Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues By Plato

In this course we will study Plato's ancient art of blowing up your beliefs as you go, to make sure they're built to last. We spend six weeks studying three Platonic dialogues, then two more weeks pondering a pair of footnotes to Plato; that is, we will consider some contemporary manifestations of issues Plato discusses. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

About The Course

"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

– A. N. Whitehead

Elsewhere Whitehead points out how Plato pulled it off: by writing all the ‘heresies’ in advance. That is, whenever anyone says Plato was wrong—and how, and why—it turns out Plato himself said it first. (As P.T. Barnum said—but maybe Plato proved it first?—there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. That's as true in philosophy as in US politics)

In this course, students study Plato’s ancient art of blowing up your beliefs as you go, to make sure they’re built to last. We spend six weeks reading three Platonic dialogues (a bit like plays, in which we see two sides of an argument come to life.) Then, for two more weeks, we study a pair of footnotes. That is, we will consider some contemporary manifestations of issues Plato discusses. Our focus will be: moral theory and moral psychology. 

It turns out: the more you blow up your beliefs, the more they stay the same (as I mentioned already).

Why ‘Reason and Persuasion’? The title is generic, and indicates that the course will be - if this is what you are looking for - a general, introduction to philosophy, as it tends to be taught at the university level. But the title also points to a specific problem: reason without persuasion is useless; persuasion without reason is dangerous. Plato worried about it. So will we.

The course will be of interest to a wide variety of students. There are a variety of reasons why you might want to know at least a little about what Plato thought and wrote. I will do my best to teach in a way that accommodates as wide a range of likely interests in the subject as i can manage.

Recommended Background

Here is our textbook.
Specific readings will be assigned/suggested later. Possibly a newer version of the textbook will be produced before the course runs.