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Arthur A. Krentz DRAMATIC FORM AND PHILOSOPHICAL CONTENT IN PLATO'S DIALOGUES AN intriguing innovation in the history of philosophical discourse is Plato's employment ofdramatic dialogues as his deliberately chosen means ofcommunication . Throughout the history of philosophy scant attention has been focused on this feature of Plato's works. Recently, however, some students of Plato's writings contend that it is crucial for interpreters to give careful attention to the dialogue form in order to reach an essential understanding of the philosophical content. Thus WernerJaeger, commenting in 1934 on the importance of the form of Aristotle's philosophical works, mentions as an aside that, "Even in the case of Plato, the importance of the form for the understanding of his particular thought has often been overlooked for long periods; departmental philosophers and students ofliterature in particular are always prone to consider it as something literary which had no material significance for Plato, in spite of the fact that it is unique in die history of philosophy. By now, however, most persons know mat the study of the development of the form ofhis writing is one of me main keys to a philosophical understanding of him." ' In spite ofJaeger's contention that most contemporary interpreters of Plato are aware of the significance of investigating the dramatic form for an understanding of a dialogue's content, a survey of the literature on Plato shows that interpreters often abandon such a concern in their own approach to his dialogues. For example , many interpreters treat dialogues as treatises, ignoring the dramatic features in order to concentrate on the examination of the logical, epistemológica!, ethical or other philosophical aspects of the argumentation in a single dialogue or group ofdialogues; as a result interpreters tend to separate the content from the form of Plato's works.2 The effect of this approach is one-sided, for, although such interpretations attempt to do justice to the arguments, they ignore the dramatic features of the dialogues and their bearing on an interpretation of die philosophical substance. Currently a growing number of interpreters of Plato in Europe and North America hold that a consideration of the form of Plato's dialogues is important 32 Arthur A. Krentz33 for an understanding oftheir content and philosophical message.3 1 am in agreement with this position and in this article I consider some reasons that may have led Plato to adopt dialogue as his medium of philosophical expression and attempt to show how attention to the dialogue form shapes the interpretation of their content. Unlike his philosophical predecessors who cast their writings in the form of extended poems, aphorisms, or treatises "On Nature," Plato wrote dramas. That the dramatic form ofhis writings is not incidental to his philosophical purposes becomes apparent as one considers how Plato presents philosophy in a fundamentally different way from that of his predecessors and successors who adopted the essay and treatise as the paradigm ofphilosophical communication. In a philosophical work such as a treatise, an author ordinarily attempts to state his own position on issues under discussion as clearly and as forcefully as possible. This, however, is not the primary aim of Plato's works, for certain features of his dramas indicate that he deliberately concealed his own views. Of special note in this regard is the fact that Plato never speaks on his own behalf in the discourses he creates. There is no character named "Plato" unequivocally declaring the author's own position.4 Instead a variety of interlocutors ask questions , investigate philosophical problems, and puzzle over solutions while Plato remains noticeably silent. This silence of Plato indicates that he did not regard the unequivocal presentation of his own views to be of paramount importance. If this had been his aim, Plato had only to write a dialogue which included himselfas one ofthe characters clearly stating his own position. Having engaged in many philosophical discussions with Socrates and with his own students, Plato could have written a dialogue based on such conversations. His not doing so is sufficient to show that he did not use his writings as a primary vehicle for transmitting his own position in his own words. Nor did Plato use...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 32-47
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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