A Discussion of Christopher Rowe, Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing 1
N I C H O L A S D E N Y E R
Through his philosophical career, Plato was a loyal follower of Socrates. His loyalty was more than an admiration for Socrates the man and an enthusiasm for his dialectical method. For his loyalty included also a commitment to some more substantive views that he took himself to share with Socrates.
Among these views were: the world is providentially governed; no wise person ever harms anyone; a wise person will know about things like beauty and goodness; beauty and goodness are not identical to any or all ordinary beautiful or good things; all would be well with our lives if we were wise; attaining perfect wisdom is beyond human powers.
Perhaps the most adventurous of these views concerned the motives for action: at bottom, we can desire only one thing, what is good for us, and therefore, in order to act better, all we need is better information about what is good for us. Plato hardly changed his views.
His largest change was not so much to abandon as to elaborate his view about the motives for action: he came to allow that in some respects and for some purposes, we can think of people as having desires for something other than their good. In those of his writings where Socrates is the main character, Plato tries to get us, his readers, to share these views with him and Socrates. He does this by having Socrates express these views to an interlocutor. Which of these views he has Socrates express, and when and how, depends on the character and capacities of the interlocutor to whom he has Socrates express them.
Often the character and capacities of the interlocutor are so far from ideal that they limit, or even distort, Socrates’ expression of these views; even so, Plato never has Socrates say anything that either Plato or Socrates would take to be downright false. Occasionally Plato wishes to develop at length views that he does not endorse as firmly as those that he takes himself to share with Socrates. It is then that he writes dialogues in which the main character is not Socrates. Such, in crude summary, are the main contentions of Rowe’s book.
Nicholas Denyer 2009
1 C. Rowe, Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing (Cambridge, 2007), pp. ix +