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Book Reviews The Unity o/the Platonic Dialogue. By Rudolph H. Weingartner. (Indianapolis: BobbsMerrill , 1973. Pp. x + 205) The stated purpose of this volume ~is to show that the Platonic dialogues are unities in that the dramatic context of each dialogue determines the meaning of the component parts and that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" (4). It is further alleged that the unity is not merely dramatic but also philosophic--that "Plato does speak to his readers through his dialogues" (6). The author claims that one cannot support this general thesis directly, since it can be substantiated only through the examination of individual dialogues. Three dialogues are examined in the present work: Cratylus, Protagoras and Parmenides. However, there is not a concluding chapter after these studies in which one could have presented whatever generalizations concerning Plato's method and style might be warranted . Perhaps nothing can be said as a consequence of the studies which was not apparent before them. At least Professor Weingartner's further comments about what precisely "dramatic unity" is seem to indicate as much. The 'unity' is apparently reducible to the requirement that the components of each dialogue fulfill "an author's purpose" (10) rather than merely being episodes in an imaginary chronicle. In the case of the Parmenides the 'dramatic' character is said to reside in the mere fact that the significance of all the arguments there presented is greater than that of their individual conclusions (12). This thesis seems relatively trivial. Would it not hold for any complex work (i.e., one having several arguments or other parts) that has a single theme and is reasonably well-written? For example, the Critique o~ Pure Reason would seem to satisfy the criterion. However, the choice of dialogues to be analyzed is rather apropos, since it has sometimes been alleged that each of these dialogues, either in whole or in part, is little more than entertainment , character sketching, or a display of method and virtuosity. To that extent, to show that in each case the parts contribute to the realization of a central purpose would not be without significance. The central purpose of the Cratylus, according to Professor Weingartner, is the rejection of views of naming, Hermogenes' and Cratylus', which would make dialectic impossible, and the defense of a view, Socrates', which is perfectly suited to it (16). 'Dialectic' is assumed to be Plato's method of philosophizing and is said to require that philosophy be done by conversing with others. It is further alleged that "the entire body of Platonic writings is a monumental demonstration of philosophy's 'communal character'" (21). This seems to be an overstatement of an important truth. The dialogues often show Socrates or other leading characters making progress, in the absence of significant discussion with others, by conversing with themselves, or by orations to which others merely nod assent. Nor should it be forgotten that Plato is a writer of dialogues and that authoring dialogues is not normally done "in the company of others." The truth is that for Plato thought does apparently take the/orm of discourse (Soph., 263E) and thus is not reducible to the fixity of dogma. Since the positions of Hermogenes and Cratylus would make even the "inward discourse" of the mind with itself impossible, the dialogue at least has the purpose here attributed to it. But does it not have a more ambitious purpose, to which Professor Weingartner is insensitive not only because he holds the curious belief that the forms cannot be a central topic in any dialogue prior to the Parmenides (33, 146), but also, ironically, because he 1 Page citations from Weingartner's book are given in parentheses. Citations from Plato are similarly indicated, with the addition of the marginal letter, e.g., 383A. [247] 248 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ignores the native dramatic structure of the dialogue? He divides the dialogue into five parts, presented in a different order from their occurrence in the text: the views of Hermogenes (383A-385A), Cratylus (427D--438E), and Socrates (385B-390D), the etymologies (390D--427D), and a coda (439A--440E). This artificial ordering destroys Plato's plot and obscures the main...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 247-250
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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