Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Selected Dialogues of Plato by Plato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hayden Pelliccia de-Victorianizes Benjamin Jowlett's translation of five writings - mis-titled Dialogues, as the Apology is almost entirely a monologue - selected for their literary representation of Aristocles. The first three dialogues are named for the interlocuter engaging Socrates.
'Dialogues' begins with an un-intimidating dialogue in Ion. This humorous and short writing has Socrates overwhelming a witless antagonist, who has such a broad definition of his art that he equates it with generalship.
The second dialogue, Protagoras, pits Socrates against the greatest sophist. This epistemological dialogue deals with the nature of virtue and justice, and is notable for Socrates promotion of the idea that no man commits evil willfully:
"All who do evil and dishonorable things do them against their will."
Following this idea through, we arrive at the idea that virtue and knowledge are synonymous, one of the core principles expressed throughout the philosophy of Plato. Protagoras and Socrates end in precisely the opposite positions they began with; Protagoras in the position that all of virtue is one identical inherent entity; and Socrates with the position that virtue, as equated with knowledge, is therefore a teachable subject.
Phaedrus is of enormous impact to the Western spiritual tradition. Plato has Socrates demonstrating, a priori, the immortality of the soul:
"Beginning itself cannot be begotten of anything. For if Beginning came out of and thus after something, then it would not exist from the beginning."
Here, as usual, Plato had difficulty grasping the fact that words are abstract symbols conveying our ideas of the universe, and that as such they have no objective truth value. This error of arriving at empirical truths by means of reason alone more than pervades the philosophy of Plato, it is the core of his thought, and this religious approach was a major force in stunting the growth of western science for over a millenium.
As the immortal soul espoused by Plato was of enormous influence in St. Augustine's reconciliation of Neoplatonism with Christianity, it is interesting that the means prescribed by Plato for the elevation of the soul was pederasty. I resist a cheap joke at the expense of the clergy with some reluctance.
The crescendo of Plato's literary genius is reached in the Symposium, a work comprising seven monologues on the nature of Love (personified) and the lesser plebeian love, as well as the nature of beauty. Beauty is first apprehended by the eye, which leads us to the form of an eternal, unchanging, perfect beauty of which only the intellect is capable of grasping through (what else) philosophy.
This collection is a well-annotated and readable sampling of writings from the philosopher who influenced Western thought more than any other.
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