Virtue, Trust, and Democracy

A commentary on the Anonymus Iamblichi, including a translation and interpretative essays

How can we build a society based on genuine trust among citizens, without the divisive and corrupting influence of greed and envy? And what is the role of law and democratic institutions in achieving this goal? These questions, which remain strikingly relevant for anyone who wants to think seriously about the political and social challenges facing contemporary Western societies, are at the heart of a short but important text by an anonymous Greek author, cited by the late ancient Neopythagorean philosopher Iamblichus in his book Protreptikos. Approximately ten pages of Attic Greek, traditionally dated to the second half of the 5th century BCE, contain a series of fascinating reflections on the social dynamics of envy and esteem, the origins of law and tyranny, and the relation between lawfulness, trust and economic flourishing in a democratic society.

However, despite their indubitable interest and importance for understanding pre-Platonic Greek moral and political thought, the text of the so-called ‘Anonymus Iamblichi’ has received surprisingly little attention by scholars of antiquity, especially in the Anglophone world. Students interested in the text have searched in vain for an English commentary, and only a few (mostly somewhat dated) articles and studies have been published that make it the main focus of investigation. The proposed project aims to compose the first book-length philosophical and historical commentary in English on the text of the Anonymus Iamblichi. The commentary will include a new translation and a series of interpretative essays that explore selected themes from the text within the broader context of 5th and 4th BCE Greek philosophy (such as the sociology of honour, the nature and value of trust, and the criticism of Athenian democracy).

Dr Anders Dahl Sørensen was a COFUND JRF at Durham from 2018-2019.