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Knowledge and Power: Plato and Nietzsche


The relationship between knowledge and power has been a central concern throughout the Western philosophical tradition. In this seminar, we will study two key texts of the tradition, Plato’s Republic in the fall semester and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil in the spring. While aiming to grasp each text as a whole and in all of its complexity, we will pay special attention to its understanding of the nature of knowledge, as well as its conception of how life in society is best organized. In this way, fundamental branches of philosophical enquiry —metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy—will be illuminated by way of their history. Plato’s examination of knowledge and power led him to hold that they must be fused in a society, while Nietzsche undertook a radical subversion of the tradition—aiming to reveal that knowledge is power in a different guise. We are still living out the complex consequences, both intellectual and political, of Nietzsche’s subversive project. As the course unfolds, the extraordinary breadth and depth of the two philosophers’ questioning and the diversity of their responses will lead us to reflect on the structure of philosophical thinking and its continuing importance in shaping the culture and politics of our present.