Plato's works are rightly regarded as some of the greatest in Western philosophy (and indeed Western literature quite generally). Many of them are written in dialogue form and are masterpieces of style, where philosophical argument provides the central drama between the interlocutors. These dialogues cover the full range of philosophical issues and have frequently laid the foundation for future philosophical discussions of them right down to the present.
In this course, we will examine a selection of these works, based on certain themes or philosophical problems, which may vary from year to year: so, for example, in one year the course might examine Plato's arguments for Forms; or in another, his conception of knowledge; one year, it might focus exclusively on the Republic, or perhaps on his political writings more generally; or again on his views about moral psychology, including his treatments of love and pleasure.
This year our focus will be on Plato’s epistemology, on what it is to know, a theme which is central to his work throughout his career. We will begin with Socrates’ profession of ignorance, his “method” of refutation (elenchus), and his preoccupation with crafts and know-how (technê) in the early dialogues. We will then look at the profound changes in Plato’s outlook in mid-career, spurred on by the possibility of exact knowledge, such as mathematics (Meno, Phaedo, Republic). And then we will proceed to his Theaetetus, which is devoted primarily to the question ‘What is knowledge?’, but also has long discussions dedicated to relativism and the possibility of its refutation, and the connection between the mind & the world.
This course has a prerequisite of one course in Philosophy. All the texts will be read in translation. No knowledge of Greek or Latin is required.
Especially for philosophy concentrators or academic minors, a previous course either in epistemology and metaphysics (e.g., PHIL 383) or in the history of philosophy (e.g., PHIL 388 or 389) would be desirable.