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Aristotle’s Practicable Idealism

Plato the idealist, his god a mathematician, but Aristotle the empiricist, who rolled up his sleeves and worked at observational marine biology. That is a common picture – the one dreaming of rule by philosopher kings, the other presiding over the compilation of a constitutional encyclopaedia including 158 city-states. But Aristotle did not forswear idealistic ambitions. This lecture will focus on the via media he advocated in his Politics between perfection and the practicable. He pinned his hopes on cities with a large middle class. For Sir Moses Finley, writing 40 years ago, the existence in ancient Greece of any middle class was simply ‘fictitious’, whereas Josiah Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2016) associates its efflorescence with ‘an extensive middle class’. Why and how Aristotle thought it a practicable proposition, and in what sense an ideal, is what the lecture will hope to explore.

The vote of thanks will be given by Michael Trapp, Professor Emeritus of Classics.

The lecture will be preceded by Orthodox Vespers at the King’s Chapel (17:15).

Speaker's Bio: Professor Malcom Schofield

Malcolm Schofield is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of St John’s College. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary International Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as President of the Classical Association and of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and as Chair of the British School at Athens. He is recognized as one of the major scholars in the world currently working on ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

His first book was An Essay on Anaxagoras (Cambridge 1980) and his most recent How Plato Writes (Cambridge 2023). He co-authored with G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven the second edition of The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge 1983). He has co-edited numerous other collaborative volumes, including with Tom Griffith a new English edition of Plato’s Laws (Cambridge 2016). He now works mostly on Greek and Roman political philosophy. He was co-editor with Christopher Rowe of The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought (Cambridge 2000). The Stoic Idea of the City (Cambridge 1991; expanded reprint Chicago 1999), Saving the City (London 1999), Plato: Political Philosophy (Oxford 2006) and Cicero: Political Philosophy (Oxford 2021) are his major solo publications.

At this event

Michael Trapp

Emeritus Professor of Greek Literature & Thought

Gonda Van Steen

Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature. Director, Centre for Hellenic Studies

Event details

Great Hall
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS