A critique of scientific politics in Plato's “Statesman”

Lisa Pace Vetter, Fordham University


Plato is performing a dialectical thought process in juxtaposing Socrates and the Eleatic Stranger in the Statesman, as well as in other dialogues related by dramatic sequence to the trial of Socrates, which include the Theaetetus, Sophist, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. In so doing Plato exhibits a fundamental philosophical tension between Socratic political philosophy—a dialectical political philosophy—on the one hand, and an Eleatic political philosophy—a technical, scientific political philosophy or political science—on the other. Plato provides two aspects of his own thought in order to provide an internal critique of his ideas, to reveal their complexity, and to encourage scrutiny and reexamination of them. The goal in providing a dialectic between two very different methods of political philosophy is not to show the ultimate similarity between them, or to demonstrate that Plato changed his mind about the way philosophy ought to be practiced and politics ought to be understood. Nor is the dialectical approach intended to portray the inherent complementarity of the different methods. In the Statesman Plato presents an alternative approach to the study of politics—with Socrates present—ultimately to dramatize the advantages of the Socratic approach by way of contrast. For Plato, the Stranger calls attention to a number of difficulties and potential excesses in Socrates' way of philosophizing. Yet it is only through a thorough recognition of Socrates' limitations and potential excesses that his legacy can be perpetuated in proper fashion. Only by observing—and participating in—Plato's elaborate thought experiment can we perpetuate a dialectical political philosophy that is most conducive to human affairs and balances objective and perspectival concerns. Plato's dialogic writings attempt to capture as much as possible the complex character of Socrates in a way that invites further investigation and interpretation. The dialectical approach to philosophy balances theoretical and practical concerns without lapsing into relativism or dogmatism. The conception of inquiry as an ongoing pursuit is central to Platonic political philosophy, and is perhaps Plato's most striking and important inheritance from Socrates, his teacher.

Subject Area

Political science|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Vetter, Lisa Pace, "A critique of scientific politics in Plato's “Statesman”" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9981410.