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Book Reviews Andrea Wilson Nightingale, Genresin Dialogue:Plato and the ConstructofPhilosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xiv + ~a~. Cloth, $49.95. This is an important and timely book. Nightingale argues that notwithstanding Socrates ' remarks about dialectic as the philosophical mode of discourse, Plato uses traditional genres in constructing philosophy. Key to her argument are two notions. The first is that prior to Plato, 'philosophy' referred to intellectual cultivation in the broad sense and consequendy, poets, sophists, playwrights, and orators had claim to the title "philosopher." The second is that "genres of discourse" be understood as referring not only to artistic forms or styles, but also to "forms of thought" that represent and conceptualize some aspects of experience better than others; therefore, "an encounter between two genres within a single text is itself a kind of dialogue" (3). Nightingale uses 'genre' interchangeably with 'discursive practice' and acknowledges as her intellectual forbearers M. Bakhtin, T. Todorov, and G. B. Conte, and not contemporary postmodernists , although all of these thinkers may overlap in their notions of discursive practices . Nightingale distinguishes her position from postmodernism because of its tendency to treat Plato as an enemy, and in so doing, to ignore his use of intertextuality in constructing philosophy. Of course, viewing Plato in this way is a consequence of philosophers' refusal to take seriously that Plato chose to write dialoguesand to consider carefully what this choice meant in the context of the cultural practices of classical Greece. It is an odd mistake for postmodernists to make, but by no means a mistake confined to postmodernism. What makes Nightingale's book timely and important, among other things, is her insistence that Plato incorporates into the dialogues traditional Greek discursive practices as a means of contesting their claim to wisdom and authority in classical Athens. Thus she maintains that a genre conveys a certain set of ideas by means of its "specific discursive style and structure," the context of its performance, "and by the ways in which it is implicated in the social and political institutions of Athenian democracy" (9). In the chapter on Plato, Isocrates, and the property of philosophy, for example, she argues that at issue in the Antidosisis whether and how philosophy forms a part of the social, economic, and political transactions of the Athenian democracy. Isocrates' response to an antidosis--a legal proceeding to adjudicate a claim against an individual 's property resulting from civic obligations which one incurs because of his wealth-is to pretend he is on trial for corrupting the youth. This echo of the Apology in an antidosisis a challenge to the Platonic conception of philosophy; Isocrates characterizes philosophy as "intellectual property" that should be counted as the most important [6151 616 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35:4 OCTOBER ~997 part of his "visible wealth" (phanera 0us/a), and in so doing, acknowledges that the practice of his profession does take the form of a private business transaction, but one that, unlike those of the sophists, has lasting value for democratic Athens (4o). Plato's Socrates, in contrast, rejects the notion that philosophy can or should be exchanged for honors, power, property, fame, or sexual pleasure, and consistently refuses to be part of any system in which knowledge is exchanged for such things. Thus he insists in the Apology that his "benefaction [to Athens] is qualitatively different from those of other benefactors .... [H]e bestows real blessings whereas the others offer 'seeming' blessings " (49). And thus does Alcibiades remind us in the Symposium that his offer to exchange his "beauty" for Socrates' "beauty" was rebuffed by Socrates as an offer of bronze for gold, echoing, Nightingale notes, the exchange of armor between Glaucus and Diomedes in the Iliad: "... no amount of Alcibiades' physical beauty will add up to the 'true' beauty of Socrates" (47). Alcibiades' reminder also serves as a Socratic response to Pausanias' claim about the exchange of sex and logoi--which he cites as a difference between cultured and "philosophical" Athenians and other more boorish peoples--and to the traditional concept of sunousia from which this claim proceeds. And thus does Socrates refuse Alcibiades who, like Pausanias, invokes the practice of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 615-616
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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