Rhodes>Philosophy>Staff>Laurence Bloom

Laurence Bloom

EDUCATION:

Ph.D. in Philosophy, University of Georgia, December 2010. Dissertation: “Beyond the Hypothesis: The Principle of Non-contradiction and the Unity of the Soul in Plato’s Republic” (Adviser: Professor Edward Halper)

 

AREA OF SPECIALIZATION:

Ancient Philosophy

 

AREAS OF COMPETENCE:

History of Philosophy; Metaphysics; Ethics; Kant and German Idealism

 

CURRENT RESEARCH INTERESTS:

My primary research is on Plato. Currently, I am engaged in two long term projects. The first is on the role of inquiry, or self-examination: In addition to the so-called "Socratic" or "early" dialogues, in which scholars tend to agree on the centrality of inquiry, I argue that the activity and life of inquiry as the highest good for a human being continues to play a pivotal role in the middle and later dialogues as well. I illustrate this with an examination of several dialogues generally not considered to accord inquiry the pride of place it has in, for example, the Apology. The dialogues I am interested in include the GorgiasRepublic, and Parmenides. I suggest that looking at the role of the examined life in these texts allows us to understand its role in the "early" dialogues more deeply. This project is itself part of a larger research interest of mine involving a reconceiving--or deepening of our understanding of--the relation between Plato's so-called "periods: early, middle, and late.

The second long term project is on Plato's natural philosophy and his attitude towards science. Although this project connects closely to a general interest in Plato's account of imitation--and thus connects to texts such as the RepublicParmenides, and Sophist--this project focuses primarily on the Timaeus. Plato’s Timaeus is a peculiar document. Although it represents an attempt to give an account of the physical universe, and as such belongs most obviously to the philosophy of science, the sense in which it is scientific is an unusual one. Indeed, Plato’s idea of science is not the same as ours. While we tend to look to science for certainty, the account offered in the Timaeus has a far more literary character. Timaeus’ account explicitly marks itself as a “likely story.” Why an account of the cosmos must be such—why it is even a positive feature of his account that it be likely and not certain—is the main focus of my book. I argue for a particular understanding of the reason given explicitly in the text, one that has not, I suggest, been taken seriously enough in the literature on Plato: an account of the world is likely because the world itself is a likeness.

Take the following analogy: Imagine you have taken a photograph of a misty landscape, as one might. Now imagine you look at the photograph you have taken and it is not misty at all but is rather very clear. Such a photograph would not be a “good” photograph; it would not have accurately represented that which it sets out to represent. This is the situation that Plato thinks we find ourselves in as we attempt to account for the physical universe: if our account was certain and unchanging, it would not capture the mysterious and changing thing that it is accounting for; the account is likely because the world is a likeness. All this depends upon further controversial aspects of Plato’s account, such as his belief that the sensible world is less than fully real—that the cosmos does not have being but rather is becoming.

These assertions, of course, have to be argued for, and the account has added complexities. Central among them is that the picture of the cosmos that we are given in the Timaeus is not a picture of that reality in a direct sense at all. Ancient science, unlike modern science, does not strive to “hold a mirror up to nature.” Rather, the Timaeus is a picture of that of which our reality is a likeness. A picture, I argue, which fails to fully account for the nature of that other reality in the same way in which our reality fails to be like it. Thus, the account captures our reality by matching the way in which it fails to be that which it is like. One essential aspect of the picture is that it includes within itself the fact that it is just a picture (among other potentially worthwhile pictures). What makes this picture so uniquely worthwhile is just this inclusion; it has far reaching implications which demand a reconsideration of the way in which the account and its details are to be understood.

Both these long term projects connect to, and in many ways follow from, my previous book project on the Principle of Non-contradiction (or Non-opposition) in the Republic

Other research interests include:

Heraclitus on sensible things as contradictory: I argue that Heraclitus' account underlies that of Plato's. Specifically, the contradictory nature of sensible things identified by Heraclitus leads to their identification as imitations by Plato. (This project is also quite closely connected to the Timaeus project)

Kant's political philosophy: I am interested in the apparant contradiction in holding persons to external, state law. I argue, firstly, that the contradiction follows from the treating of persons as mere means entailed by subordinating their wills to human law. Secondly, I argue that once we see that Kant is concerned with this issue, a complex political philosophy emerges. One on which following the law of the land is, for the person willing to follow that law, an imperfect duty, in the exact sense of imperfect duties given in Groundwork II as duties the violation of which would contradict the will. 

Kierkegaards dialectic of the spirit in Either/Or: I argue for taking seriously the passage in Either/Or's "editor's" preface in which the Aesthetic and Ethical lives relate as "Chinese boxes." In short, I argue for the dialectical emergence of the Ethical life from the Aesthetic as its (the Aesthetic's) own self-completion; and, further, that the Ethical, properly understood (and properly lived), necessarily contains the Aesthetic. 

Aristotle's account of energeia and entelechia: This, even more so than the others, is less an interest with a focus on publication and more an interest in the idea itself. I have no current intention on publishing on energeia and/or entelechia although the ideas play a major role in my understanding of, and writing about, Plato. I have come to believe that they are invaluable--both through analogy and by contrast--for developing an understanding of Plato's account of the rational soul, the soul, that is, of both the human being and the cosmos as a whole.

Hegel's Science of Logic: I am especially interested in the subjective logic and on the sections on teleology, life, and conciousness therein.

I am always open to and interested in dialogue about any and all of these issues and am reachable by email at l.bloom@ru.ac.za or laurencejbloom@gmail.com.

 

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE:

2020-            Senior Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University

2016-2019    Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University

2015             URC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cape Town

2014             Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Cape Town

2013             Visiting Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University 

2011-2013    Visiting Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Cape Town

2008-2011    Graduate Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Georgia

                  

RECENT PUBLICATIONS:

Book

The Principle of Non-Contradiction in Plato’s Republic: An Argument for Form. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017.

Blurb: Plato has Socrates give a formulation of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) in book IV of the Republic. His use of the principle has convinced most scholars that he endorses the PNC. However, the endorsement in the text is qualified: Socrates refers to the principle as one that he and his interlocutors will hypothesize and he warns that, if it should ever be shown to be false, all that follows from it will also be refuted. The choice of the term hypothesis is significant; it is the term used in the text to distinguish between two types of knowledge. Dianoia, the lower or less true form of knowing, is based on or follows from hypotheses, while nous, the “true” knowing, moves, controversially, “beyond” hypotheses. If we take seriously the claim that the PNC is hypothetical, then any and all knowledge based upon it—or, in Socrates’ phrase, all that follows from it—would be identifiable as dianoetic. Significantly, although other hypotheses are adduced as examples, the PNC is the only explicit, operative hypothesis in the Republic. Scholars who have noticed this issue have tended to claim that the hypothesis in question can be justified. I argue against accepting this claim in any straightforward sense and that what emerges from the text if we pay close attention to this issue is far more sophisticated. In short, Plato’s concession that the PNC is hypothetical is a textual clue pointing us to a complex philosophical argument which locates the ground of the sort of reasoning associated with the PNC in an entirely different form of reasoning. That is, the PNC, though a first principle of dianoetic reasoning, is not actually a first principle for Plato. Rather, it is grounded in nous and, I argue, in form. Thus, not surprisingly, pursuing the question of principles of reasoning in Plato leads one to form. Framing the issue in this way allows us to see the text as a whole as providing an extended argument for the existence of forms.

 

Articles and Chapters

“The Contest Between Philosophy and Rhetoric in Plato’s Gorgias,” in Skill in Ancient Western and Chinese Ethics, ed. Tom Angier, Bloomsbury Academic (forthcoming).

“Reading Plato and Aristotle in Contemporary South Africa,” South African Journal of Philosophy, 39 (2020): 327-346.

 

SOME RECENT PAPER PRESENTATIONS:

“First Principles” Seminar, Philosophy Department, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. March 2020.

“Timaeus’ Eikos Mythos” Greek Philosophy Workshop, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. December 2019.

“How the Separation Argument Frames the Method of Hypotheses” Symposium Platonicum XII: Plato’s Parmenides, Paris, France, July 2019.

“The Timaeus and the Republic: A Way into the Problem of Parts and Wholes” North American Workshop in Platonic Philosophy, Hamline University, St Paul, Minnesota. August 2018.

“Who Builds a Wall?” Virtue, Skill, and Practical Reason, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. August 2017.

“Recollection” Keynote Address Workshop on Laurence Bloom’s The Principle of Non-Contradiction in Plato’s Republic, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. June 2017

“Teaching Ancient Greek Philosophy in Contemporary South Africa” Seminar, Philosophy Department, Fort Hare University, East London, South Africa. April 2017. (Talk delivered again as department seminar at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. May 2017.)

“Aristotle on Substance as Actuality” Keynote Address, 2016 Aristotle Colloquium, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. November 2016.

“Proclus on the ‘Inward Turn’” Interdisciplinary International Conference on: Praying and Contemplating: Personal Religious Attitudes. Religious and Philosophical Interactions in Late Antiquity (3rd to 7th c. A.D.) North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. April 2016.

 

TEACHING EXPERIENCE:

Designing and “teaching” philosophy courses is a major creative outlet for me, and one that I enjoy immensely. I do my best to organize a group of rich and worthwhile texts together around a theme or question. The question is one that is at once tight enough to give the inquiry a unity and loose enough to allow the texts the room to take shape for and inspire the student without my getting in the way. The courses that go the best are, invariably, the ones I enjoy the most and are the most engaged by. I believe that this is at least partially connected to the fact that my pedagogical method involves demonstrating for my students how to be engaged by a text and by ideas. One consequence of striving to demonstrate sincere engagement with the texts and ideas being investigated is that I rarely repeat a course, and never in the same way.

Recent postgraduate courses designed and taught:

Political Philosophy (“What is the role or function of Government?”); Seminar in Philosophy of Science (“What is Life?”); Seminar on Plato’s Republic; Seminar on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason; Aesthetics (“What can one say with a work of art?”); Moral Philosophy (“On the nature and role of pleasure”); Seminar on Plato’s Theaetetus; Seminar on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; Seminar on Plato’s Symposium.      

A (relatively incomplete) list of undergraduate courses designed and taught:

Ancient Philosophy; Philosophers on Human Nature; An Enlightenment Account of Freedom; Philosophers on “The Good Life”; Plato—On Socratic Wisdom; Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; Kant's ethics and "metaphysics"; Nietzsche and Kierkegaard—Rational critiques of rationality; Spinoza’s Ethics; On Teaching and Learning; On the Soul; Ethics (w/ Prof. D. Benatar); Business Ethics (w/ Mr. J. Winfield); What is an argument?; Political Philosophy; Philosophy of Art and Literature; Great Philosophers (w/ Dr. Greg Fried); Introduction to Philosophy; Logic and Critical Thinking—What is open-mindedness?; Introduction to Ethics; Classics of Ancient Western Philosophy; Classics of Modern Western Philosophy; Ethical Theory. 

 

PHILOSOPHY READING GROUP:

An aspect of my job at Rhodes that I am particularly fond of is that of organizer of the department's weekly reading group. The reading group, which was founded more than a decade ago by members of the department, has its own link on the department’s main webpage. The group gathers together lecturers and postgrad students (and any interested parties) once a week to discuss a (relatively) short piece of writing with philosophical content, broadly construed. In the last few years we have read numerous 20th and 21st century academic essays in all areas of philosophy, as well as older essays and sermons by great figures in the history of philosophy, such as Nietzsche or Meister Eckhart. On occasion, we spend several consecutive weeks on a longer work, such as Schiller's, "Letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man." Sometimes we read short stories or articles from other disciplines. Sometimes we read and discuss our own current writing. The goal is always to interact philosophically as a group with the chosen text as a focus and, perhaps, to learn something. I am grateful to my collegues that they have entrusted the reading group to me.

 

Last Modified: Tue, 09 Feb 2021 17:18:18 SAST