The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

By Martin Puchner | Go to book overview

4
Dramatic Philosophy

In the previous chapters, I approached the conjunction of drama and philosophy from the side of drama, showing how Plato’s original invention of a dramatic philosophy gave rise to the Socrates play and then to an important Platonic strain in modern drama. In the two remaining chapters, I will approach the conjunction of drama and philosophy from the side of philosophy. When I began this project, I expected the philosophical inheritor of Plato’s drama to be the philosophical dialogue itself. More and more, however, it has become clear to me that many philosophical dialogues lack Plato’s dramatic imagination. For me, the test of whether a philosophical dialogue is Platonic is that it must be written with the theater in mind. Most philosophical dialogues since Plato fail this test. From Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei to George Berkeley and David Hume, philosophers use the dialogue merely to give voice to opposed positions, one of which is destined from the beginning to win (this is sometimes the case with Plato as well, though not the core of his dramatic technique). Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, one being Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, to which Wilde (another exception) refers in one of his own dialogues. Also noteworthy are the dialogues of Denis Diderot, who uses characters, situations, and the theatrical potential of the dialogue form to the fullest, creating parodies, imitations, and inversions in his satirical but also philosophical sketches. But Lucian and Diderot, as well as other practitioners of genuinely theatrical dialogues such as Wilde and Brecht, did not by themselves convince philosophers to write with the theater in mind.

It is hardly surprising that philosophers would not embrace the dramatic potential of the dialogue form given their long-standing distrust of the theater. Only gradually, over the course of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, did influential philosophers rethink this distrust in fundamental ways and begin to use the theater as a privileged vehicle for thought. This development, the overcoming of what is sometimes called

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The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1 - The Poetics of the Platonic Dialogue 3
  • 2 - A Brief History of the Socrates Play 37
  • 3 - The Drama of Ideas 73
  • 4 - Dramatic Philosophy 121
  • 5 - The New Platonists 173
  • Epilogue - Dramatic Platonism 193
  • Appendix 1 - Socrates Titles 199
  • Appendix 2 - Charting the Socrates Play 209
  • Notes 211
  • Bibliography 237
  • Index 245
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