Memory as the political art in Plato's Statesman.


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The nature and purpose of memory is central to Plato’s Statesman. Explicitly a pursuit of the political art, the dialogue has substantial epistemological and ontological concerns, suggesting the order of the whole and the nature of human understanding in relationship to this order explains the cause and end of political life. On one hand, the dialogue uses memory in a very similar way to anamnesis—in order to make an argument both about how human beings come to know things, and about the relationship of the rational soul to first principles. This is shown in the Stranger’s cosmic myth about relationship between the Age of Zeus to the Age of Cronus, as well as the Stranger’s later discussion of paradigms, dialectic and “the bodiless things.” The Stranger explains that the nature of human understanding requires paradigms, or images that resemble the thing itself, to make one’s implicit understanding explicit. On the other, the Stranger also uses memory in a practical, political sense, or the way that most people would commonly understand memory—memory of a specific action that they experienced in the past. This is shown in the Stranger’s discussion of laws, as well as his pedagogical approach to young Socrates. By using both, the Stranger suggests that the more philosophical concerns of anamnesis are in fact related to practical, political concerns. Recollection explains the nature and end of political life, such that it mediates between a universal, rational order, and the particular ends and circumstances of human life. The Stranger’s use of recollection offers a way of understanding what is actually true, such that one can distinguish between what is a true and false image, or, politically speaking, to distinguish between a sophist and a statesman.



Plato. Statesman. Memory. Politics. Philosophy. Statesmanship. Recollection.