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Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form [Paperback]

Charles H. Kahn
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 28, 1998 0521648300 978-0521648301
This book offers a new interpretation of Plato's early and middle dialogues as the expression of a unified philosophical vision. Whereas the traditional view sees the dialogues as marking successive stages in Plato's philosophical development, we may more legitimately read them as reflecting an artistic plan for the gradual, indirect and partial exposition of Platonic philosophy. The magnificent literary achievement of the dialogues can be fully appreciated only from the viewpoint of a unitarian reading of the philosophical content.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This outstanding work of scholarship issues serious challenges to many of the reigning orthodoxies of Platonic studies....Strongly recommended for its originality and imaginative scholarship." J. Bussanich, Choice

"...Kahn's book has a great deal to offer besides this central argument. His account of the theory of Forms is subtle and profound. He does full justice to the role of love in Plato's thought." Jasper Griffin, New York Review of Books

"...quite rewarding." David Sider, American Journal of Philology

"The fact is that Plato and the Socratic Dialogue is a very interesting book. Its interest lies not in the analysis of methodology but in the nuanced reading of a set of ancient texts that Kahn "offer[s]...[as] a comprehensive interpretation, at once literary, historical, and philosophical, the fruit of a lifetime of reading and teaching Plato" (p. xiii). Kahn does offer a nearly comprehensive interpretation of the early and middle dialpgues. His interpretation is literary, historical, and philosophical. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, his interpretation brings out some of what is truly awe inspiring about the ancient Greek period and about Plato's contribution to this period of human development." Review of Metaphysics

Book Description

This book offers a new interpretation of Plato's early and middle dialogues as the expression of a unified philosophical vision. Whereas the traditional view sees the dialogues as marking successive stages in Plato's philosophical development, we may more legitimately read them as reflecting an artistic plan for the gradual, indirect and partial exposition of Platonic philosophy. The magnificent literary achievement of the dialogues can be fully appreciated only from the viewpoint of a unitarian reading of the philosophical content.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521648300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521648301
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial and Challenging November 18, 2000
Format:Paperback
This is one of the best books on Plato that I have read. Kahn's thesis--that Plato's early and middle dialogues present a unified philosophical vision that is gradually revealed from dialogue to dialogue (what Kahn calls the "ingressive method")--is a new twist on the unitarian thesis that the Platonic corpus gives no evidence for the sort of philosophical development that has been spotted by interpreters such as Grote, Campbell, Vlastos, Owen, and many others (probably most others, in fact). But even if one is a developmentalist at heart, one can benefit greatly from reading this book. The approach is both philosophical and scholarly, of use both to the philosopher and to the classicist. Even when it is difficult to agree with Kahn (for example, he holds that the Gorgias is an earlier work than the Protagoras, in spite of what appears to be a more complex moral psychology and a more sensitive treatment of the hedonist thesis in the former), grappling with his arguments can be both a challenge and a thrill. Rarely does disagreement serve to educate so well.
It is disappointing, though fully understandable, that this book does not treat the late dialogues. There are hints here and there that Kahn thinks he could extend his thesis further, but his treatment of the Pheadrus in the last chapter is more promisory than productive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant April 4, 2014
By Reader
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In ‘Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form’ Charles Kahn puts forth a bold and provocative unitarian interpretation of Plato’s early and middle dialogues. Kahn is a long time University of Pennsylvania professor and a leading contemporary Plato scholar.

Much contemporary Plato scholarship has been framed by the so-called evolutionary model. A schema wherein Plato’s thought is seen to move from an initial position heavily influenced by Socrates (e.g. Charmides, Laches, Euthyphro), to a refinement and critical assessment of these views (e.g. Gorgias and Meno), and finally culminating in an articulation of his own views (e.g. Republic and later works). And, while within this paradigm there are disputes with regard to the precise chronology of the dialogues and other issues these disagreements are framed within the developmental hypothesis.

In contrast to the prevailing evolutionary model Kahn posits that the early and middle dialogues are best understood as a unified literary project; a project that Plato deployed in its particular manner for literary and pedagogical considerations- not as a consequence of his evolving philosophical views. As such, Kahn argues that the early dialogues purposely foreshadow and set the stage for the subsequent middle dialogues such as the Republic and Phaedrus wherein Plato provides a fuller elaboration of his philosophical project.

The text has much strength. Not only is Kahn’s writing lucid and flowing, the unveiling of his argument is a true tour de force - erudite, insightful and entertaining. The discussion of thinkers such as Antisthenes, Aristippus, Aeschines and Xenophon is excellent and has encouraged me to revisit these often overlooked but important non-Platonic Socratic sources.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plato's single literary project December 26, 1999
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I do not believe I can capture the sheer audacity and interpretive hubris of this book so I quote the author: "The anonymity of the dialogue form, together with Plato's problematic irony in the presentation of Socrates, makes it impossible for us to see through these dramatic works in such a way as to read the mind of their author. To suppose that one can treat these dialogues as a direct statement of the author's opinion is what I call the fallacy of transparency, the failure to take account of the doctrinal opacity of these literary texts. What we can and must attempt to discern, however, is the artistic intention with which they were composed. For in this sense the intention of the author is inscribed in the text. It is precisely this intention that my exegesis is designed to capture, by construing the seven threshold dialogues together with Symposium and Phaedo as a single complex literary enterprise culminating with the Republic. And that means to see this whole group of dialogues as the multi-faceted expression of a single philosophical view." (page 42)
Most scholars understand Plato's dialogues in terms of philosophical stages, that is to say, Plato had an early period, when his thought was dominated by Socrates, later came the middle period, culminating in the Republic, when he came, more and more to express his own ideas, and finally a period where he turns against Socrates entirely. But Kahn wants to know what if Plato had the plan of the dialogues mapped out in advance. What if he was critical of Socrates from the beginning? What if Socrates is not his spokesman, but an object of his criticism? Certainly, if Kahn's interpretation stands up, he has Occam's razor on his side.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hubris to the max January 10, 2000
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When the first empirical experiments confirmed Einstein's theory of relativity, story has it he was unphased. "If it had been otherwise" he is quoted as saying, "I'd feel sorry for God." If Kahn's interpretation of Plato is not correct, I feel sorry for Plato. To hear Kahn tell it, Plato is a great genius who did not, as modern scholarly orthodoxy holds, develope his point of view over time, but rather developes his reader over time to accept his ideas. Kahn believes that the decisive influence on Plato's life (other than, of course, Socrates) was the coup of the Thirty. These aristocrats overturned the Athenian democracy and, instead of ruling nobly, showed Plato how depraved and stupid obligarchy can be. The worst of these revolutionaries were Plato's brother and cousin. The only is bright spot was Socrates' brave stand against the tyrants only to get it in the neck once democracy was restored. The problem was that the ancient Greek religion was an aristocratic, heroic religion (see Homer) which encouraged the aristocrats to behave like barbarians. What Plato was trying to do was introduce a new religion (philosophy) which would civilize the aristocracy. To prove his point, Kahn must progress from Ion and Hippias Minor, through Gorgias (where he states his question fully) to the aporetic dialogues (Lysis, Meno, Charmnides) to the Protagoras (the most problematic of the dialogues to fit into his theory)and finally to goal the great middle dialogues (Symposium, Phaedo and Republic). It's quite a ride.but if you can hold on, well worth it.
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