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Platonic Myths and Straussian Lies: The Logic of Persuasion

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

This article undertakes to examine the reception of Platonic theories of falsification in the contemporary philosophy of Leo Strauss and his adherents. The aim of the article is to consider the Straussian response to, and interaction with, Platonic ideas concerning deception and persuasion with an emphasis on the arguments found in the Laws. The theme of central interest in this analysis is Plato’s development of paramyth in the Laws. Paramyth entails the use of rhetorical language in order to persuade the many that it is to their advantage to obey certain laws. It does so without explaining in detail why a given law is ethically correct and its use assumes that the audience, on the whole, is not capable of understanding the finer philosophical underpinnings of the law. The so-called ‘noble lie’ of the Republic is also considered in this context. The crucial issue, for Plato if not for Strauss, is whether or not an instance of falsification, however minor, for the purposes of persuasion contains ‘truth-value’, that is, whether it is morally justifiable in terms of ends and means. In terms of Strauss’s reception of Plato, such issues as ancient Hebrew mysticism, Medieval Jewish and Islamic scholarship and Heideggerian Phenomenology figure in the argument. Ultimately, the article finds that Strauss and his followers have constructed a particular view of Platonic ideas that, while unique, is not compatible with their original signification.


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