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Spring 2022 Junior Fellowship: Drama, Literature, or Philosophy? Reading the Platonic Dialogues

This fellowship is open to undergraduate students at Stanford University.

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Spring 2022 Junior Fellowship: Drama, Literature, or Philosophy? Reading the Platonic Dialogues
Spring 2022 Junior Fellowship: Drama, Literature, or Philosophy? Reading the Platonic Dialogues

Time & Location

Apr 13, 2022, 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM PDT

Zephyr Institute, 560 College Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA

About the Event

"I believe that Plato actually succeeds in convincing those who read and understand his dialogue. But here is the difficulty: the number of people who read Plato is limited; and the number who understand him is still more limited."

--Alexandre Kojève

The Platonic dialogues remain enigmatic because it is unclear whether we should read them as drama, literature, or philosophical argument--or some combination of all these approaches. To assist us in becoming part of the limited number who understand Plato, this seminar looks at three radically different hermeneutic approaches to grasping the meaning of Socratic irony and how it appears in two dialogues: The Apology of Socrates and Menexenus.

In the first sesion, reading The Apology of Socrates, we will examine the approach to Socratic irony associated with Leo Strauss. Arguing against attempts to read Socrates as the straightforward mouthpiece of Plato, Strauss held that the role Socrates plays in the Platonic dialogue is similar to that of a character in a drama. To understand what Plato taught we must understand more than the argument of the dialogue. We must understand how the action and the argument interact: the argument of the action.

In the second session, again reading The Apology of Socrates, we will examine Kierkegaard's approach to reading Plato. In The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, Kierkegaard reads Socrates through Hegel and finds in Socratic irony the origin of subjectivity: Socrates represents, for Kierkegaard, the first true subject. We will discuss the dangers and possibilities generated by treating irony as a tool for self-creation.

In the third session, we will undertake an intertextual "ironic" reading of Plato's Menexenus. The dialogue consists of Socrates doing the thing he says in other dialogues that he hates--giving an unbroken speech. Although some want to read the Menexenus as a straight-forward praise of Athenian political life, Socrates says that he is going to dance naked when he gives this speech. He says that he learned this speech from a woman--Aspasia, the companion of Pericles who was the most powerful man in Athens. These unusual features help us grasp the "saltatory" teaching of the dialogue. 


  1. 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13th: Dinner and Seminar, led by Nathan Pinkoski
  2. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20th: Dinner and Seminar, led by Thomas Slabon
  3. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11th : Dinner and Seminar, led by Dawn LaValle Norman


Thomas Slabon is a PhD student in Stanford's Philosophy department. His work focuses on ancient philosophy, in particular on the concept of becoming god(like) in Greco-Roman philosophy and its Christian appropriation, but he also has wide-ranging interests in classical philology, philosophical theology, Chinese philosophy, and the philosophy of literature. 

Dawn LaValle Norman is a classicist who works on the history of the philosophical dialogues and is currently writing a book on how women's voices are used in dialogues from Plato to Augustine. She earned her PhD from Princeton University and lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she is a Senior Research Fellow at Australian Catholic University.


Applications are open to undergraduate students at Stanford University. We are interested in students who are not just fascinated by the texts and ideas under discussion, but are also invested in being part of a community of ideas and meeting new interlocutors. To apply you must be available to attend all dates.


Fellows will receive a $300 stipend, distributed at the end of the quarter. The condition for receiving this stipend is to attend all the sessions.

The deadline for applications to the Spring Term Fellowship is April 2nd. Successful Applicants will be notified on April 4th.

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