NOTES ON PLATO - I
NOTES ON PLATO – I
D. R. Khashaba
I am reading A Companion to Plato, edited by Hugh H. Benson, Blackwell, 2006. I had meant to abstain from making any comments, but I will probably find myself impelled to make some marginal notes now and then. τύχῃ ἀγαθῇ.
1. Except when expressing moral convictions or principles (e.g., in Crito and Gorgias), a dialogue of Plato does not advocate a ‘position’ but offers a question to be examined. The question is never settled but remains open for further exploration. I maintain that this is fundamentally so even in the late dialogues. This (a) is in agreement with Plato’s insistence in the Republic that all hypotheses must be destroyed by dialectic since no determinate articulation of thought can be definitively true; (b) agrees with the dramatic character of Plato’s works; (c) explains the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions in the dialogues.
2. Plato did not leave us a philosophy: Plato left us what is of far greater value; he left us the idea or ideal of the philosophical life.
3. I was afraid this Companion to Plato with its tens of learned contributors would prove as disappointing as my earlier (fortunately limited) encounters with scholarly ‘secondary literature’ about Plato. Plato has inspired poets and saints, theologians and mystics, reformers and revolutionaries, yet modern scholarship has turned him into a riddle if not into an absurdity, Christopher Row, “Interpreting Plato”, after an extensive and intricate discussion of rival interpretative approaches to Plato – skeptical, dogmatic, developmental, unitarian – and after expounding his own version of developmentalism and speaking of Plato’s supposedly baffling “strategy” in his dialogues and drama, tells us that “Platonic, and Socratic, thinking is extraordinarily radical – so radical that, if it were presented to us simply and directly, it would strike us, as no doubt it strikes many readers even when it is spelled out, as purely and simply false, and so obviously false as not to be worth investigating.” (p.22) I will not try to answer this charge at this point. All my writings, particularly Plato: An Interpretayon (2005) and Plato’s Universe of Discourse (2015), have been an answer to the misunderstanding or cluster of misunderstandings behind this view; but in the course of these notes I will probably be repeatedly addressing these misunderstandings.
Cairo, October 4, 2015