Document Type

Honors Thesis


Political Science


Robert Ballingall

Committee Members

Donald Beith, Mark Brewer, Robert Glover, Michael Howard

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


The following honors thesis examines the perennial tension between self-interest and altruism as it figures in the political thought of Plato. Plato is well known for having rigorously elucidated this tension in his dialogues, particularly as it arises in the relationship of philosophy to politics. Nevertheless, scholars continue to disagree about the precise nature of Plato’s analysis. Does he regard the life dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom as the acme of public service, as most commentators maintain? Or is the philosophic life by Plato’s lights an insuperably selfish enterprise, as certain interpreters have suggested? Using hermeneutic methods developed by Schliermacher, Friedlander, and Strauss, this honors thesis uses closely reads four dialogues to uncover Plato’s responses to these queries. Plato’s answers matter because these questions are our own. The Academy that he set up endures in the modern university, just as modern academics continue to face charges of elitism or partisanship. Whether Plato considered such charges true of his own enterprise, or merely of its various vulgarizations, is of interest in its own right. But it is also of importance to anyone working in modern academe, inasmuch as we aspire to intellectual standards first articulated in Plato’s dialogues.