Political ambition and Socratic philosophy : Plato's presentation of Socrates and Alcibiades
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This dissertation examines and interprets Plato’s three major presentations of the infamous Athenian general and Socratic pupil Alcibiades as a paragon of political ambition: the Alcibiades, the Second Alcibiades, and Plato’s Symposium. These texts are, for the first time, treated as authentic Platonic works and presumed to present a coherent though incomplete narrative of the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades. The dynamic Platonic portrait of Alcibiades’ changing disposition toward democracy, law, virtue, and piety offers insight into the corruptibility of political ambition. By studying it, we can recover a valuable classical point of view on the nature of political ambition, especially in its relation to civic-spiritedness on one hand, and to the self-serving pursuit of private or political goods on the other. This point of view can in turn be brought to bear upon our own political situation as citizens of liberal democracy, with its complex tradition of distrust of the political ambitious. Finally, the question of Socrates’ corruption of Alcibiades itself provides invaluable insight into the matter of Socrates’ own enigmatic philosophic project, which brought him into fatal conflict with the city of Athens.