In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews189 PlatonicPiety:PhUosophy andRitualin Fourth-CenturyAthens , by Michael L. Morgan; ? & 273 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, $28.50. Thisbookattempts to situate Plato's middle dialogues—particularly, the Meno, the Phaedo, the Symposium, the Republic, and the Phaedrus—in the historical context of fourth-century Athenian religion. Morgan hopes to do for Plato's middle dialogues what Quentin Skinner has done for Hobbes—a "rethinking" of a great philosopher in his historical context (pp. ? and 5). Morgan's principle of historical interpretation—that predecessors influence their descendants as those descendants see them, not as we do (p. 7)—suggests to me a correlative principle: that historical contexts influence authors as those authors see them, not as we do. By this second principle, our concern should be with Plato's perception of his context rather than our reconstruction of that context from other sources. Thus, if we want to know about the influence of Greek religion on Plato, our best sources are Plato's writings. Accordingly, we might expect a book like this to be primarily a work of exegesis. Morgan, however, relies heavily on twentieth-century secondary sources to reconstruct historical context—e.g., I. M. Lewis (1971), Gernet (1981), and Lloyd-Jones (1971, 1983) for the role and message of the Pythian oracle (p. 10); Mikalson (1983) and Burkert (1985) for popular beliefs about divine foreknowledge and providence (p. 195, nn. 13-14). Morgan emphasizes his reliance on such contemporary historical studies : "Whatever novelty the book may have lies in its attempt to synthesize their results in order to try to situate historically investigation of the development of Plato's epistemology" (p. 6). At the same time, he does attend to the actual texts ofthe dialogues, devoting a chapter each to five ofthem. There is a wealth ofscholarship here—54 pages ofendnotes on 192 pages oftext, and the selected bibliography is extensive. In short, the book is an impressive amalgam of information , but the style is digressive, proceeding from one thing to another, without a unifying structure always evident to the reader. For instance, the chapters seem to be divided into sections marked by extra spacing and initial capitals, but the rationale for these divisions is not always clear. Headings and subheadings might help the reader to follow the author's train of thought. How important for Plato was the immortality of the soul? In Morgan's view, perhaps somewhat overstated, as he admits, the middle dialogues are "not concerned with epistemology or metaphysics in any explicit or thematic way." Rather, "Plato's epistemological and metaphysical thinking, as we call them, are aspects of his appropriation and development of a certain mode of piety [specifically , human aspiration to divine status, i.e., immortality]" (pp. 2-3). Plato's piety is contrasted with other approaches to religion prominent in fourthcentury Athens: the more traditional "Delphic" view which emphasized the unbridgeable gap between mortals and the immortal gods, on the one hand, 190Philosophy and Literature and the irrational, enthusiastic newer cults (Orphic, Bacchic, etc.) on the other. According to Morgan, Plato seeks to bridge the gap between the divine and the human, not by cultic ecstasy but by means of rational inquiry aiming at a wisdom which in some measure partakes of the divine. "There is a continuum of wisdom, not a divide between all and nothing. And if this lifetime affords insufficient opportunity to do more than begin the quest, then we are bound to adopt a doctrine ofthe soul's immortality in order to ensure time for further stages" (p. 12). What sort of "ensuring" does Morgan have in mind here? He seems to mean somediing like "reassuring" ourselves that our efforts devoted to the "quest" are not in vain. But wouldn't this reduce Plato's belief in the soul's immortality to mere wishful thinking? Plato does indeed offer arguments for immortality: "What was a religious postulate or assumption for Socrates . . . here [in the Phaedo] becomes an object of rational thought" (p. 55). Yet Morgan makes no brief for the soundness of these arguments, and he agrees with Annas (and many others) that the Republic's argument for immortality is "embarrassingly flawed" (p. 125). Of the Phaedrus...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 189-190
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.