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Ronald Hathaway EXPLAINING THE UNITY OF THE PLATONIC DIALOGUE Many philosophers have written dialogues or in quasi-dialogue form, but in none but Plato's case has the double aspect of die dialogue — as work of philosophy and as artwork — been so keenly sensed as to raise a serious question about the relation between the two aspects, about the looseness or tightness offit between them. Some insist that the two aspects are irreducibly different even after the implications of interlocking relations between the two have been worked out — a position that I call exegetic dualism. Others — exegetic monists — have argued for what they call "the essential unity of a Platonic dialogue." ' What the monists mean is not clear, but perhaps it is this: there is just one best explanation of all of the significant elements of the Platonic dialogue. There are many explanations of Plato's choice oí the dialogue (Plato's political caution, the form of Socratic elenchus, the elusive or incomplete nature of philosophical accounts, dialogue as psychological therapy, good pedagogy, and so on),2 but none under current discussion justifies exegetic monism. For while they are all valid and illuminating, none of them blocks die dualist from appealing to unexplained aestíietic features that appear to be significant elements of the dialogues. In what follows, I develop an explanation diat doesjustify exegetic monism. I also claim that no weaker explanation could justify it. My explanation is developed in four stages: Plato's conception of products of image-craft, Plato's use of models in philosophical inquiry, micro-dialogues within the finished macro-dialogues, and the emergence of dialogue itself as a model and a constraining frame. My aim is to restrict the explanatory framework to one that might plausibly be understood by Plato himself. I do this not in order to attribute intentions to Plato but in order to keep the explanation close to the texture of the dialogues. The monism that I would advocate is moderate in one way. No one could deny that at some level Plato's dialogues have purely aesthetic qualities that serve no discernible philosophical purposes (like die avoidance of hiatus). This is not an open door to the dualist, however, since I 195 196Philosophy and Literature assume that what must be explained in the monistic view is how Plato's dialogues as wholes, including their external imagistic frames and internal imagistic developments, can have grown directly out of Plato's own conception of philosophical inquiry. I begin by considering three approaches to artfulness and philosophy in Plato's dialogues. Plato's artfulness has been likened to many arts: tragedy,3 comedy,4 mime,5 satire,6 music,7 even architecture.8 Sparse ancient testimony about Plato's youdiful poetic compositions 9 feeds this search for anodier art or genre which might be said to control, or to be the ancestor of, his art in the dialogues, as it also supports the old hackneyed view that Plato was an artist-philosopher who turned to dialogue to memorialize Socrates. Verses attributed to Plato (which may or may not be authentic) contribute to all of this. 10 Yet no one has integrated the scanty ancient testimony into a convincing general interpretation of the dialogues. If Plato's artfulness is an "artform," as Wilamowitz says, it is an artform unto itself— it is not parasitic on some other artform. The dual aspect position adopted by Wilamowitz and others supposes diat die art-aspect stands in an ancestral relation to the philosophy-aspect (as a biographical and social "influence"), and I therefore call it the historicist approach. Two other approaches deserve attention: diat of the stylometrists and diat of Klein's monistic interpretation ofthe dialogues as Socratic mimes. The view that Plato's artfulness is somehow reducible to his style and that his style is reducible to treatment by quantitative linguistics has been influential. To a few it has seemed even diat there are genuine entailments from stylometric "theorems" to Plato's philosophical thinking.11 To claim that Plato's art is essentially linked to the texture(s) of his use of language is both to utter a truism and to imply something deeper. But the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 195-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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