This dissertation examines the Platonic view of the nature of political knowledge, its relations to other forms of knowledge, and its alienation from the political community. It is structured as a commentary on two Platonic dialogues: parts of the Sophist and all of the Statesman.
I first contextualize the question of political knowledge in relation to the questions of the nature of philosophy and sophistry with which it is intimately bound in the Sophist. There, philosophy is shown to be different from political knowledge; it is at best a striving for such knowledge. I then carefully dissect the way in which the nature of this knowledge is brought to light in the Statesman. There political knowledge is shown to be a form of human care with a troubled relationship to practice, which is the province of the technai or what we might now call “technology.” Political order thus emerges in the Statesman from the proper regulation of all forms of human know-how.
Yet this achievement is both improbable and highly unstable. The statesman appears as a messianic figure, an accident of both nature and society – a perfect stranger – whose knowledge is impossibly scarce and necessarily suspect. His knowledge and his presence are in tension with the basic need of the city for law: the city needs its independence, but the law is a poor substitute for the statesman.
I conclude by confronting some of the criticisms raised against the Platonic conception of political knowledge by various thinkers, starting with Aristotle. I argue that many of these criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of the relationship of political knowledge to practice, or rather, of the conceptual function of the notion of political knowledge as a critical ideal of practice. I also sketch some ways in which the Eleatic Stranger’s ideas about political knowledge are fleshed out and institutionalized in the Laws.