German Political Thought and the Discourse of Platonism: Finding the Way Out of the Cave

Springer Verlag (2019)
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Abstract

Taking Plato’s allegory of the cave as its starting-point, this book demonstrates how later European thinkers can be read as a reaction and a response to key aspects of this allegory and its discourse of enchainment and liberation. Focusing on key thinkers in the tradition of European political thought including Kant, Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Frankfurt School, it relates them back to such foundational figures as Rousseau, Aristotle, and in particular Plato. All these thinkers are considered in relation to key passages from their major works, accompanied by an explanatory commentary which seeks to follow a conceptual and imagistic thread through the labyrinth of these complex, yet fascinating, texts. This book will appeal in particular to scholars of political theory, philosophy, and German language and culture.

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Chapters

The Frankfurt School—Adorno and Horkheimer

The Frankfurt School emerges from a confluence of three major traditions in German Political Thought, namely Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Like the Frankfurt School, all three thinkers believe that reality is usually in some way fundamentally misunderstood, and we must look “behind” the phenomena of s... see more

Nietzsche and Heidegger: A Glance to the Right

Thanks to Friedrich Schleiermacher, a translator and commentator in Plato, the nineteenth century had seen a revival of interest in Platonism in Germany. If Marx is the totemic thinker for the political Left, Nietzsche is frequently, albeit mistakenly, associated with the political Right. Nietzsche’... see more

Marx and Engels: The Revolution

The main philosophical context for Marx was the thought of Hegel, which Marx modified in a crucial respect: he removed its idealist perspective. Marx can also, however, be placed in a much longer philosophical tradition, which takes us back to the ancient Greeks, for in his doctoral thesis he engage... see more

Hegel and the Dialectic

Moving from Kant to Hegel we find many of the central themes of Kantian thought enriched, enhanced, and developed in the work of this great philosopher. His reception has proved remarkably important in the genesis of existentialism, psychoanalysis, and post-structuralism, yet the discourse of Platon... see more

Kant and the Categorical Imperative

The sense that the individual human being is both temporal and eternal, phenomenal and noumenal, links Kant with the discourse of Platonism in the German tradition of political thought. Despite the normative emphasis of Kant’s ethics as compared with the prudential emphasis of Plato’s, there are imp... see more

Rousseau and the Social Contract

In this chapter we leap several centuries from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau, whose thought offers a good point to pick up our analysis of political thought as an attempt to find a way out of the cave described in the allegory in book 7 of the Republic. In the arresting opening lines of Rousseau’s... see more

Aristotle and the Empirical Approach

Raphael’s painting The School of Athens illustrates in an iconic way the difference in emphasis between the founder of the Academy, Plato, and its most famous pupil, Aristotle. While Plato and Aristotle share a good deal in terms of outlook, their difference of approach is crucial: while Plato begin... see more

Plato and the Cave

This chapter contextualizes Plato chronologically and geographically, providing a detailed reading of the allegory of the cave in book 7 of the Republic. The allegory itself provides us with a clue to its political implications: the people in the cave are prisoners; they are sitting there in chains,... see more

What Is Politics?

In the course of our discussion of the German tradition in political thought, we shall focus on the following five main themes: the relation between the individual and society; the primacy of the economic; our engagement with the material world; the notion of the contract; and the function of the st... see more

By Way of Conclusion

Plato’s allegory of the cave provides us with a useful conceptual framework in which to approach the major texts of German Political Thought; in other words, the tradition of German Political Thought is informed at a deep level by the discourse of Platonism. The message of the allegory of the cave i... see more

Habermas and Communicative Action

Habermas stands as a symbol of continuity with the Platonic tradition, which operates through dialogue, such as the ones conducted by Socrates and reconstructed by Plato. For Habermas, central to any philosophical activity is a setting he calls the “ideal speech situation,” and this Habermasian noti... see more

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