This paper explores the political thought and literary devices contained in the pseudo-PlatonicEighth Letter, treating it as a later response to the political thought and literary style of Plato, particularly the exploration of the mixed constitution and the mechanisms for the restraint of monarchical power contained in theLaws. It examines the specific historical problems of this letter, and works through its supposed Sicilian context, its narrator's assessment of the situation, and the lengthy prosopopoeia of the dead Syracusan politician Dion, before (...) concluding with a consideration of its contribution to our knowledge of Greek political thought after Plato. (shrink)
The Seventh Platonic Letter describes Plato's attempts to turn the ruler of Sicily, Dionysius II, into a philosopher ruler along the lines of the Republic. It explains why Plato turned from politics to philosophy in his youth and how he then tried to apply his ideas to actual politics later on. It also sets out his views about language, writing and philosophy. But is it genuine? Scholars have debated the issue for centuries. The origin of this book was a seminar (...) given in Oxford in 2001 by Myles Burnyeat and Michael Frede, two of the most eminent scholars of ancient philosophy in recent decades. They question the authenticity of the letter head-on by showing how its philosophical content conflicts with what we find in the Platonic dialogues. They also reflect on the question of why the Letter was written, whether as an attempt to exculpate Plato from the charge of meddling in politics, or as an attempt to portray, through literary means, the ways in which human weakness and emotions can lead to disasters in political life. (shrink)
This volume presents essays and seminars by Myles Burnyeat and Michael Frede, two of the most eminent scholars of ancient philosophy in recent decades, on the fascinating and much-debated Seventh Platonic Letter. They question the authenticity of the letter by showing how its philosophical content conflicts with the Platonic dialogues.
This article investigates the relation between Language and Being as it is articulated in the so-called philosophical digression of Plato‘s alleged Seventh Letter. Here the author of the letter claims, in contrast to the testimony of Plato‘s many dialogues, that there has never been and there will never be any written word on Plato‘s philosophy; and in addition, as if this was not sufficiently perplexing, he goes on to explain that the matters of philosophy do in fact not admit of (...) verbal expression at all. In discussing the arguments for and the consequences of these claims, this paper explores what in the letter is argued to be the only viable way out of the ontological and epistemological deficiencies inherent in language. In trying to lay bare how the author of the letter argues for the insufficiency of a rational, theoretical and linguistic understanding of ultimate reality, this paper explores the notions of sunousia and tribo as the only acts powerful enough to overcome the obstacles of language and to reach a true understanding of Being. Arguing against a mystical interpretation of the notions of sunousia and tribo – in terms of a certain union between subject and object – this paper claims that a true philosophical relation to Being, according to the letter, is not be understood as the end of a particular type of search, but must rather be understood as the search itself. It argues that neither sunousia nor tribo are to capture a type of meditative situation, but rather an articulated conversation reflecting the particular conditions of a philosophical approach. (shrink)
This essay sheds light on Plato’s Seventh Epistle. The five elements of Plato’s epistemological structure in the Epistle are the name, the definition, the image, the resultant knowledge itself (the Fourth) and the proper object of knowledge (the Form, or the Fifth). Much of contemporary Western philosophy has obsessed over Plato’s Fifth, relegating its existence to Plato’s faulty imagination after skillful linguistic analyses of the First (name) and the Second (definition). However, this essay argues against this reduction of knowledge to (...) linguistic propositions, proposing that it is critical for the purposes of philosophical rectification to draw present attention to the 'Fourth', a final cognitive experience that Plato called ‘knowledge.’ In the Seventh Epistle, it is argued, Plato attempts to show that knowledge is possible which is not reducible to semantics or conventional definitions. For Plato, to acquire knowledge of the circle required a process of cogitation that continually thought about the different elements until it became clear that the knowledge of a circle could not be reduced to one of its elements (i.e., name or definition). The essay then suggests that the Fourth consists of the union of meaning, and the consciousness or understanding of that meaning that is the knowledge of the Eidos. The 'meaning' must be apprehended by the philosopher, and it is the very apprehension of the meaning that constitutes the knowledge experience for the philosopher. If students of philosophy are encouraged to experience and rediscover great moments of philosophical insight, a better understanding of the purpose of philosophical inquiry and a greater admiration for the work of past philosophers can be gained. At the same time, a new path can be paved and a substantial direction can be posited for the discovery of new philosophical truths, which will be the task of all philosophers of the future. (shrink)
Set in the idyllic countryside outside Athens, the Phraedrusis a dialogue between the philosopher Socrates and his friend Phaedrus, inspired by their reading of a clumsy speech by the writer Lysias on the nature of love. Their conversation develops into a wide-ranging discussion on such subjects as the pursuit of beauty, the immortality of the soul and the attainment of truth, and ends with an in-depth consideration of the principles of rhetoric. Probably a work of Plato's maturity, the Phaedrusrepresents a (...) high point in his achievement as a writer. This volume also contains two of his letters, which discuss his involvement in politics, in particular his role as adviser to Dionysius II of Syracuse, which are crucial documents for our understanding of Plato's life and career. (shrink)
Although acknowledging both the style and terminology of the Seventh Letter to be genuinely Platonic in character, Edelstein is nevertheless convinced that "the whole concept of Plato the man and the philosopher proposed in the epistle is in contradiction with the spirit and the letter of Platonic teaching." In order to expose this "perversion" of true Platonism, he seeks to establish the spuriousness of the letter first on grounds of historical discrepancy, secondly on grounds of philosophical discrepancy with the dialogues. (...) A final section seeks to confirm these findings by setting the Seventh Letter in the context of the other letters—evidence against the genuineness of which Edelstein finds "overwhelming." Through an ingenious use of Plutarch's Life of Dion and carefully selected references from the dialogues, the first section seeks to persuade the reader that the author of the letter is confused about Plato's own youth and early manhood, about both the motivation and the accounts of the journeys to Sicily, about the content of any advice given to Dion and Dionysius, and finally about the portrayal of Dion, Dionysius, and Plato himself. Edelstein's own suggestion is that the letter was forged about twelve years after Plato's death by some unknown admirer who, wishing to reinterpret Plato's life more favorably, modelled his version on Timoleon of Corinth. From Edelstein's point of view, it is important to urge the spuriousness of the letter on historical grounds before coming to grips with the so-called philosophic digression since it is the letter's interpretation of Platonic philosophy and philosophic method that he wishes above all to reject. Drawing less heavily on the dialogues and more on his own sense of contradiction, Edelstein attempts to establish the unplatonic character of both the philosophical testing of Dionysius and the views on philosophical writing. The account of philosophic method as a "passing in turn from one to another [of the Four], up and down" is dismissed as evidently divergent from dialectic—although no serious attempt is made to analyze or compare the two. Finally, interpreting the doctrine of the Fifth as indication that for the author of the letter "the Ideas themselves are thoughts" and "as thoughts of the mind are as it were part and parcel of the mind," Edelstein moves to his conclusion: the forger of the Seventh Letter is a post-Platonic member of the Academy for whom the Ideas are only conceptually real. It is of course disappointing that "one must resign oneself to classifying him as a Platonist of sorts whose name and background are unknown."—R. D. (shrink)
A new translation of the Platonic Letters, with clear and judicious discussion of their importance and individual claims to authenticity. By comparing the ideas expressed in the epistles with those in the late dialogues, Morrow provides an excellent corrective to some earlier views that the doctrines are un-Platonic because they do not square with passages in the middle period dialogues. Letters VII and VIII, the longest and most important of the collection, are shown to have excellent claims to authenticity. An (...) important and welcome addition to our English translations and editions of Plato.--R. S. B. (shrink)