Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 25 (3):572-574 (1972)

Abstract
Modern Studies in Philosophy, we are informed on the page facing the title-page, "is a series of anthologies presenting contemporary interpretations and evaluations of the works of major philosophers." The volumes are "intended to be contributions to contemporary debates as well as to the history of philosophy; they not only trace the origins of many problems important to modern philosophy, but also introduce major philosophers as interlocutors in current discussions." In the first of the two volumes on Plato three of the articles chosen by Gregory Vlastos have not appeared elsewhere: Julius Moravcsik, Learning as Recollection; G. E. L. Owen, Plato on Not-Being; David Higgins, Sentence Meaning, Negation, and Plato's Problem of Non-Being. The other studies in Volume One are reprints: R. Robinson and J. D. Denniston, Plato; H. F. Cherniss, The Philosophical Economy of the Theory of Ideas; A. Wedberg, The Theory of Ideas; R. C. Cross and A. D. Woozley, Knowledge, Belief and the Forms; R. Robinson, Hypothesis in the Republic; G. Vlastos, Reasons and Causes in the Phaedo; R. E. Allen, Participation and Predication in Plato's Middle Dialogues; Colin Strang, Plato and the Third Man; J. L. Ackrill, Symplokë eidön; J. L. Ackrill, Plato and the Copula: Sophist 251-259. In Volume Two Terry Penner, "Thought and Desire in Plato" has not been published before. The others have: Paul Shorey, Plato's Ethics; David Sachs, A Fallacy in Plato's Republic; Raphael Demos, A Fallacy in Plato's Republic?; J. D. Mabbott, Is Plato's Republic Utilitarian?; G. Vlastos, Justice and Happiness in the Republic; F. M. Cornford, The Doctrine of Eros in Plato's Symposium; R. A. Markus, The Doctrine of Eros in Plato's Symposium; Glenn R. Morrow, Plato and the Rule of Law; Wayne A. R. Leys, Was Plato Non-Political?; F. E. Sparshott, Plato as Anti-Political Thinker; Renford Bambrough, Plato's Political Analogies; E. R. Dodds, Plato and the Irrational Soul; W. K. C. Guthrie, Plato's Views on the Nature of the Soul; Harold Cherniss, The Sources of Evil According to Plato; W. J. Verdenius, Plato's Doctrines of Artistic Imitation. Obviously, the above listed articles will be welcome to those debating issues in Plato and to historians of twentieth-century philosophy. There are two difficulties, however. The print is too small in the body of the text and is nearly microscopic in the footnotes and diagrams. Reading thus becomes almost painful. Margins to the left, right, top and bottom of the pages are practically nonexistent. On occasion footnote material is misplaced--for example, the comment on Strang's article as originally published elsewhere should be on p. 184, not on p. 187, of Volume One. But a greater problem is the fact that almost all the articles on metaphysics and epistemology are by linguistic analysts. Vlastos in his introductory remarks admits as much: "Volume One is heavily weighted on the 'analytical' side." He reports the statement of an un-named advocate of conceptual analysis "that these [analytic] methods now enable us to understand Plato better than he was ever understood by anyone in history--better than by any of his own contemporaries, even better than by himself!" He disclaims such euphoria but insists "there is an element of truth in it after all" insofar as analytic tools can alert a student to ambiguity and its consequences in some of Plato's sentences. Hence, "if we come across such sentences in Plato, it would be plainly true to say that we can understand them better than he did and even to add that we can, therefore, understand him better, since we can see both what he meant to say and the logical liabilities of his incautious sentences." All this is true enough, but a warning still is in order. Linguistic analysts tend to read only some of Plato's dialogues and, even within them, to concentrate on some passages only. This is understandable in view of their interests and the capacity of the analytic technique. But that selectivity might lead them to believe that the Plato thus revealed is the complete and authentic Plato, which it is not. Hence, in reading and teaching Plato one must complement language- and concept-analysis with other approaches. Vlastos himself is aware of this necessity : [[sic]] "Once we have made full allowance for what modern semantics and logic can do to make Plato more intelligible and alive for us today, we should be quick to concede that borrowings from this quarter must be used with economy and discretion, and that continuing reliance on older linguistic and historical disciplines is as essential now as it has ever been in the past if the object of our inquiries is Plato himself, instead of some mock-up more pleasing to current taste." One could only wish that Vlastos had fostered that reliance on other disciplines by including articles of that sort among those he actually chose.--L. S.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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