and re-establish the use of a symbolic language to access and engage with the Intellect.
Luis G. Castañeda is a graphic designer, graphic artist and educator who works internationally and is currently based in Germany.
Thomas Taylor Lecture
Professor Douglas Hedley
Plato and Play
In 1938 Johan Huizinga published his Homo Ludens. Plato is a pivotal figure in Huizinga’s thesis, and I argue that Huizinga’s Dutch spiritual forebear, the great Erasmus, furnishes an important bridge between Huizinga and Plato. Few naturally associate the Platonic tradition with the idea of ‘play’: gravity is its more obvious temper! Erasmus and Huizinga, however, furnish good reasons for defending a playful Platonism.
Douglas Hedley was educated at the universities of Oxford and Munich. He is Professor of the Philosophy of Religion in the Divinity faculty in Cambridge, a Fellow of Clare College, and Director of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism. He is the author of a trilogy on the religious imagination and has also edited a recent anthology on the Cambridge Platonists.
Sunday, 25 June 2023
Fifth Session 9.30
Towards a Philosophic Society? The Relation of the Philosopher and the non-Philosopher Brendan O’Byrne
I begin from a discussion of the fate of the returning prisoner to the cave (Rep. 516 – 517) and offer an explanation for this state of affairs, namely, the hostility of society towards the philosopher. I argue that this is a permanent feature of human society, notwithstanding the presence of sympathetic non-philosophers (e.g. those jurymen who acquitted Socrates).
The argument begins from the justified assumption that the philosopher (a miniscule minority) and the non-philosopher (overwhelming majority) have incompatible aims – the philosopher aims at knowledge (sophia) and the non-philosopher aims at other things; the pleasant life (hedonê), wealth, power, honour (timê), etc. This analysis accords with the tripartition of the soul in the Republic. Aristotle puts the same insight somewhat differently in the Ethics where he sets out the different conceptions of the good life in I.5 – the majority deem it to be pleasure, a smaller group think it honour, and the smallest of all hold it to be the theoretical life.
As the overwhelming majority of people do not value the philosophic life and of these some are positively hostile towards it, the likelihood of a philosophic society (such as described in Plato’s Republic or Laws) coming into existence is virtually non-existent.
So, what ought to be the relationship of the philosopher with the non-philosopher? Is there a visible social role for the philosopher, especially in a society mired in a deep crisis of meaning and morality such as ours, and if so, what is it?
Dr Brendan O’Byrne has taught philosophy at Trinity College Dublin for many years. His thesis under Professor John M Dillon was on the Topic of Heidegger’s life-long engagement with Plato. He is strongly committed to various interdisciplinary projects, as well as issues in contemporary philosophy.
Philosophy, Society and Religion Robert Bolton
A subject which combines a pursuit of philosophy with social life can appear paradoxical, as societies typically require the suppression of truth in order to function, because the same truth has very different effects on different minds. Despite that, philosophy itself began with a society, one founded by Pythagoras in Croton in the 6th Century B.C. This society ended with a terrible persecution by the Crotonians around 500 B.C. and possibly Pythagoras himself was killed. The conflict was between the power that comes unsought from a pursuit of truth and the power of those who seek power for its own sake. This tragic conflict is perennial and it recurred in the Middle Ages between the Knights Templar and the King of France.
In today’s world a new and insidious form of the same conflict has arisen in the form of ideology, which most people do not know how to distinguish from philosophy, even though its relation to the world is the exact opposite to that of philosophy. Here again the central issue is one of power. Philosophy requires a surrender to proven truth, and the judgement of reason has to be final for it, whereas ideologists are so deep in ignorance that they can believe that they already know everything of any importance, so that they can present their beliefs as the results of pretended reasoning. That is what they believe entitles them to political power.
Such is the dark side of the issue, but grounds for optimism do not fail, simply because philosophy still exists today, having had ages in which to perish. Extinct philosophies do not always return, but Platonism has often died out, only to re-emerge in later times, and it is not hard to predict when its next resurgence will occur, as it follows a cycle called the Naros.
Dr Robert Bolton’s education was originally scientific, in chemistry and physics, but he studied Plato’s philosophy in his spare time. He went to Exeter University and took postgraduate studies in philosophy, and subsequently authored several books, including ‘The Order of the Ages, ‘Self and Spirit’, ‘Person, Soul and Identity: Philosophy and the Real Self’, ‘ Keys of Gnosis’, ‘Foundations of Free Will’ and ‘The one and the Many: A Defence of Theistic Religion’.
“If you want to go to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here…” Martha Lyn
This is the situation with our society today. How can society improve when real philosophy is suspect? Emanuel Kant claimed there are no rational grounds for philosophy. But reliable grounds for philosophy are supra-rational Real Ideas. When faulty human concepts usurp the reality of Ideas, and the providence of divinity is ignored, how can Platonists influence our times for the better?
The more scientific materialism advances, the more vulnerable humanity becomes to human beings misusing this knowledge. Consequently, it is imperative to attempt the daunting task set by this Conference. And unless there is progress towards restoring the ideal, the wrath of the Gods will be unleashed in fatal repercussions from the living Cosmos as we greedily continue to exploit our long-suffering Mother. Climate change could see humanity unleash the four horsemen of the Apocalypse…not a pleasant, but an increasingly probable prospect.
So where to begin?
In this paper I refer to the Platonic template of an ideal society in order to diagnose and clarify the extent of the disparity between the actual and the ideal by contrasting Plato’s regulation of the desiderative, spirited, and rational powers in individuals and the equivalent functions in societies with the social order today. Hopefully this ‘diagnosis’ of the worrying dilemma facing humanity and the planet will pave the way for those with wiser heads than mine to attempt to narrow this gap. Once the gravity of our present human condition is more accurately and immediately realised, perhaps those in power will be prevailed upon to effect improvement.
This paper, then, attempts to contribute to the recognition of the pressing need to improve actual existing conditions in the light of Plato’s ideal norms.
Martha Lyn happened upon a portrait of Thomas Taylor while lunching at Ottawa Art Gallery in Canada, after browsing through some of his writings in the course of obtaining a BA at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, in 1965. She continued searching out more of Taylor’s work in the UK. She then joined forces with The Prometheus Trust to assist in the work of ensuring his increasingly difficult to obtain translations remaining available, and is now a Patron.
Sixth Session 11.30
How should a Platonist Mourn? Harold Tarrant
It seems that a distinctive vocabulary has grown up for addressing those in mourning, and to a lesser extent those facing death, during the lifetime of many of us. Persons are said to 'pass', their mourners to need 'closure'. What the dead had meant to their families is always felt worthy of mention, and the family's description of them has its own rules that go well beyond 'nil nisi bonum'. Somebody's death nearly always has to be somebody else's fault with mourners often trying to blame themselves if nobody else is available. Much of our behaviour is only possible within a society where death is no longer 'ordinary', no longer just around the corner. As a result we seem less able to bear the consequences of a dangerous pandemic, a terrorist attack, or 'service to one's country'. We think we should be compensated, that we 'deserve' sympathy and help, that the dead had so much to look forward to, and that courts and insurance companies should pay up. Religious bodies may offer their own rhetoric, most of it entirely unsuited, perhaps even agonistic, to those who do not share their beliefs. I shall use the remnants of ancient consolation, in particular of pseudo-Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius, to show how attitudes differed in the ancient world, and in particular how the sum total of ancient wisdom would be woven together to produce a supposedly healthier way of facing the death of others and of self, suited to thinking persons of a variety of persuasions. I conclude with a look at the rules about mourning included in Plato's Laws (958-60) for his state of Magnesia.
Dr Harold Tarrant is Emeritus Professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia, but has retired to the UK. He has published widely on Platonism in the ancient world.
What kind of society? What kind of philosophy? Tim Addey
Suppose we were given a magic wand and could produce a sudden upsurge in the attention our society collectively and individually gave to philosophy: taught and discussed in schools; philosophy departments expanding rather than contracting; philosophy as an integral part of professional education; television, radio and the internet all buzzing with philosophical matters; commercial organisations giving time to aligning their working practices and aims with examined philosophical questions; ordinary people consciously trying to live according to philosophical principles and exploring those principles in a serious way. What then?
The very act of standing back and considering purposes, as well as actions proposed, those being undertaken, and those completed is, surely, something that a rational creature must find advantageous.
But perhaps there is something of a trap here: is the underlying “philosophy” of our culture the very thing which has produced the neglect of this most important of studies? Would a move towards the otherwise desirable state in which philosophy is given its proper attention actually set into its foundations the errors which we seek to address? Swallowing whole, so to speak, the assumptions which have given permission to our wealth and pleasure-loving society to dress itself in the garb of sophisticated rationalism and call it philosophy?
Will we find ourselves eventually echoing Socrates’ words in his trial: “O best of men, since you are an Athenian, of a city the greatest and the most celebrated for wisdom and strength, are you not ashamed of being attentive to the means of acquiring riches, glory and honour, in great abundance, but to bestow no care nor any consideration upon prudence and truth, nor how your soul may subsist in the most excellent condition?”
This paper explores how we can avoid the trap of exchanging a relatively thoughtless society for a sophistical one, starting with two fundamental affirmations: that knowledge is always of real being, and that the goal of life is assimilation to the Good.
Tim Addey is the chairperson of The Prometheus Trust, the editor of the Thomas Taylor series, the director of its education programme, and the author of several books on the Platonic tradition.