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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Vasilis Politis

“The impact that the IAS Fellowship has had on my thinking and my research has been substantial, significant and manifest. Above all, the other IAS Fellows with whom I had the pleasure of sharing my stay at the Durham IAS have influenced my thinking very significantly, and this has given rise to new research incentives and collaborative research projects.

Professor Vasilis Politis, Trinity College Dublin

IAS Fellow at Ustinov College, Durham University (January - March 2018)

Professor Vasilis Politis was born in Athens, Greece, and educated in Denmark. In 1982 he went to Oxford, where he completed his B.A. (First Class), B.Phil., and D.Phil., with a Fellowship to the Stiftung Maximilianeum in Munich in 1984-1985. Since 1992 he has been teaching at Trinity College Dublin. In 2004 he was elected to Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin; in 2007-2008 he was Senior Research Fellow of the Irish Research Council; and in 2009-2010 he was Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He has held visiting professorships in Leiden University (Holland) and Wuhan University (China), and in 2017 he is a visiting professor in Uppsala University (Sweden) and Renmin University (China).

Professor Politis specializes in Ancient Greek Philosophy. With the publication of The Structure of Enquiry in Plato’s Early Dialogues (Cambridge, 2015), and following numerous papers in leading journals and presses, he recently completed a major research project, on the function of aporia—puzzlement and particular puzzles—in the method of argument and enquiry of Plato and Aristotle. The significance of this project has been recognized not least through the collection of papers due to appear on this topic, and covering the whole of Ancient Philosophy, by fourteen eminent scholars worldwide: The Aporetic Tradition in Ancient Philosophy (Cambridge, 2017), edited by Professor Politis and George Karamanolis of Vienna. He believes that this topic—the function of aporia in intellectual enquiry—is of great interest for philosophy generally and indeed beyond academic enquiry.

Professor Politis is currently working on a new major research project, which builds on the previous one—this being the project that he plans to advance and, if possible, bring to completion during the stay at the IAS. A central thesis of the previous project is that Plato shows that if we want to engage with and try to answer certain radical questions—and questions that are typically of a general human interest—then we are committed to the search for the essence of things. In the current project, he explores Plato’s great metaphysical theory, the theory of Forms, from this perspective. The aim is to demonstrate that the central commitments in Plato’s mature metaphysics can be derived from the basic commitment to intellectual enquiry and from the twin sources of radical enquiry: radical aporiai and the search for essences. The wider aim is to make Plato’s metaphysics live and significant in contemporary debate, in the way in which Aristotle’s metaphysics is live and significant in contemporary metaphysics.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Plato's Radical Enquiries


Two features stand out in Plato's philosophy. First, the commitment to the pursuit of questions of the form 'What is X?', and the essences that such questions are asking for (e.g. 'What is justice?', 'What is a bee?', 'What is love?', 'What is being?'). Secondly, the commitment to certain supersensible, supernatural entities, called Forms. Both these commitments are puzzling: it is not clear what is behind them, or what their interest and significance is. Professor Vasilis Politis argues that both commitments are rooted in Plato's desire to articulate, and try to answer, certain distinctive questions that we can all---whether or not we are philosophically or scientifically inclined---recognize as of real, immediate and even vital significance. Professor Politis calls such questions 'radical aporiai': they are conflicts of reasons within a single person, with no familiar means of even trying to resolve them.

Examples include: whether it is better to be just or unjust; whether there is such a thing as the bee, over and above the many and many kinds of bees; whether love is irrational, and, if so, whether this is a reason against it; whether we can aspire to a theory of everything. Politis argues that, if we take such aporiai seriously and want to try to answer them, then we may well, as Plato thinks, be committed to: the pursuit of such 'What is X?' questions; the essences that such questions are asking for; and (perhaps) even such supersensible and supernatural entities as Forms.

Listen to the lecture in full.

Professor Vasilis Politis Publications

Politis, V. (2018) ‘Plato’s Geach talks to Socrates. Definition by example-and-exemplar in the Hippias Major’, Phronesis 63, 223-228.