Socrates’s and the Eleatic stranger’s defenses of philosophy

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Myers, Ian G.

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Only in his Statesman does Plato present a philosopher of the caliber of the Eleatic Stranger giving a non-Socratic teaching on politics and political philosophy with the mature Socrates in the audience. The Stranger and Socrates, as I aim to show here, share a basic agreement about the purpose of political inquiry: inquiry into politics and human nature is according to both thinkers necessary for a defense of philosophy as a whole. In the following, I argue that the Stranger, like Socrates, turned to political theorizing to respond to the anti-rationalist challenge posed by the claims of the great poet-teachers of Greece, Homer and Hesiod, whose poems, by asserting either that irrational, omnipotent divinity exists or that the universe came into being without a cause, deny the existence of necessary causes. I argue as well that although they understand this challenge in a similar way, Socrates and the Stranger focus on different puzzles of political and ethical life, and that those different focuses lead to different approaches to defending rationalism. Socrates, on my reading, thinks that a critical analysis of our opinions about virtue and happiness is the decisive ingredient in a response to the theological challenge, while the stranger thinks that a critical analysis of law as such is the decisive ingredient in such a response.



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