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Knowledge Plato and Kant.docx

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Political Science
POLI 100
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Knowledge/Discourse I: Plato and Kant Plato Born 427/8 BCE; during the Peloponnesian War (Athens and Sparta 431-404 BCE) Plato writing against two major responses to moral crisis after the war: Tragedy (based on traditional sources of Greek morality; shows life as hopeless) Sophistry (“sweet-talkers” – dominant at time of direct democracy; masters in art of debate and persuasion) Socrates: Plato’s teacher Declared “wisest man” by Oracle at Delphi “gadfly”: used dialectic (method of questioning) to reveal these “wise” men weren’t so wise “Know thyself” – ie, know your limits “Philo-sophia” – love of wisdom (vs possession) 399 BCE death by hemlock for “corrupting the youth” and “introducing new gods” Main speaker in all of Plato’s Dialogues (fictitious) Platonic legacy: “all of history is a series of footnotes to Plato” -Alfred North Whitehead Two powerful ideas: 1) Starts tradition of Idealism 2) Division of the soul (and the city) Idealism: Eternal intelligible world, apart from and more real than the changing world of the senses Material world a partial, imperfect imitation of the world of Ideas Theory of the Forms: idea of “horse” vs particular horses; “circle” vs imperfect circles; “beauty”, “justice”, “virtue”, all have a reality greater than their particular manifestations, and are the unifying source of the reality of those imperfect versions Big ideas! Separation of mind and body/world (visible/sensible world vs intelligible world) Idea of “being” vs “becoming” (what changes is less real than what is eternal) “a single form” (p1128) “the being of each” (p1128) VS world of “becoming” (“feasting, greed, and other such pleasures… which, like leaden weights, pull its vision downwards…”) (p1136) “every soul pursues the good and does whatever it does for its sake. It divines that the good is something but it is perplexed and cannot adequately grasp what it is or acquire the sort of stable beliefs it has about other things, and so it misses the benefit, if any, that even those other things may give” (p1128) Division of the soul and the city: Three main drives: Base appetites and desires (bestial) (“eros”) Honour/zeal/spirit/courage (“thumos”) Reason (“sophia”) Who Should Rule? “the virtue of reason seems to belong above all to something more divine, which never loses its power but is either useful and beneficial or useless and harmful, depending on the way it is turned” (p 1136) Organized in soul: metaphor of charioteer Reason to rule/guide spirit and desire Organized in city: The Republic Wise to rule the spirited (guardians) and menial (general populace) Education is key: “it is our task as founders, then, to compel the best natures to...make the ascent and see the good” (p1136) The Republic Written 380 BCE Written, like all of Plato, in dialogue (Socrates’ dialectic) The Republic is the education it describes Allegory of the Cave: Most famous section of Plato’s most influential work Culmination of whole Republic, and embodies ideas of entire work Books 1-6 are ascent; Books 8-10 are descent back to world of shadows (inferior realities vs ideal of Book 6-7) Eg Republic begins “I went down…” “It’s a strange image you’re describing, and strange prisoners” “They’re like us” The story of the soul and of the city World of Shadows: Fire is manmade, flickering, poor People are chained by necks and feet, can only see distorted shadows; taken for reality Areleased prisoner is dragged up the path “Wouldn’t his eyes hurt and wouldn’t he turn around and flee towards the things he’s able to see, believing that they’re really clearer than the ones he’s being shown?” (p1133) Ascent: Steep, rocky, difficult, long Light is dazzling, blinding – adjustment to seeing clearly is gradual True knowledge and true happiness – seeing things for how they really are “he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others...he’d much prefer to work the earth as a serf to another...and go through any sufferings, rather than share their opinions and live as they do” (p1134) Descent: Out of a sense of duty (justice), to guide others Blinded by the darkness Taken for fool in the Cave Challenges: Would be the best suited to rule: “Thus, for you and for us, the city will be governed, not like the majority of cities nowadays, by people who fight over shadows and struggle against one another in order to rule – as if that were a great good – but by people who are awake rather than dreaming” (1137) But some pretty big contingencies: (1) Need exceptional people who can (a) get out and see the light (b) be compelled from a sense of duty to go back; (2) Need the ones most unwilling to rule to rule; (3) Need exceptional citizens who will accept the philosopher as truly wise despite the fact they can’t see the truth for themselves Enter… “The Noble Lie” Plato’s famous idea of the Noble Lie – People who can’t see clearly (thus can’t be reasoned with) can be persuaded instead by a different story “meeting people where they are” These lies are “noble” because they still lead people to act more in line with true knowledge, even if they can’t understand the real reasons – even in spite of themselves Traces of the Cave: Language of “enlightenment”,“seeing clearly”, gaining “insight”; metaphor of shackles or being in the dark, being dim Ascent/descent and return to world of the living (Dante, Virgil, Homer) Rousseau, Marx and Marcuse: the idea of being bound by the “chains” of false ideas. Small groups (4-5) Assign: Facilitator Note-taker Presenter Time-keeper Discussion questions (5 min): 1) Is Plato’s reading of people correct?Are some more driven by base desires, some by honour, some by wisdom? Can everyone become “wise”, “responsible”, “civic-minded”, or only a few? 2) In contemporary culture, every citizen doesn’t have all the facts behind its leaders’ decisions. Can you think of examples of noble lies in our society? Are certain lies necessary, or problematic? What are the reasons why this model would be necessary or problematic? 3) What are the shadows in the Cave today? What would a modern retelling be? 4) This sounds like the opposite of democracy, but is it? What might be the same or different between Plato’s vision and the way democratic societies are organized? **10 minute break** Sign up for In-Class Presentations 2 minute paper Does history “progress” (ie, does humanity
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