Review of Metaphysics 52 (3):703-704 (1999)

With this new book the gap between Straussian and analytic approaches to Plato’s dialogues begins to look like it is unbridgeable. While the analytic side has been furiously fussing over the critical minutia regarding the dating and authenticity of the Platonic dialogues in order to determine what we can know of Socrates through Plato, Lutz without so much as a nod toward that project simply takes any Platonic dialogue to be a reliable guide to “Socrates” and his thought. This will sit poorly with those who think that we can no more know about Socrates from reading Platonic dialogues than we can about Jesus from reading the Gospels. Further, in the drama-versus-doctrine debate that is the great divide among Anglo-American scholars today, Lutz, like many a Straussian, opts for drama in the dialogues, rather than arguments in them, as the “least arbitrary and most revealing way” to philosophy. Lutz’s thesis is that Plato uses drama to support substantive Socratic theses, one of which is, according to Lutz, that “by nature we are moved by an erotic need to know we are ‘noble and good’”. Also according to Lutz, the recognition of this need is Socrates’ meaningful insight into human motivation, that of philosopher and scientist alike. He warns, however, that Socrates never decisively refutes his interlocutors’ rival conceptions of nobility and goodness. This is especially evident in the ongoing dialectic among the interlocutors in Plato’s Republic, which Lutz believes is dedicated to an examination of civic virtue. In addition, the dramatic portrayal of Socrates’ inability to educate Alcibiades shows, according to Lutz, “a fundamental limit on the power of reason to reform political life”. The value of Socratic education therefore consists in the idea that the content of virtue and efficacy of rationality are open to interpretation and must necessarily remain so. This essentially searching education, Lutz believes, may thus help us in our fragmented postmodern world, especially in bringing together competing conceptions of virtue in literature, politics, law, and science, and perhaps even Straussian and analytic philosophy.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph199952334
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