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Of Firemen, Sophists, and Hunter-Philosophers: Citizenship and Courage in Plato’s Laches

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

The violence of the attacks on New York and Washington and the subsequent war in Iraq have brought to the fore the issue of citizenship virtue. This paper challenges nearly a generation of citizenship theorists who, by privileging discourse over other virtues, have impaired the capacity for a balanced political response to this event. It is argued that the removal of the virtue of courage from the model of good citizenship has resulted in a politics that either cannot suffer violence when it is needed, or one that knows no boundaries to violence when it is employed. From an interpretation of Plato’s Laches, a model of citizenship—which is here called the Hunter-Philosopher — is explored that situates courageous citizenship between the unmitigated and unrestrained violence of the warrior on the one hand, and the irresolute, divisive speech of the sophist on the other.


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