Fw: BMCR 2005.02.22, C. J. Rowe, Plato. Second edition
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Subject: BMCR 2005.02.22, C. J. Rowe, Plato. Second edition
> C. J. Rowe, Plato. Second edition. London: Bristol Classical Press,
> 2003. Pp. 228. ISBN 1-85399-662-9. GBP 14.99 (pb).
> Reviewed by Ran Baratz, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
> Word count: 2428 words
> Although many philosophical works, and more specifically introductions,
> tend to fall into obsolescence not long after their publication,
> Christopher Rowe's introduction to Plato has retained its relevance and
> vibrancy. Therefore, twenty years after its first printing, Rowe's
> 'Plato' has earned a second edition.
> In the preface, Rowe declares that the book has been written to pave
> the way for students seeking to gain entry into Plato's philosophical
> thought, by expounding his system as captured in the Platonic
> dialogues. Over the years, Rowe has changed his mind on several
> important issues, and consequently his self-criticisms and reservations
> are conveniently articulated in a new preface. Overall, however, the
> author still considers his book a standard, traditional, "Anglophone"
> introduction to Plato.
> Rowe opens the first chapter, entitled "Plato and Socrates", by
> tackling the "Socratic problem". He doubts our ability to discern
> Socrates apart from Plato and finds the issue unimportant, as all
> so-called "Socratic notions" may be considered Platonic. Nevertheless,
> after touching upon some historical facts that pertain to Socrates, the
> author turns to a rather comprehensive description of his views: for
> example, Socrates' demand for justification by reasoning, his rejection
> of social norms and common beliefs as a valid source for justification,
> and his imperative to care for soul before body. Rowe thinks that
> Socrates viewed philosophy as a means to an end rather than an end in
> itself. Moreover, he believes that Socrates provided substantive
> answers to questions of conduct. In Rowe's opinion, the contention that
> "virtue (arete) is knowledge" clashes with Socrates' claim of
> ignorance, and he therefore reduces the latter to "lack of certainty".
> In addition, the author offers two less-paradoxical translations of the
> Socratic Paradox -- "no man does wrong willingly" (oudeis hekon
> hamartanei): "no man makes a mistake intentionally"; and "no man
> deliberately misses his aim".
> Thereafter, Rowe turns his attention to the Socratic Method, which he
> considers a genuine method of inquiry that strives for the attainment
> of truth. Accordingly, he asserts that the early aporetic dialogues are
> not entirely negative since they teach us, e.g., how to methodically
> examine and reject popular views and that one should disregard bodily
> The discussion then turns to Plato, and here Rowe concludes that our
> knowledge of Plato is rather limited. He doubts the authenticity of all
> the letters, including the 'seventh letter', as he finds Plato's
> political adventure in Syracuse improbable. Rowe also cautiously avoids
> attributing any political motives to the Academy, and he concludes the
> chapter with a description of Plato's anti-democratic attitude.
> In the second chapter, "The Dialogues and the Dialogue Form", Rowe
> rejects the view -- derived primarily from the 'Phaedrus' and the
> 'seventh letter' -- that Plato's genuine philosophy was propounded
> outside the dialogues. He contends that Plato wrote dialogues because
> they constitute the most accurate imitation of conversation, which is
> the most efficacious approach for engaging in philosophy. This method
> is especially conducive to reaching a more general audience, which --
> unlike Socrates -- was one of Plato's objectives.
> Subsequently, Rowe summarizes three dialogues: 'Euthyphro',
> 'Symposium', and 'Statesman'. The summaries are concise and accurate;
> not only do they elucidate the crux of the content, but they also
> impart a taste of the drama. The author also meticulously combines
> interim philosophical remarks in order to prepare us for the ensuing
> While Rowe declares in Chapter 3, "On 'Forms'", that Plato did not
> construct a theory of Forms, he nonetheless appears to assume that
> Plato did maintain a systematic view on the subject. Naturally, any
> treatment of the theory of Forms is liable to stoke many controversies
> and disagreements, whose consideration makes the subject impossible to
> handle within a short introduction. Therefore Rowe proceeds to
> articulate his own perspective with only sparse reference to
> counter-arguments and rival interpretations. His scrutiny of the
> earlier and middle Platonic periods opens with a discussion of two
> characteristics of the Forms: separateness and what Rowe dubs
> "self-instantiation" (Rowe returns to the more common
> "self-predication" in the new preface). He discusses the Forms' special
> status as both universal and particular, emphasizes the pertinent
> arguments, and explores Plato's concept of "participation". Rowe
> subsequently examines the relation of the Forms to reality, thought,
> language and knowledge and notes the inter-related nature of the Forms.
> He also claims that Plato abandoned his belief in incarnation without
> surrendering his claim to knowledge.
> Next, Rowe analyzes Plato's later works, including the 'Parmenides' and
> other later dialogues. An array of quotations are brought forth to
> prove that, while Plato was aware of the difficulties that the theory
> of Forms presented, he did not explicitly reject it. In fact, Rowe
> assumes that in principle Plato latently approved of the theory. In a
> postscript, Rowe states that the Forms are separate properties.
> Chapter 4, "Knowledge, Pleasure and the Good", begins with the remark
> that the inquiry into the Form of the good was not something Plato
> seriously pursued. Rowe suggests that Plato's commitment to the view
> that cosmic and human good are related stems from their shared demand
> for order, harmony, and measure. He attempts to shed light on Plato's
> identification of good with both virtue and knowledge by thoroughly
> examining Plato's shifting attitude towards pleasure. Rowe opens with
> 'Protagoras', continues with 'Gorgias' and the 'Republic', and closes
> with an extensive review of 'Philebus'. The ultimate conclusion is that
> Plato believed the view that the good way of life combines pleasure and
> wisdom. The chapter ends with a rebuke of Plato's preference for the
> sovereignty of wisdom and his dismissal of human choice ("moral
> autonomy"), which Rowe considers "perverse".
> The focus of Chapter 5, "State and Individual", is on Plato's demand
> for a virtuous state that produces better citizens and on internal
> difficulties within Plato's theory (lack of choice is raised again).
> However, Rowe reminds us that Plato preferred persuasion and argument
> to coercion, and that he relied on an understanding of human nature
> that prepares individuals for a more enlightened rule, which ultimately
> provides greater happiness for all. Rowe opens the chapter with a
> discussion of the 'Republic', including its unpopular features (the
> author mitigates some of Plato's harsher contentions), and the
> problematic comparison of statesman to craftsman. He concludes by
> suggesting that the 'Statesman' and the 'Laws' provide a more
> progressive approach insofar as the enterprise's practicability is
> concerned, a view that he abandons in the new preface.
> Chapter 6, "Poets, Orators and Sophists", elaborates on Plato's
> attitude towards the aesthetic arts (mousike) and the crucial
> educational role that he attributes to them. Plato's attitude has
> metaphysical and moral grounds; art is concerned with appearances and
> does not discriminate between good and bad. Therefore, only a
> philosopher can be a true artist. A similar criticism is leveled
> against rhetoric, that the skilled orator is quite susceptible to vice.
> Rowe boldly suggests that Thrasymachus and Callicles (on textual
> grounds) as well as Protagoras and Hippias (on interpretative grounds)
> were not genuine sophists. He believes that Plato's criticism was aimed
> specifically at the "eristic brand of philosophy", while those (like
> the latter two) who accept the importance of arete, even if only as
> "lip-service", were not the targets of Plato's arguments. Nevertheless,
> the author eventually concludes that Plato classified both types under
> the same genus due to the fact that they both claim to teach arete and
> prefer persuasion over knowledge.
> Rowe begins Chapter 7, "On the 'Soul'", with Socrates' novel notion
> that the soul is the moral aspect of mankind's existence but maintains
> that Socrates never formulated a theory of soul. The author suggests
> that Plato's theory of incarnation should not be dismissed and
> elaborates on Plato's unitary and tripartite models of the soul. Rowe
> doubts that Plato was actually committed to any model and concludes
> that we should only cling to Plato's demand for soul as a rational
> element and that it is impossible to completely resolve the tension
> between its united and plural conceptions.
> Chapter 8, "On the Natural World", is primarily concerned with
> 'Timaeus' and several discrepancies in Plato's cosmology. Rowe very
> plausibly attributes greater importance to 'Timaeus' as more definitive
> than other dialogues with cosmological elements. His persistent
> emphasis on the primacy of reason and Plato's "cosmic" rationality,
> which accounts for the possibility of a proper explanation of the
> cosmos, are straight to the point.
> Rowe concludes with two concise chapters and a brief postscript. In
> chapter 9, "The 'Unwritten Doctrines'", Rowe defends the significance
> of the dialogues by asserting that they reveal Plato's genuine
> doctrines and suggests that Plato's lectures were basically on
> mathematics. In chapter 10, "Plato and the Thought of his Time", he
> also questions whether Plato himself believed that these lectures
> contained any truth. Rowe objects to the long-standing tendency --
> originating, in his view, with Aristotle -- to "reduce" Plato to his
> predecessors. In the epilogue, "Plato and the Twentieth Century", Rowe
> surveys Plato's foresight into modern science, political philosophy,
> and ethics. The author rejects the first notion, but accepts Plato's
> perspicacity regarding politics and ethics.
> The book also includes a rather cumbersome and selective bibliography.
> Regrettably, the original bibliography was not revised, although Rowe
> does add several items in the new preface. Finally, the book provides
> both a general index and an index of Platonic passages.
> Overall, Rowe's language is lucid, especially in his depictions of the
> philosopher's most important arguments, which include the more
> complicated, later ones. The book covers in a detailed manner almost
> all the important philosophical issues that pertain to Plato, while
> managing to retain its vibrancy throughout. Rowe's translations are
> accurate, and he either transliterates the Greek or discusses the
> difficulties of almost every relevant term.
> Nevertheless, the book cannot be considered an introduction per se.
> Rowe assumes that the readers are acquainted with Plato's work and that
> they are at least familiar with the basic tenets of western philosophy.
> Moreover, the arrangement of Plato's doctrines according to their
> metaphysical importance forces him to eschew a more pedagogic order of
> presentation, which could have been expected of an introduction.
> Furthermore, Rowe generally does not introduce each topic; instead, he
> dives straight into argument without considering the basic terminology
> beforehand. This hardly constitutes a fault, but anyone who intends to
> use this book as a preliminary guide to Plato's philosophy is best
> forewarned. It should also be noted that, despite his promise, Rowe
> does not depict the historical setting to a satisfactory degree.
> The remainder of this review will be devoted to more specific remarks
> and critiques. As the author readily admits in the new preface, the
> first chapter regrettably ignores Socrates' "intellectualism", despite
> the fact that it is a vital aspect of his reasoning and one which had a
> profound impact on Plato. Rowe also fails to touch upon the
> significance of the 'elenchos', and his doubts concerning the crucial
> Dion affair in Syracuse (whom he neglects even to mention by name) are
> insufficiently grounded.
> In the third chapter, Rowe probably should have restricted some of his
> declarations on controversial (yet in this context, marginal) subjects.
> For example, he claims that "mathematicians are concerned with Forms"
> [p. 64]; and that "Plato ... is implicitly committed to a broad theory
> of language as naming" [p. 59].
> With regard to Rowe's attack on Plato in the fourth chapter (regarding
> his restriction of choice), it is somewhat ironic that Kant, the
> champion of "moral autonomy" (a term Rowe and many other modern authors
> borrow in order to signify the agent's right to choose), was in this
> matter rather Platonic. It seems that Plato's position could have been
> elucidated and defended to a greater extent. It is also worth noting
> that Rowe subsequently confirms that choice is indeed an important
> aspect of Plato's thought: "success and happiness of course depend on
> our making the right choices; and the ability to do that will follow
> from real, Socratic, knowledge" [p. 158]. Although this discrepancy is
> probably more apparent than substantive, it would have been best to
> avoid such a literal inconsistency.
> In the fourth chapter, the author occasionally allows himself too much
> leeway with his translations. 'Phronesis' is interpreted as "wisdom",
> "insight", and "intelligence" without an adequate explanation for the
> various options. Similarly, 'sophrosyne' is translated as
> "self-control" and "temperance" while in a previous text by Xenophon it
> was rendered "good-sense", once again without an explanation.
> Unfortunately, the Socratic paradoxes are not treated on a separate
> basis, despite the fact that Plato used them consistently and never
> abandoned their consequences. Rowe also unhesitatingly considers
> 'thumos' to be an irrational part of the soul, although Plato considers
> it a mediator between reason and desire. There also appears to be a
> discrepancy between the author's assertion that Plato deemed pleasure a
> necessary part of the good life and his earlier statement that Plato,
> unlike Socrates, demanded "care for your soul and not your bodies" [p.
> 6]. Plato and Socrates may share closer perspectives on this issue than
> Rowe suggests.
> Several statements in the sixth chapter seem to bear the marks of
> haste. The claim that "the ignorant -- who are, of course, in a
> Socratic-Platonic context, the vicious and the unscrupulous" [p. 148]
> seems to contradict the Platonic contention that ignorance and vice are
> not coextensive (to say the least). The phrase, "how things really are
> -- which Plato identifies with how things would ideally be" [p. 149] --
> is also troubling, as it forces the ideal to be unreal. Lastly, the
> contention that 'Republic' 492a "explicitly denies that the sophists
> 'corrupt the young'" [p. 156] appears to be premised on the absence of
> a clear distinction between old and young sophists, which is quite
> crucial in this context.
> My final reservation is perhaps more subjective. Although Rowe is
> definitive on several issues, he is highly skeptical of our ability to
> understand crucial aspects of Plato's thought. This is perhaps a
> legitimate claim, but it cannot support the conclusion that Plato
> himself held no definitive opinions on the issues in question, a
> conclusion Rowe draws more than once. I contend that this reasoning is
> flawed. Even if we are forced to decipher the dialogues via a complex,
> dialectical screen, they are important because Plato not only has a
> definitive view but also sophisticatedly (perhaps too much so) reveals
> it. If not, Rowe's interpretation cannot be deemed superior to the
> contentions based on the premise that Plato lacked a system or that he
> concealed his beliefs behind copious, false texts (and Rowe is neither
> a Straussian nor a postmodernist). If Plato was indeed a skeptic, or
> nowhere meant or believed what he said, then the dialogues are
> significant only as protreptics, a view that Rowe judiciously rejects.
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