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Best Plato Textbook is a Superb Teaching Tool
on March 17, 2004
The book is an excellent teaching tool for undergraduate and graduate level Philosophy courses. This text would be the only one I would use at the high school level (and Plato should be taught in GATE and AP type English classes, as he was back in the "good old days" when the goal of academic 'arete' had real importance in lesson planning). The book includes the dialogues surrounding the trial and death of Socrates, Euthyphro, Crito, and Apology, the Death Scene of Socrates from the Phaedo, and the "Allegory of the Cave" from the Republic. While the translations are not always the best, they are very good, come from the greatest source (Jowett) and quite sufficient for communicating all the important points in the dialogues.
Best of all are the copious margins which surround the text on every page and serve the wonderful purpose of teaching students to annotate their text with marginalia. The creation of marginalia is an ancient scholarly art, quintessentially described by Edmond Bourdoux Szekeley, one of the last of the old world scholars of that grand continental tradition known as the Sorbonne Method, which he describes in his now out of print masterpiece, "The Art of Study". In that book, Szekeley details the method by which, through nearly a millinium, successive generations of Sorbonne scholars (dating back before Aquinas), parsed and analyzed arguments and extracted the hermaneutic esssence of their texts.
Biffle provides cues and prompts with relevant and incisive questions (he knows Bloom's Taxonomy as well as he knows his Philosophy), which not only makes students accountable to do the reading (you can collect your students' texts to see if their doing it), but provides the student with a time-proven, eminently productive study skill.
Biffle also provides excellent background material, supplementary writing exercises, and material for quizzes, all you really need.
A few points which Biffle addresses "to the teacher" in his introduction are in order: 1) "My philosophy students need a lot of practice in orderly thinking and writing. They need practice in following a logical pattern, giving reasons for assertions, clarifying points with examples, and quoting supporting material from a text. There is plenty of practice here." 2) "The truth is most students will read Plato's dialogues only once in their lives. We need to slow down that precious reading and make it as fruitful as possible. The reading and writing tasks I have incorporated in this book are designed to help students underline, write in margins, reread, paraphrase, outline, and eventually analyze philosophical classics in an orderly way."