Call for Papers: Plato’s Myths: Tools for Thinking

Leiden, 18-20 January 2024

Organizers: Bert van den Berg and Hugo Koning

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce the Call for Papers for the conference Plato’s Myths: Tools for Thinking, which will take place at Leiden University on Thursday 18th, Friday 19th and Saturday 20th January 2024.

The striking and wonderful myths in Plato’s oeuvre have always received special attention in Platonic scholarship, from Antiquity to modern day. Recent studies have elucidated their educational and philosophical value and their functions both in their immediate dialectical context and in Plato’s paideutic project as a whole. Plato’s myths, among other things, aim to inspire morality, try to visualize and concretize certain ideas, and help to grasp complicated philosophical concepts. They can be regarded as tools that one can use to complement the intellectual instruments of reason and dialectic.

In this conference, taking our cue from Levi-Strauss’ characterization of myth as ‘bon à penser’, we want to focus on the creative reception of Plato’s myths as tools for thinking. For many centuries, the philosopher’s myths have stimulated people to (philosophical) reflection, offering narratives and images to understand, visualize and verbalize their own thoughts, often on wholly different phenomena and ideas. Modern examples of such instrumentalization of Platonic imagery are Nick Carr’s use of the myth of Theuth to reflect on ‘what the internet is doing to our brain’ (The Shallows, 2010), Jonathan Haidt’s use of Plato’s chariot of the soul (The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006), and Melissa Lane’s use of the allegory of the cave to understand the modern approach to the climate crisis (Eco-Republic, 2012). But examples abound, from the Neoplatonists to Ficino and Cassirer, and are not limited to philosophers and thinkers, but include creative writing and the visual arts.

In this conference, we aim at exploring the many-faceted reception of Plato’s myths as tools for imaginative thinking. We welcome papers that deal explicitly with the way thinkers, artists, and other creative minds from all ages have taken Platonic myths as inspiration for their own philosophical or artistic vision. Papers ought to explore how the Platonic myth’s power as a tool for thinking has been taken further and/or expanded to other areas of thought; we invite contributors to reflect on how recreations of Plato’s myths ‘take off’ from the source material, and harness its imaginative and cognitive force to approach and grapple with their own subject. This creative engagement with Plato’s myths is not restricted to philosophical texts, but may also involve other types of texts or other media such as films and plays. Contributions can focus on a particular myth and a particular case of philosophical and/or creative reception, or take a broader approach.

We are delighted to announce prof. Mauro Bonazzi (Utrecht University), prof. Tae-Yeoun Keum (University of California, Santa Barbara) and prof. Vasilis Politis (Trinity College Dublin) as keynote speakers of the conference.

We invite interested speakers to submit abstracts of 250 to 500 words for a 30 minute paper to Hugo Koning, by July 1st 2023.

Any questions may likewise be addressed to