- Paperback: 120 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 15, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019280216X
- ISBN-13: 978-0192802163
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.4 x 4.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Plato: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition
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About the Author
Julia Annas is Regents Professor of Philosophy at The University of Arizona. She has published eight books and many articles on a wide variety of topics in ancient philosophy and is author of Ancient Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction.
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In a very readable and engaging style, Julia Annas presents what is known about Plato, helpful suggestions on how to approach his dialogues, and a brief summary of his important ideas and their historical significance. What more can one ask of an introduction?
My first beef with Prof. Annas is trivial, but annoying, and that is her insistance that the traditional English language usage for the third person impersonal discriminates against females. In order to counter this supposed disrespect of females, she creates opportunities to plunk down a "she" or a "her" where a "one" or "it" or "he" would normally be expected. An example: Annas writes, "Someone who wins the lottery, for example, may well not be made any happier by just having the money. Unless she puts it to intelligent use, the money may do nothing for her, or even ruin her life." So, we were talking about the relationship of money to happiness, when suddenly the topic changes to gender politics. Why not just say, "Unless the money is put to intelligent use, it may contribute nothing to happiness, and may even ruin one's life", and leave gender politics out of it? I purchased this book in order to learn about Plato, not to deal with Julia Annas' feminist complexes.
She is excessively agnostic about the order of composition of the Platonic dialogues, dismisses with little discussion the internal evidence for a sequence, and its implications for the reconstruction of a picture of the historic Socrates. My complaint is not that she disagrees, but that she doesn't discuss the issue, which seems to be an important one in studies of Plato. And she really doesn't get to the meat of Socrates' irony and method of inquiry.
She devotes an entire chapter to sex and gender issues, only to then dismiss Plato thus: "By this point, studying Plato has little to contribute to modern feminist discussion: his starting points and many of his assumptions are too remote from ours for him to be a profitable partner in debate for very long." If that's true, why did we just spend an entire chapter, 14 percent of a very short book, on the subject?
The remainder of the book is taken up with superficial discussions of Plato's views of virtue, the soul, and metaphysics, and ends with a rousing statement of the obvious: "For in the end, his deepest message is not that we should believe in Forms, or the importance of virtue, but that we should engage with him, and with our own contemporaries, in aspiring to understand these matters."
I finished her Short Introduction to Ancient Philosophy stimulated to read more. By contrast, reading this book left me with the opposite feeling, that reading more by Annas would be frustrating and a waste of time.
I would say that the biggest of all the problems with this text is that it just isn’t suited for the neophyte: taking for granted my abovementioned familiarity, there were some parts of the text where something said made no sense to me. I had to refer to the original Platonic dialogue to try to figure out what the author meant. Another issue is that Plato’s thought is present (sometimes) from standpoints in which the interpretation is more than controversial, though presented without the slightest indication of this. (Especially, Unitarian vs. Revisionist understanding of the development of the Platonic texts; see the commentary in Chappell’s “Theaetetus.”)
The book would have been much better if it either grouped dialogues by themes, or took elements from dialogues and presented major ideas in that fashion, while still being able to incorporate the context and the one decent chapter already included.
A point on the printing of the book, for those who may be looking to purchase it: numerous copies of this book, I have found, have a printing error in them. A large swathe of the text in the middle of the book was inverted and inserted into the book upside-down. Three copies from three different (unrelated, e.g., university and public) libraries contained this binding/printing error. Be sure to look inside at what you are getting, first.
Most recent customer reviews
This is a readable account by a professor of philosophy at Oxford and Arizona Universities of the...Read more