- Plato on the Value of Philosophy by Tushar Irani
Irani takes a strongly thematic and interpretive approach to Plato's dialogues by working through a system of interdependent concepts and arguments that are central to understanding Plato's views on philosophy, its value, and methods. One may approach the network of themes in various ways, but a natural starting point is with the preface, introduction, and Irani's description of the book as "primarily a work of interpretation" (ix) of two Platonic dialogues that constitute its subject matter, the Gorgias and Phaedrus.
In the introduction, Irani sets up a frame conversation based on the Phaedo (88c–91c) in which Socrates urges those in his company to resist feeling hatred for arguments (misology), using the analogy of feeling hatred for people (misanthropy) when they fail to meet one's expectations. The topic is specific to the arguments and counter-arguments used in the dialogue, the drama of Socrates's attitude toward death, and the inadequacy of argumentation to prove the immortality of the soul. The point about the value of philosophical argument is useful because it will reinforce a core theme: one's attitude toward philosophical discourse and argument reflects upon one's attitude toward one's fellow human beings (3–4). Other parts of the introduction are useful in providing historical and political context with regard to rhetoric during Socrates's lifetime and the advances of rhetorical theory made during Plato's career.
The advantage of the introduction is that it makes for a delightful, fresh, and informative approach to the preliminaries needed to set up the thesis for the book. The disadvantage is that Irani relegates his explanation of the argument of his book to a minimal presentation of his ideas and proposed plan to defend his thesis (18–25). He does not, as far as I can tell, put forward an interpretive strategy or working assumptions for reading a Platonic dialogue, nor does he engage directly with any significant issues about what it means to interpret Plato's intentions in writing dialogues. It is a major part of his thesis, however, to propose that Plato's views on the soul and their relevance to the themes of love, dialectic, and rhetoric in the Phaedrus are needed as a supplement to justify what was left unexplained in the Gorgias (20–21).
Given the complexity of the subject matter and lengthy trail of shifting Platonic concepts, the book needs better signposts to guide the reader, and a concise explanation of the meaning of key phrases. The phrase "conventional rhetoric" and its cognates, which is perhaps a reasonable but oblique substitute for sophistic rhetoric, is used extensively and indexed under 'rhetoric,' though the sense in which the term 'conventional' is used is not adequately described. The main points of contrast between the rhetorical and philosophical ethos (4–6) must be gathered from the discussion across several early chapters.
The overall structure of the book is straightforward. Besides the introduction, there are four chapters on the arguments, in conjunction with the motivations of power and pleasure, which drive the rhetorical practices and ways of life chosen by the three interlocutors of the Gorgias. The next four chapters are devoted to interpreting the three rhetorical speeches in the Phaedrus and their implications. Lysias's display speech on behalf of the non-lover is rivaled by Socrates's speech, proposing a better alternative due to its methodological features and moral-psychological content. Socrates recants his first speech with his palinode speech [End Page 747] in praise of love. Irani puts the right emphasis on exploring the intricacies of friendship and love between Socrates and Phaedrus, with Socrates leading Phaedrus forward, by means of both speeches, to grasp and appreciate the higher levels of philosophical love and discourse. With regard to the palinode speech, chapter 6 provides a helpful bridge to assist the reader's understanding of the concept of beauty and the vital roles that platonic forms, knowledge, and the process of recollection have for interpreting the imagery of...