Sunday, October 18, 2015



I have decided to discontinue the series of “Notes on Plato” that I started a couple of weeks ago as comments on the collection of papers in A Companion to Plato (ed. Hugh H. Benson, Blackwell, 2006). To have started those notes was unpardonable folly on my part. Why unpardonable? Because ten years ago I knew better. By way of apology to the few readers who wasted their time following these notes and to do penance for my folly I reproduce below the opening paragraphs of the Preface I penned in 2005 for my Plato: An Interpretation.

“It has been said that Plato probably "has never been studied more intensively than in the late twentieth century." Unfortunately we can also say that Plato probably has never been more misunderstood, travestied, and disfigured than in that same period.

“Until late in the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth Platonists gave their various interpretations of the works of Plato. Later in the twentieth century, scholars no longer interpreted but dissected. They murdered Plato and were happily cutting up the cadaver into tiny pieces to examine them under their analytical microscopes.

“It was not the intention of Plato in his writings, or in his oral teaching, to expound a finished system of philosophy. Just as the sole end of the Socratic elenchus was not, as is commonly supposed, to arrive at correct definitions but to arouse that creative aporia which led his interlocutors to confess their ignorance and to look for enlightenment within their own minds, so it was the aim of Plato to ignite in the souls of his hearers and readers that spark of understanding which "suddenly, like light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, … is born in the soul and straightway nourishes itself", as he puts it in Epistle VII.

“It is therefore worse than useless – it is positively damaging – to subject the writings of Plato to minute analysis and formal criticism in an attempt to extort from them hard-fixed doctrines and a theoretical system. Plato's writings should be approached imaginatively, responsively, that we may glimpse in them the ineffable insights that could only be conveyed in myth and metaphor but never in fixed theoretical formulations.

“I neither pretend nor intend to arrive at what Plato thought or taught. No one is entitled to claim a monopoly on understanding Plato's 'true' meaning, and I certainly make no such claim. Plato has left us some thirty pieces of verbal composition, which he created for his own amusement, as the Phaedrus 276d would suggest. My purpose in this work is to present the philosophy I derive for myself from these, for my own satisfaction.”

D. R. Khashaba

Cairo, October 18, 2015.


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