"The unexamined life is not lived." – Socrates, The Apology.
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, NW1 7AY
The Prometheus Trust runs regular meetings in London. We meet at Cecil Sharp House fortnightly on Monday evenings, from 7.30 to 9.15 – but with time after this for more informal chats, if so desired.
These evenings include short talks and/or readings from Platonic writings – but we hope they will be genuinely interactive, with all participants invited to contribute to our collaborative search for truth. No previous experience of formal philosophy is required.
Admission is free, but we do encourage those who are able to donate between £3 and £5 in order to cover our costs.
Most of these evenings are self-contained and every effort is made to make them accessible to the newcomer, while allowing the great profundity of the Platonic tradition to step forward and speak to us at whatever level our present understanding sits. Some of these sessions are coupled together, in order to give us the space to examine more fully particular texts and themes, but even here we will ensure that if those attending have missed the first of the two sessions a recap of what has gone before will help all participants to pick up the main threads of the theme.
We will make available (as a PDF download) the text we are studying, well before the date of the meeting. .
The Trust has run similar activities for some 17 years, and in our experience they allow the most profound questions concerning human life, the nature of reality, and our interactions, to be explored at once both seriously and with good cheer. Our aim is to provide a forum for honest and straight-forward enquiry, but which is unafraid to explore inward-moving paths too often neglected by modern schools of thought.
We also plan to run a reading group over the autumn, going through Plato’s Phaedo. This will run from 6 to 7.15pm immediately before each of the Monday evening sessions. Click here for details.
We also run similar sesions in Bristol fortnightly on Wednesday evenings: click here for details.
August 13th - The Levels of Virtue and the First Step
The dialogues of Plato were at one time thought to constitute a complete moral education. In keeping with Plato’s own view on this subject, which he outlines in the Republic, such education was thought to be of utmost importance not only in developing the integrity of the individual but also maintaining the integrity of society as a whole. Plato’s identification of the moral virtues rests on his characterisation of the human soul, which he thought acted through three faculties or parts: a part energised by reason, a part energised by raw desire, and a ‘spirited’ part energised by wholesome pride or ‘anger’ typically defined in relation to the other two parts. Each part unfolded its potential through its own virtue (wisdom, temperance and fortitude) and when combined harmonized through a fourth, justice. These four virtues became known as the ‘hinge’ or cardinal virtues. They were elucidated by almost 900 years of the Platonic tradition before being adopted and passed on to the Catholic church. Aristotle’s ethics was particularly influential in establishing this tradition of ‘virtue ethics’ because it was focused on its practical application. The neoplatonists, (Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, Iamblicus, Damascius, and Olympiodorus), were not only interested in how these virtues were expressed in practical or ‘civic’ activities, but also in more inward activities like contemplation and meditation. Compelled by the Socratic invocation to ‘know thyself’ not only as a human being in the world but also as a soul within a vast hierarchy of spiritual being, these four virtues were characterised differently depending on the level of being toward which they were focused. This resulted in a rich model of what we might call the inner dynamics of spiritual development. It also led to a course of Platonic studies aimed at the development of moral character. The study of Plato’s dialogue the First Alcibiades was pivotal in this curriculum because it was seen as the introduction to and therefore the foundation of the student’s moral development. It illustrates the crucial first step of turning inward, which Socrates characterises in the dialog as recognising that one doesn’t know but one wants to know. We will look at an outline of this framework of virtues, see how they were integrated into the cycle of Platonic dialogues and discuss its implications.
Download the text: Levels of virtue
September 17th and October 1st & 15th - The Gods of the Platonic Tradition
The Platonic tradition (which properly speaking should be seen as predating Plato himself) is an identifiable set of general ideas and practices which were handed on from one generation to the next for well over a thousand years, and which only ceased as the primary western philosophic teaching when the Christian Church established itself in a position of enforceable dominance in the late Roman Empire. The tradition was rooted in a pagan veneration of polytheistic Gods, while at the same time it recognized a singular First Principle – a transcending First God. How are we to understand this theological framework, so strange to the modern mind? Is a recognition of the Gods an optional extra in Platonic philosophy – an element we can eliminate without damage to its metaphysical and ethical structures? In what way do the mythological tales of Gods and heroes both reveal and obscure the part played by the Gods in Platonic philosophy? Can we look behind the vivid and beautiful stories and find the truths which so inspired the sages of the ancient tradition?
In a series of three linked evenings we will look at number of passages from the writings of some of the finest thinkers of the tradition with a view to seeing again the world with their eyes – perhaps to the point at which we can say with them "all things are full of the Gods." Each of the three evenings will begin with a short introduction to an aspect of the subject and then move on to the extracts to be read: we should have at least an hour to discuss the ideas arising from these passages. (At the beginning of the second and third evenings we will very briefly summarize the main points of the previous sessions, so that anyone who missed them should be able to pick up the threads of the discussions.)
Download the text for the first session: Gods of the Platonic Tradition 1
Download the text for the second session: Gods of the Platonic Tradition 2
Download the text for the second session: Gods of the Platonic Tradition 3
The following is a draft syllabus for 2018: descriptions and downloadable text will be available as each date approaches.
The above syllabus is very much a draft and subject to revision as we go along. We have highlighted in red dates when the normal fortnightly pattern is disrupted.
An outline of our approach
The Prometheus Trust, a registered educational charity, exists to encourage, promote and assist the flowering of philosophy as the living love of wisdom. It aims especially at re-introducing philosophy as a transformative activity – one that gradually draws into activity all that is best in the human self, so that both the inner and outer life are directed towards that which is truly good, rather than that that which only appears to be good. "Beatific contemplation does not consist of the accumulation of arguments or a storehouse of learned knowledge, but in us theory must become nature and life itself." - Porphyry, 3rd century AD.
The starting point for our studies and reflections is the writings of the Platonic tradition but we rely on the affirmation that every man and woman has within him or herself a connection to all the great truths which underlie reality: our joint discussions are aimed at bringing forth and into focus these truths, which otherwise might remain more or less obscured by the complexities of life. The Trust looks to follow the Platonic tradition's general approach - that merely because Plato or any of the other renowned thinkers inside or outside the Platonic tradition have asserted something we should not simply accept it but, rather, seek to see for ourselves whether or not (and in what way) any particular affirmation is true.
We hope to explore the ways of wisdom in a spirit of friendship and co-operation with anyone who is excited by the possibilities of philosophy: previous experience of philosophy or great cleverness are not required – just an interest in discovering the truth and a willingness to look beyond the appearance of things. By this means we may, perhaps, begin with words but journey to some understanding beyond words: as Plato wrote, "For a thing of this kind cannot be expressed by words like other disciplines, but by long familiarity, and living in conjunction with the thing itself, a light as it were leaping from a fire will on a sudden be enkindled in the soul, and there itself nourish itself."
For further details, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Venue: Cecil Sharp House
2 Regent’s Park Road
NW1 7AY Google maps link