In the third book of the Republic, Plato famously banishes most of the poets — the singers and performers who would present the traditional myths of the Gods and Heroes — from his idealized city, on the grounds that their poetry is a harmful influence on the citizens, especially the youngest and most impressionable. Yet Plato himself constantly quotes from Homer as an authority, refers reverently and deferentially to the traditional myths, and even uses myths of his own as the dramatic climax to several of his dialogues — including the Republic itself! What’s going on here?
Taking Plato as our starting point, this workshop will explore the role of myth within philosophy, the life dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom. We’ll get clear how myths comprise a special kind of narrative, distinct from history, fantasy, or storytelling in general.
With the help of the Platonic philosophers Sallustius and Proclus, we’ll distinguish different types of myths, and consider their roles in education and in human life. When and how can myths be used effectively and appropriately? And how can they be misunderstood or misused — even to the point that Plato would exile the myth-tellers?
Perhaps most importantly, we’ll ask: What does it mean to engage with myth in a specifically philosophical mode, whether in Plato’s time, or in our own? How do mythic modes of understanding enrich, complement, or complete other ways of thinking and knowing, like the logical or analytical?
Throughout our explorations, we’ll consider specific examples of myths: both the traditional Greek myths which Plato and his tradition examined, and myths from other times and places. All with an eye to enriching our own sense of what philosophy is and can be, as a vibrant, living path of wisdom in our own time.
Myth in Philosophy
w/ Philosopher David Nowakowski
When & Where
This workshop led by philosopher David Nowakowski will take place in the Conference Center in Reeder’s Alley on Saturday, Nov. 12th. No prior background in philosophy is required to participate.
David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives. David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since. A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014. His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & West, Asian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy, as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere.
After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.
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