Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Tag "The Republic"
on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

The School of Athens (Credit: Raphael, 1509-1511)

“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” (Adams, The Restaurant at The End of the Universe)

Whether the core was excavated from the bowels of the Earth 15 years ago or 500, the fact remains that Plato’s Republic is a timeless piece of philosophy that embodies the very essence of the discipline. It not only provokes a constant reinterpretation of our understandings and beliefs, but because the subject of the book is the human soul, a phenomenon unchanged from Socrates’ time despite changes in the environment, its relevance remains regardless of the epoch.

No matter how much thermodynamics likes to emphasise that time is the only constant, it cannot be denied that some times seem to change disproportionately to others. Athens isn’t the same mild-wintered, Mediterranean wonderland it was when Socrates frolicked in the streets: the tides are changing, and people must adapt to the urban heat island effect in the city centre if they want to survive. This is why, on noticing the general unrest in the student mind regarding Plato and the (long dead) old (white) man’s place in the twenty-first century, I felt perhaps it was time someone wrote a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Republic, to show what one can expect when opening this treasure-chest.  Here’s what my Guide has to say about the unbelievable things they talk about in the Republic:

Listen, Listen:

“In the next place, get yourself an adequate light somewhere; and look yourself — and call in your brother and Polemarchus and the others — whether we can somehow see where the justice might be and where the injustice…” (The Republic, 427d)

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My first semester at Bard College Berlin just ended and I would like to write about the past few months and draw on my first insight into a liberal arts education.

At first, many people advised me not to study at a liberal arts university. In Germany you usually choose a field of study that is already very fixed in its subjects and then you can specialize after a few years of studying that one thing. As a person who would like to know everything about (nearly) everything, I felt out of place in this system. I was not able to reduce my interests to simply one area. After I graduated from a German school, my only wish was to sit in a library, stay there for hours, and just read every single book that seemed interesting. But of course life happened and it took me one year to make this dream become partly true (in my imagination it was not as exhausting and frustrating to get some reading done as it is in reality sometimes).

A lot of people said: “What do you want to do with this education? We do not need more people who only talk and talk for hours and never act. The world is full of these. Why don’t you study something useful, something with which you can make money and not live in a trash can out of necessity?” What those people do not realize is that the philosopher Diogenes lived in a large ceramic “can” because he believed it was necessary to be independent from material needs and to think beyond social and bodily constraints. But his example was not the reason why I went to Bard College Berlin, despite all the warnings. I always wanted to make the world a better place, but I soon became aware of the fact that one first needs to know about the world, about human nature, and about society before one can claim: “I am going to change the world now!” (Even though I have no idea where to start.) So this is why I am here at Bard College Berlin. I want to know more about myself and the world I live in.

I can still remember my first phone call with my German friends after my first day at the college.

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Richard Kraut

Richard Kraut

On the 22nd of February ECLA hosted a lecture by Professor Richard Kraut on his book What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being (Harvard UP 2007).

Richard Kraut is a Professor at Northwestern University. His interests include contemporary moral and political philosophy, as well as the ethics and political thought of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. His other works include Socrates and the State (Princeton, 1984) and Against Absolute Goodness (Oxford, 2011).

Kraut’s lecture was not like any other given at ECLA, since it opened with comments and questions of Visiting Professor Brendan Boyle and Dean Thomas Nørgaard. They both tried to elucidate what they found particularly interesting and challenging about What is Good and Why.

Brendan Boyle called the book “an achievement” in the sense that it manages to give lucidity to questions that we rarely pose out loud. Due to the apparently mundane nature of these questions, we fail to inquire into their significance for our own reasoning, relationships and life.

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Claudia Baracchi

Photo: Yulia Babenko

On December 5, ECLA was happy to welcome Claudia Baracchi, professor at the University of Milano–Bicocca and Visiting Professor at the New School for Social Research.

Claudia’s main areas of expertise include Ancient philosophy, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Continental philosophy, philosophy of history, feminist thought, philosophy of art, political philosophy, and ethics.  Claudia was invited to give the final guest lecture on Book X of the Republic and Book XXIV of the Iliad for the core class on Plato and His Interlocutors.

This was the first time that Professor Baracchi visited ECLA, but she said that she has been and still is “very curious” about our small but unique college. In the opening minutes of the lecture she noted that we have to deal with an ending, but a “festive” one.

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Photo: Irina Stelea

On November 16th, students and faculty, led by Michael Weinman, came together for a seminar on Euclid’s Elements which was a supplementary seminar to the Academy Year core course on Plato’s Republic.

The discussion aimed to relate Euclid’s propositions to the concept of the divided line found in Book VI of the Republic and Socrates’ suggested educational schema in Book VII.

In 522c of the Republic, Socrates discusses education as a way to “train” individuals to think dialectically by first learning arithmetic, which is then followed by geometry. The seminar somehow echoed this process presented in the dialogue, particularly since everyone had cursory knowledge of arithmetic and geometric forms and concepts from pre-university education.

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Prof. Thomas Bartscherer

Thomas Bartscherer

We all seem to be hardwired to want answers. We started looking for a potential few nine weeks ago in our discourse and contemplation of Plato’s Republic. Each new seminar and guest lecture brought with it the hope of finally reaching a resolution, a culmination of loose ends and meandering dialectic. The expectations from the guest lecture on Monday, November 29th, were no different when Thomas Bartscherer, Assistant Professor of Literature and Director of the Language and Thinking Program at Bard College came to talk to us about Eros and Tyranny in Book IX of The Republic.

He started by telling us that he had come intending to give us a problem (one that he was uncertain had a solution). It had occurred to him on the plane journey to Berlin that The Republic had as grand an architectural structure as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing on his headphones. For this reason, he handed out cards with digits corresponding to each book of The Republic we had covered so far, from one through nine, written on one corner and asked everyone present to recall what we learned in the book from the prompt on our cards.

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Simon Trepanier

Simon Trepanier

On Thursday November 11, Simon Trepanier honored the ECLA audience with an enlightening lecture on Plato’s Republic. Trepanier is a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Edinburgh and has a BA and PhD in Classical Greek thought from the universities of Ontario and Toronto respectively.

The first question that guest lecturer Simon Trepanier asked was, “Are philosophers pasty-faced nothings?” This is also brought up in the Republic when Adiemantus questions Socrates about his thoughts on philosophers. The question is an extremely essential one as it lays down the whole foundation for knowing why philosophical education is important for us human beings and what kind of philosophical education should we aspire to.  Over the course of the lecture, Trepanier tried answering these questions in light of Socratic and pre-Socratic teachings.

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Dr. Ryszard Legutko

Dr. Ryszard Legutko

On October 13, 2010, ECLA welcomed Dr. Ryszard Legutko as guest speaker for the core course on Plato’s Republic and its interlocutors. A professor from the Faculty of Philosophy and History of Jagiellonian University and translator of many of Plato’s works, Dr. Legutko delivered a lecture on Book Two of Plato’s Republic in relation to the Homeric tradition presented in The Iliad.

He first tackled how the premise that justice – as the advantage of the stronger – works within the framework of Homeric epics wherein abstract notions of justice are non-existent. As Legutko stated, justice in the Homeric tradition was primarily based on a code of chivalry, particularly in the setting of The Iliad, where warriors put their lives and reputations up for judgment by their peers.

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