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Book Reviews Ronna Burger, The Phaedo, a Platonic Labyrinth. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, Pp, x + ~88, $~5.oo, cloth. The Phaedo is regarded by most philosophers as vintage Middle Plato. Here are presented in the clearest terms the classic separation of Forms from things, of knowledge from perception. Imprisoned in the body, the soul can merely perceive; freed, it can, by direct contact with Forms, know. The task of the philosopher is to prepare for death (separation of soul from body) by ascetic withdrawal. Four arguments establish that soul is immortal, that it will survive the separation and realize its true end. Much of this doctrine is Pythagorean, but no less Middle Platonic for this reason. The statement may be extreme, but clear echoes in the Republic, Symposium, and especially the Phaedrus, secure its status. So the tradition. Not so Ronna Burger. For her, Plato's aim in the Phaedo is not to support the position sketched, but to counter it. "Genuine" philosophers may believe that soul is separable from body, that ascetic shunning of body is the proper preparation for death, that after death soul will experience the delights of direct contact with the Forms. Plato, however, carefully distinguishes Socrates from such "genuine" philosophers . The first half of the dialogue presents arguments for traditional, Pythagorean immortality. The second half presents Socrates's contrasted philosophic approach . The separation that he espouses is that ofse/f(the ensouled body) from logos, a separation which Burger finds expressed in the "second sailing" explanation of cause and in the ensuing final argument for his very different conception of immortality , where soul functions not as mind but as bringer of life to the body. The transition point--right at the center--is Socrates's warning Phaedo against the danger of misology, a danger risked particularly by those who attempt the sorts of proof he has just been rehearsing. Burger has a wonderfully fertile mind and supports her imaginative thesis with a close reading, extremely sensitive to nuance. And there is much that is attractive in this reading. Plato is absolved of responsibility for weak arguments for immortality; the interpreter does not have to struggle to integrate doctrines of knowledge being only of the Forms and being achieved only through recollection. Burger marshalls impressive support for her thesis by attention to detail and structure. Thus, the contrast of mytho~ and logos which roughly characterizes the two halves of the dialogue she finds foreshadowed in the two interpretations Socrates affords of the relationship of pleasure and pain in its opening frame; the dialogue opens with the word autos (self), underscoring the inseparability of body and soul central to Soc- [547] 548 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 24:4 OCTOBER i986 rates's positive account of philosophy; the usually accepted parallels of soul with fire and three in the final argument are convincingly differentiated; she nicely marks structural cadences by calling attention to shifts from direct to indirect discourse. Still, her thesis is not completely convincing. I can accept much of the fancy footwork it necessitates: We must distinguish what will satisfy Socrates's Pythagorean interlocutors from what will satisfy the reader of this Platonic dialogue. I am sympathetic with her suggestion that Plato is dissatisfied with modelling knowledge on direct grasp of the Forms. There is no doubt that Plato became dissatisfied with this model in his later writings, a point nicely illuminated in Burger's earlier, excellent book on the Phaedrm.' My sympathy is tempered, however, by the fact that Burger makes no effort to place the Phaedo in the context of Plato's writings as a whole. She freely cites other dialogues to support her interpretations, but reading this book one would not have the slightest inkling that there is a controversy in Platonic scholarship concerning the development and possible change in Plato's thought, particularly in his theory of Forms. This is particulary disturbing in light of the fact that Burger manages to say very litde about this theory. We learn that Socrates urges us to "replace investigation of the beings themselves with investigation of their truth" (147) through logoi, but also that the ~ (Forms) are "the truth of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 547-548
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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