Plato, pizza offered at new discussion series

Leon Mire, Associate News Editor

 

A discussion about the relationship between persuasion and politics will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Friday on the first floor room of the Pine Honors College.

The discussion will be the first of a new series called “Big Questions, Great Books” and will be centered around one of the dialogues of the ancient philosopher Plato.

Richard England, dean of the Honors College, will give a 10-minute presentation on the topic before opening the room for questions and discussion.

The reading for Friday will be an eight-page excerpt from Plato’s dialogue “Gorgias,” which is about Plato’s teacher Socrates and his arguments with fellow Athenian citizens.

In it, they debate the implications for politics when a ruler is especially skilled at persuading others regardless of the truth.

The excerpt can be accessed at www.eiu.edu/honors/Bigquestions.php. But participants can attend even if they did not have a chance to read the text.

Although the discussion takes place on the Inauguration Day of President-elect Donald Trump, it will be about politics generally and not the president-elect specifically.

“It’s useful to think about the relationship between the ability to persuade people and power…but it’s not a response to the current political situation,” England said. “It’s not meant to be for Democrats or for Republicans.”

England said in his experience teaching Plato’s dialogues, students sometimes get frustrated with the philosopher’s style.

“They say, ‘Why doesn’t he just give us the answer?’ But one of the things I think is useful to learn in university is that the answers aren’t always simple,” he said.

England said Plato’s dialogues also offer a useful model for respectful political discussion.

“It’s often a very useful way of starting a conversation over controversial issues, because you often have to take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Well what do I really think?’” he said.

Reading works of ancient literature and philosophy can be relevant, England said, because the authors often have different assumptions from those widely held today.

“Using that different perspective can be a creative source of inspiration,” he added.

England said he welcomes suggestions for more discussions and hopes to have other faculty members facilitate discussions in the future. For Black History Month in February, the discussion series will center around a speech given in 1846 by orator and former slave Frederick Douglass on the nature of freedom.

Pizza will also be served during the discussion. “If the intellectual stimulation isn’t reason enough to come, we’ll try to win you over with pizza,” he said.

 

Leon Mire can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]