Monday, November 29, 2010

Reasoning: (Mostly) Open Access European Theses/Dissertations

Today AWOL posted a fabulous resource: an internet archive of open-access European theses and dissertations. Having written my own thesis on Plato just last year, I searched Plato and found a number of fabulous theses/dissertations.

A few words of warning when searching:
  1. Not all of the abstracts are in the same language as the dissertation. Only once you click on the title and get to the page about that dissertation can you view the "language" section. Some of the English dissertations have abstracts in Greek or German, and visa versa.
  2. Not all of the dissertations are open access. The one that looked most interesting to me denied me access. Sad. However, this still looks to be a great resource.

Reasoning: Great Plato Scholarship in Unusual Places

Plato is a figure who constantly appears in Western culture. Much of the interpretation of Plato takes his work out of context or extrapolates it so it no longer has anything to do with the work in question (usually the Republic). Even classics/classical philosophy scholars I respect and adore sometimes fall into problematic musings for the masses, e.g. Alexander Nehemas' "Plato's Pop-Culture Problem and Ours" [1]. Yet sometimes the opposite phenomenon occurs: great Plato scholarship and commentary comes from unexpected places, such as professors of English or political science.

I thought I would discuss (briefly) some of the most unusual of the sources for awesome Plato scholarship: the Tolkein scholar. No, I'm not kidding. I did not seek this out, Propertius II found it when he was searching for Plato's Rhapsody and Homer's Music [2] in the library catalog. "Saving the Myths: The Re-creation of Mythology in Plato and Tolkein," by Gergley Nagy in Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader is very impressive.

Gergley Nagy, apparently, teaches classes on Plato, Tolkein, and is an English professor in Hungary. One of the wonderful things about his writing is that he is not burdened by some of the scholarship that classicists learned as cannon. To me, he seems to truly understand the way that Plato's work intereacts with myth. Plato's characters disparage myth and especially the heroes in specific myths (especially in the Republic, but in other works also). However, Socrates spins elaborate myths out of elements from traditional mythology and rewrites them into persuasive speeches. He recycles themes in an original and educational way for his audience. It seems to be that Gergley Nagy accurately captures the reverence that I believe Plato must have felt  for myth and dramatization (or at least this is what I can imagine from his work). If you happen across the book, I think he captures this spirit incredibly well, and you should absolutely read it.

Catherine Zuckert, a political philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, spent twelve years writing Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues. I was not sure about the book when I first encountered it because it was not by a Plato scholar, but rather by a Leo Strauss scholar. However, Zuckert is brilliant. I have minor disagreements throughout, but she chose an extremely controversial view of the dialogues and made it persuasive. For more information, read my recent set of posts discussing her book.

Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues

  1. I meant to discuss this article when it came out but, for some reason, I didn't get around to it. I do however love Nehamas in his article "Eristic, Antilogic, Sophistic, Dialectic" (JSTOR) or in The Virtues of Authenticity and in the Philoctetes roundtable which I mentioned in my recent blogpost.
  2. While speaking of Plato's Rhapsody and Homer's Music, I thought I might mention that Propertius II recommends it. I have not read it yet, but it's now on my list.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Appetitive: The Restoration of the Parthenon

This is a PBS special on the restoration of the Parthenon. Although the narration is a little melodramatic in places, it shows some incredible features of the restoration of the Parthenon and of the architectural structure of the Parthenon itself.

Unfortunately, there are some commercials in this, but it's pretty cool that PBS put the special on youtube.

The final (for now) installment of "Dates in the Platonic Corpus" will be up soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reasoning/Spirited: Dates in the Platonic Corpus #4

Before I finish writing and post the final installment of "Dates in the Platonic Corpus" on the Laws, I thought I should clarify, correct, and supplement some of the previous statements in this series.

First, if anyone is interested by the evolutionary hypothesis, although Zuckert, in her footnotes, provides a lot of sources dedicated to this that one could read, Richard Kraut in his "Introduction to the Study of Plato" from The Cambridge Companion to Plato (CCO) is a great introduction to the way that scholars defend and employ the evolutionary model in the study of Plato. Being a quasi-Tubner, quasi-unitarian, defender of dramatic dating myself, Kraut's arguments are pretty infuriating to me, but he is intelligent, clear, and direct, which I admire. A lot of my clarification and supplementation comes from this introduction.
Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy) Politics: A Treatise on Government
Second, to clear up some matters of business.
  • Concerning the Compositional Date of the Phaedrus: Apparently the 19th century philosophers who posited that the Phaedrus was Plato's first dialogue were not simply asserting that the Phaedrus was the work of Plato's confused youth from nothing. They used the "youthful" justification to explain what appeared to them to be a flawed dialogue in conjunction with ancient testimonial. According to one of Kraut's end notes, that Diogenes Laertius "reports a story that the Phaedrus was Plato's first dialogue" (Kraut 35, endnote 17). Kraut furthers that because of this statement Diogenes Laertius' "chronological information does not inspire confidence" (Kraut 35, endnote 17). This amused me, because although Diogenes Laertius is not a reliable source, the evidence Kraut would use to contradict this claim relies on stylistic analysis that is seriously methodologically flawed. Personally, I think it would be incredibly awesome if the Phaedrus was Plato's first dialogue because it is so incredibly sophisticated and it contains the fabulous charioteer metaphor, employs the crazy image of the philosopher sprouting wings, and provides an incredible critique of writing. This, however, is entirely irrelevant to the dramatic dating that I am defending in this series of blogposts.
  • Concerning my Mockery of Stylometric Dating: I still whole-heartedly believe that my mockery of stylometric dating is justified. Kraut makes it sound slightly more reasonable (although all of the criticisms I leveled in my recent blogpost still apply. According to Kraut, all stylometric dating is geared off of the Laws, which ancient sources reveal was Plato's final dialogue (Kraut 35, endnote 17). According to Kraut, the dialogues were arranged into groups by style, and then placed in chronological order by the relation of that style to the Laws, i.e. the ones most different from the Laws were considered to be the earliest, while the ones with the most similar stylistic patterns were considered to be the latest (Kraut 4-5).
    • The ancient sources: Kraut specifically says that Aristotle tells us in the Politics 1264b26 that the Laws was written after the Republic, but Aristotle makes no indication that the Laws was late in the series of dialogues or at the end of Plato's life, and he certainly does not treat it as though Plato was senile when writing it or that the dialogue was unfinished. Kraut also cites later evidence: "Plutarch (De Iside et Osiride 370ff.) says that Plato wrote it when he was an old man; the battle referred to at Laws 638b is often identified as that took place is often identified as one that took place in 356 B.C. (nine years before Plato died)" (Kraut 35, endnote 17). Diogenes Laertius (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.37) is the source of the claims most widely used about the Laws (and which I will address at greater length in a subsequent blogpost): a) it was potentially unfinished at Plato's death (Kraut 35, endnote 17), b) it was Plato's final dialogue, and c) it was transcribed from the wax tablets on which Plato wrote it by Philip of Opus. For reference, I do not have any problem with the Laws being the final dialogue that Plato composed, but I do see issues with both stylometric dating based on this assumption and the thought that it is unfinished, because the Laws does not appear to be unfinished to me.
    • Last (amusing) thing about stylometric dating: Even Kraut, a devotee of compositional dating, finds the specifics to be frustrating: "Unfortunately, there is at best meager evidence of this sort [contemporary historical events mentioned], and assigning dates to the dialogues is a highly conjectural matter" (Kraut 37, endnote 25).
  • Concerning Ancient Sources: Ancient sources are troubling. 
    • Aristotle is probably the best bet for an accurate source on Plato. Although Aristotle was one of Plato's students, he is a philosopher in his own right and uses Plato alternately as a source of wisdom and as a straw-man argument [1]. I believe, this means that one should employ Aristotle as a source with some skepticism. Furthermore, from what I understand, none of the extant texts of Aristotle are his actual treatises; what remains are lecture notes. As such, I think that readers must be careful in the interpretation of Aristotle. That being said, I think that there are some fascinating insights about Plato's work (or at least its reception by an ancient audience) in Aristotle (so long as they are viewed with ample caution). I reread the section of the Politics where Aristotle discusses Plato's Republic and his Laws (1260b-1266a-- note I was not reading this in Greek, so I cannot be entirely assured of the accuracy of the translation). One of the things that I noticed was that Aristotle never refers to the ideas encompassed in either text as Plato's. Instead, he attributes them to the character (and not the historical figure) of Socrates which Plato creates. This signals to me that Socrates was not a mouthpiece for Plato or at least not seen that way by a contemporary audience, as Kraut (Kraut 33 endnote 10) and most other modern authors assume (Zuckert and Szlezak are notable exceptions). Furthermore, Aristotle does not seem to indicate that the Laws should be taken more or less seriously than the Republic or that Plato reconsidered his views from the Republic and wrote the Laws as a portrayal of his later thought. Rather, Aristotle seems to consider them with almost equal weight. That also indicates to me the problems with the evolutionary hypothesis. This is obviously tenuous evidence, but it certainly does not favor Kraut and proponants of the evolutionary hypothesis. If you want to check this out, I included a public domain copy at the bottom of the post, or you can get a free copy from Amazon, Project Gutenberg, or Google. I included public domain copies, in part, because I am not about the best translation of the Politics. Does anyone have any ideas?
    • Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius are significantly more problematic. Both wrote in a time far removed from Plato, Plutarch in the 1st century CE and Diogenes Laertius in the 3rd century CE, and neither of them are known for their accuracy (I believe even in their own time, but I might be mistaken). Modern readers may be able to glean something from them, since they were closer to Plato, but they also did not have the benefit of modern methodology, computers, and archaeological techniques so it is difficult to say. When I look into this more deeply, I will write about it more extensively.
For all those in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! To everyone else, have a lovely day.

  1. I also consider how accurately I would represent the work of my professors if I were to write about them. For example, my analysis of William's lecture on the Dipylon Vase certainly could be subjected to interpretive debate. Can a modern audience to a higher standard? Perhaps. But should they? I am not convinced.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Appetitive: The Etymology of Academy

I had always been told that the modern word "academy" came from the name of Plato's school in Athens. Oddly, I never thought to ask myself whence Plato derived the name. In an endnote to Richard Kraut's Introduction (CCO) to the Cambridge Companion to Plato, the answer appears:
"The school Plato founded (c. 387 B.C.), called the Academy after a park located on the outskirts of Athens and sacred to the hero Academus, was in continuous existence for many centuries" (Kraut 31, endnote 3).
I thought it was kind of cool that the Academy was named after a park named after a hero, rather than having any etymological relationship to philosophy, school, learning, etc.

The Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)

I know I have been lame about posting my piece on the Laws. It's coming soon, I've just been busy with holidays, Horace, and other mishaps.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Appetitive: Podcasts on Plato

Today (and yesterday) I have not quite had the dedication necessary to write up the next installment of "Dates in the Platonic Corpus" yet (see my blogpost), but I have been rereading Zuckert's section on the Laws in order to write it up. It will be coming soon.

In the meantime, I thought I would post some links to some more traditional podcasts on Ancient Philosophy (and especially Plato). I have listened to some of the lectures from the UC Berkeley Ancient Philosophy class. I listened to a few of these last summer and I found them fairly interesting. In general, I do not entirely agree with David Ebrey's views on Plato (and his voice is really annoying), but he points out some interesting moments in the dialogues that I did not notice and his lectures are fairly engaging.

There are also, as it turns out, a number of podcasts that I had not stumbled upon until now. I have not listened to any of these, so I cannot recommend any of them, but I certainly will listen to them and review when I have time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reasoning/Sprited: Dates in the Platonic Corpus #3

My Thoughts on Dating the Platonic Corpus: I think that dramatic dates are most important for philosophically interpreting the Platonic corpus. There are two primary reasons for this, but each reason requires a significant amount of explanation.

It is important to note that although the dramatic timeline of the dialogues show a philosophical evolution, this is not any indication of the order in which they were written or read by the public (Zuckert 10-11 footnote 23). Furthermore, there is no indication that the philosophical trajectory sketched here is one that either Plato or the historical Socrates experienced. Rather, some philosophical understanding is to be gained not only from each dialogue, but from the context in which the dialogue is set historically as well as the context in terms of the dialogues before and after it. Socrates' life, and the lives of the other characters, as presented in the Platonic corpus, make both a philosophical and a political argument [1].

First, dramatic dating is more historically and methodologically sound. I realize that this is a particularly controversial claim. As a disclaimer, it is important to note that I am a "unitarian" in terms of the Platonic corpus, i.e. I believe that Plato's philosophical views did not evolve drastically over time. It is important to note that I did not always advocate strongly for the "unitarian" hypothesis, I was persuaded when a friend of mine introduced me to Plato's Philosophers. As such, I will present a group of arguments which convinced me. Most of these come from Zuckert's book, because her reading on the subject is much more extensive than mine (she spent 12 years writing Plato's which is an 880 page tome on the subject).

Historically, the dramatic dating is more sound because no extand ancient sources provide any reason to assume a change in Plato's philosophy over time. Obviously there is a lot of ancient work that is now lost, but as no extent text, including Aristotle who studied with Plato and Diogenes Laertius who provides the 35-text catalog of Plato's work, even hints at a change in Plato's thought signals a historical problem for the evolutionary hypothesis. The evolutionary hypothesis is an early 19th century invention by Friedrich Schleirmacher (Zuckert 2). Importantly, three of the dialogues which rely primarily (or entirely) on main interlocutors other than Socrates are dramatically set significantly earlier than the primarily Socratic dialogues (Laws, Epinomis, and Parmenides) (Zuckert 30, date chart 8-9). This hints that these dialogues are not an evolution beyond Socrates, but rather demonstrate some kind of a philosophical precursor. Dramatic dating produces a narrative about philosophical evolution and accounts for the changes in Socrates and Plato's other philosophers, but does not ascribe a change to Plato's philosophy and does not posit any dates of composition for which there is dearth of information.

Methodologically, compositional data is problematic. Originally, the timeline was based on scholarly assertions and the vestiges of evidence left over from later authors (e.g. Artistotle and Diogenes Laertius on the Laws, which I will discuss in a subsequent blogpost). In my Phaedrus class, my professor told us that scholars originally believed that the Phaedrus was Plato's first dialogue, because they believed it was clumsily written. Then they thought it might be his last dialogue and he had become senile before he wrote it. More modern subscribers to the evolutionary hypothesis place it closely in time with the Republic.

In the past hundred years or so, most compositional chronology is determined through stylometric analysis. As I mentioned in my recent blogpost, stylometric analysis examines the linguistic style of a text in order to determine the authenticity of composition. Scholars have employed surveys of word-choice, article use, particle use, elision, etc in order to determine the possible order of the Platonic corpus. They place the dialogues into groups by any or all of these factors. However, after this point, the ordering of those groups is primarily done through guesswork or reliance on previous chronological analysis of philosophical themes. More problematic, most of the work, even in the age of computers, has been done by sampling (i.e. examining only small portions of the corpus or work and creating generalizations based upon these). For a short survey, see Leonard Brandwood's "Stylometry and Chronology" in Cambridge Companion to Plato (CCO). The final, and most important methodological flaw in most (if not all) of these compositional chronologies is that they do not account for the differences in the interlocutors (i.e. to whom Socrates and the other primary philosophers speak). Zuckert explains this problem best in one of her footnotes "Plato was a consummate artist who was able to use many styles in depicting exchanges between different individual characters" (Zuckert 17 footnote 30) [2], so even if dialogues are grouped by similar phrasing, it may be based on the similarity of interlocutor or situation more than the time in which Plato composed them.

Second, dramatic dating yields more historically and philosophically plausible and interesting results. I realize this statement may sound a little flimsy, but since there is no way to determine Plato's intention in writing the dialogues (and even if we could, would this really elucidate anything?), but a theory must rise to the forefront based on a combination of the best historical plausibility, methodological reasonableness and consistency, and interesting, historically compelling results that account for inconsistencies and enigmas. Zuckert provides two reasons in her introduction, and I will provide one further to indicate the reason that dramatic dating provides the best yields. First, it affords the audience the ability to account for "the differences in Plato's presentation of Socrates that led most commentators to adopt the developmental thesis...without claiming historical knowledge that we in fact lack about the times in which Plato wrote individual dialogues" (Zuckert 18-19). Second, it demonstrates the acknowledgment in the Platonic corpus of the philosophical and political problems that Plato inherited, and establishes a vision of the ways to solve them, through the figure of Socrates, and then critiques certain characteristics of the solutions (Zuckert 19).
 Finally, more specifically (and importantly to me) reading based on dramatic date provides an explanation for the "doubling" of the city-in-speech dialogues (the Laws and the Republic), accounts for the inconsistencies between them both in policy and prose-style, and provides a fascinating (albeit at least partially fictional) account of the evolution of Greek, and especially Athenian, political thought from the end of the Archaic Age to the Peloponnesian War.

Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues
Zuckert's Dramatic Dates (Zuckert 8-9):


Laws (followed by the Epinomis)
(Socrates' turn from the study of nature or the beings to the examination of the logoi related in the Phaedo)
(Socrates' turn from the logoi to the doxai, related in the Symposium and the Apology)
Acibiades I and II
Charmides (after the battle of Potidaea)
Hippias Major and Minor
Ion (treated thematically in note to the Republic)
Clitophon (introducing the Republic)
Philibus (thematically related to the Republic)

Theaetetus, Euthyphro, Cratylus, Sophist, Statesman, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo
Zuckert divides the groups of dialogues by horizontal lines, in order to delineate the different philosophical trends in the arguments. The first group occur before Socrates becomes a public figure and demonstrate the political inviability of pre-Socratic philosophy and the necessity of Socratic questioning in order to create a regime based on the principles of true goodness, nobility, and justice (Zuckert 11-13). The first stage of Socratic dialogues (group two) demonstrate both the Socratic method of questioning and the problematic nature of the traditional conceptions of terms like justice and goodness (Zuckert 13). In the second stage (group 3), "Socrates no longer remains content merely to show the inadequacy of the opinions held by his interlocutors. He begins to put forth a kind of positive teaching of his own, albeit in the form of images and myths" (Zuckert 14). He attempts to demonstrate the benefits of positive philosophy. The third stage (group four) shows that Socrates, although he has managed to gain a reputation and a following (in contrast to the dialogues in group 2), he cannot convince people to follow these positive teachings in the way that he might like, which is the reason that these dialogues do not come to conclusions in the way of those in the second stage (group 3) (Zuckert 14-16). The fourth and final stage (group 5) include the dialogues which surround Socrates' trial and death, foreshadowed by stage three (group 4), and examine knowledge as such, in light of this (Zuckert 16-17).

As a disclaimer, I cannot verify many of Zuckert's claims about the dating because I have not investigated the dramatic dates as extensively as she has. However, I can (and have in my thesis) argue for the Laws as earlier than the Peloponnesian Wars, and later than the Persian Wars based on historical references, the relationships of the three old men, and discussions of the funerary rituals and the death penalty. I will save arguments about the Laws for a subsequent post.

  1. If this is not already clear, both Zuckert (and I) believe(s) that Socrates, the other leaders of discussion, and the interlocutors are not "impersonal" spokesmen, not concerned with the individuality of others (Zuckert 2 footnote 2) and that the dialogues concern people and action, not merely arguments (Zuckert 5-6 footnote 13). Furthermore, Plato's philosophers who stand as primary interlocutors in the dialogues are not spokesmen in that "no one in the dialogues speaks for Plato simply or directly" (Zuckert 13 footnote 25). Rather, the convergence of ideas in the dialogue create a philosophical understanding in the mind of the reader which is not ever voiced by a single character (for a similar argument, see Zuckert 19).
  2. According to the wonderful professor who taught my Phaedrus class, the Lysianic speech delivered by Phaedrus in the dialogue was considered by many to be actually written by Lysias. Some resent stylometric research, however, showed that it had too many Lysianic tropes in a short space of time to be actual Lysias, but was rather an expert mockery. In general, Plato's emulation of the Greek prose of others is extremely impressive. As such, his style may change from dialogue to dialogue based on whom he is emulating.