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The Platonic Political Art

A Study of Critical Reason and Democracy

John R. Wallach

Publication Year: 2001

In this first comprehensive treatment of Plato’s political thought in a long time, John Wallach offers a "critical historicist" interpretation of Plato. Wallach shows how Plato’s theory, while a radical critique of the conventional ethical and political practice of his own era, can be seen as having the potential for contributing to democratic discourse about ethics and politics today. The author argues that Plato articulates and "solves" his Socratic Problem in his various dialogues in different but potentially complementary ways. The book effectively extracts Plato from the straightjacket of Platonism and from the interpretive perspectives of the past fifty years—principally those of Karl Popper, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, M. I. Finley, Jacques Derrida, and Gregory Vlastos. The author’s distinctive approach for understanding Plato—and, he argues, for the history of political theory in general—can inform contemporary theorizing about democracy, opening pathways for criticizing democracy on behalf of virtue, justice, and democracy itself.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Preface, Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

The following seasoned convictions animate this book and motivated me to write it. Contemporary ethical and political thought does not address many of the most important questions about politics, deliberation, justice, and democracy today, while ancient Greek political thought—and particularly...

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pp. 1-14

In its most exemplary form, the political art signifies a capacity to shape well the practice of power in a collectivity. Words are its primary tools; deeds are its direct objects; the common good is its ultimate aim. Exercising the political art transforms discourse into action that would benefit a political community...

Part 1: Settings

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pp. 15

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1. Interpreting Plato Politically

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pp. 17-39

Critical political discourse arises amid geographies of power, even if it is not entirely determined by them. To understand Plato’s conception of the political art, we need to account for what differentiates his era and our own. After all, enormous gaps in time, space, and arrangements of human power separate...

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2. Historicizing the Platonic Political Art

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pp. 41-119

Determining the historical way in which Plato constituted the relation between words and deeds in his conception of the political art is especially difficult. For example, he wrote texts in a cultural context that experienced the creations of new social practices of reading and writing. In addition, the very...

Part 2: Interpretations

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pp. 121

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3. The Political Art in Aporetic Dialogues, or Plato’s

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pp. 123-211

The historical Socrates had searched for virtue amid the ethical and political practices and discourse of Athenian life. In doing so, he believed that his conduct consistently related logos and ergon. With Socrates’ trial and death, however, the gap between the effects of Socrates’ life and the political application...

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4. The Constitution of Justice: The Political Art in Plato’s Republic

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pp. 213-329

The Republic provides a theory of the political art as the constitution of justice. It relates pivotally to the aporetic dialogues, for it provides a theoretical resolution of the tension between virtue and the political art. In relation to Plato’s later dialogues, it serves as a conceptual background for a theory of the...

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5. The Political Art as Practical Rule

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pp. 331-387

The Republic left unexplored any systematic discussion of the way in which the logos of justice and its ideal politeiai of soul and state could be practiced—that is, any discussion of the political art as the ongoing exercise of practical rule in the political domain. The Statesman and Laws undertake this discussion...

Part 3: An Appropriation

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pp. 389

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6. The Platonic Political Art and Postliberal Democracy

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pp. 391-431

We have come to the end of Plato’s road. Now, we must return to our beginnings, even though our situation has changed. What have we learned? There are, of course, many ways of learning from Plato’s dialogues—just as there have been and will continue to be many ways of reading them. But any appropriation...


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pp. 433-457


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pp. 458-468

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052663
E-ISBN-10: 027105266X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271020761
Print-ISBN-10: 0271020768

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2001