Plato’s Myth of Er and the Reconfiguration of Nature

Plato’s Myth of Er and the Reconfiguration of Nature

By Tae-Yeoun Keum, University of Oxford

Why did Plato conclude the Republic, arguably his most celebrated work of political theory, with the Myth of Er, an obscure story of indeterminate political-theoretical significance? This paper advances a novel reading of the Myth of Er that attends to the common plot that it shares with two earlier narrative interludes in the Republic. It suggests that Plato constructed the myth as an account of a search, akin to the sorting of potential philosopher-kings that underwrites the kallipolis’ educational curriculum, for natures that have successfully absorbed the cumulative effects of their philosophical upbringing. The model of nature presented in the myth, in turn, helps us approach the category of nature as a working concept: we can recognize contexts in which it is useful to assume in otherwise complex and fluid individuals a fixed, indelible nature, while granting that our sense of what that consists in is subject to revision.

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