A philosophic bios, then, cannot simply have done with perception or desire. And even as Socrates proclaims the need to turn away from the senses, he cannot do so without reliance on a collection of images: sailing, sunlight, the darkness of the cave, and so forth. Of course these are not unrelated matters; they are held together by the power of appearance.
But again, this is accomplished by making use of images of a particularly seductive sort and in a particular way. If part of the work of philosophy is to make life appear as an object of thought and choice, and this requires not only calling attention to desire but also turning it, the question then is how to inspire contemplation of bios, how to overcome the impediments to doing so found in the unexpressed, tacit assumptions even the most philosophically inclined people have about the character and worth of their own lives.
If this is a spiritual practice, it is also a political practice, that is, a practice conducted not solely for the glorification of the individual philosopher, but for the sake of the collective expression of human excellence to which a polis can give rise. Plato thus offers us a critical iconography that merits sustained study.
I would like to conclude by suggesting some ways in which an examination of manner of life extends beyond Plato to Aristotle, a thinker for whom bios is a constant source of interest. But the question of bios in the Aristotelian corpus lies less in its motivating a variety of discursive forms than in its role in opening up a variety of philosophic objects. With respect to the impact of Aristotle on contemporary political philosophy and theory, the stakes of the research into the relationship among his biology, ethics, and politics are quite high.
If one of the most influential political theorists of the past several decades, Giorgio Agamben, is to be believed, this is due in part to the ancient lineage of these distinctions, running, he claims in his influential Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life , through ancient Greek philosophy to the most significant and horrifying events of contemporary politics.
Yet it is precisely this lineage that a number of scholars have called into question. When Aristotle privileges living being in his examination of substance, he does so in a language permeated by terms that do the dual work of signifying parts of the body and parts of speech, has behind him hundreds of years of a literary landscape that emphasized the conjunction of living and signifying, and is steeped in an intellectual tradition that took the divine and the cosmos themselves to be instances of living beings. Not only will Aristotle attribute a bios to other nonhuman political animals; he also attributes bioi to all mortal animals often determined on the basis of what each kind takes as its sustenance and even to the polis itself.
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