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106 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY DEFENDING PLATO' F. E. SPARSHOTT A man twenty-three centuries in his grave might seem beyond the reach of attack, or the need of defence. But Plato remains stubbornly a contemporary. In the last twenty years a series of violent attacks upon his political opinions and his personal character, notably by Professors W. Fite and K. Popper, has been so successful that it is now generally believed in intellectual circles that Plato was the father of fascism, and that to study his works is to be a traitor to democracy. Since these attacks take their rise in misinterpretation, misquotation , mistranslation, and neglect of evidence, it is not hard to refute them. It is largely a matter of confronting the accusations with the evidence upon which they purport to be, or ought to be, founded. This tedious task Professor Levinson has exhaustively and conclusively performed in a huge book, much of which is in fine print as footnote or appendix. His task is made harder by the fact that on those issues where Plato's thought departs from an ill-defined "liberalism" it is assumed without question that Plato has no chance at all of being right, and that one can at best find excuses to palliate his offence. This makes the book seem impartial, and hence no doubt more effective as defence; but it also makes it dull. No light whatever is cast upon the problems which Plato discusses. In its sole aim of refutation, the book succeeds. No one who studies it can believe that Plato's opponents have written with due care, or even in good faith. Yet it may fail of its effect. As the author admits, it is too long to read; we may add that it is too dear to buy. It can be used only for reference-a purpose for which it is well suited, since it has two excellent indexes, a full system of cross--references, and an enormous bibliography. But no one studious enough to use it will have been taken in by Professors Popper and Fite in the first place. In one part of his defence, Professor Levinson is plainly embarrassed . One at least of his opponents rejects Plato's statement of his opinions and claims to read "between the lines" the secrets of his black heart. When one's opponent thus acknowledges that his statements go against the only available evidence, one can hardly refute him; one can only ask how he came to be that way. Professor Levinson attempts an answer in terms of Viennese politics whose validity one may doubt and whose necessity one must deplore. But necessary it seems to be; for it is just this kind of attack which, for reasons wholly discreditable to human nature, has proved most effective. *In Defenst of Plato. By RONALD B. LEVlNSON. Cambridge: Harvard University Press [Toronto: S. J. Reginald Saunders and Company Limited], 1953. Pp. xii, 674. $13.00. REVIEWS 107 To discuss Plato's personal morality is a waste of time: the worth of an argument does not depend on the worth of the arguer. The effect of all this attacking and defending is to distract attention from the reasoning with which Plato supports his views, and to emphasize the immediate emotional reaction to them. But those of us who study Plato use his works as a basis for argument, not as dogma. To counter argument with abuse or misinterpretation is not to defend one's opinion , but to admit that no defence is possible. If democracy can be defended by reasoning, if Plato's arguments can be matched by better , the enemies of Plato are no true friends of the institutions in which they claim to believe. The book under review is an excellent antidote, but one from which none but the poisoned can expect to benefit. THE POETIC PROCESS' MILLAR MACLuRE "A poem," says Professor Whalley, "is not first conceived and then expressed; a poem in the making discovers itself to the poet." This is that kind of oracular statement the truth of which depends on how one chooses to interpret it. Anyone who has ever written anything (even a review...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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