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180Philosophy and Literature Plato's Parmenides: The Conversion ofthe Soul, by Mitchell H. Miller; xi & 299 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, $30.00. You have to take your hat off to anyone who writes a book-length study of Plato's Parmenides. There is the notorious "second half" which all but the most devoted students of Plato regard as impenetrable. There is the daunting literature on the Third Man Argument. And there are difficulties in trying to connect the Parmenides to the rest of the Platonic corpus. Typically, scholars deal with these problems by ignoring one or more of them and focusing on a narrow set of issues. With this background, one can appreciate why Miller's book is a success; he offers an interpretation according to which the dialogue is a unified piece of work that marks a turning point in Plato's metaphysics. Miller's writing is lucid and straightforward. There is litde pretense and almost no scholarly posturing. He gets right to the point and moves through the dialogue with apparent ease. There are sustained discussions of Cornford, Cherniss, Vlastos, Owen, Brumbaugh , Allen, and Sayre in the footnotes. There is litde doubt that the book represents a significant contribution. Miller opens with some general observations about reading a Platonic dialogue . The dialogues are distinguished by dramatic irony. When a philosopher confronts a nonphilosopher, the former holds back from giving authoritative criticism and instead "puts the interlocutor on stage for himself" (p. 5). This enables the interlocutor to confront his own ignorance and discover for himself the need to do philosophy. The challenge to the audience is largely the same. According to Miller: "the hearer is invited to recognize himself, actually or potentially, in the figure on stage" (p. 5). Put otherwise, the interlocutor is invited to recognize and eventually overcome the errors and confusions into which his answers have trapped him. In the case of the Parmenides, the errors to be overcome derive from the way Plato presents the theory of forms in the Republic. There Socrates makes ample use of similies and analogies. Miller accounts for this by saying that Socrates presents the theory in terms familiar to his nonphilosophical interlocutors— terms which refer to prereflective experience. Such terminology is sufficient to get Glaucon and Adeimantus to see what the theory is about. But it will not stand up under logical scrutiny and therefore cannot be taken as an adequate expression of the level reached by die mature philosopher. Miller does an excellentjob ofconnecting the early portions ofthe Parmenides with the Republic. I would have liked to see more attention given to the Phaedo, but the fact remains that Miller's presentation is insightful. With respect to Socrates' initial presentation ofthe theory offorms in the Parmenides, Miller writes, "The effect of all of this on the hearer of the dialogue—and in particular on the young Academician who finds himself mirrored by Socrates—is well calculated. Be- Reviews181 cause Parmenides affirms Socrates' assertion of forms, the hearer will not reject the theory of forms; yet because the youthful Socrates is genuinely perplexed by Parmenides' questions, the hearer cannot accept the theory as Socrates presendy affirms it" (p. 43). The hearer must develop a formal vocabulary with a precise account of distinctions like one/many, same/other, is/is not, part/whole in order to save the theory from Parmenides' objections. The book ends with an epilogue in which Miller discusses some unanswered questions. One of these concerns the Parmenides' silence on the form which the Republic singles out for special attention. The conversion of the soul in the Republic is toward the brightest of things: the Good. If the hypotheses in the Parmenides occasion this conversion, why is the Good ignored? Miller admits that his reading of die Parmenides leaves open two lines of interpretation: (a) the development of the theory of forms has progressed to a point where the primacy of the Good has been dropped, or (b) the Good is conspicuous by its absence, an absence which implies criticism of the hypothetical training displayed in the Parmenides. I prefer the second alternative. So I wish Miller's reading did not lend itself to either...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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