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Book Reviews Jon Moline. Plato's Theoryof Understanding. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. Pp. xvi+256. $22.oo. Contrary to what its title might Moline regards the concept of g~xtcrt~t~l, or understanding , as the "central integrating concept" of Plato's philosophy (p. ix). With this concept as his focus Moline offers a synoptic or global interpretation of Plato's dialogues that seeks to integrate Plato's earlier and later dialectic, his concept of the psyche, his theory of forms, his ideas about meaning and truth, and his political philosophy. Moline construes ~to~wq as understanding rather than knowledge because he believes that e~xtox~lx~ 1 possesses intellectual and motivational characteristics not possessed by knowledge. First, "one who has ~xtov~wq must be able to give an account" (p. 7); but this is not true of all cases of knowledge--for example, a person's knowledge that his legs are crossed (pp. 7-8). Secondly, the Socratic view that d0E~, or virtue, is ~tto~wq entails that ~rttoxx~t~ is a sufficient, as well as a necessary, condition of virtuous action (p. 21); but knowledge "has little connection with action and still less with right action" (p. 1x). Moline's translation works well when the object ofgJttoxc~Wq is a concept such as justice or beauty but not so well when its object is a proposition. "I know (o~iba)," Socrates says, "that it is bad and shameful to act unjustly and to disobey the better.. " (Apol. 29B6-7). To translate o~ba here (which Moline regards as a synonym for ~t~oxcqxctt [p. t4] ) as "I understand" would be whimsical. The book's best chapter in my opinion is the one on Plato's concept of the psyche. Moline argues convincingly that the parts of a Platonic psyche--reason, spirit, and appetite--are not faculties, if by a faculty is meant a capacity to perform a single operation (pp. 57-58). Reason does not have a corner on cognition, nor appetite on desire. Spirit and appetite have cognitive capacities--they sometimes share opinions with reason, for example (Rep. 442Clo-Dt)--and spirit and reason have appetites (Rep. 58oD7-8). Reason, spirit, and appetite are "agentlike parts" (p. 64). They differ from ordinary (and normal) persons in their monomaniacal love for one sort of thing (p. 76). Thus the only thing that appetite loves for its own sake is sensual gratification ; and whatever else it loves, such as money or property or thought, it loves as a means to such gratification (pp. 59-60). A healthy or virtuous psyche is one in which each part knows its place and is content to remain in it (is just) and as a result has achieved psychic harmony (is temperate) (p. 2o3n5; see Rep. 43oD6-E4). In such a psyche reason rules over spirit and appetite. How is it able to do this, to rule over such forceful rivals? Moline finds the answer in reason's "potential for deep psychological understanding of the other parts..." (p. 70). This understanding enables it to [551 ] 552 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 21:4 OCT 198 3 appeal effectively to what each of the other parts loves. Its instrument of control is persuasion. Hence the importance Plato assigns to rhetoric. Moline even suggests that the myths in Plato's own dialogues are addressed to the reader's spirit and appetite, not to his reason: "[Plato] may be trying not merely to inform but to reform the reader" (pp. 68-7o, 2o6n41). The most controversial chapter is the one on Plato's theory of forms. According to Moline, Plato has two models for explaining the relation between forms and particulars: the power/mixture model and the paradigm/copy model. By the former, which has its origin in Hippocratic medicine, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras (pp. 8388 , 115, 117), a Platonic form is a ~va~tg, or power; and such a 6~va~ttg "is not [as in Aristotle] a mere ability, but is rather a substance which is a power and can assert itself" (p. 94). A Platonic form is thus a "quality-thing" or "character-power" (p. 88) and is both...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 551-552
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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