Philosophy | Plato
P511 | 3221 | Morgan

Topic: Plato: The Later Dialogues

In this course we shall investigate several of Plato's later dialogues - the Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, and Phaedrus.  Our goals will be to understand different ways of reading these difficult and provocative dialogues, to clarify Plato's conception
of philosophy and dialectic, to consider the role of the theory of Forms in Plato's later epistemology and metaphysics, and to appreciate the impact of twentieth century philosophical debates on the reading of Plato. In addition to working carefully thro
ugh large portions of the texts, with the help of recent translations, we shall be discussing recent philosophical interpretations of them and of Plato's thinking in his later period.

In the middle dialogues - the Phaedo, Republic, and Symposium, Plato introduces and employs a conception of transcendent forms.  At one time, scholars thought that the same theory was represented in all the Platonic dialogues; more recently, students of P
lato think that he either abandoned that conception or significantly modified it in his later dialogues.  We shall want to understand the components of the debate and, as we explore the dialogues, keep them in mind and try to arrive at our own answer to t
his question about Plato's intellectual development.

Recently approaches to Plato's writings have become a matter of special interest.  How should the dialogues be read?  Why did Plato write dialogues?  What is the philosophical status of Plato's writings?  Especially as we look at the Sophist, Thaetutus, a
nd the Phaedrus, we shall want to evaluate different approaches to reading Plato.

Today we think of philosophy and philosophical inquiry as having certain purposes and proceeding in certain ways - but our thinking on these matters is shaped by many historical factors, especially the relationship between scientific thinking and philosop
hy during the past three centuries or so.  Plato was virtually at the beginning of the Western philosophical tradition; he is groping toward an understanding of what philosophy should be and how it should differ from endeavors such as rhetoric and sophist
ry.  We shall want to compare what Plato says about philosophy in these later dialogues with other conceptions of it current in fourth century Athens and with his own views in the middle dialogues.

Requirements: In addition to careful reading of extensive portions of the dialogues, students will be asked to write three textual commentaries, a term essay, and a final examination.