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Book Reviews Gerald A. Press, editor. Plato'sDialogues:New Studies and Interpretations. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993. Pp. ix + 275. Cloth, $58.5o. Paper, $23.5o. The essays in this volume argue that Plato's dialogues should be read as dramas. This does not mean that they do not contain philosophy. It does mean, however, that they cannot be treated as slightly disguised philosophical treatises. The dramatic approach arises from a perception that Plato transformed Socratic dialectic not by using it as a means of ascent to a set of philosophical doctrines, but, on the contrary, by turning it into a method for inducing the sort of reflectiveness about the human condition that characterizes high art. On this view, Plato sought to inherit the educational role that to his mind had been bungled by the Attic tragedians and comedians. Accordingly, the dialogues should be approached in the way we interpret plays: thought and speech reveal character, plot dictates meaning, and the author, rather than using his characters as mouthpieces, disappears ventriloquisticaUy behind his own creation. The dramatic approach is not new. It was pioneered by Friedrich Schleiermacher. Such influential teachers as Jacob Klein, Leo Strauss, and Paul Friedl~inder brought versions of Schleiermacherism to America during the intellectual migration of the thirties and forties. It is especially intriguing to learn from several essays in this volume , however, that a brand of Schleiermacherism had already been implanted in America by the German-educated Frederick A. Woodbridge (see his The Son ofApoUo), who passed it on to pragmatic naturalists like Dewey and John Hermann Randall, who in turn transmitted it to their students, and, either directly or indirectly, to many of the contributors to this collection. As these essays reveal, the sort of dramatism characteristic of Woodbridge's tradition differs from versions advocated by the emigr~smentioned above. Proponents of the dramatic approach can and do take comfort in the rather convincing arguments of Holger Thesleff, who has contributed two essays to the collection , to the effect that stylometric analyses provide no clear, independent support for any scheme of dating the dialogues. By implication, they provide no support for various developmental hypotheses, including those that represent Plato as shifting from one philosophical view to another under the impulsion of criticism. The lesson is that interpreters should rely instead on internal readings of the dialogues. In a useful programmatic essay, Press identifies a number of interpretive principles that can guide this enterprise. These are "holism," according to which the literary integrity of each dialogue is sufficient in itself to screen off facile reconstructions of Plato's alleged [509] 510 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY 1995 development, and to draw attention instead to the way in which Plato's oeuvre as a whole encodes an internal system of dramatic dating centered generally around the life of Socrates; "contextualism," according to which Plato's dialogues are to be understood (~ la Quentin Skinner) in terms of the original situation that circumscribed the intentions of both author and audience; and "organicism," according to which each dialogue is assumed to have a structural integrity in which various elements play a mutually supporting role. Taken together, these assumptions describe a research program that is welcome in part because it searches for middle ground between fashionable brands of postmodern literary interpretation, which assume that the apparent organic integrity of any work of art must always be presumed to mask something unsettling, duplicitous, or ideological , and, on the other hand, the decontextualized and doctrinally-oriented approach to Plato taken by some analytic philosophers. The implicit objection to analytic Platonism, as we might call it, goes beyond the claim that its practitioners are sometimes a bit tonedeaf to the literary aspects of Plato's works. Its force is that the analytic school must, in the nature of the case, deny that "expressive form [is] constitutive of the effectiveness of Plato's dialogues," as Victorino Tejera puts its (x36; my italics). Most of the chapters bring one or more of Press's principles to bear on how particular dialogues achieve dramatic effect. Kevin Robb, for example, uses contextualism to show that Socrates' interactions with young aristocrats in Phaedrus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 509-511
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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