CFP: Theôria as Cognition in Plato

Submission deadline: February 1, 2023

Conference date(s):
May 24, 2023 - May 26, 2023

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Conference Venue:

Department of Philosophy, Middle East Technical University
Ankara, Turkey

Topic areas


Concerns for theôria and theoretical life had always been a major issue in ancient philosophy after Socrates; and this theme had found some of its most authentic philosophical elaborations in the protreptical genre. Much of the current literature on theoretical life in Plato focuses on bios theôretikos as an ethical and practical issue; but theôria itself has rarely been taken as the focal subject. Andrea Wilson Nightangale's (1) work is a remarkable exception in this regard, which proves how rich this theme can be for scholars of ancient philosophy.

The themes of theôria and theoretical life are elaborated in many of Plato's dialogues, especially in Phaedo, Republic, Symposium, Philebus, Phaedrus and Timeaus. However, it is a remarkable fact about Plato's treatment of theôria in these dialogues that it is, most of the time, approached as part of some mythical or mystical narrative. In the Republic, for instance, it is famously woven into the Allegory of the Cave and the Myth of Er; or in the Symposium and Phaedrus it is modeled on mystic initiations at the Eleusinian Festivals. Why does Plato choose to present it this way? Is the bios theôretikos the life that Socrates leads or the life that he only speaks about? Is it the life of someone who actively engages his fellow citizens in the market or the life of one who has climbed out of the cave and gazes at the the Good? It is clear to any reader of these dialogues that theôria in Plato has strong epistemological, cognitive and psychological components to it. As T. Benatouil and M. Bonazzi put it, we have in Plato "a psychological and epistemological elucidation of contemplation, assigning it to a separable and immortal faculty, noûs, and distinguishing it from other lower cognitive activities such as sensation, opinion, experience, practical reason, etc." (2). This conference is motivated by the idea of exploring this cognitive core in Plato's mostly metaphorical presentation of theôria in the dialogues. More precisely, the purpose of this conference on "Theôria in Plato" is to investigate the nature of theôria itself in Plato from a cognitive, epistemological and psychological point of view. The conference aims at reflecting on the theoretical nature of theôria in Plato.

One pressing question is, however, whether there is a bios theôretikos that is distinct from an ethically and practically engaged life. Plato seems to intentionally reject the distinction between theoretical and practical lives by showing Socrates as both practical and theoretical. This apparent unification comes under scrutiny in later dialogues when Socrates is not the interlocutor. The conference theme can be, therefore, understood from a broader perspective as including the theoretical examination of delimiting a distinct theoretical life in Plato.

Other potential issues and questions to address include:

- What is the object of theôria in Plato?

- What kind of a state of mind is theôria?

- What is the nature of the self as the subject of theôria?

- If theôria is a state of knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it (propositional knowledge, knowledge by acquaintance, etc.)?

- According to Plato, what relation does theôria bear to other cognitive states, such as sensation, doxa, memory, etc.?

- Does theôria have a method? What is (if there is any) the relation between theôria and dialectic?

- If theôria in Plato has a unique kind of pleasure, what is its nature, and what relation does it have to other kinds of pleasure?

- What is the nature of theôria as the constitutive activity of bios theôretikos? For instance, does this activity have a special teleology of its own?

- What differences are there between human and divine theôria?

- Is theôria an attainable ideal for human beings? If it is unattainable, what might be the alternatives for human beings? How would the ideal of theôria ground these alternatives and make them legitimate alternatives? In other words, what do we humans do in the absence of theôria and what should we do?

- Are there any differences between Socrates and Plato concerning the issue of theôria?

- Are there any differences between Plato's middle and late dialogues regarding theôria?

- What elements can be collected from later Platonists to shed light on Plato's notion of theôria?

- Other traditional "spectacles" of the period (such as the theatrical and musical contests, sport events and some religious rituals like pilgrimage, for instance), are usually considered metaphors for philosophical theôria. What exactly do these metaphors elucidate? What can be the significance, for Plato, of the resemblances and differences between those traditional spectacles and theôria in philosophy?

- What is the relation between noûs and dianoia in theôria? Is it possible to have one without the other?

(1) A. W. Nightingale (2009). Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in its Cultural Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(2) T. Bénatouïl and M. Bonazzi (2012). "θεωρία and βίος θεωρητικός from the Presocratics to the End of Antiquity: An Overview". In T. Bénatouïl and M. Bonazzi (eds.) Theoria, praxis, and the contemplative life after Plato and Aristotle. Leiden-Bristol: Brill, p. 4.

The language of the conference is English.

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