Division and Proto-Racialism in the Statesman

In misReading Plato (forthcoming)

John Proios
Cornell University
In Plato’s Statesman, the Eleatic Stranger applies a specialized method of inquiry—the “method of collection and division”, or “method of division”—in order to discover the nature of statecraft. This paper articulates some consequences of the fact that the method is both a tool for identifying natural kinds—that is, a tool for “carving the world by its joints” (Phaedrus 265b-d)—and social kinds—that is, the kinds depending on human beings for their existence and explanation. A central goal of the paper is to illuminate the extent to which this use of the method of division allows us to identify Plato as an early historical forerunner of racialism, which is an ideology according to which humanity divides into races differentiated by heritable physiological, cultural, and intellectual traits, as a way of vindicating oppressive and exploitative social, political, and economic systems. I defend an interpretation of the Stranger’s claim, much discussed in the literature, that the division of humankind into Greek and barbarian is unnatural (Politicus 262c-263a). I argue that, in the Stranger’s view, this division reflects subjective illusion and prejudice, rather than the fundamental, and teleological, structure of human social organization, which concerns how human beings rationally cooperate to self-produce as a species. Nonetheless, the Stranger’s alternative theory of the natural structure of human society, I suggest, is proto-racial in another way. Through a brief consideration of the Stranger’s affirmative and complex division of kinds in the city, I argue that he re-introduces naturalistic foundations for unjust human hierarchies through his alternative theory of natural kinds and human social teleology.
Keywords Plato  Division  Natural Kinds  Race
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