A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Monday, 1 June 2009

Mayweek 2009: The Politicus

The last week of May is the well-known Mayweek in Cambridge: A workshop interprets an ancient philosophical text through close and intensive reading. This Mayweek was organized by Malcolm Schofield and was devoted to the Platonic Politicus. The speakers who presented the entire dialogue were: Dimitri El Murr, Sylvain Delcomminette, Christopher Rowe, David Sedley, Sarah Broadie, Nicholas Denyer, Melissa Lane, Robert Wardy, Malcolm Schofield.

The following are some of the issues broached and some of the questions raised:
-What are we looking for when looking for "Plato"?
-Broader framework of hermeneutics: a. General: Should we pursue an inner-dialogue or inter-dialogue hermeneutics? b. On the basis of the concrete object of inquiry: Should we regard the Politicus as a transition from the Republic to the Laws (developmentalistic reading)?
-Form of the dialogue (dialectics as dialogue) and various literary aspects. Among other themes: a. The disposition of the dialogue partner joung Socrates. b. The Visitor as Platonic dramatis persona.  The (in)famous Straussian hostility between the Eleatic Visitor and Socrates was not represented. c. Why didn't Plato write down a dialogue on the nature of the philosopher? That Plato deliberately refrained from composing such a dialogue becomes clear at 257b8. For, whenever the leading interlocutor postpones the discussion of a subject with the aid of εἰς αὖθις, he never fulfils our expectation.

-As far as methodos is concerned, we may ask: Can we unify the diversity of methods applied in the Politicus? Should "διαλεκτικώτερον περὶ πάντα" (285d) refer exclusively to the method of division?
-Platonic division and the Aristotelian critical approach
-Should the Myth be divided into two or three phases? What is the background against which a threefold division is proposed (by Rowe)? Does the myth entail good paradigms? Is the myth a good paradigm at all?
- Does Plato become a precursor of the Aristotelian concept γνωριμώτερον ἡμῖν when the Eleatic Visitor demonstrates the role of παραδείγματα?
-The digression on the two kinds of measurement: How should we understand αὐτὸ τἀκριβές (284d1f.)?
-Method and Object: Do the investigation into dialectics and the inquiry into statesmanship come into conflict? Sayre, who stresses methodology and dialectics, and Skemp, who prefers to focus on the inquiry on the statesman, represent two extremes. Is the Platonic methodos inseparable from its object or does it abstract from its object and become formal? To reformulate our question with the help of two modern cases: Should we take the Hegelian or the New-Kantian approach on methodos?
- How does the weaving art creep in when we define the statesmanship (305e3f.)?
- Mimesis in the discussion about the different constitutions and problems related to these obscure passages.
-The discussion boiled down to the appropriate question: Which dialogue is διαλεκτικώτερος: the Sophist or the Politicus? After such an enriching week, the Politicus was rehabilitated as it deserves. The above question remains open because we then have to ask with which measure we are going to compare the two dialogues so as to make our judgement concerning dialectics. They offer to some extent similar but also different aspects of Platonic dialectics. How longer would each of these two dialogues be, had (the) Plato(nic Guest) wanted to talk more on the issues that he deliberately and explicitly left aside? How longer would the Politicus be, had the Eleatic Guest been willing to say more on the ἀπόδειξις αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἀκριβοῦς? How longer would the Sophist become, if Plato had chosen more than five greatest kinds? And what about the discussion on Non-Being as contrary to Being? With how many scenarios can we come up? In the worst case, would the Sophist grow into something like the second part of the Parmenides? I draw just an analogy because it would make quite a difference had the interlocutor been Theaetetus and not Aristoteles. Second scenario: would we encounter the second chapter of the fourth book of Aristotelian metaphysics as a dialogue? Third, but not last possible scenario: A dialogue on the Philosophos? There is a second crucial question that suggests itself after the one we ask about the appropriate measurement of the dialogues' (possible) lengths: Which is the whole against the background of which we should compare the different parts and aspects, the bits and pieces of dialectics that the Platonic dialecticians perform in each dialogue? How are we going to judge which dialogue is διαλεκτικώτερος?

Such a successful meeting is certainly going to provoke various reflections, and the discussions on Plato are to be continued.
I found it particularly interesting to see that and how an idealistic approach (or rather tendency in a given paper) was welcome and cross-examined in Cambridge. Needless to say, we ought to do so with arguments of any origin and irrespective of their origin but, in this case, I was happy to experience a genuine dialogue and a remarkable openness in the Anglo-Saxon context, which in general remains sceptic toward idealistic readings of Plato. Let me grasp the opportunity and recall the following: a. Myles Burnyeat's seminal lecture "Idealism and Greek Philosophy: What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed" (Philosophical Review 91, 1982) and b. Paul Natorp's "Platons Ideenlehre" (1903, 1921 with a very important epilogue) was translated into English only some time ago (2004, International Plato Studies 18, edited, translated and introduced by Vassilis Politis).