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Fw: BMCR 2005.02.22, C. J. Rowe, Plato. Second edition

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  • Edward Moore
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      Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 4:07 PM
      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
      > (Baratz@...)
      > 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
      > goods.
      >
      > 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
      > chapter.
      >
      > 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.
      >
      >
      > -------------------------------
      > The BMCR website (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/) contains a complete
      > and searchable archive of BMCR reviews since our first issue in 1990.
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      >
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