Author Ken Dorter, in a passage-by-passage analysis traces Plato's depiction of how the most basic forms of human functioning and social justice contain the seed of their evolution into increasingly complex structures, as well as the seed of their degeneration. Dorter also traces Plato's tendency to begin an investigation with models based on rigid distinctions for the sake of clarity, which are subsequently transformed into more fluid conceptions that no longer sacrifice complexity and subtlety for clarity.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: -/-  JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 23:1 JANUARY 198 5 Book Reviews Kenneth Dorter. Plato's 'Phaedo': An Interpretation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Pp. xi + 233. $28.50. Kenneth Dorter of the University of Guelph has given us a useful and unusual study of the Phaedo, which will attract the interest of a variety of Plato's readers. He provides the careful studies of the dialogue's (...) arguments for immortality to be expected in a sound commentary, paying close attention to the text as well as to recent scholarship, and displaying a good sense of argument. What gives the book additional interest, however, are its features as an interpretation of the Phaedo. Two stand out. First, Dorter wishes to give full weight not only to the logic of the arguments but also to the dramatic details of Plato's writing, believing these to be important in disclosing Plato's intentions. Secondly, he reads the Phaedo in light of a more general understanding of Plato's philosophy, especially the nature of the soul in its cosmic as well as individual aspects. Much of this is set out in a final speculative chapter, where Dorter seeks to make intelligible Plato's developing conception of soul by means of such notions as energy and poles of consciousness. Not every reader will be persuaded; but Dorter is to be commended for an attempt to move the discussion beyond the Phaedo and Plato's own vocabulary. The study gains its coherence from Dorter's belief that Plato's view of soul cannot support the ostensible aim of the dialogue, to provide reassurance of personal immortality. Although he has no doubt that for the Platonic Socrates there is "a meaningful sense in which we may be called immortal" (94, cf. 159), Dorter's analysis must be stretched to provide that sense. In part this is a result of his assessment of the arguments. The first, from reciprocity in nature, can at most show that, given the eternal nature of the world, soul and corporeality in general must continue to exist. The argument from recollection can point only to a non-empirical element in our knowledge ; that from the soul's kinship with the divine is best seen as an analogy developed to awaken within us a sense of eternity. The final argument, though containing fallacies (157), will support the conclusion that immortal soul is imperishable as long as soul is regarded as motive force in the universe, in the first argument's sense. In none of these discussions, then, can Plato's reasoning yield up personal survival. But there is another part to Dorter's case, underlying this conclusion. For Plato the individual human being is a composite of soul and body; so even if Plato were to prove the immortality of the soul he could never establish personal survival (63-64). It is not surprising then that Dorter is left with a doctrine of immortality either reduced to a "discovery of eternity within ourselves" (77), or else dissolved into a principle of enduring cosmic energy. So in neither case does it seem meaningful for Plato to say that we are immortal: the eternal which we sense is no more us than it is anything else. Although it is of course possible that Plato did not intend this consequence of his arguments, Dorter thinks otherwise. In support he invokes literary features of the dialogue to argue that Plato operates on one level for the less sophisticated (who wish to be persuaded of personal survival) and on another for the philosophically reflective reader. Dorter treats the textual evidence for this claim with an appropriate modesty, and tries to justify Plato's apparent duplicity as an attempt to convince the weak by a 'noble lie' (95-97). Nevertheless this leads Dorter to mix together too quickly for this reader popular religion, myth, and metaphor. To the fact that Plato does not espouse the language of popular religion literally, Dorter adds his own view of myth as an imaginative appeal to emotion that can be translated without loss into rational discourse (7, 165, a95). So the accounts of the afterlife at 8oc-84 b... (shrink)
There is an apparent tension in Laozi 老子 between his denial of the adequacy of positive theoretical formulations and his concomitant endorsement of certain kinds of practical action over others. Laozi writes, for example, “Where they all know the good as good, there is evil, Therefore Being and non-being produce each other” (Laozi 2.3–5), which suggests that good and evil produce each other the way being and non-being produce each other; in which case to do good will lead to evil (...) and to do evil will lead to good. The result threatens to become moral paralysis. I argue that this destabilization of moral concepts does not amount to a moral relativism, but leaves us with a consistent moral point of view in its own way. (shrink)
If Z hu Xi had been a western philosopher, we would say he synthesized the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus: that he took from Plato the theory of forms, from Aristotle the connection between form and empirical investigation, and from Plotinus self-differentiating holism. But because a synthesis abstracts from the incompatible elements of its members, it involves rejection as well as inclusion. Thus, Z hu Xi does not accept the dualism by which Plato opposed to the rational forms an (...) irrational material principle, and does not share Aristotle’s irreducible dualism between form and prime matter, or his teleology. Neither does he share Plotinus’ indifference to the empirical world. Understanding how these similarities and differences play out against one another will help us discover what is at stake in their various commitments. (shrink)
The Gita at first appears to be a series of explanations of various kinds of yoga strung together in no apparent order, and several of its claims and arguments seem to contradict one another. I argue that the apparent contradictions disappear if we see the arguments as related to one another dialectically rather than analytically. From an analytic perspective contradictions are either merely verbal and can be disambiguated by a conceptual distinction, or else they render the statement meaningless. A dialectical (...) resolution, in the sense I am using the term, requires a change of perspective rather than a simple terminological clarification. A dialectical reading can also show that the appearance of randomness in the order of presentation follows from an organizing principle that is hierarchical rather than linear. (shrink)
SOCRATES’ CLAIM THAT VIRTUE IS KNOWLEDGE implies that if we behave in an unvirtuous way we must be ignorant of what goodness really is. No allowance is made for the possibility that we may know what is good but act otherwise because we are too weak to resist temptation or fear—in other words that we may lack self-mastery. In a famous passage Aristotle rejects the Socratic model.
According to the Myth of Er we are responsible for our character because we chose it before birth. But any choice is determined by our present character, sothere is an indefinite regress and we cannot be entirely responsible for our character. The Myth of Er can be seen as the first formulation of the problem of free will, which Aristotle demythologizes in Nicomachean Ethics III.5. Plato's solution is that freedom is compatible with causal determinism because it does not mean indeterminism (...) but rationality. The myth links the individual lives to the harmony of the spheres, so our lives are determined not by blind necessity, but by rational necessity that follows from the nature of the universe. Even so, the limitations of determinism prevent rationality from being a sufficient cause of happiness (although the opposite view is usually attributed to Plato), but it remains a necessary one. (shrink)
Philosophers from traditions that are not only entirely different but apparently uninfluenced by each other sometimes show remarkable similarities. In the case of Spinoza and Shankara such similarities include the dual-aspect model according to which the apparent pluralism of the world rests on an inadequate perception of its oneness, and the way the overcoming of that inadequacy is conceived as a liberation from the passions and an achievement of immortality. A significant difference between the two, however, is that Spinoza's explanations (...) are epistemologically conceived while Shankara's are conceived ontologically. Not that Spinoza lacked an ontology or Shankara an epistemology, but rather their explanatory approaches emphasize the differences of the worlds within which they wrote. (shrink)
Stanley Rosen's latest book is a collection of essays, the first of which gives the collection its title. The essays are undated, presumably as a way of emphasizing their continuity, but are said to "have been written at various times during the past thirty years" ; some of them are published here for the first time. Although most are on Plato, two are on Aristotle, and two on contemporary continental philosophy. The collection displays Rosen's considerable skill at wide-ranging, scholarly, and (...) insightful philosophical interpretation and criticism, in the service of a fundamental concern about the nature and possibilities of philosophy. It is undoubtedly the best introduction to his work as a whole. The following summaries, necessarily inadequate, observe the order in which the essays appear in the book. (shrink)
The question whether the fusion of the musical traditions of different cultures is a good thing or not is irrelevant in practical terms, since there is no realistic possibility of preventing it, but the advantages and disadvantages that the process brings are worth considering nevertheless. The loss of diversity that results when one tradition is overwhelmed by its contact with a more influential one is not redressed by the increased variety that comes about within the dominant tradition, since the latter (...) are variations within a tradition rather than traditions of distinct origins. But the common denominator that allows different traditions to interact meaningfully with one another points to the ability of music to bring us in touch with our common humanity. (shrink)
Daniel Anderson's commentary on the Symposium consists of careful readings of all the individual speeches, in which he is concerned not only with the overt arguments but even more with their subtext. The subtext is Dionysian--a theme implicit in the dialogue's setting as the celebration of Agathon's victory at a drama festival, since such festivals were in honor of Dionysus--and the dialogue as a whole is about the irreducible dialectic between form and formlessness, Apollo and Dionysus. Dionysus represents the life (...) force, so "all living things may be regarded as manifestations of Dionysus" and the masks worn by the actors in Greek drama symbolize the fact that "Each living thing is a mask of Dionysos". Beneath each mask, therefore, is only life force, and not a stable individual identity. Even the removal of a mask is only the creation of a new mask. In his discussions of the speeches Anderson keeps this leitmotiv [[sic]] in view, and attributes particular masks to the first six speakers, while Alcibiades, on the other hand, "is the persona of Dionysos". (shrink)
A philosopher to whom the history of philosophy has been ascribed as "footnotes" can obviously be read in many ways, and Plato has been read as Neoplatonist, proto-Christian, linguistic analyst, and existentialist, among other things. It is no surprise then to find a deconstructionist reading him as a postmodernist. Jay Farness's reading is deconstructive in the Derridian sense, except that, unlike Derrida, he is aware that such a reading is amenable to Plato's enterprise rather than destructive of it. In the (...) language of corporate takeovers this is a friendly rather than hostile deconstruction: "I try to read Plato closely while I am also trying to listen to a mischievous Socrates, who is deeply attuned to the pastoral of intellect and its abuses". Indeed, Plato is assimilated to Derrida to a remarkable extent. (shrink)
As one would expect, Benardete's commentary, too, is much more concerned with the literary dimension of the dialogue than are its predecessors; so much so in fact that they cannot really be compared. The difference is almost as fundamental as that between a world constituted by visual experiences and one constituted by aural ones. Benardete evinces no interest in some of the issues which most exercise other commentators, such as whether the theory of forms has undergone any revisions. On the (...) other hand he offers many provocative insights of a kind that more argument-focused commentators neglect; for example, that the tension between the fixed limits of the Philebus and the fact that the Philebus is only a segment of a conversation that began before the part recorded, and has not yet ended when the record stops, is an image of the tension portrayed within the dialogue between the limit and the unlimited. This is not merely a nice point about Plato's use of imagery, but it implies that we must read the dialogue as a whole in a different way than we read a self-contained argument. On more specific issues as well, Benardete asks questions and provides insight into matters that do not interest more analytic commentators. (shrink)
The flyer accompanying Metaphysics: the Elements describes it as The English tradition, on the whole, from its beginnings in Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, and William of Ockham, in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, has been unsympathetic to teleological explanations, preferring the procedures of what came to be called empirical science; and it is to this tradition that Aune's book clearly belongs. It is hardly a comprehensive survey of what the traditional metaphysicians themselves considered their key concepts, nor is it (...) any more comprehensive a survey of contemporary metaphysics unless one restricts this to Anglo-American analytic metaphysics as Aune implicitly does: there is not a single reference to Nietzsche or Heidegger; Whitehead is mentioned only briefly and only with reference to the Principia ; and the discussion of time makes no reference to Husserl or Bergson. Earlier continental philosophers fare slightly better: Hegel is mentioned twice, in passing, and Schopenhauer is dismissed with contempt in three lines. No book that takes such an attitude toward the teleological traditions of metaphysics can properly describe itself (or--. (shrink)
According to the Myth of Er we are responsible for our character because we chose it before birth. But any choice is determined by our present character, sothere is an indefinite regress and we cannot be entirely responsible for our character. The Myth of Er can be seen as the first formulation of the problem of free will, which Aristotle demythologizes in Nicomachean Ethics III.5. Plato's solution is that freedom is compatible with causal determinism because it does not mean indeterminism (...) but rationality. The myth links the individual lives to the harmony of the spheres, so our lives are determined not by blind necessity, but by rational necessity that follows from the nature of the universe. Even so, the limitations of determinism prevent rationality from being a sufficient cause of happiness, but it remains a necessary one. (shrink)
I WOULD LIKE TO PUT FORWARD the suggestion that the Theaetetus is a progressive development of the concept of knowledge. To this end, instead of focusing on one or two particular passages, I shall go through the dialogue as a whole in terms of what it has to say about the problem of knowledge. I hope that what is gained in a synoptic view of the dialogue will compensate for comparatively brief time spent on each passage.