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520 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Die Wissenscha]t vom Guten und Bosen: Interpretationen zu Platons "Charmides.'" By Bernd Witte. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1970. Pp. 166) Despite its title, the book is intended as an interpretation of the Charmides as a whole. There is a discussion of previous scholarship, a section on the changes in the concept of sophrosyne (with special reference to Thucydides and Tragedy), discussion of the dramatic setting, dating, etc. There is a useful index of passages cited and a short bibliography . Although indicative of considerable learning on the part of the author, this book is rather disappointing. Witte seems to be preoccupied with chasing after historical and literary parallels and (supposed) allusions to the almost complete exclusion of philosophical analysis and interpretation. His method results in a distortion of the evidence and the neglect of the most important philosophical questions which are raised by the dialogue. Witte dissents from the commonly accepted opinion that the Charmides was written during the decade after Socrates' death and presents an elaborate case for the 380's. His arguments, while often ingenious, are essentially a priori and are hardly convincing. Not only is the dialogue held to be late in date, it is also late in doctrine. Plato's real intention in his discussion of the possibility of serf-referential terms (167cff.) is to discuss the soul, as is supposedly shown by x[vTlotg&vxCa~v~lv xLw~ (168e9-10) (p. 123). This despite the fact that Plato seems to go out of his way to cast doubt upon the possibility of such a conception and certainly does not, by any stretch of the imagination, de]end it. Since the discussion of such a central concept is veiled, the passage must be understood against the background of an "esoteric teaching." The "great man" (referred to at 169al2 ) is Plato himself. In like manner, the introductory discussion presents an apotheosis of Socrates, accomplished by a complicated three-fold structure (Socrates as 'brave soldier', 'temperate lover' and 'philosophical doctor of the soul') which would only be evident to the "initiates," who would be conversant with its "esoteric sense" (p. 62). Utilization of strictly literary methods leads, at times, to blatant fantasy. The dialogue, according to Witte, takes place "under the shadow of death" (p. 139). Why? Because the Palaistra of Taureas, the scene of the Charmides, is near the Temple of Basile, dedicated to Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Socrates, who is just returning from the "deadly" battle before Potidaea bringing the doctrine of Zalmozis, must be understood as a herald from the realm of the dead, a shaman returning to impart his other-worldly wisdom and tidings of immortality to his friends. In short, there is a very explicitly defined "eschatological myth" implied by the framework of the dialogue, whose details may be confirmed by references to Herodotus and Tragedy. All this is again brought into connection , as a "mythical prefiguration," with the "esoteric circle of the Academy and their teaching of the immortality of the soul" (p. 145). Witte seems so intent on outlining the intricate framework within which the dialogue takes place that he forgets about the dialogue itself. There is almost no discussion of the logical structure of the complicated argumentation which occurs throughout the latter half of the dialogue, no attempt to disentangle the fallacies (e.g., the ambiguity of "knowing what one knows," the conflation of purely formal relations with psychological activities , the confusion between "knowledge of knowledge" and "knowledge of itself," to mention only a few). In one place (p. 110) Witte does refer to the perplexing transition from episteme heautou to episteme heautes, but denies that the transition takes place-why , he does not make clear. Surely one of the most important tasks faced by an interpreter of the Charmides is to identify and characterize the fallacies which occur within it and to attempt to ascertain their significance for the dialogue. But Witte makes very few judgments upon the validity of the arguments, contenting himself for the most part with historical remarks. BOOK REVIEWS 521 Incidentally, "Wissenschaft" is misleading as a translation of episteme in the Charmides --it should be simply rendered as "Wissen." Although justified...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 520-521
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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