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In his sixties Plato made two visits to the court of Dionysius II in Sicily, apparently with some hopes of exercising a beneficial influence on the young despot. Both attempts were abysmal failures. But they did not deter Plato from writing extensively on politics in his last years. Statesman explores the practical knowledge the expert statesman must command. It was followed by the longest, even if not the liveliest, work he ever wrote, the twelve books of Laws, perhaps still unfinished at his death.

Evidence about Plato's life is prima facie plentiful. As well as several ancient biographies, notably that contained in book III of Diogenes Laertius' Lives of the Philosophers, we possess a collection of thirteen letters which purport to have been written by Plato. Unfortunately the biographies present what has been aptly characterized as 'a medley of anecdotes, reverential, malicious, or frivolous, but always piquant'.

As for the letters, no scholar thinks them all authentic, and some judge that none are. From the biographies it is safe enough to accept some salient points. Plato was born of an aristocratic Athenian family. He was brother to Glaucon and Adimantus, Socrates' main interlocutors in the Republic; his relatives included Critias and Charmides, members of the bloody junta which seized power in Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War. He became one of the followers of Socrates, after whose execution he withdrew with others among them to the neighbouring city of Megara.

His travels included a visit to the court of Dionysius in Sicily. On returning from Sicily to Athens he began teaching in a gymnasium outside the city, called the Academy. There is widespread scholarly agreement that the following are among Plato's earliest writings: Apology , Crito , Ion , Hippias Minor , Laches and Charmides. Apology , as we have noted, best fits into the context of the decade following Socrates' death, and so does Crito, which explores the question why he did not try to escape from the condemned cell; the others are all short treatments of questions to do with virtue and knowledge, or in the case of Ion, with expertise techn0 , and all are relatively simple in literary structure.

The brief Euthyphro and the much longer Protagoras and Gorgias with which Menexenus is often associated are usually seen as having many affinities with these, and so are put at least fairly early, although here anticipations of the style or content of the mature middle-period dialogues have also been detected. The connections in thought between Lysis , Euthydemus and Hippias Major and middle-period Plato may be argued to be stronger still, even though there remain clear similarities with the dialogues generally accepted as early.

We do not know whether Plato wrote or published anything before Socrates' death; Menexenus cannot be earlier than BC, Ion might be datable to around BC, but otherwise we can only guess. In the Socratic dialogues discussion is confined almost exclusively to ethical questions, or problems about the scope and credentials of expertise: metaphysics and epistemology and speculation about the nature and powers of the soul are for the most part notable by their absence. Use of the elenchus is prominent in them as it is not, for example, in Republic apart from book I, sometimes regarded as an early work subsequently reused as a preface to the main body of the dialogue.

The hypothesis that philosophizing in this style was the hallmark of the historical Socrates is broadly consistent with what we are given to understand about him by Xenophon, Aristotle and Plato's Apology - which is usually thought to be particularly authoritative evidence, whether or not it is a faithful representation of what Socrates really said at his trial. How historical the historical Socrates of the hypothesis actually is we shall never know.

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The conjecture that many of the Socratic dialogues are early works is likewise only a guess, which gets no secure support from stylometric evidence. None the less the story of Plato's literary and philosophical development to which it points makes such excellent sense that it has effectively driven all rival theories from the field.

The placing of individual dialogues within that story remains a matter for controversy; and doubts persist over how far interpretation of Plato is illuminated or obstructed by acceptance of any developmental pattern. With these provisos, the account which follows assumes the existence of a group of early Socratic dialogues in the sense explained.

The convenience of the description 'Socratic dialogues' should not generate the expectation of a single literary or philosophical enterprise in these writings. It conceals considerable variety, for example as between works devoted to articulating and defending the philosophical life and works which problematize Socratic thought as much as they exhibit its attractions. This distinction is not an exhaustive one, but provides useful categories for thinking about some of the key productions of Plato's early period.

Moral, or indeed existential, choice, to use an anachronistic expression, is the insistent focus of Apology. God has appointed Socrates, as he represents it to his judges, to live the philosophical life, putting himself and others under constant examination. The consistency of his commitment to this mission requires him now to face death rather than abandon his practice of philosophy, as he supposes for the sake of argument the court might require him to do.

For confronted with the choice between disobeying God that is, giving up philosophy and disobeying human dictate that is, refusing to do so , he can only take the latter option. What governs his choice is justice:. Whether death is or is not a bad thing Socrates says he does not know.

He does know that behaving wrongly and disobeying one's moral superior - whether divine or human - is bad and shameful. The demands of justice, as his conscience or 'divine sign' interpreted them, had earlier led him to choose the life of a private citizen, conversing only with individuals, rather than the political life: for justice and survival in politics are incompatible. When he did carry out the public obligations of a citizen and temporarily held office, justice again compelled him to choose the dangerous and unpopular course of resisting a proposal that was politically expedient but contrary to the law.

As for those with whom he talked philosophy, they too faced a choice: whether to make their main concern possessions and the body, or virtue and the soul; that is, what belongs to oneself, or oneself. And now the judges too must choose and determine what is just as their oath requires of them. Crito and Gorgias continue the theme in different ways. Crito has often been found difficult to reconcile with Apology when it argues on various grounds paternalistic and quasi-contractual that citizens must always obey the law, unless they can persuade it that it is in the wrong.

Hence, since the law requires that Socrates submit to the punishment prescribed by the court, he must accept the sentence of death pronounced on him. The higher authority of divine command stressed in Apology seems to have been forgotten. Gorgias , one of the longest of all the dialogues, ranges over a wide territory, but at its heart is the presentation of a choice. Socrates addresses Callicles, in whose rhetoric Nietzsche saw an anticipation of his ideal of the superman:.

The dialogue devotes enormous energy to arguing that only philosophy, not rhetoric, can equip us with a true expertise which will give us real power, that is power to achieve what we want: the real not the apparent good. Only philosophy can articulate a rational and reliable conception of happiness - which turns out to depend on justice.

Grube, G. Accessible introductory account of Plato's thought, with new introduction and bibliography by D. Guthrie, W. Irwin, T. A major philosophical study. Return to Syllabus. Return to Plato. Life Evidence about Plato's life is prima facie plentiful. What governs his choice is justice: It is a mistake to think that a man worth anything at all should make petty calculations about the risk of living or dying. His uncle Dion, having considerable influence over the malleable young man, persuaded him to send for Plato,3 and himself sent a letter emphasizing the bent of the young Dionysius for education and philosophy and suggesting that here was the opportunity to realize the ideal of the Republic and create a ruler who was also a philosopher.

In that work Plato admitted that those 1 By Cyrene, Plut. A d prine, inerud. See also Friedlander, PL 1, , and for further ancient and modern reff. Add Zeller 2. It seems, as Field says P. Isocrates charged fees and despised Sophists who charged too little. In founding his own school Plato did not take Isocrates for a model, but rather, one would think, the Pythagorean communities which he had met in S. Life in high places are particularly open to corruptive influences, so that the chances of success were indeed small. But, he pleaded, is it inconceivable that the son of a king or tyrant might have a philosophic nature, and once in the whole course of time might be enabled to preserve it?

It was not hard for Dion to shame the author of these words into returning to Sicily to help in the work of moulding the young tyrants mind, but it is quite unfair to Plato to say that his chief motive was to put his philosophical precepts into political practice. He was now about sixty, and had spent the last twenty years in philosophical inquiry and teaching. He was, says the letter, full of apprehension. He mistrusted the youthfulness of Dionysius, knowing, as he says b , the conflicting and changeable impulses of the young;2 as well he might, having himself insisted in the Republic b that immature minds were unsuited to the serious study of philosophy.

On the other hand he had great faith in the judgement of Dion, now a mature man whose intellect he admired and who had shared his own inmost thoughts and aspirations. Perhaps Dion was right, and this was the only chance to train the one man who would be enough for the letter repeats these words o f the Republic before the flatterers and tempters of a tyrant got hold of him. But more than anything else Plato was moved by that pathetic and mistaken shame which the naturally theoretical and contemplative spirit feels at failing to meet a challenge to action for which it is, in fact, entirely unsuited.

This, and a feeling that to refuse would be a betrayal of his friendship with Dion who, he thought, might be in 1 So Hammond, Hist. See pp. When therefore Plato goes on immediately b to express his fears about ot and their this must include Dionysius. So Burnet, T. But it is clear that in both intellect and character he was backward and unformed. Life o f Plato and philosophical influences actual danger from his enemies at Syracuse, constituted his chief motives for leaving my own not discreditable occupations and sub mitting myself to a tyranny which seemed unlikely to fit in either with my teaching or with myself b.

On arrival Plato found a situation about as unfavourable to philo sophic education as could be. Dionysius was surrounded by an atmosphere of faction and of slanders against Dion, who finally, four months after Platos arrival, was accused of conspiracy and expelled from Sicily. For Plato on the other hand Dionysius developed a jealous affection, and tried to displace Dion in his regard. But the one course by which he might have succeeded, namely by putting himself seriously and willingly under Platos instruction in philosophy, he could not bring himself to follow, and in the end he was persuaded to allow Plato to return to Athens.

Sicily was at war a ,1 and it was agreed that both Plato and Dion himself should return when things were quieter and safer. Dion This, according to the usual dating, was in , and for the next four years Plato was once more engaged in philosophical activityteaching and writing - in the Academy. Then Dionysius sent yet another pressing invitation, though at the same time asking Plato to agree that Dions recall should be postponed for another year.

Dion added his own entreaties, and all reports agreed that Dionysius was now possessed by a genuine desire for philosophy. Plato however was unwilling, and replied that he was an old man and in any case Dionysius had not fulfilled their agreement. However, the pressure was increased. As evidence of his zeal, Dionysius had collected some philosophers at his court, who held discussions with him on the erroneous assumption that he had already undergone instruction from Plato. In Platos view d he combined a genuine talent for learning with a con suming ambition to be well thought of.

If it was the Lucanian War, this would confirm the accepted date of for Platos departure. Life feared that a refusal on Platos part would look as if Plato thought little of his gifts and disapproved of his way of life. He therefore enlisted the philosophers to testify to the genuineness of his progress in philosophy, his trump card being Archytas, the Pythagorean philosopher-statesman from Tarentum.

For Archytas and his circle Plato felt great respect and warm friendship, and he had himself brought them and Dionysius together d. The combined efforts of all his friends were too much for him, and he went back to Sicily for a third time in 36 1,1 though all that the Straits of Messene now suggested to him was the awful perils of Scylla and Charybdis e. Never can a journey have been undertaken more unwillingly. Dragged as he says by the envoys from Sicily and practically pushed out by the enthusiasm of his friends in Athens, he yielded to the old argument that he must not fail Dion or his Tarentine friends nor refuse to put Dionysius to the final test.

So the third act of the tragedy began. At least, he says, I got away with my life an indication of the complete failure of the enterprise. First, he must test the mettle of Dionysius by explaining to him what philosophy really is and the range of preliminary studies through which it must be approached, concealing nothing of the time and labour involved, or the truth that it must be a constant companion and guide for a whole lifetime. Acceptance of this programme Plato regarded as the acid test of a philosophic temperament.

In the event he was not even allowed to finish his exposition of it; so sure was Dionysius the very model of the Ignorant Man of Socrates, who does not even know that he is ignorant that he knew the most important points already from the pernicious instruction that he had imbibed from certain philosophers at his court. Dion 19 , whose hedonistic philosophy would certainly not have been approved by Plato. For Aristippus see vol. At n.

Life o f Plato and philosophical influences Things went from bad to worse. Far from recalling Dion, the tyrant took over his property and cut off the income which up to now he had been receiving from it while in Greece. Plato tried to leave, but Dionysius soothed his anger with specious proposals for Dions future and the part Plato could play in it.

Let him wait till the next sailing season, and Dion would be grateful for his help. The hapless Plato asked for time for reflection and proceeded to weigh up the pros and cons in his usual deliberate way, only to conclude that in any case no one would give him a passage without a personal order from Dionysius and that, living as he did in the palace grounds, he was practically a prisoner.

So he decided to remain, and Dionysius proceeded to sell off the whole of Dions property without telling Plato beforehand. From then on, good relations between them were at an end, though they kept up a pretence of friendship to the outside world. After further incidents Plato managed to get a message to Archytas at Tarentum, and his friends there, on the pretext of a political mission, sent one of themselves in a ship, who prevailed on Dionysius to let Plato go.

That was the end of Platos disastrous involvement in practical politics. Speusippus, who had become friendly with Dion in Athens and accompanied Plato to Sicily, encouraged Dion to return and oppose Dionysius with force. Dion appealed for help to Plato, but this time Plato held firm. He replied that it was at Dions instigation that he had formed ties of religion and hospitality with Dionysius, and that Dionysius, though he probably believed the allegations that Plato was plotting with Dion against him, had yet spared his life.

In any case he, Plato, was no longer of an age to assist anyone in a war: he would help any move towards reconciliation, but if that was not Dions purpose, he must look elsewhere for aid. Dion crossed to Syracuse with a force of mercenaries, fighting and confusion ensued, the city suffered slaughter and pillage, and the venture ended with Dions assassination. Even after all this, such was the hold that Dions personality had over Plato that he could not bring himself to blame him.

If Dionysius had only restored his property, he said, none of this need have occurred, for his own influence could have kept Dion in check. And he wrote the extant epitaph on him, ending Life with a passionate avowal of their former love, which tradition said was inscribed on his tomb in Syracuse D. Our first conclusion from the evidence of the Seventh Letter and Plutarch must be that Plato was a born theoretician, and not the man to translate his own political and psychological theories into successful action.

No one will think the less of him for that. The power of making a quick and correct judgement of men and situations, and of taking prompt decisions for necessary action in a situation where the leaders are being manipulated by others whose motives are purely selfish, is not likely, in any human being, to be found together with the intellectual profundity that produced the ethical and metaphysical theories, the achievements in logic, epistemology and ontology which constitute Platos primary and inestimable legacy to the world.

It should cause no surprise that the author of the Republic and evn of the Laws was something of a political innocent, more at home drawing up laws and constitutions on paper than engaging in the rough-andtumble of Greek political life; and Syracusan politics, even by Greek standards, were very rough indeed. By temperament he resembled his own philosopher in Republic 6, who sees the impossibility of doing any good to a society bent on wickedness, and stands aside like a man sheltering under a wall while a storm drives over his head.

Harward was right to say Epistles p. Dionysius was not the worst; he wanted to have his own way and Plato for a friend. But there were schemers behind the throne bent on Dions downfall and the frustration of his and Platos plans for Dionysius, and for these too Plato was no match.

His only mistake was in thinking that he ever could be, instead of holding back as he did at the time of the Thirty in Athens. In this respect it might be said that the years had brought him no increase in practical wisdom. But the reasons why, after all the doubts and hesitations to which he was so prone, and which the Seventh Letter emphasizes at every turn, he finally accepted the call to action, bring out another, not unattractive, side of his character. It is commonly said that he seized on the opportunity to realize in practice his now developed ideal of the philosopher-king, or at least Life o f Plato and philosophical influences that he felt it would be cowardly to let even a slender chance slip by.

The latter is true, but both the opportunity and the idea that refusal would be shameful were put into his head by Dion Ep. What the story illustrates is the enormous importance to him of his relations with individuals, and the way in which a personal attachment could sway his judgement in public no less than in private affairs. As one reads the story it is obvious that Dion is the pivot of Platos movements, that the fear of seeming in Dions eyes to have acted unworthily of their friendship and his own philosophy was the reason above all others for his participating in the forlorn hope of reforming Dionysius.

Then there was Dionysius himself, who must have had considerable personal charm, and who even after his quarrel with Dion seemed almost pathetically anxious to retain the friendship and good opinion of Plato. His character is extremely difficult to assess.

Aristotle, in a passing remark Pol. Dion 7 that soon after his accession he drank con tinuously for three months, during which his court was closed to serious men or affairs and given over to drunkenness, mirth, music, dancing and buffoonery. What is certain is that he was lazy, weak-willed, and at the mercy of advisers who hated and feared Dion. Plato, who had taken him up because of his devotion to, and absolute trust in, Dion, would only say, when finally convinced that he could never make a philosopher out of him, and when Dionysius had already appropriated Dions property, that after all he ought not to be angry with Dionysius so much as with himself and those who had forced him to enter the Sicilian whirlpool for the third time.

The story of Platos adventures in Sicily has often been told, and I had intended only to summarize it briefly. It seemed, however, on 1 According to Athenaeus Arist. When Dionysius suddenly became his own master at his fathers death he very likely did plunge into excesses, in which there were many at his court to abet him. But we need not believe in the literal truth of a story like Plutarchs. Life a re-reading of the sources to throw more light on his character than has appeared from previous accounts, and sometimes a different light. All this may be worth bearing in mind when we go on to consider his writings.

A second reason for re-telling it in this volume is that in attempts to date the dialogues they are frequently referred to as earlier, or later, than Platos first, second or third visit to Sicily; and the significance of such statements cannot be understood without some knowledge of the purpose and outcome of the visits them selves. Little is known of the remaining thirteen years of his life. Both the Seventh and Eighth Letters were written after the death of Dion, and show him, though no longer an active participator, willing to advise the Dionian party provided, as he says, that they sincerely wish to carry out Dions intention, namely, not to enslave Syracuse any longer to autocrats but to adorn and clothe her with the garment of freedom a - freedom under the rule of law.

Let the victors select the best men from all Hellas and appoint them a commission to draw up laws impartially. Let them also for here lies the only hope of an end to civil strife refrain from all acts of vengeance and show that they themselves are willing and able to be the servants of the laws. In the Eighth Letter, professing to speak in Dions name, he goes so far as to name a triumvirate whom he would like to see established as joint constitutional monarchs. Two other letters, believed by a majority of scholars to be genuine, testify to his continued concern for Dion until Dions death, and his sensitiveness to opinion about his own actions in Syracuse.

In the Fourth he congratulates Dion on his early successes, asks for more news, and reminds him that one in his position is under a particular obligation to act with justice, truth and magnanimity. The Third, nominally addressed to Dionysius, accuses him of misrepresentation and recapitulates past events in the form of an apologia for Platos own conduct. All in all, however, he was as he says E p. With Aristotle there, no longer a pupil but a member of seven years standing, not 4.

Life o f Plato and philosophical influences to mention Eudoxus, Speusippus and other leading and independent intellects, there was no lack of lively argument. Much time must have been spent too on writing the twelve books of the Laws, which had not received their finishing touches when he died. Plato did not think in an intellectual vacuum. Some of his profoundest and most original ideas resulted from the attempt to solve problems bequeathed by his predecessors, in whom he took the liveliest interest.

Aristotle speaks of Platos philosophy as resembling the Pythagorean, but with certain features of its own. This is in the first book of the Metaphysics, where he is discussing the contributions made by previous philosophers to his own doctrine o f causes , 1 among which he counts the Platonic theory of Forms. Its distinctive character, he says, it owed, first, to early reflection on the Heraclitean view that the whole sensible world is in constant flux and cannot therefore be the object of knowledge. Impressed with this, Plato listened to Socrates who had abandoned the study of nature for ethics but in that field was seeking the universal and directing attention to the importance of definition.

Both views seemed to Plato right, and to reconcile them he supposed that the definitions which Socrates demanded must apply to non-sensible realities; for he thought it impossible that the common definition could belong to anything in the sensible world, since such things were always changing. Realities of this kind, continues Aristotle, he called Forms [in Greek ideal, whence our theory of Ideas], and he said that sensible things existed apart from them2 and were named after them.

Aristotle then goes on to make comparisons with Pythagoreanism whose accuracy is 1 Metaph. A, a 29ff. When he repeats the account of the genesis of the theory of Forms in book M b 12T. I find this more difficult. At M b 30 and 31 he uses the words and.

Philosophical influences controversial. For the Pythagoreans we know also of the personal ties with Archytas and others which he formed and maintained on his visits to the West. In the dialogues, there is no need to emphasize the fact that Platos chief inspiration for the greater part of his life was Socrates. In the great majority of them he takes the lead throughout, even in the Theaetetus and Philebus which must have been written in Platos late maturity. In this period however we shall have to consider the sig nificance of a striking change.

In the Parmenides, Socrates is a young man quite overshadowed by the elderly and revered Parmenides and though his part at the beginning is important, he is silent for fourfifths of the whole. In the Sophist and Politicus, which follow the Theaetetus, he gives place to the unnamed Eleatic visitor after a few introductory remarks, and similarly in the Timaeus to the Pythagorean Timaeus from Locri.

O f Presocratic cosmogonical and physiological theories Plato shows his general knowledge in the famous passage in the Phaedo 95 eff. The influence of Heraclitus is seen in the Symposium 20yd when Diotima describes our bodies as being in a constant process of change and renewal throughout our lives, affecting hair, flesh, bones, blood and all the rest. At Theaetetus e he is mentioned together with Protagoras and Empedocles as a believer in the genesis of all things from motion and mingling, in contrast to Parmenides, the only one who denied motion; and later in the same dialogue the Heracliteans are satirized as people impossible to deal with eff.

Faithful to their doctrine they are in perpetual motion. They cannot argue, but 1 Cherniss has questioned the historical accuracy of the whole passage. Life o f Plato and philosophical influences shoot out little riddling phrases like arrows, and there are no teachers or pupils among them, for each thinks he is inspired and the others know nothing.

One is reminded of Aristotles hit at Cratylus, who, he says Metaph. At Sophist d vol. I, f. Plato shows that he appreciated the full paradoxical rigour of Heraclituss teaching, which most others missed. The greatest single influence on Plato after Socrates was Parmenides, that giant of intellect among the Presocratics whose challenging thesis that by all rational argument motion and change were impossible had to be met without evading his apparently unassailable premises.

I have referred already to the dialogues in which he, or an Eleatic follower, takes the lead, and in the Theaetetus e Socrates refuses to embark on a criticism of Parmenides because he has always thought of him as, in the words of Homer, a reverend and awful figure. There is no trace of irony in this description. Here and again at Sophist c Plato makes him refer to his doubtless imaginary meeting with Parmenides in his youth which is the subject of the Parmenides.

Actual quotations from Parmenidess poem occur at Symposium b and Sophist a. Much of the Sophist is devoted to an examination of his use of the verb to be solely in an absolute sense, with its consequence that, as he claimed, what is not can be neither spoken nor thought of.

The mischievous use by Sophists of the exclusive choice between being and not-being was satirized by Plato in the Euthydemus, where it is argued, for example, that to wish for someone to be no longer what he is i. In the Sophist he had to go to some trouble to show that what is not, in some respects has being, because is not might mean only is different from. The other way in which, at an earlier stage, Plato modified the harsh dichotomy of Parmenides was by introducing an intermediate ontological category between being and non-being, namely the world of becoming.

Not having the status of full, unchanging being, it could not be the object of full knowledge, but only of doxa, belief or opinion. Nevertheless the beliefs of mortals were not. Philosophical influences wholly false as Parmenides had claimed fr. A probable explanation, if not a justification, is that this occurs in his examination of earlier views on a particular subject, the causes of coming-to-be and perishing. That Plato investigated these he admits, but since Parmenides and his followers simply denied that motion and coming-to-be take place in reality at all, they must, he says b 12 , 6 , be set aside as inappropriate to the present investigation of causes.

The account of the Pythagoreans in the first volume showed how difficult it is to separate their philosophy from Platos. The very word philosophia as Plato uses it is a link between them p. In fact he turned to the Pythagoreans for help in solving the two most serious problems which faced him in his attempt to set the predominantly moral teaching of Socrates on a secure philosophical base. The search for ethical standards had led Socrates to demand universal definitions; but universal definitions could have no application in a world subject to Heraclitean flux.


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If Socrates was right, then, there must exist unchanging realities outside the world of ordinary sensible experience. The two questions which 1 For modern attempts, like that of Vlastos, to deny to Plato any belief in degrees of reality, see pp. Life o f Plato and philosophical influences this raised were, first, was there any evidence for the existence of such changeless truths? Second, if they did exist, how could we ever have any trustworthy knowledge o f their nature?

How is it possible for the mind to reach beyond the confines of experience and bridge the gap between the world of change and the changeless, eternal Forms? The answer to the first question lay for Plato in the realm of mathematical truth which had been so largely revealed by the Pythagoreans and, through the discovery of its application to music, was regarded by them as the prime cause of order and harmonia in the universe.

In mathematics, therefore, as then understood, Plato had an example before his eyes of the existence of truth outside the empirical world. The statement that a triangle consists of three straight lines is true, yet it is not true of any triangle drawn by man, for a line has by definition length but no breadth and is therefore invisible.


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  8. The triangles of experience only approximate to the truth, as a just action on earth approximates to the eternal Form of Justice. The modern explanation of mathematical truth as analytic or tautologous was not a possible one for Plato or any thinker of his time. The second question was answered by a development of the Pythagorean theory of reincarnation.

    As he explains in the Meno and Phaedrus, our souls are immortal but subject to a cycle of births in mortal bodies. They spend more time out of the body than in it, and in the disembodied state have the opportunity of seeing the Forms direct and clear. The experience of birth and contamination with the body causes forgetfulness, but the imperfect sensible approximations to the Forms may stimulate recollection of the Forms themselves. To see things - whether moral actions, circles and triangles or instances of physical beauty - which are all imperfect, could never of itself, in Platos view, implant in our minds the knowledge of perfection, nor could we abstract from them a standard by which to discriminate between them; but given that the vision preceded, they can start us on the road to its recovery.

    In the Meno vol. Anaxagoras is criticized in the Phaedo 97 b, pp. Philosophical influences its light from the sun is mentioned in the Cratylus a, p. Platos relations with Democritus are a fascinating but tantalizing subject, for he never mentions him, yet it is impossible to believe that he was not acquainted with his work, or that, if acquainted, he did not react strongly.

    There were curious similarities between them. Democritus called his ultimate realities ideai vol. These ultimate realities were beyond the bastard cognition of the senses, and, like the Platonic Forms, accessible only to thought This made him a more dangerous foe, but a foe he remained, for he committed the ultimate blasphemy of denying purpose in the universe and teaching a soulless, irrational mechanism. Plato must have had him in the forefront of his mind when in the Timaeus he put forward a mathematical atomism which could only be the work of Reason1 and in the Laws castigated atheistic philosophers who attributed the origin and nature of the cosmos to chance.

    Protagoras, Gorgias and Hippias cross swords with him in dialogues called by their name, and together with Prodicus, Thrasymachus and others are frequently introduced or their views discussed. I have maintained that these characters appear as themselves, not as masks for Platos contemporaries, but he is hardly likely to have ignored these although, except for Isocrates, he does not mention them by name.

    He is fond of expressions like a certain theory, some men, I have met many such, young men and late-learners, those who only believe what they can grasp with their hands, more refined intellects and so on. Whatever his motive for leaving them anonymous, it is very probable that these phrases conceal contro versialists with whom he was personally acquainted. Names that have been suggested at various times include Antisthenes, Euclides and his Megarian friends, and Aristippus.

    See also vol. Antisthenes , f. Aristippus , f. See also the preface, p. Life o f Plato and philosophical influences This brief preliminary survey of the attention paid by Plato to previous and contemporary thought is intended as a reminder that the history of Greek philosophy represents, even in its greatest figures, a continuous progress. In this volume we are to study not a wholly new departure, but a climax, and it is essential to have the earlier stages in mind.

    This is not to belittle Plato. One does not impugn the greatness of an architect by naming the materials that he has used in the execution of a grand design, nor even, if he is a Wren, by studying classical and Renaissance architecture. In assessing the relationship between Plato and other thinkers, it is possible to be moved by a misguided partisanship, a feeling that to allow them any considerable influence over his mind is somehow to disparage his originality.

    In fact they provide important clues to it. This I believe to have been particularly true of his Pythagorean friends. Some critics would reduce Pythagoras to a kind of magician and his pre-Platonic followers to religious mystics with a set of irrational taboos and a superstitious reverence for numbers. On the contrary, their combi nation of religious with mathematical, scientific and political interests may furnish the key to the essential unity of Platos thought, which we mistakenly divide into logical, metaphysical, scientific or political compartments.

    Awareness of this unity can only heighten our appreciation of the genius which achieved it. Apart from the letters, Platos written work consisted entirely of dialogues, all of which have survived. Even the Apology has an element of dialogue. Whether all that have survived are by Plato is a different question. Diogenes 3. O f these the Demodocus, Sisyphus, Eryxias , Axiochus and Alcyon have come down in our manuscripts, together with two more not in Diogeness list and named by their subjects, On Justice and On Virtue. There is no reason to question the verdict of the ancients or saddle Plato with any of these.

    It is reassuring to know that the dialogues were in the great library of the Ptolemies, where they would be looked after by a series of distinguished scholars and critics. Copies would be obtained by the royal agents from the library of the Academy. Souilh in the Bud series Paris He gives the contents of five trilogies and says the rest of the dialogues follow individually and in no particular order.

    Publication in tetralogies he attributes to Thrasylus , usually if somewhat improbably identified with Thrasyllus the favourite astrologer of the Emperor Tiberius. See on this man Gundel in R E 2. Reihe, I do not know why Grote and Taylor call him a rhetorician, but Longinus ap. In any case there is some evidence that the arrangement in fours existed earlier. See Taylor, P M W iof.

    W. K. C. Guthrie

    Most recently J. Philip Phoenix , and denies that the arrangement could have originated with Thrasyllus. On the permanence of the library of the Academy and its bearing on the genuineness of the Platonic corpus see ib. Otherwise attributions varied, e. Nothing is known of either. In more recent times the canon was accepted without question until the end of the eighteenth century, but by the time of Grote it was set aside and each dialogue was tested by other testimony, both external and internal, as if its inclusion in the tetralogies meant nothing.

    Internal testimony meant too often the arbitrary opinion of the critics as to what was truly Platonic and what unworthy of the great man. Some of their reasons now seem no better than that of Panaetius the Stoic, who if the story be true 2 rejected the Phaedo because he did not believe in immortality and could not bear to think that Plato took such pains to prove it. The nineteenth century did its best to rob us of some of the most valuable parts of Platos work.

    That fortunately Field, P. Grote is criticized by Zeller, 2. For the destruction of the Academy, including its library, by Sulla in 87 B. Philip discusses the whole question in his article The Platonic Corpus Phoenix He argues for a more or less canonical Academic text, dating from the fourth cent.

    Zeller in a long note 2. I do not find these as impressive as others do. For Panaetiuss heretical denial of immortality see Rist, Stoic Phil. Chronology there is no need to do, but there are some in the Thrasyllan canon which the majority of scholars after Grote, who defended the complete list and his arguments are still worth reading , still reject as not by Plato. Bonitz methodically classified his citations of Plato under four heads. There are also unmistakable references to particular passages in a number of these dialogues without mention of author or title, as well as to the Politicus.

    Since Platos philosophical activity extended over a period of at least fifty years, it is obviously important for students of his thought to determine, at least approximately, the chronological order of his writings if not their absolute dates. This is a difficult task, which in the past has led to wildly different results. Four types 1 For the Theages see vol.

    Calogero and Friedlnder accept the Hipparchus. See the latters Plato, vol. Opera vol. In what follows, the appearance of a dialogue under more than one head only means, of course, that it is referred to several times in different ways. The dialogues of aid have been invoked, which I mention in ascending order of objectivity. Thus Taylor P M W 20 and argued that the Protagoras cannot be an early work because it is a masterpiece of elaborate art, expatiating on the brilliance and lifelikeness of its dramatic portraiture.

    By contrast Adam Prot. The Meno, on the other hand, Taylor found crude because of its abrupt plunge into the main subject of discussion. Apart from the fact that Menos opening question is dramatically perfect, conveying at once the youthful impetuosity of his character which is further revealed in inimitable touches as the dialogue proceeds, it is also true that on the whole Platos dialogues get less dramatic as he matures. Nothing could be more dramatic than the opening scenes of the Charmides or Lysis , yet the one is agreed by all, and the other by most, scholars to belong to an early group.

    Plato began by giving vivid pictures of Socrates engaged on his mission, and as he went on became more concerned to develop positive doctrines. He retains the dialogue form, but it becomes less dramatic and pictorial and he allows Socrates to indulge in uncharac teristically long discourses only punctuated by expressions of assent from the others.

    Several nineteenth-century critics thought the Protagoras a work of Platos youth, written before the death of Socrates, even according to Ast when Plato was only To Wilamowitz it was incredible that he could have treated Socrates so light-heartedly after his execution, whereas nowadays the general belief is that the Protagoras was written a good many years after it. I agree with Field P. Chronology In antiquity it was said that the Phaedrus was Platos first dialogue, because there was something youthful about the theme, and its happy, summery atmosphere and discourses on love have led others to the same conclusion.

    Schleiermacher would certainly not win the assent of any scholars today to his assertion that not only the Phaedrus, but also the Parmenides, bear evident marks of Platos youthfulness. Stenzel P M D wrote frankly that the brilliant argument of the Phaedrus turns to ridicule all our ideas of chronology, on the grounds that, although an authentic Socratic dialogue, it contains manifestly later doctrines. T o any appreciative reader of his dialogues, it should come as no surprise that in his later years he remained capable of describing in vivid and sympathetic terms the joys and agonies of youthful eros - he who when over seventy could mourn for Dion who maddened my soul with love.

    The comedy and entertaining portraiture of the Protagoras have led to directly opposing conclusions about its date. It is difficult to know what is meant by an authentic Socratic dialogue, but if it means one which has an authentically Socratic content, this, as Stenzel emphasizes, cannot be claimed for the Phaedrus, whereas if it only means one in which Socrates is the chief speaker, that is also true of the Philebus which is universally agreed to be late.


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    8. The one literary characteristic which can be attributed to Plato without qualification is versatility, and to those who would pin him down to particular literary habits at particular dates he will always show himself as the swan into which according to a Greek commentator he once dreamed achieved the aim of following only the Logos. I know of only one scholar who today would put the Protagoras before Socratess death and that not for the same reasons as Wilamowitz , namely J.

      Fischer in The Case of Socrates 62 n. For Schleier macher and others of his opinion, Grote 1, and Raeder, P. Some, while rejecting the absurd notion that the Phaedrus was Platos first dialogue, are still inclined to date it comparatively early on the same grounds as Diogeness informant, the youthful nature of its theme: they cannot believe that such a vivid description of sensual love was written by a man in his fifties!

      See further on Phdr. The dialogues he had turned. In his dream men were trying to snare him, but he flew from tree to tree mocking them, and no one could catch him. Nevertheless, the temptation to trust to ones own impressions in this way is, and will no doubt continue to be, irresistible. There is however an interesting passage where Plato himself comments on his choice of literary form.

      The majority of the dialogues are written as direct conversation, with the names of the speakers preceding their words as in the script of a play. Some however, including some of the most important like the Republic, Phaedo, Symposium and Phaedrus, are narrated. There may be a brief dramatic introduction in which Socrates agrees to repeat the conversation to a friend, which he does in the main part of the dialogue. This method has obvious dramatic advantages in that Socrates can describe the scene and the persons involved, but eventually Plato decided against it.

      The con versation which forms the main part of the Theaetetus is introduced as being read from a report which Euclides wrote down after hearing an account of it from Socrates. He explains, however, that he has not written it in narrative form as Socrates told it, but as an actual conversation, to avoid tedious repetitions of I said, he replied, he agreed and so on.

      This reads like a statement of policy on Platos part, and suggests that any dialogue in narrated form will be earlier than the Theaetetus. Since none of the dialogues which on other grounds are thought to be later is in this form, this affords some confirmatory evidence of their lateness, though it must not be forgotten that the majority of those believed to be earlier are also in direct dramatic form. It is interesting that the Parmenides, a dialogue which all agree to be closely linked with the Theaetetus, though some put it just after and some before,1 starts in reported form with an elaborate introduction and the said hes inserted though very perfunctorily , but these are quietly dropped little more than a quarter of the way through the dialogue at c and never reappear.

      It looks as if Plato were already tiring of this method of composition, and ready for the change announced in the Theaetetus. Chronology i Philosophical considerations As a guide to the relative chronology of the dialogues, these have a better claim to our attention than literary maturity or artistic powers, but they too have only a limited usefulness.

      It would seem natural that a philosophers thought should display a logical order of develop ment. He will obtain certain results first, and later build on them in working towards solutions of other problems, and he must tackle certain questions before he is ready to face others. He may also change his mind. To trace this development may be easy in a philosopher who writes, as most philosophers do, systematic treatises.

      It is more difficult to find it in Platos dialogues, a unique form of literature not to be compared with modern philosophical dialogues like Berkeleys or Humes in which the participants are lay-figures and the dramatic element plays no part. In any case these men wrote treatises as well. Plato never appears in his own person, and each of his dialogues is a separate work of art.

      In many the human element is paramount, and the argument is tailored to the characters, not vice versa.

      Boeken van W. K. C. Guthrie

      The Protagoras is the outstanding, but by no means the only example. There is a clash of personalities and viewpoints in which Plato some times seems more interested than in the conclusions reached. Indeed there may be no conclusion, and the character of each speaker may seem to be so individually drawn that none can be said to represent Plato himself. Doubtless Socrates comes nearest, but are we expected to sympathize with him throughout the length of the Protagoras? He too will adapt himself to his company, and use quite different approaches when he is talking to a respectful young admirer like Charmides or Lysis, a brilliant pupil like Theaetetus, or a formidable Sophist like Protagoras, or playing with the humourless egotism of Hippias or the fallacious cocksureness of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus.

      Apart from all this, the elements of religion, poetry and myth, and other features like the exaltation of a sublimated sexual love as the true gateway to philosophy, arouse very different reactions in different readers and render highly subjective any suggestions as to what Plato literally meant an absurd question, but one frequently asked or what represents immaturity and what development. The dialogues If we knew the relative chronology of the dialogues, it would be interesting to trace such development as they reveal; but the dialogues being what they are, we cannot reverse the process, as Field said P.

      He points to the startlingly divergent results which were attained by this method, compared to the relative agreement among those who adopted the more objective criterion o f linguistic tests, and he describes it as a method foredoomed to failure because it involves not merely trying to impose a system on Plato, but each one of us trying to impose his own system. This is too harsh. There is, it is true, one broad division between inter preters of Plato which will affect their judgement on this point: that, namely, between those who suppose that Platos philosophy under went such radical changes during his long life that his later dialogues repudiate the teaching of the earlier and those, who like the late Paul Shorey, insist on the essential continuity and unity of his thought.

      Shorey wrote Unity 5 : The attempt to base such a chronology on the variations and developments of Platos doctrine has led to an exaggeration of Platos inconstancy that violates all sound principles of literary interpretation and is fatal to all genuine intelligence of his meaning. Yet I cannot believe that the criterion of philosophical development, checked of course by any other evidence available, is useless in the hands of a careful historical scholar with no particular axe to grind.

      To take an obvious example, when in the Parmenides Plato raises grave objections to the doctrine of Ideas in the form in which he himself has propounded it in the Phaedo, Republic and elsewhere, it is undeniable that this is the result of further hard thinking on the subject and the Parmenides must have been written after these other dialogues. Again, we are surely right in detecting a change in Platos attitude to the physical world, a progress away from the exhortation to avert our eyes from it, or use it only, like the astronomer of the Republic , as a first step on the way to grasping the unseen reality, the place beyond the heavens where true being dwells.

      Chronology intangible and invisible Phaedrus c , towards a developing interest in nature for its own sake. In the Timaeus 3oa-b the cosmos and its contents have become the best work of the supremely good artificer, a work so wrought by reason as to be by nature as fair and good as possible.

      Guthrie : Life of Plato and philosophical influences - Page 1

      It is indeed realized in changeable matter, and cannot therefore be eternal or perfectly intelligible like the model after which the Divine Intelligence created it. The world of Forms still exists and is supreme, but had Plato still felt about the natural world as he did when he wrote the Phaedo, Phaedrus and Republic, he could never have devoted the careful attention not only to questions of cosmology and of the atomic composition of matter, but also to the details of an elementary chemistry, of the physical basis of sensation, and of physiology in general, which we find in the Timaeus.

      Parallel to this change of emphasis in subject-matter we find a change of method. The use of hypothesis, as described in the Phaedo and Republic, gives place to a procedure not altogether unrelated to it nor in conception novel, but elaborated and serving a rather different purpose. This is the method of division, mentioned with approval in the Phaedrus c - b and illustrated and applied at somewhat tedious length in the Sophist and Politicus.

      They first agree on the widest class to which the definiendum belongs, divide it into two by adding differentiae, choose one of these and divide again, and so on. Thus in the illustrative exercise in the Sophist 2i8eff. Angling is agreed to be a skill. Skills are divided into productive and acquisitive and angling assigned to the acquisitive. Acquisition may be by consent or by force, and so on. The goal sought by this method is obviously the infima species, which Plato calls the atomic form because it cannot be further divided into genus and differentia Phaedrus b, Soph.

      In other words the progress of knowledge is downwards, from the universal to the 1 Division according to kinds is mentioned at Rep. The dialogues particular, and the search ends with the discovery of that which is as near to the individual as possible while remaining definable. Later, it comes nearer to the activity of scientific classification for which the Academy was ridiculed in comedy, and which Aristotle carried to such heights in his biological works; and it would be sheer perversity to suggest that the development was in the opposite direction.

      Other possibilities could be mentioned, for instance the attempt to trace the appearance of Pythagorean elements in Platos philosophy which may reasonably be thought to be the effect of his contact with the school when he visited South Italy at the age of forty. Results may vary in certainty, and in tracing what now seem obvious lines of development we may be unconsciously influenced by our acquaintance with certain results of dating by the stylometric tests to which I now turn.

      The latter are the more significant, especially with an author like Plato who, as has been pointed out,2 deliberately changes style from one work to another and even within the same work. The 1 Stenzel actually says P M D 24 that division is a method whose purpose is to determine the classes defined by natural science in order to bring individual reality within the grasp of science. Individual reality is of course not within the grasp of science a dilemma which deeply concerned Aristotle, e. Plato, Phil. He does say in the Phaedrus d and Philebus 16e that division must be preceded by collection, i.

      He gives references to a number of scholars who have uttered salutary warnings against too nave a faith in this type of evidence, but recognizes its cumulative weight. Chronology method was inaugurated by the Scottish scholar Lewis Campbell in the introduction to his edition of the Sophist and Politicus , in which by careful and patient counting he drew conclusions about the affinities of some of the later dialogues through a comparison of their vocabulary, grammar, sentence-structure and rhythm.

      There is, fortunately, one fixed starting-point, namely the Laws. This work is not only said by Diogenes 3. The method was independently pursued by the German Dittenberger and then by the Pole Lutoslawski , whose claim to determine the order of the dialogues with mathematical exactitude was some what overdone and led to criticism. It was continued with more circumspection by Ritter, who to silence criticisms by Zeller took a laborious byway and applied it with striking success to the works of a modern writer, namely Goethe, whose chronology was known independently.

      It was natural therefore that the advent of the computer should have given a new impetus to researchers, and since the mid 1 95os, computers have been used not only to compile accurate lexica and concordances of classical authors an invaluable service but to settle questions of relative dates and even authenticity. However, so far as our present subject is concerned we may note the pronouncement made by a worker in the field, in the course of a sober assessment of the possibilities : Even in the thorny problem of the order of Platos dialogues the researches of scholars like Campbell and Lutoslawski have satisfied most scholars concerning the general order of the 1 The literature on stylistic research is extensive.

      Ritters defence of the method with historical survey is in his N. Simeterre in R E G gives a useful summary of the position at that date, and for brief accounts in English see Burnet, Platonism 9 and Field, P. The dialogues dialogues, though particular difficulties like the position of the Timaeus and Cratylus still remain.

      Between the groups some see differences suggesting lapse of time or possibly an event which could have had an effect on the writers style, but the variations of opinion on a few dialogues suggest that they cannot be great. Thus some scholars put the Parmenides and Theaetetus in the middle group,2 others in the late, while others are doubtful.

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      In philosophical content they are certainly difficult to separate from the late group. Owens attempt to redate it in , since when it has been the subject of lively dispute. The position of the Cratylus is also doubtful. Group 1 concentrates on the moral issues and 1 T. Notes and News This is a useful short introduction to the subject, with a bibliography including periodicals and news-letters. Much of it is repeated in U. Robin, PI. Kapp would also put Phaedo and Symp.

      The Theaet. Friedlander, Plato in, Chronology search for definitions characteristic of the historical Socrates, in group 2 a metaphysical interest is predominant, whereas the first four dialogues mentioned in group 3 introduce a new note of criticism in both the ontological and the epistemological fields. Parallel with this goes the change in the position of Socrates which has already been mentioned p. In the early and middle groups and the Theaetetus whose position between the groups is doubtful he is the central figure, but in the last, with the exception of the Philebus, he takes no part at all in the main discussion, and in the Laws is not even present.

      The stylometric method has undoubtedly proved itself. Ritter Platon I, f. However, this might be a good place to repeat the warning of two possibilities which should not be left out of account. First, some of the dialogues must have taken a long time to write. The composition of the Republic and Laws, in particular, probably extended over years, and other, shorter dialogues might have been written in the meantime. Secondly, there is some slight evidence that Plato was all his life an assiduous polisher and reviser of his own works.

      Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in a rather unhappy metaphor, says that up to his eightieth year Plato never ceased combing and curling and every way braiding his own dialogues , and adds the story that after his death a tablet was found containing various versions of the opening sentence of the Republic. It does not amount to much, and scholars have reacted variously to it. Runciman P L E 3 n. Field on the other hand was scornful. After a description of the development of stylistic research he continues : These stylistic investigations lend no support at all to the hypothesis, beloved o f certain scholars, o f second editions or revisions or rewritings o f particular dialogues.

      It must be insisted that this idea is in every case a 1 Dion. De comp. The dialogues purely gratuitous invention, introduced to bolster up the pet theory o f some particular scholar which would otherwise be too much at variance with the evidence to be maintained. Unfortunately such windfalls are few, and the historical allusions are not always uniformly identified by scholars. Laws b mentions a conquest of Locri by Syracuse, which is generally taken to refer to the action of Dionysius II about b.

      Since Plato would then be over seventy, this fits well with the other indications that the Laws was the work of his old age. The occasion of the Theaetetus is the return of Theaetetus, dying of wounds and dysentery, from the army at Corinth, and this is now2 agreed to refer to the fighting near Corinth in Since it is mentioned in the introductory conversation, which is represented as taking place many years after the main dialogue between Socrates and Theaetetus, no anachronism is involved, but elsewhere Plato does not seem afraid of anachronism.

      The most striking example is the Menexenus, in which Socrates recites a speech which he claims to have learned from Aspasia and which brings Athenian history down to the Peace of Antalcidas the Kings Peace in , thirteen years after his death. The Symposium a mentions the dispersion of the Man tineans by Sparta in , though the dramatic date is fixed at by the victory of Agathon which the party celebrates. To determine 1 Field, o. Thompson, Meno lix.