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60 College Ave, Annapolis, MD 21401

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Jackie Murray: Slavery, Racism, and Racecraft in Plato’s Republic

Although this topic has received very little attention in Platonic scholarship, Plato develops an interesting and complex account of the relationship between, racism, slavery, and racecraft. One reason this topic has been neglected is that most scholarship on the Republic assumes that the just state in the dialogue, i.e., ‘the beautiful city’ includes slavery. I begin by challenging this widely held view. Despite the popularity of this interpretation, there is little to recommend it. Rather, like the first just state Socrates proposes, the city of pigs, there is strong reason to think there is no slavery within the beautiful city. Indeed, as Plato emphasizes in the text, among the very first signs that the beautiful city has devolved from a just state, is that when it becomes a timocracy mass slavery of the artistan classes (the bronze and iron races) is introduced for the first time. Beyond exploring why slavery is introduced as soon as the beautiful city devolves, we will also discuss Plato’s account of the tyrannical man, who is notoriously enslaved by his own appetites. By reading Socrates’s account of psychological slavery, together with his account of the genesis of slavery within political communities, I hope to elucidate important aspects of both Plato’s political and psychological theories. I will also give particular attention to the implications of Plato’s discussion of slavery for his conception of rulership. Moreover, I argue that Plato’s account of the origins of slavery, as he develops it in the Republic, also makes an important and interesting addition to our understanding of Ancient Greek attitudes about slavery, complicating the widely held view that the Ancient Greeks found it difficult even to imagine a world without slavery.

Graduate Institute Summer Lectures are held live across both campuses and also live-streamed.

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