CFP for the Symposium on
International Political Anthropology, 5-6 November 2016
Convener: Agnes Horvath
This Socratic Symposium will explore the possible contribution of the perspective offered by Plato’s Parmenides, and the history of its ‘reception’, to a sociological understanding of Platonic and anti-Platonic thinking. Its central focus will be the connection between concept formation and the problem of reality: how we can put into words what is real and what is not. The Symposium will discuss the theory of forms and the problem of divisibility, especially as connected to relationism, a concern manifested throughout modernity and become intensified recently.
The special contribution of Plato’s Parmenides to political anthropology lies in the corrupted text of the dialogue, having to do with the broader sources and effects of modernity. The extensive re-styling of this particular text of Plato coincides with the advent of Neo-Platonism, which offered a new, remodeled message inside the coat of the older one. The problem is not simply all copies of Parmenides are derived from a common archetype, itself written down many centuries later than the original, but that the text we have has been systematically distorted.
In memory there are three very ancient sources of Plato’s text: the famous, Alexandrian, 1st century AD papyrus version by Thrasyllus, which contains some forged dialogues and letters as well; the codex that Diogenes Laertius edited in the 3rd century AD; and then, many centuries later, during which we lose track of the codex, the 9th century Byzantine editions. What can be surmised is that during this period, in the 5th century AD, the Byzantine scholar Proclus (412-485 BC) refashioned some of Plato’s texts, in particular the Parmenides, into a form corresponding to neo-Platonic taste, in particular the so-called platonic mysticism or theurgy.
Due to its characteristics the refashioning of the Parmenides was considerably more thorough than it happened with the other dialogues of Plato. The discussion of the ‘One’ in Parmenides came to be presented as a way of producing entities in a way of duplication or multiplication. Whether entities confirmed to the ideal forms, central for Plato’s original text, meaning virtue and keeping their form, as resumed in the expression ‘equal’, was not important anymore. The measuring rod for Neo-Platonism was rather equation, understood not simply in the sense of conforming to the formal, monist principles of universalism, but in assessing whether elements were indeed freely and equally relating to each other; and whether such elements performed their task of uniting to the One, taking the benefits of its power. Such a universalistic, equalitarian approach, while certainly having its importance, has gone beyond the ideas of Plato.
Thus, while by our times such ideas and ideals of equality for the sake of production became almost universally shared, to the extent that their specificity and occasional problematicity became invisible, in Plato’s time a quite different problem emerged in politics – and it is here that one can search for the relevance of an anthropological perspective in politics. This is that the One indeed cannot be infinitely divided, so unity does not lie in multiplicity or in plurality, but in everything that is real. So the problem identified by Plato concerns the increasing unreality of politics. Neo-Platonists, unlike Plato,begin from the assumption that the One cannot itself be a being. If it were a being, it could not be universally productive. The One is the Other that causes all things by conferring unity through multiplication, and the same One that gives individuality for the multiplied. According to Proclus, and the version of Parmenides produced by him, unity and form tend to become equivalent and relational. Here all things have a double relation to themselves, both real and unreal. Not the world that presents itself us as a given, but our senses that reflect the world (and its productive principles) has now become the reality to be questioned.
If nothing is more real than our senses, then still nothing is more absurd, thus unreal at the same time, as Plato stated several times in his Dialogues, except in the Parmenides, which thus became a refutation of his own ideas, becoming a confirmation of Neo-Platonic ideas, instead of representing the position of Plato, thus a mere falsification.
Without doubt Plato was occasionally confused or just conjectural, but was never able to offer an uninteresting confusion. This Parmenides, however, piece is just a cold and rigid pack of syllogism, a boring Neo-Platonic mimetism of the authentic text. Because it is impossible to perceive the original text and Plato’s ideas in it, we postpone this recent Symposium for the next year, proposing another text by Plato’s which has no falsification and so unreality in it.