Introduction
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Introduction This will be a book about the question of beauty in the Platonic dialogues, but as Plato himself will make abundantly clear, the question of beauty cannot be adequately addressed except within a context of a whole host of other issues. Hegel may be the modern philosopher who best articulated the recognition that a consideration of any moderately rich issue as if it stood by itself, without a consideration of its connection to other issues that contribute to what it is, is the very meaning of ‘‘abstractness,’’ but it was Plato who first exhibited that recognition in his dialogues. He did so in myriad ways, and certainly paradigmatically with the question of beauty. Indeed, we might begin our study with a reflection on one of the great mysteries of the dialogues: the question of what issues Plato decides to take up more or less explicitly, by contrast to those many other, no less crucial issues which are not addressed thematically, focally, but are allowed to arise in the context of other issues. Let us consider briefly some of the ways in which he does this. Begin with those many dialogues that do seem to address an issue focally. They are of at least two sorts. The first and most explicit are those dialogues often referred to as ‘‘definitional’’ dialogues, where a given topic—courage, friendship, piety, knowledge—is pursued apparently with the goal of arriving at an unimpeachable ‘‘definition’’ of the topic in question. Such dialogues—the Laches, Lysis, Euthyphro, and Theaetetus among others—can give the impression that Plato, or rather the Platonic Socrates, believed that such issues could indeed be 2 ⭈ plato and the question of beauty addressed atomically, by themselves, with minimal reference to other issues, and that such address could be literally definitive, resulting in an adequate definition. That these dialogues—and we shall have occasion to address one, the Hippias Major, in some detail—always fail of their apparent goal is by no means an unimportant consideration in this regard. And that failure, particularly in the case of the e√ort in the Hippias Major to adequately define auto to kalon, ‘‘beauty itself,’’ will prove crucial to our understanding of how this theme is addressed in the other dialogues we shall consider in detail, the Symposium and Phaedrus. There is a second way, however, in which issues such as eros, recollection, form, and beauty are addressed focally in dialogues. These issues are addressed in considerable depth and focally, each in several dialogues, but—and this is the crucial di√erence from the first set of focal issues—not (at least after the failure of the Hippias Major) with a goal of arriving at a definition. What is especially striking here is that one might argue that issues such as eros, recollection, form, and beauty are treated in even greater depth, in more dialogues, and in more ways than are the ‘‘definitional’’ issues—‘‘justice’’ in the Republic would be an obvious and complicated exception—yet without the apparent goal of ‘‘defining ’’ the issue in question in any strict sense. For no doubt complicated reasons that we will have to consider in detail, what knowledge we gain from these considerations concerning eros, recollection, or beauty is somehow other than that knowledge which could be articulated as a definition. Third, however, there is a significant set of issues about which we learn much in the dialogues, issues such as truth (aletheia), trust (pistis), language (logos), or responsibility. These issues are never addressed thematically as the direct object of investigation, whether with the goal of definition or of focal knowledge. Yet who could deny that such issues are very much at play in the dialogues, and that we are given to think on them as we consider almost any dialogue? One might add as a fourth set of issues those about which, in any explicit sense at all, the dialogues seem to be silent: what Heidegger liked to call the ‘‘unsaid’’ in the thinking of the dialogues. There are at least two modes of such silence with very di√erent meanings. On the one hand, there is the silence of total absence, issues of philosophic importance that we might be tempted to say that Plato ‘‘failed to address’’ or ‘‘missed’’ in his writing. Given the thematic breadth of the dialogues, it is hard to name many examples here, but some have suggested various historically determined...


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