The Socratic analysis of nobility and beauty : politics, wisdom, and the divine in Plato's Greater Hippias




O'Toole, Daniel Frederick

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This dissertation provides a comprehensive interpretation of the Greater Hippias, Plato’s dialogue on nobility and beauty. It helps shed light on a crucial dimension of Plato’s political philosophy, for according to him, nobility and beauty are among the most important yet contentious aspects of moral, political, and religious life. In the course of interpreting the Greater Hippias, the dissertation seeks to clarify how Plato understands the nature and character of nobility and beauty and the various ways in which they hold meaning and relevance for our individual and political lives. This requires tracing his analysis of what all is implied in the conventional conception of nobility and beauty and the natural basis of our attachment to it. The dissertation concludes, first of all, that the Greater Hippias shows that the kind of nobility that seems most impressive to us serves the common good and is rooted in what conventional and lawful political orders honor and praise most highly. Second, it shows how nobility and beauty promise to satisfy the soul’s longing for the transcendent and the divine. Third, it shows that nobility must ultimately be understood in terms of the good, and especially in terms of the beneficial and the pleasant, but that men resist understanding nobility in those terms. Hence the dissertation uncovers the core of the tension between the conventional understanding of nobility and a rational understanding of nobility—or between what seems noblest to us and what’s actually good for us.




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