Dr. Martha Beck, associate professor of philosophy at Lyon College, will give a talk titled “The Rise and Fall of Athenian Democracy.” The talk is set for 4 p.m. Thursday in the Mabee Simpson Library.
Beck dresses up like Plato and talks about “her” life experiences growing up in Athens. Audience members will have to ask questions and she will try to answer them as Plato would have.
She will talk about Athens during the Golden Age when it prided itself on being the city that encouraged people to think for themselves, to study the natural world, to become educated about public policy, and to cultivate the good life for themselves and their fellow citizens.
Those who called themselves “liberals” or “progressives” gave in to self-indulgence and moral decline, she said. They interpreted democratic freedom to mean the license to live in any way they chose, without concern for the well-being of others. Those who called themselves “conservatives” manipulated the less educated by appealing to blind patriotism and blind faith. In the name of “the will of the gods,” “democracy-building” and “self-defense,” Athens engaged in aggressive attacks on other Greek city-states.
Eventually the self-indulgence, greed, and pride of the Athenians led them to lose their many wars. In every sector of society: military, political, economic, and educational, those with authority were using it to manipulate their fellow citizens so they could gain personal wealth, status, or power. The Athenians went from one extreme to the opposite: from too little self-control, the abuse of freedom, to too much government control, forcing citizens to fight in unnecessary wars that promoted the greed and power-lust of the privileged few.
Plato started a school, the Academy, so he could teach young people about what happened in Athens, how the Athenians lost political and intellectual freedom. He tried to educate young people to want to develop professional expertise and to use the authority they would have as adults to promote the common good.
Beck said she teaches Plato because she thinks “he has a message we all should listen to.” She does not claim to be able to apply the lessons of history accurately, but prefers to engage in dialogues with people who are also trying to apply Plato’s lessons to their own lives and societies.
This summer she went to Greece for the fourth time and again was inspired to think and write about Plato, Aristotle and Greek tragedy.
She submitted two papers for two conferences in Olympia, Greece this summer. They were well-received by Greek scholars in various academic disciplines. One of the papers summarizes a three-part series of books on Plato she published last fall. She plans to return to Greece each summer to learn from native Greek scholars. She also hopes to bring a group of adults on a two-week trip next summer.