Category Archives: Plato Problems

If Platonic dialogues helped to invent philosophy as we today understand the term, why doesn’t (or does?) current philosophical practice find itself flooded with questions, collaborations, public performances, polyphonic poetically narrativized quasi-fictions? I wondered so long that I finally started asking some of my favorite Plato-reading philosophers, political scientists, and historians. Their thoughtful, generous, self-questioning responses have helped me to recognize how central constructive civic discussion remains even in (or perhaps especially in) our ever-more polarized present. By Andy Fitch.

An Ever-Expanding Repertoire of Concepts: Talking to Danielle Allen

By Andy Fitch

The conversation focuses on Danielle Allen’s Why Plato Wrote. A subsequent conversation will focus on Allen’s memoir Cuz. Allen, a James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought — focusing on questions of justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America. Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), and Education and Equality (2016). She co-edited Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013, with Rob Reich) and From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (2015, with Jennifer Light). She is a Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past Chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Continue reading

Seeing Ideas as Operative: Talking to Melissa Lane

By Andy Fitch

This interview, conducted in December 2016, transcribed by Phoebe Kaufman, and all the more pertinent in our ecologically precarious present, focuses on Melissa Lane’s book Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics, Virtue, and Sustainable Living. Lane is the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where she is also Director of the University Center for Human Values. Over the past two decades, Lane’s inventive scholarly projects have tracked the political imaginations of pivotal historical epochs, and her poised critical interventions have sought to clarify the political imagination of our own present. Eco-Republic epitomizes such concerns, particularly since it opens onto broader Platonic questions concerning how topographical, climatological, cultural, linguistic, textual ecologies shape the human agents operating within them, as well as how these agents reciprocally might shape their environment. At the same time, Eco-Republic exemplifies Lane’s dexterous ability not only to assimilate a wide range of classical and contemporaneous discourses, but to speak directly (she does so through public engagements as well as published texts) to leading figures in the fields of science, government, business. Lane’s books include: The Birth of Politics (Princeton University Press, 2015); Plato’s Progeny (Duckworth, 2001); and Method and Politics in Plato’s Statesman (Cambridge University Press, 1998). And eco-coproduction, as Lane defines, deploys, and embodies this term, can’t help but make for high-quality conversation. Lane will deliver the Carlyle Lectures in 2018 at Oxford University. Continue reading

A Two-Way Street: Talking to Josiah Ober

By Andy Fitch 

This conversation focuses on Josiah Ober’s books The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens, and Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule. Ober, Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University, focuses on the contemporary relevance of the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world. From probing the complicated (and intellectually generative) social status of economically powerful yet politically marginalized elites, to prioritizing democratic-tending Athens’s distinct capacities for producing/sharing both practical and specialized fields of knowledge, to reconceptualizing the commercial prowess and relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth across ancient Greece’s diversified macro-ecology, Ober consistently has prompted new methods for rethinking when, how, and why dialogue might open up eudaimonic possibilities within the lives of its participants. And even as these methods have received praise across numerous academic disciplines, Ober never has lost his deft touch for showing why our own ever-provisional democratic culture (both inside and outside the academy) ought continually to look to classical precedent as one practical means for engaging the most pressing social questions of the present. Ober’s latest book Demopolis: Democracy before Liberalism in Theory and Practice, recently published by Cambridge University Press, will be the subject of a sequent conversation. Continue reading