Leo Strauss Lecture on Plato’s Meno (Spring 1966) by William Olson – Schaumburg, IL

Among the thousands of recorded hours of lectures by Leo Strauss compiled by the Leo Strauss Center at the University of Chicago, some of the most encompassing are the first lectures for each class. I wrote about this here in describing the lecture he gave on Natural Right in the winter of 1962. Another worth sharing is his introductory lecture for his course on Plato’s Meno.

Many of the courses he gave were probably cataloged at the time as Introduction to Political Philosophy. It is how he described the course he gave on the Meno, and it is how he often describes courses during other introductory lectures, irrespective of the text of interest. In most all cases, the first course is often a jewel of historical and philosophical material.

His introductory course on the Meno is one of his best. I begins with a brief survey of the ideas of Hegel, Kant, and Spinoza, but without this cursory overview devolving into a digression of substance, phenomenology, and the idea of the noumenal world, I’d rather it touch on the the distinction Strauss makes early in his lecture between what he calls the two historical and competing ideas of philosophy–that of Plato’s idealism, or spiritualism, and that of Epicurus’ materialism.

Listening to the audio tapes is a pleasure in itself, and is far more pleasant than following text on page, so I’ll direct you there after a taste of what’s in store. In short, Strauss identifies Plato’s spiritualism with that of free will, and Epicurus’ materialism as a pre-determined, fated universe. In the hectic mash of the quotidian, to hear a master of philosophy speak on the subjects of free will and fate is something of a treat. Enjoy.


William Olson

Schaumburg, IL

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