BY LAURA FAY
A University professor discussed great philosophers while walking in their footsteps and exploring their city this summer.
Richard Klonoski, Ph.D., of the philosophy department, presented a paper at the World Congress of Philosophy in Athens in August. During the trip he also spoke with other philosophers and explored the city of Socrates and Plato.
The Congress, which convenes every five years, aims to inquire into and compare various philosophical traditions, to reflect on the function of philosophy in society and to emphasize the importance of philosophy in worldwide discussion of contemporary issues, according to the Congress website. The conference’s theme was “Philosophy as Inquiry and Way of Life,” and 3,000 philosophers participated.
Klonoski’s paper, “Plato’s Invisible Hero of Democracy: Socrates in ‘the Republic’ and ‘Crito’” was part of the series of lectures on classical Greek philosophy. It argues that Plato’s Socrates is a model democratic citizen because he criticizes and questions the powerful leadership in Athens. That is relevant today, Klonoski said, because democracy is served when citizens develop independent, critical mindsets. Informed citizens keep powerful leaders honest and keep the common good at the front of democracy, he said.
The highlight of the trip for Klonoski, though, was spending time in Athens, which he called the “cradle of philosophy.” In fact, he decided to submit his paper because of the conference’s location, which changes for each Congress. Classical Greek philosophy has been an “intellectual obsession” since graduate school, Klonoski said, so Athens was the perfect place for him to present a paper.
“There was a moment when I was walking around the old Agorra, the old marketplace, and I was sort of fixed on all the ruins around me and the fenced-off areas where there were signs explaining things, and I looked up and the acropolis is right there – you can see the acropolis from basically everywhere in the city. And I thought, Socrates would have walked here. And just walked up the acropolis. It was stunning to me. I thought, ‘Isn’t that crazy?’ He would have looked up and saw the same thing I’m looking at right now,” Klonoski said.
The theme of the conference was also particularly inviting for Klonoski, who said he strives not only to use philosophy to guide his life, but to encourage his students to do that same.
Greek philosophy “is really the beginning of this notion that philosophy is not just a matter of trying to find the truth or aspire to the truth, but to aspire to the best possible life. This has always been something that’s always been at the heart of my research and teaching,” he said.
Klonoski, who has been at The University since 1981, also said he believes his experience in Athens will benefit his work in the classroom because of the research he did and the things he learned during the conference.
“There’s lots going on. People don’t realize how much there is going on in the world of Plato scholarship … There’s something new all the time – books, articles and so on. My research efforts find their way into my actual teaching all the time,” he said.
Klonoski credits The University with enabling him and other professors to pursue their research and embrace opportunities like this one. Even though it is a teaching university, he said, the administration is generous when professors want to travel and submit their work to conferences. This is important, he said, because it opens professors to new ideas and recent scholarship that they bring back to The University.
“My research should find its way back to my students and not just put me into conversation with my colleagues around the country and around the world, but put me in conversation with my students about the things that I’ve been thinking about and writing about,” Klonoski said.
This semester, Klonoski is teaching two sections of ethics and one of philosophy of education. He is also preparing the World Congress paper for other conferences and for journal publication.
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