Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato's Art of Caring for Souls

Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato's Art of Caring for Souls

Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato's Art of Caring for Souls

Politics, Philosophy, Writing: Plato's Art of Caring for Souls


The leading scholars represented in "Politics, Philosophy, Writing" examine six key Platonic dialogues and the most important of the epistles, moving from Plato's most public or political writings to his most philosophical. The collection is intended to demonstrate the unity of Plato's concerns, the literary quality of his writing, and the integral relation of form and content in his work. Taken together, these essays show the consistency of Plato's understanding of the political art, the art of writing, and the philosophical life.

Studies emphasizing the unity of Plato's lifework have given way in recent scholarship to specialized and overspecialized examinations of individual dialogues. While each of the contributors to "Politics, Philosophy, Writing" studies one text, his or her work is oriented toward illuminating the whole of Plato's project. Each of the essays is an innovative contribution to scholarship on its topic; as a collection, they constitute a unique reading of Plato's political philosophy.

Plato scholars have generally divided themselves into two camps: those who concentrate on the analytic or logical aspects of the dialogues, and those who concentrate on the literary-critical features. In one camp are the philologists and classicists, and in the other, the writers of inventive interpretive commentaries. By avoiding distinctions between Plato the poet and Plato the philosopher, "Politics, Philosophy, Writing" allows a deeper exploration of the comprehensiveness of Plato's theoretical vision and illuminates the lasting challenge of his understanding of the human condition.


The history of philosophy is not a series of footnotes to Plato. Quite the contrary: Plato is seldom more than a footnote in the works of other philosophers. In his Essays (2.12), Michel de Montaigne observed that philosophers, theologians, and “all sorts of learned authors” use references to authoritative texts—the Bible, Homer’s epics, Plato’s dialogues—as little more than rhetorical ballast for their own views: “See how Plato is tossed and turned about. All are honored to have his support, so they couch him on their own side. They trot him out and slip him into any new opinion which fashion will accept. When matters take a different turn, then they make him disagree with himself…. The more powerful and vigorous the mind of his interpreters, the more vigorously and powerfully they do it.” More recently, philosophers have not considered it an honor to have Plato couched on their side. Immanuel Kant, for instance, dismissed Plato as “the father of all Schwärmerei in philosophy.” Schwärmerei, one of Luther’s favorite terms of abuse, ranges in meaning from “enthusiasm” to “zealotry” and “fanaticism.” But a critique of Plato is not necessarily any the more accurate an understanding of his writing.

Interpretations of Plato’s dialogues need not be arbitrary, but all too often they are. In Truth and Method, one of the most important contemporary studies of the nature of interpretation, Hans-Georg Gadamer argues that “a hermeneutical situation is determined by the prejudices that we bring with us.” For Gadamer, “prejudices” are simply our given understandings, “the horizon

1. Montaigne, The Complete Essays, trans. M. A. Screech (London: Penguin, 1991), 662.

2. Kant, “Von einem neuerdings erhobenen vornehmen Ton in der Philosophie,” translated in Raising the Tone of Philosophy: Late Essays by Immanuel Kant, Transformative Critique by Jacques Derrida, ed. P. Feuves (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 62.

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