"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 18 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 run similar sesions in Bristol fortnightly on Wednesday evenings: click here for details.
5th August: The Sun, sight, intellect and transcendency
The usual view of Plato’s philosophy is that it postulates two orders of reality: an immaterial order in which eternal ideas abide unchanging yet dynamic; and a temporal and material one in which those ideas are manifested in a series of ever-changing instantiations. The contents of the first order are perceptible only to the mind, the contents of the second perceptible to the sense. But there are places in the Platonic dialogue where speakers explore the source of this twofold reality – a single, transcendent starting point which at best can only be grasped by analogy. One of these explorations in to be found the sixth book of the Republic, where Socrates calls this first Principle “the Good” – we will read this passage, and discuss the profound implications which Plato puts forward for our consideration.
Download the text: The Sun, sight, intellect, transcendency
19th August: Harmonia in Platonism
In the Republic and in Pheadrus, Plato characterises the human soul, which he thought to be made up of three parts: a part energised by reason, a part energised by raw desire, and a “spirited” part energised by wholesome pride or “anger.” These energies can be modelled more generally as epithumia, the movement of expansion, thumos, the movement of constraint, and logos, the movement governing the other two based on some interpretation of reality. Modelled in this way, the internal dynamics of the psyche and of culture at large are brought to light in ways that highlight the challenges we face as a society today. In particular, Plato’s characterisation of the soul points obliquely to the harmony or balance that is always challenged by the tension that exists between the outward expansion of epithumia, our constant need to explore, to experience and to know, and the need to hold some degree of order in the psyche, some centre to the chaos of our experience. This notion of harmonia, latent in traditional interpretations of Platonism, opens up a way of approaching Platonism that is perhaps more accessible to our modern materialistic sensibilities and easier to apply to the pressing problems of our day, such as climate change, hyper-individualism, and populism.
Download the text: Harmonia in Platonism
23rd September: Plato on Justice
A recurring theme in the dialogues of Plato is the profound relationship between the human self and justice: all ten books of the Republic are dedicated to the examination of this relationship, and although the speakers often turns aside to explore other issues, the central theme is never far away. Towards the end of the dialogue, Socrates says that the most important thing to study is the good life and that, having an eye to the nature of the self, we should comprehend “both the worse and the better life, pronouncing that to be the worse which shall lead the soul to become more unjust, and that to be the better life which shall lead it to become more just, and to dismiss every other consideration.” We notice that the point of focus here is the soul (psyche) – that invisible something that is understood to be the unific seat of selfhood, which gives life to the body, and which has the power to know and to make choices. It is on this understanding that all the important ethical principles of Platonic philosophy are based.
We’ll read an extract from the Gorgias which puts forward profoundly challenging consequences to this soul-centred view of life and its ethical dimensions, and discuss our understanding of the issues raised.
Download the text: Justice in the dialogues of Plato
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 email@example.com
Venue: Cecil Sharp House
2 Regent’s Park Road
NW1 7AY Google maps link