HPhil Seminar: 20 April 2017

April 20, 2017 6:00pm

20 April 2017, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa, Sala Matos Romão

Philosophy among Professionals: Philosophia and Philotechnia in the Platonic Dialogues

Emily Hulme Kozey (University Princeton)

In the Gorgias, one of Socrates’ interlocutors, Callicles, exclaims that Socrates never stops talking about “cobblers and fullers and cooks and doctors” (491a; cf. Symposium 221e). The Platonic dialogues, indeed, are filled with references to these low-class professionals: the interlocutors themselves are compared with weavers, carpenters, sculptors, and painters (Timaeus 69a; Republic 2.361d, 6.488a; and cf. 5.472c-d, 7.540c, 9.588c; Statesman 277a-c; Laws 6.769c, 7.803a, 7.817b, 10.898a-b, 11.934c); the god of the Timaeus and the philosopher-kings of the Republic are called demiurgoi, “craftsmen” (Tim. 41b, 69c, et passim; Resp. 3.395c, 6.500d, et passim); and interlocutors regularly use analogies from the world of medicine, sculpting, and other crafts in order to make points about teaching, knowledge, and specialization.

This is somewhat surprising, however, given Plato’s reputation as an elitist, whose vitriol for democracy is only matched by his disdain for the arts. What is going on, then, with all of these references to the crafts—including the very mimetic arts like painting and music that he expressly criticizes in the Republic?

This presentation will proceed to address this topic in two stages. First, I will discuss the meaning of techne, craft, in the 4th century. Using literary sources from this period, as well as observations from epigraphy and art history, I will discuss four themes associated with techne: (A) the low social-status of the demiurgoi; (B) the close relationship between teaching and techne; (C) the specialization of demiurgoi to individual techne; (D) the rationality of the technai, which is especially connected to writing and mathematics in the technai.

I will then transition to a reading of Plato’s Protagoras to show how these four themes are used in that dialogue. I’ll proceed by going through the dialogue as it is narrated by Socrates: the dialogue begins with Hippocrates and Socrates discussing the sophist’s techne, because Hippocrates wants to become Protagoras’ pupil. This relates directly to the teaching theme; and, in the interchange, the low social-status theme comes up as well, since Hippocrates indicates that being a sophist—like being a cobbler or sculptor—is something considered shameful, at least for an elite young man to aspire to. In Protagoras’ own description of what he teaches, rationality and specialization come in play. Protagoras describes a techne that by definition is unspecialized, but should make us question if he knows what he is talking about. And, our skepticism should be reinforced when it turns out Protagoras cannot defend his views about virtue, which suggests he himself has an irrational techne.
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