Monday, February 11, 2008

Platonic polemic

I'm afraid I haven't been up to much that is blogworthy recently, but I have been thinking about a paper I'm giving this summer at a conference on Plutarch and philosophy, on Non posse and Plato's Republic. I more or less fell into the topic since I've been thinking about Republic IX and also about Epicurean hedonism and this Plutarch text seems to me to be a nice way of bringing the two topics together. There is always the danger, I suppose, that my preoccupations have me seeing things in the Plutarch that are not necessarily that prominent or significant, but I'll live with that. There's definitely something in it, though, and more than the obvious links between e.g. Non posse 1091D-E and Rep. 584dff. (For example, it seems to me that Rep. 586a-b lies behind a lot of Plutarch's polemic, coupled with the familiar Epicureans-as-pigs idea.)

Anyway, the overall point is going to be something like this: Plutarch uses the work to bash the Epicureans over the head with Plato's Republic. They are completely wrong about pleasure, the soul, the body, what humans are, what the value of knowledge is, death, the gods -- in short, all the important stuff of philosophy. But it's a clever way of doing this because Plutarch uses all sorts of quotations and cues from the Epicureans themselves as a way of damning them and also because it seems to me there is good reason to think the Epicureans had already had a go at Plato's Republic themselves. Certainly, Plutarch's annoyer-in-chief, Colotes, had stuck the boot into the myth of Er. No wonder, then, that Plutarch reaches for the Republic for his material in retaliation. He likes turning the tables in this way: Adv. Col. is an exercise in showing that not only was Colotes wrong in his criticisms of earlier philosophers, but the criticisms really apply to the Epicureans themselves and not their opponents; Non posse, its companion-piece, on this view is an exercise in showing how the Epicureans' serious misunderstanding of the nature of human beings and the proper nature of pleasure shows that far from offering a recipe for a pleasant life, they in fact deny us all proper and fulfilling experience of pleasure.

That's the line, anyway. Now I just have to write the thing and that, I tend to find, is where things get tricky and the text gets in the way of all the neat and tidy points I want to make. Ho hum.

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