Peace and Concord from Plato to Lessing

allegory of peace smaller fragment

Fragment of Louis Jean François Lagrenée, Mars and Venus, Allegory of Peace, 1770, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Date: 18-19 September 2017
Location: SLC Common Room 536, level 5, Brennan MacCallum Building A18, The University of Sydney

Price: Free and open to all

Organisers: Andrew Benjamin and Francesco Borghesi

For further information please contact Francesco Borghesi and Andrew Benjamin

‘Peace’ and ‘concord’ as organizing terms within both the history of philosophy and the history of religion mark specific modes of relationality. Each one is articulated within shared or opposing metaphysical schema. In the context of the workshop the issues of ‘peace’ and ‘concord’ and their philosophical developments between Greek Antiquity and the European Enlightenment will be addressed by analyzing the political and religious connotation of these ideas. In each instance what will be of central importance are the ways differing conception of ‘peace’ or ‘concord’ come to be formulated.
As a beginning it should be noted that Greek conceptions of homonoia (ὁμόνοια) and harmonia (ἁρμονίᾳ) both play a structuring force within the later Latin conception of concordia in the sense of political friendship and also common good. There is an affinity here with the presence of ‘peace’ in Nicholas of Cusa’s De pace fidei. The later grounds the possible sense of commonality between the divergent religions with religion itself and not in the ways in which the administration of religion occurs. Underpinning this claim is a metaphysical argument in which a sense of unity always preceded multiplicity. While there will be differences between the metaphysical systems of Spinoza and Kant in both peace has to be though in terms of morality. For Kant ‘all politics must bend the knee before right’. Hence a state of peace involves a break with nature and thus peace becomes an agreement between republican states. In Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise peace thought in relation to concord it also, and here, if only initially, is the affinity with Kant, it has to be thought in its separation from war. Hence Spinoza’s famous formulation: ‘pax enim non belli privatio, sed virtus est’. Peace became a ‘virtue’. The important point to note however is that despite the initial affinity the metaphysical differences between Spinoza and Kant demonstrate that undoing a definition of peace in terms of either the absences of war of the ‘suspension of hostilities’ can occur in fundamentally different ways.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Morning Session (9:00am-12:30pm: 45mins paper and 15 Q&A, plus 30 mins final discussion)

9-10 Jennifer Mensch, From Politics to Morality in Kant’s Perpetual Peace
10-11 Cat Moir, Faith, Reason, and Peace in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise and The Education of the Human Race
11-12 Moira Gatens, The Absence of War is Not the Same as Peace

Afternoon Session (1:30-5:00pm)

13:30-14:30 Jennifer Milam, Representing Peace during the Enlightenment
14:30-15:30 Francesco Borghesi, Pico della Mirandola, Common Good, and Concordia
15:30-16:30 Andrew Benjamin, Who Were the Faithful? Notes on Nicholas of Cusa’s De Pace Fidei

19 September 2017

Morning Session (9:00am-12:30pm)

9:00-10:00 Rick Benitez, Peace and Concord in the Dialogues of Plato
10:00-11:00 Graeme Miles, Proclus and Damascius on Harmony, Soul and Society
11:00-12:30 General discussion

Speakers and papers

Rick Benitez, University of Sydney
Peace and Concord in the Dialogues of Plato
This presentation will examine some of the ways in which Plato conveys a concern with peace and what sort of conception of peace he has a concern with. I begin by considering Plato’s antipathy to war and faction, with particular emphasis on stasis, or internal conflict, which Plato considers by far the worst kind of conflict. Afterwards I examine some of the conditions in which Plato thinks internal conflict is resolved, including homonoia (same-mindedness), harmonia (concord), hesuchia (quietude), sunousia (togetherness), and euetheia (simplicity). I suggest that the Platonic conception of peace is first and foremost a psychological conception, founded on the unity and integrity of individual personality. Only when individuals are at peace within themselves, thinks Plato, can peace within society be achieved. I will close with some reflections about the kind of peace imagined by Plato. In particular, I will address the question whether the condition is valued over the quality or not.

Andrew Benjamin, Monash University/Kingston University
Who Were the Faithful? Notes on Nicholas of Cusa’s De Pace Fidei
Early in the De Pace Fidei unity, as a philosophical topic, is introduced. It is announced in the claim that ‘oneness is prior to all plurality.’ This is of course the condition in terms of which peace is possible. There is in Cusanus a genuine metaphysics of peace which is a certain thinking of difference. Difference is tolerable precisely because it is a conception of plurality that is premised on ‘oneness.’ Harmony (concordia) as an end state – and the text both begins and ends with ‘harmony’ – could then be read in terms of an act that was staged without being intended. God could be praised by the non-Christian, even though the ‘prince of darkness’ may have caused the one praising not to understand that in so doing it is the ‘one’ behind the plurality who is in fact the object of praise. The aim of this paper will be to sketch the limits of Cusanus’ metaphysics of peace and thus the conception of harmony (concordia) that it envisages.

Francesco Borghesi, University of Sydney
Pico della Mirandola, Common Good, and Concordia
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) is not often perceived as a philosopher concerned with the society of his times or politics in general. However, his notion of ‘concord,’ interpreted as a tendency to strive to reconcile different opinions, leaves room for speculation on its relation to the idea of ‘common good.’ This paper analyses Giovanni Pico’s philosophical and, possibly, political aims at the end of the Quattrocento in the context of the rhetorical traditions of both bene comune and concordia throughout Trecento and Quattrocento Italy.

Moira Gatens, University of Sydney
The Absence of War is not the Same as Peace
In the Tractatus Politicus Spinoza remarks that peace does not amount to the absence of war but rather is ‘a virtue that arises from strength of mind’. In the context of drawing a contrast between those who willingly obey law for rationally endorsed reasons, as opposed to those who comply with law through fear, and are led ‘like sheep and slaves’ (TP, 5.4), Spinoza alludes to Tacitus’s well known phrase: ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant (they make a desert and call it peace). For Spinoza, a peaceful commonwealth is one where there is a harmony or concord of minds. On his view a virtuous commonwealth, just like a virtuous person, is not simply free of vice but actively possesses and exercises virtue. Power, virtue, and peace are all conceptions that are understood to be active affirmations and not just the opposite of passivity, vice, or war. Explicating this view, which contrasts with the better-known Hobbesian view, will be the task of my presentation.

Jennifer Mensch, Western Sydney University
From Politics to Morality in Kant’s Perpetual Peace
Kant’s efforts to establish grounds for long-term global peace have long been hailed for their providing grounds for the kind of cosmopolitan outlook at work in international relations today. In recent discussion, however, as globalism has taken on the appearance of a failed worldview, and attention has shifted to Postcolonial critique, Kant’s own proposals have undergone reassessment. In particular, Kant’s central solution to the problem of humankind’s native tendency to war, has been criticized so far as it depends upon the global financial interdependence of nation states, and Kant’s corresponding demand for “hospitality” in face of commercial advances. While there are certainly grounds for such criticism, Kant dedicates much of his discussion in Perpetual Peace to thinking through the central tasks facing any society: the distinction between prudential and moral politics, the transition from a political society to a moral whole, and the political grounds upon which a just constitution can be established so far as it is only in the wake of this that a people can finally be moralised. Since the current critique of Kant’s proposals for peace effectively view them to be merely prudential, it is worth considering whether and how Kant might have thought them to be moral as well.

Jennifer Milam, University of Sydney
Representing Peace during the Enlightenment
In 1783, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun submitted her morceau de reception to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. The subject of her painting was Peace Bringing Back Abundance, a choice which demonstrated her education, training, and ambitions as a learned history painter. Thematically, the work responded to contemporary events. It was executed in 1780, while France was engaged in the American War of Independence, but exhibited in 1783 at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Although Vigée-Lebrun’s allegorical treatment of the subject followed established conventions of pictorial representation, the connection with the political present was foregrounded by certain writers. In the Memoirs Secrets, for example, the figure of Peace is described as “noble, decent, modest like the peace that France has just concluded.” Other critics, however, judged her work as derivative and “nothing more than a copy” beholden to the examples of seventeenth-century masters. This paper explores the diverse artistic and critical reactions to the theme of peace in painting to consider how visual representation of this subject matter involved a response to history and the role of men and women in its making.

Graeme Miles, University of Tasmania
Proclus and Damascius on Harmony, Soul and Society
It is well known that Plato establishes an ideal of the harmony of parts of the soul in individuals which is to correspond to a harmony between the parts of the state. In the Republic Socrates outlines an ideal of harmonious relations within and between individuals, and in the Timaeus the eponymous speaker describes the soul as a kind of harmony. In the Phaedo, by contrast, the Pythagorean argument that the soul is a harmony of the body was rejected. Plato’s thoughts on music, harmony, soul and society were substantially adapted and extended by late-antique Platonists. Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic and Commentary on the Timaeus offer some important discussions. In Essay Five of the former work, for instance, Proclus discusses types of music (mousikê) and their effects on individuals and their societies, taking his cue from Plato’s Socrates to develop a detailed theory of the effect of particular rhythms on the harmonic and rhythmic nature of the soul. After Proclus, and at the very end of the Athenian Platonic school, Damascius, with his characteristic subtlety, offers criticisms of Proclus’ views on music and the soul, in the process closely interrogating, and partly rehabilitating, the rejected theory of the soul as a harmony of the body in Plato’s Phaedo.

Cat Moir, University of Sydney
Faith, Reason, and Peace in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise and The Education of the Human Race
During the eighteenth century, the struggle between faith and reason was often the source of intense intellectual and political conflict. The German philosopher, essayist, and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing became embroiled in this conflict in the 1770s when, after publicly criticising Lutheran orthodoxy, he was subjected to royal censorship. In the works he produced after this incident, Lessing explicitly tries to square revealed faith and autonomous reason as both necessary aspects of the pursuit of peace. This paper explores the relation between faith, reason, and peace in two of Lessing’s works, his 1779 play Nathan the Wise and his 1780 essay The Education of the Human Race. The ring parable in Nathan provides a powerful image of how the exercise of autonomous reason in the interest of a common good is the necessary condition of peaceful competition between established religions. Since there is no objective proof as to the truth of any specific revealed religion for the time being, the faithful are called upon to deliver such proof by acting morally and harmoniously until the end of time. Meanwhile, in The Education of the Human Race, Lessing argues that religious revelation is to the human race what moral education is to the individual human being. In order to achieve peace, however, he argues that human cultures must overcome the specificities of revealed faith to do good for its own sake. Lessing’s works are thus read here as offering a model of how the conflict between faith and reason can be a source of eventual peace.