A History of Greek Philosophy [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 30 (2):341-342 (1976)
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The fourth volume of Professor Guthrie’s History, dealing with Plato’s life and with eighteen of his dialogues, is as welcome as its three predecessors. In keeping with the nature of a history of this sort, the picture of Plato’s life and thought presented here is judicious and non-controversial in its outlines. There are many helpful references both to the ancient and to the modern literature, and a vast amount of information is transmitted with surprising painlessness. For the facts of Plato’s life, Guthrie relies on the traditional sources, especially on Epistle VII, the authenticity of which he accepts. His reconstruction is, therefore, itself quite traditional; little direct attention is given to Ryle’s attempt to undermine that view. The volume covers the following dialogues, listed here in the order of their presentation: Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Laches, Lysis, Charmides, Hippias Major, Hippias Minor, Ion, Protagoras, Meno, Euthydemus, Gorgias, Menexenus, Phaedo, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Republic. No section is devoted in this volume to the first Alcibiades; Guthrie is noncommittal on its authenticity. The Cratylus and the Timaeus are also passed over because of difficulties in dating them. Somewhat questionable is the inclusion of the Phaedrus: Guthrie argues that it belongs among the middle dialogues, mainly on account of his view that the method of collection and division does not constitute a major discontinuity in Plato’s way of doing dialectic. On the question of Plato’s development, Guthrie follows most contemporary scholars in rejecting the unitarian view, according to which Plato held the theory of Forms, essentially unrevised, throughout his life. Rather, he leans towards the idea that the theory of Forms emerged out of Socrates’ concern with definition, bloomed in the middle dialogues, and came to be more critically examined in Plato’s later works. Guthrie deals with each dialogue separately: he examines each dialogue’s date, characters, and setting, presents a useful summary, and discusses a number of philosophically interesting questions. The section devoted to the Republic is a monograph in its own right and combines summary and discussion. The great virtues of this book are its level tone, its painstaking presentation of alternative views, and its scope. Though not always conclusive in its discussions of specific philosophical issues, it is a true labor of love, and unlikely to be superceded, as a reference work, in the near future.—A.N.



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