Review of Helfer, Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato’s Drama of Political Ambition and Philosophy. [Book Review]

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Abstract
Although determination, perseverance, and high expectations appear to be laudable characteristics within our society, ambition seems to carry a hint of selfishness or self-promotion (perhaps especially at the cost of others). One can speak of the goals or aims of a team or group, but it seems more characteristic to ascribe ambition to a single individual. Etymologi-cally, ambition derives from the Latin word ambire, which can mean to strive or go around (ambo + ire), but the term also characterizes one who canvasses for votes. It may also be telling that the Latin noun for canvassing (ambitio) is only two letters removed for the Latin term for election fraud (ambitus). It is thus welcome that in his Socrates and Alcibiades Ariel Helfer seeks to examine the notion of political ambition through a study of Plato’s dialogues concerning that most am-bitious of Athenians, Alcibiades, an Athenian general who seems to have epitomized both the German word Wunderkind and the French phrase enfant terrible in his short life. It was one that included leading, betraying, and then leading again the Athenian army and navy during the Peloponnesian Wars. Helfer examines the three dialogues of Plato that include Alcibiades as an interlocutor: First Alcibiades, Second Alcibiades, and the Symposium. He does so (in his words) “to gain a fuller understanding of the constellation of desires that gives political ambition its force, including the desire to be devoted to a noble cause, and to determine whether, in Plato’s understanding, these desires necessarily find their fullest expression in political life” (p. 7).
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0019-0365
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LOCSAA-2
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Archival date: 2021-04-10
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