Tag Archives: 2023

Plato of Athens: A Life in Philosophy (2023)

Waterfield, Robin
Oxford University Press
Pages: 255

Plato of Athens is the first-ever biography of the world-famous philosopher. Born into a well-to-do family, Plato grew up in the gloom of wartime Athens at the end of the fifth century BCE. In his teens he honed his intellect by attending lectures by the many thinkers who passed through Athens and toyed with the idea of writing poetry. He decided to go into politics but became disillusioned, especially after the Athenians condemned his teacher, Socrates, to death. Instead he turned to writing and teaching, focusing especially on political theory, metaphysics, and ethics. In 383 he founded the Academy, the world’s first higher-educational research and teaching establishment. He also returned after a while to practical politics and spent a considerable amount of time trying to create a constitution for Syracuse in Sicily that would reflect his political ideals. The attempt failed, and Plato’s disappointment can be traced in his later political works. In his lifetime and after, Plato was considered almost divine. This led to the invention of tall tales about him, by both those who adored him and those who wanted to dethrone him. Plato of Athens steers a judicious course among these stories, debunking some but accepting a kernel of truth in others. As well as tracking the events of his life, considerable attention is paid to his written works—his “dialogues,” as they are called: they are summarized and discussed. Clearly and engagingly written throughout, Plato of Athens is the perfect introduction to the man and his work.

Of Rule and Office: Plato’s Ideas of the Political (2023)

Lane, Melissa
Princeton University Press
Pages: 480

Plato famously defends the rule of knowledge. Knowledge, for him, is of the good. But what is rule? In this study, Melissa Lane reveals how political office and rule were woven together in Greek vocabulary and practices that both connected and distinguished between rule in general and office as a constitutionally limited kind of rule in particular. In doing so, Lane shows Plato to have been deeply concerned with the roles and relationships between rulers and ruled. Adopting a longstanding Greek expectation that a ruler should serve the good of the ruled, Plato’s major political dialogues—the Republic, the Statesman, and Laws—explore how different kinds of rule might best serve that good. With this book, Lane offers the first account of the clearly marked vocabulary of offices at the heart of all three of these dialogues, explaining how such offices fit within the broader organization and theorizing of rule.

Lane argues that taking Plato’s interest in rule and office seriously reveals tyranny as ultimately a kind of anarchy, lacking the order as well as the purpose of rule. When we think of tyranny in this way, we see how Plato invokes rule and office as underpinning freedom and friendship as political values, and how Greek slavery shaped Plato’s account of freedom. Reading Plato both in the Greek context and in dialogue with contemporary thinkers, Lane argues that rule and office belong at the center of Platonic, Greek, and contemporary political thought.