The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics

The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics

The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics

The Dialectic of Essence: A Study of Plato's Metaphysics


The Dialectic of Essenceoffers a systematic new account of Plato's metaphysics. Allan Silverman argues that the best way to make sense of the metaphysics as a whole is to examine carefully what Plato says aboutousia(essence) from theMenothrough the middle period dialogues, thePhaedoand theRepublic, and into several late dialogues including theParmenides, theSophist, thePhilebus, and theTimaeus. This book focuses on three fundamental facets of the metaphysics: the theory of Forms; the nature of particulars; and Plato's understanding of the nature of metaphysical inquiry. Silverman seeks to show how Plato conceives of "Being" as a unique way in which an essence is related to a Form. Conversely, partaking ("having") is the way in which a material particular is related to its properties: Particulars, thus, in an important sense lack essence. Additionally, the author closely analyzes Plato's idea that the relation between Forms and particulars is mediated by form-copies. Even when some late dialogues provide a richer account of particulars, Silverman maintains that particulars are still denied essence. Indeed, with theTimaeus'sintroduction of the receptacle, there are no particulars of the traditional variety. This book cogently demonstrates that when we understand that Plato's concern with essence lies at the root of his metaphysics, we are better equipped to find our way through the labyrinth of his dialogues and to better appreciate how they form a coherent theory.


This is and is not the book I wanted to write. I wanted to model my work on the books and articles of the various authors from whom I learned so much. I wanted to address the extensive ancient literature on Plato and the central topics of his metaphysics. I have fallen short on both counts. My greatest debts are acknowledged in the body of the book and notes. Were I not so prolix I might have been able to give proper respect to other approaches to Plato's metaphysics. I wanted to discuss more topics, for instance Plato's teleology, and to examine others better. Nonetheless, the book is what it is. Its failings are mine.

Some of the book dates back to a paper written for a Timaeus seminar taught by John Dillon at Berkeley in 1979. I have racked up enormous debts over the years, not least to all my teachers and friends at Berkeley. I was fortunate to have been able to work with Gregory Vlastos throughout my studies and to have assisted G.E.L. Owen during his memorable visit as Sather Professor. Donald Davidson kindly gave me a copy of his dissertation. I am also deeply indebted to my colleagues in the Departments of Philosophy and Classics at Ohio State, where I have been since 1985, for their tolerance, encouragement, and philosophy. the departments and the university as a whole have supported my research intellectually and financially. I am grateful to all. the Center for Hellenic Studies provided an ideal environment in which to work through a Junior Fellowship in 1988–89. My thanks go especially to Zeph and Diana Stewart. the idea to write the book took shape while I was a Visiting Professor at Yale in 1993 and 1994. I learned much from conversations with Bob Adams and others in New Haven. the National Endowment for the Humanities supported the actual beginnings of the book with a Fellowship in 1995–96.

Parts of chapters have been read at various places—Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford, the University of Washington, ucla. I thank the audiences on all those occasions for their comments.

I cannot count the individuals to whom I owe thanks: friends, students, colleagues, hosts, and visitors over the years. But there are some special debts to acknowledge. Bob Batterman, Sylvia Berryman, Lee Franklin, Peter King, George Pappas, Diana Raffman, William Taschek, and Neil Tennant have read or conversed with me about various parts of the book at Ohio State. I was abetted by conversations with June Allison, Dirk Baltzly, Simon Blackburn, Chris Bobonich, Myles Burnyeat, Marc Cohen, John Cooper, Pat Curd, Nick Denyer, John Dillon, Michael Ferejohn, Gail Fine, Charles Griswold, Adam Hayward, Verity Harte, Sally Haslanger, Richard Kraut, Jonathan Lear, M. M. McCabe, Connie Meinwald, Henry Mendell, Julius Moravcsik, Calvin Normore, Richard Patterson, Chris Rowe, Dory Scaltsas, Malcolm Schofield . . .

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