The Philosopher in Plato's Statesman: Together with Dialectical Education and Unwritten Teachings in Plato's Statesman

The Philosopher in Plato's Statesman: Together with Dialectical Education and Unwritten Teachings in Plato's Statesman

The Philosopher in Plato's Statesman: Together with Dialectical Education and Unwritten Teachings in Plato's Statesman

The Philosopher in Plato's Statesman: Together with Dialectical Education and Unwritten Teachings in Plato's Statesman

Excerpt

In contemporary writings on Plato it is almost commonplace to remark that he is at once a profound philosopher and dramatist and teacher. Even by its form, however, this remark may confess more about contemporary scholarship and higher education than it reveals about Plato. In disciplinary terms, philosophy, literature, and pedagogy have been separated as distinct fields. The usual consequence for our study of Plato is that the correlative aspects of his dialogues— roughly, their content, form, and communicative function—are approached in isolation; and this, in turn, results in a significant diminution, if not concealment, of each. “Content” comes to mean expressed doctrine, to the exclusion of implicit, subsurface meaning which it is the function of expressed doctrine, within the dramatically projected context, to suggest; “form” is reduced to style and the devices of stage-setting and portraiture which enliven, but have no internal bearing on, doctrinal content; and the pedagogical “function” of the dialogues tends to disappear altogether, to be replaced (in our special studies of Plato as an educator) by the expressed pedagogical doctrines of the Republic, Meno, etc. In short, even when we know and remind ourselves of the integrity of these elements, our modern scholarly predispositions, which begin from their separation, make this integrity extremely difficult to grasp. And much is lost as a result.

Some of the dialogues have fared better than others in resisting these predispositions. The philosophical interpreter of certain middle dialogues, especially, can hardly overlook their rich dramatic character (one thinks of the Protagoras, Symposium, and Gorgias) or focal pedagogical thrust (the Meno and Phaedrus come to mind). Yet this very prominence of form and function can lead to the opposite problem, the emphasis of these to the exclusion of content. Many of the early dialogues, especially, have suffered from this tendency. Their portraiture and drama is so vivid, and their argumentation so pointedly elenchtic, that one too easily reads them as mere drama or as mere exercises in Socrates' negative pedagogy, to the neglect of their philosophical substance. It is with the later dialogues, however, that the difficulties are both most complex and most extreme. There is a general consensus that Plato reaches a turning-point in his literary and philosophical career around the time of the writing of the Theaetetus. He seems to lose interest in the dramatic and to give us much more positive doctrine than ever before. This is not to say that critics fail to note the artistic merit of the later works, or at least, of many of them. (There is, in fact, some outspoken criticism of the Sophist and Statesman as bad art. ) The masterly analyst of Platonic rhetoric, Holger Thesleff, notes the development by the later Plato of a style which, on account of its grave and august tone as well as its density and complexity, he calls “onkos.” The difficulty, however, is that scholars of Platonic rhetoric have tended not to . . .

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