Rachel Barney named Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy

Published: December 8, 2016

Posted In: , , ,

Congratulations to Professor Rachel Barney for being named Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy.

The following is from the December 2 online news story in U of T News, comprising profiles of U of T’s 25 newest Canada Research Chairs:

Debate has long raged over the role of the sophists in the development of Western philosophy. Derided even in their own time in ancient Greece as tricksters and corruptors of youth, this group of learned men gave paid lessons to upwardly mobile Athenian men to teach them how to win political arguments, regardless of their virtue.

Philosophers have commonly believed they had little influence over the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, who forcefully denounced their teachings in his influential dialogues such as the Protagoras and Gorgias more than 2,000 years ago.

Rachel Barney, Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy, has offered another way of looking at Plato’s philosophy and the ancient debate to which it belongs, one that shows both Plato and his sophist contemporaries such as Protagoras made contributions to – and are continuing to influence – both our ways of thinking about ethics and methods of philosophical argument in general.

She argues Plato both responds to and appropriates the ideas and methods of the sophists in his work. As such, she will offer a new account of their debates, one which will make it accessible and exciting to a wide range of scholars, contemporary philosophers and students.

Did Plato believe virtue could be taught like the sophists? And what did he believe virtue was? Is it a kind of knowledge or mental health or perhaps a learned skill?

She will also study the origins of sophistic thought and argue it was so successfully incorporated by Plato and others into the bloodstream of philosophy that their origins tend to be forgotten, and their primary significance and functions overlooked.