Equal time for Isocrates?

Speaking of  cosmopolitanism:

The impulse to break free of narrow, confining, ultimately arbitrary partisan affiliations of nation, party, sect, ethnicity, etc. etc. etc., and link one’s personal fortunes to the much larger “tribes” of humanity, life, and existence itself is at bottom the fundamental engine of philosophy. That’s my view, that’s what I’ll again be trying to “profess” in various ways, with various texts and talks, when the bell rings for the new semester in a couple of weeks.

This time I’ll be doing it in the Intro course with new texts, finally setting Robert Solomon’s Passion for Wisdom aside and featuring first, in this Olympian season, a distinctively Anglo angle from Nigel Warburton (A Little History, Philosophy Bites). Then, we’ll swim back across the pond for John Lachs’s Stoic Pragmatism.

Philosophy begins in wonder, and traditionally Socrates is one of the standard-bearers of that state of mind. But I’m wondering what to do with Carlin Romano‘s startling plea for equal time for Socrates’ overlooked and underappreciated countryman Isocratesdismissed by many as a mere sophist and rhetorician much more than a single letter away from socratic status.

Cosmopolitan in outlook, Isocrates, much as he revered Athens, viewed the Greek-speaking (and, one might say, Greek—thinking) world as far larger than one’s own city… Isocrates’s cultural Panhellenism [was] a “brotherhood of culture, transcending the bounds of race,” so that the description of “Greek,” in Isocrates’s words, “is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who share a common blood.

That’s not the full measure of transcendence we need, unless “our culture” means something a lot more pan- than Hellenic. Or American. On my view we’re all going to have to stop counting medals and waving flags and tearing up at anthems and chanting “U-S-A” just because some of our nearer neighbors have mastered the breaststroke or can spike a volleyball.

But, it’s a step. More to wonder at.


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