The Parthenon and Liberal Education

By Geoff Lehman & Michael Weinman

Subjects: Ancient Greek Philosophy, Philosophy, Architectural History/architecture, Mathematics, Education
Series: SUNY series in Ancient Greek Philosophy
Hardcover : 9781438468419, 268 pages, March 2018
Paperback : 9781438468426, 268 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Thinking the Parthenon and Liberal Arts Education Together

Part I. Plato on Dialectic and the Problem-Based Study of Mathematics

1. Dialectic and the Mathematical Arts in Republic (9.587b–588a): Philolaus’s Scale and the Final Bout between the Just and Unjust Souls

2. Dialectic and the Mathematical Arts in Timaeus (35b–36c): Philolaus’s Scale in the Construction of the World-Soul

3. Platonic Dialectic, Pythagorean Harmonics, and Liberal Arts Education

Part II. Harmonia and Symmetria of the Parthenon

4. The Parthenon and the Musical Scale

5. The Corner Problem

6. Refinements and the Question of Dialectic


Appendix A
Pythagorean Musical Ratios

Appendix B
Principal Measurements of the Parthenon

Appendix C
Elements of the Doric Order

Appendix D
Ground Plan of the Parthenon

Appendix E
Glossary of Technical Terms

Works Cited

Discusses the importance of the early history of Greek mathematics to education and civic life through a study of the Parthenon and dialogues of Plato.


The Parthenon and Liberal Education seeks to restore the study of mathematics to its original place of prominence in the liberal arts. To build this case, Geoff Lehman and Michael Weinman turn to Philolaus, a near contemporary of Socrates. The authors demonstrate the influence of his work involving number theory, astronomy, and harmonics on Plato's Republic and Timaeus, and outline its resonance with the program of study in the early Academy and with the architecture of the Parthenon. Lehman and Weinman argue that the Parthenon can be seen as the foremost embodiment of the practical working through of mathematical knowledge in its time, serving as a mediator between the early reception of Ancient Near-Eastern mathematical ideas and their integration into Greek thought as a form of liberal education, as the latter came to be defined by Plato and his followers. With its Doric architecture characterized by symmetria (commensurability) and harmonia (harmony; joining together), concepts explored contemporaneously by Philolaus, the Parthenon engages dialectical thought in ways that are of enduring relevance for the project of liberal education.

Geoff Lehman is on the faculty of Art History at Bard College Berlin. Michael Weinman is Professor of Philosophy at Bard College Berlin and the author of Language, Time, and Identity in Woolf's The Waves: The Subject in Empire's Shadow and Pleasure in Aristotle's Ethics.


"This synthesis of the architecture of the Parthenon, Plato, and Greek mathematical thought in the fifth century BC is one of the most comprehensive available in English." — Vassilis Petrakis, External Research Collaborator, National Hellenic Research Foundation

"This book adds substantially to the field of studies on ancient Greek architecture, as viewed through the lens of Greek philosophy and education. It contains chapters that are intellectually the most exciting and innovative that I have read on the Parthenon in a long time." — Robert Hannah, author of Time in Antiquity