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Theses Doctoral

Politeiai and Reputation in Plato's Thought

Avgousti, Andreas

Despite the fact that reputation is a feature of Plato’s work and context, scholars have scarcely addressed the place of reputation in Plato’s thought. Herein I ask: ‘what is reputation (doxa) for Plato?’ and provide an answer by turning to the political orders (politeiai) described in the Republic, Laws, and Menexenus.
In Chapter 1 I demonstrate the horizontal relationships of mutual dependence between rulers and ruled in the politeia of the Republic. It is in the epistemic configuration of the ruled where the economy of reputation is sourced and distributed. I argue that, first, the text explicitly engages with and seeks to correct the common opinions about justice and its relationship to political power and, second, that the philosopher must care about how philosophy appears to the city at large. I end with a consideration of how the Republic attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of philosophy. The images of the cave, the ship, and the bride show how and why philosophy’s bad reputation is contingent rather than necessary.
In Chapter 2 I establish the role of reputation in the circumstances described and enacted in the founding of Magnesia, the politeia of the Laws. Through its exhortation to the incoming Dorian colonists to pursue a reputation for virtue, the law code exercises normative force over the disposition of human nature to excessive self-love and also transforms the colonists into Magnesian citizens. The legislator, voiced by the Athenian Stranger who is the principal interlocutor in the dialogue, urges each individual to appear as they are, and reinvents the undesirable features of Dorian constitutions. If this politeia is to come about, its founder and interlocutor in the dialogue, Cleinias the Cnossian, must become a Magnesian; the Athenian must succeed in exhorting the ambivalent Cleinias to seek a good reputation among the future Magnesians.
In Chapter 3 I turn to how Magnesia is maintained. This politeia suffers from, and has to cope with, the pathologies of agonism. It does so via the operation of the social mechanisms of praise and blame that the law code sets forth and the citizens act out. The institutional practices such as the daily athletic contests encourage Magnesians to become similar in judgment and, therefore, to correctly distribute political honors and offices. I go on to argue that the city’s foreign policy aims at peace and at deterring aggressors. Such a policy is conducive to a more stable interpolis environment, which, in turn, maintains Magnesia.
In Chapter 4 I argue that the vision of the politeia found in the Menexenus is best understood as an intergenerational multitude. Reputation is key to reconstituting order in these intergenerational relationships. In a dialogue that contains a funeral oration written by Aspasia and delivered by Socrates to the young Menexenus, reputation is a defining characteristic of the politeia with the multitude being the source of reputational judgments. Reputation also operates remedially at a critical juncture in the life of the city. I show the explanatory power of these claims by considering Aspasia’s role in the dialogue. I propose the Socrates-Aspasia fusion, a device that is symbolic of the correct understanding of what constitutes a good reputation in a politeia: men and women, citizens and non-citizens, locals and foreigners. As a device, the fusion functions to block a reputation from accruing to the orator. This brings into focus the dialogue’s explicit argumentative target: the Athenian orator-general Pericles.
According to Plato, reputation is a permanent source of instability for politeiai; yet, not only can this disruption be mitigated, but reputation also acts as a boon to political affairs. Reputation is a liminal space between the subjective and objective and as such is under the sway of the multitude. Therefore, reputation is both an explanatory and political concept. With an eye to future research, I conclude with a critical discussion of the findings of the dissertation.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Johnston, David Chambliss
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015