Fiona leigh is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at University College London. Currently, her main area of research concerns Plato’s metaphysics and in particular his later period dialogue, the Sophist. She is working on a monograph that offers a novel reading of Plato’s Sophist. This reading argues that the dialogue’s central question is what it is to give an account (logos) of something in the world, and contains an account of being according to which there are two modes of being, constituting the nature of some property and conforming to such a nature. It is also claimed that cases of the first mode (Forms) are causes of cases of the second mode, and that Forms are not universals.


Fiona Leigh – The positive appearance of art in Plato’s Sophist

Wednesday, 08 October 2014
16:00 – at Senate House, Room 349

At Sph. 232a-236e, the products of mimetic artists are claimed by the Eleatic Stranger necessarily to involve falsehood, in that their production involves ignoring the truth. Nonetheless, mimetic artworks appear at least at first glance to be treated more kindly than those mimetic artworks discussed in Republic X. In the Sophist, it is the eponymous sophist who is the target of criticism, not artists or their products. For my purposes – and leaving the Republic to one side – the question is whether the Sophist ought to be read as suggesting that artistic production, in contrast to sophistic production, is benign. In this paper I will answer the question in the affirmative, albeit in a qualified way: under certain conditions, art and its products are benign. According to the reading I will propose, artistic mimetic products are intended to serve in the dialogue as a contrast case to the mimetic products of sophists, which should never be regarded as benign. In the Sophist, Plato regards mimetic products as representations, the objects of which appear to an audience. Moreover, these appearances are conceived of by Plato as joint products of artist and audience, whereby appearances induced under typical audience conditions are carefully distinguished from those induced when these conditions are absent. The upshot of this, I claim, is that despite the necessary departure from the truth involved in their production, it turns out that artistic products can sometimes put the audience in mind of the truth, and sometimes in mind of a falsehood. Moreover, where mimetic products happen not to put us in mind of the truth, we as audience are able ourselves to bring about appropriate changes in these conditions, and in so doing exert control over the effect art has on our souls.