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  • The Unity of Plato’s Sophist: Between the Sophist and the Philosopher
  • Rosamond Kent Sprague
Noburo Notomi . The Unity of Plato’s Sophist: Between the Sophist and the Philosopher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xxi + 346. Cloth, $64.95.

Any corrective to what might be called the "Piecemeal Plato" of the fifties and sixties is to be welcomed; Notomi's contribution to this endeavor is interesting and, I believe, basically sound. As a result of treating the Sophist as a unity, rather than yielding to the temptation to extract philosophically enticing bits, he concludes that "the basic problem of the Sophist is how to distinguish the sophist from the philosopher" (163). Definitional inquiry is suspended in the important Middle Part (236d-264b) in order to deal with the difficulties concerning appearance, image, falsehood, and what is not; Plato is then able to proceed, in the second Outer Part, to the definition of the sophist in terms of the distinction between apparition-making and likeness-making: the sophist is an apparition.

Much attention is of necessity devoted to the enigmatic sixth definition of the sophist (the "sophist of noble lineage") in the first Outer Part. Notomi thinks that Plato's initial strategy in the task of distinguishing the sophist from the philosopher was to allot the role of the philosopher to Socrates. But, Notomi writes, "this strategy might undermine his very attempt to secure philosophy . . . since people often took Socrates for a major sophist" (60-1). The Sophist therefore abandons confrontation with particular historical sophists (as in mainly earlier dialogues) in favor of a more abstract analysis in which Plato appears to be "casting serious doubt on the figure of Socrates as a philosopher" (63). "We have encountered the sophist who appears to be Socrates, and here the appearances of the sophist and the philosopher become the real issue in the Sophist" (68).

It is just at this point that Notomi, who follows Proclus in attaching importance to the prologue, where the philosopher is recognized as divine, seems to shy away from a conclusion for which he has really prepared the ground, namely, that the Eleatic visitor takes on the role of the philosopher. He does write that "the visitor from Elea . . . leads the dialogue in a more constructive manner" (i.e., than Socrates does) (63), but he could well say something much stronger. A passage which would have been much to his purpose as combining the notion of the philosopher with that of appearance, especially to the young, has been missed out; I am thinking of 265d where the visitor, having divided production into divine and human, asks Theaetetus for an important decision: are we to say, of mortal animals and so on, "that nature gives birth to them as a result of some spontaneous cause without intelligence, or shall we say that they come from a cause which, working with reason and art, is divine and proceeds from divinity?" Here Theaetetus makes a remarkable reply: "Perhaps because I am young, I often shift from one belief to the other, but at this moment, looking at your face [eis se blepô] and believing you to hold that these things have a divine origin, I too am convinced" (Cornford). In other words, the face of the visitor has something of the god-like in it, an appearance that Plato has appropriately expressed by using the verb blepô, which, with its compound apoblepô, is his verb of choice for looking at the Forms. I think that the author (perhaps made uneasy by the visitor's place of origin) has not really followed out the implications of his view that "serious doubt" has been cast on the figure of Socrates [End Page 585] as a philosopher. If not Socrates, who then? Eristic may have come out of Elea, but so did the concept of being suitable for Platonic metaphysics, and this latter is by no means unassociated with Socrates in the dialogues, as Notomi quite correctly observes. Perhaps the Eleatic visitor is either Plato himself or else a Socrates made young and beautiful.

There is much more in this book than these remarks would imply. A study of Platonic...