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Review: Plato and Analytical Philosophy


  • Review: Plato and Analytical PhilosophyAuthor(s): Marcel Van AckerenSource: Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 62, No. 2 (2005), pp. 263-275Published by: SpringerStable URL: 26/05/2010 07:39

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  • Erkenntnis (2005) 62:263-275 DOI 10.1007/sl0670-005-7487-y

    Springer 2005

    Critical Discussion


    Kutschera, Franz, von, Piatons Philosophie I: Die fr hen Dialoge, Mentis, Paderborn, 2002, 236 pp. 29.80 (paper). ISBN: 3-89785-264-0. Kutschera, Franz, von, Piatons Philosophie II: Die mittleren Dialoge, Mentis, Paderborn, 2002,239 pp. 29.80 (paper). ISBN: 3-89785-265-9.

    Kutschera, Franz, von, Piatons Philosophie III: Die sp ten Dialoge, Mentis, Paderborn, 2002,274 pp. 29.80 (paper). ISBN: 3-89785-266-7.

    (together also available as)

    Kutschera, Franz, von, Piatons Philosophie I-III, Mentis, Paderborn, 2002, 749 pp., 78,- (paper), ISBN 3-89785-277-2.

    The above mentioned books are outstanding for more than one reason: Firstly, nowadays there are more publications on Plato than even the most dedicated researcher can cope with, but this set of three volumes aims at nothing less than a presentation of the entire

    philosophy of Plato, something that only very few scholars have undertaken in the past. The (hopefully still) well known names are: Ritter (1910), Wilamowitz-Moellendorf (1919), Friedl nder (1928 1930), Br cker (1964) and Guthrie (1975, 1978). Secondly, a new

    book by one of the leading and internationally renowned scholars in the field of

    "analytic philosophy", Franz von Kutschera, is in itself of interest. Thirdly, it is precisely the combination of these two factors that is so intriguing, for former attempts to interpret Plato's philos ophy in all of its breathtaking depth and variety have been written from a more or less philological or doxographic point of view.

    Especially the German tradition has contributed to that tenet in the research literature, e.g. Friedl nders three volumes, in which he

    paints a very subtle picture of Plato but uses only the colours pro vided by Schleiermachers (philological) "romanticism" (E. Heitsch,


    personal communication). But also the english literature does not provide us with an analytic account of Plato: Apart from Guthries

    impressive work I can only think of two older (and considerably shorter) studies by Shorey (1903, 1933) and Taylor (1926). They all have the purely doxographic aim in common, but they are quite dif ferent in style and method: Whereas Taylor and Guthrie are working their way through Plato dialogue by dialogue, Shorey underlines his strict Unitarian interpretation by providing us with a first attempt at a

    systematic overview. To be sure, here "systematic" does not mean any more than an interpretation structured in accordance with philo

    sophical topics (e.g. ethics, ontology etc.), instead of a chronological approach von Kutschera presents something very similar, but a great deal more elaborate: At the end of volume III (pp. 173-236), the reader finds a topic-centred overview, which summarizes Plato's philosophy under ten subjects (1. The character of Plato's philosophy, 2. Forms, 3. Dialectics, 4. Doctrine of principles, 5. Theology, Teleology, Theodicy, 6. Dualism, 7. Perception and Knowledge, 8. The good life, 9. The

    State, 10. Philosophy). So far, however, I have only pointed out that Kutschera's books belong to a very distinguished class of literature on Plato but even within this very small group they are special, because in contrast to all the mentioned predecessors he pursues a quite different

    approach. This has to be examined in detail. It is worthwhile to pay careful attention to the preface, for it

    includes more than the usual expression of thanks and announcement of text-editions being used. In fact the first pages develop a meth

    odological framework for interpreting ancient philosophical texts with special regard to Plato. The author dismisses the common no

    tion of a history of philosophy with purely doxographic aims as

    "necrophilism" (I; p. 10) and presents four arguments, the first two of which are linked more specifically to Plato:

    (1) Plato himself was highly interested in the truth of his asser tions, so even if we are doing history of philosophy, we should take his intention seriously and ask ourselves what the truth is with regard to the philosophical problems he raises.

    (2) Plato wants his readers to think independently, for he con sidered his texts only to be b7ro|ivf||iaTa (memorials) for those "who follow the same path, and he will be pleased when he [the writer] sees them putting forth tender leaves" (Phaedr. 276d). Thereby claim (1) is extended and justified, firstly, through Plato's use of the dialogue form and, secondly, through his suspicion against written philosophy (I; pp. 9, 47-51).


    The second two arguments are of general importance and more

    challenging: (3) Considering the true answer of a question does not only help

    to describe Plato's answer to it, it is a necessary condition of doing so

    correctly. This, certainly, is a more striking and stronger claim, but it is substantiated by a very neat and surprisingly concise argument: If

    we want to stick to the charity principle of interpretation and if we,

    accordingly, strive to present an author as holding true and sensible

    positions, we first of all have to tackle the question of what might be a true and sensible position. Needless to say, this does not amount to free Plato from all failures. (I; 10).

    But one might argue that von Kutschera is simply aiming too high. Isn't the entire history of philosophy including modern branches like

    analytical philosophy all about trying to defend various notions of true and sensible positions? The assumption that considering the true answer of a question is a necessary condition of describing the answer

    given by some other (historical) philosopher seems to imply the ambitious claim to have found the truth. Even if we think that to be

    possible we would expect Kutschera to present the true answer to a

    philosophical question and than -in the light of this truth -provides us with a description of Plato's position. But that is not what the reader gets. For good reasons, because this method seems to rely on a circle: In order to find out what questions (and answers) are of interest to Plato we got to read him, but in order to read him, we need the true answer to his question. In the final paragraphs of this essay I

    will come back to the fact that von Kutschera with a few exceptions never strays very far from Plato's text. In the end the reader will welcome his actual procedure, which manly consists in confronting Plato's texts with a modern conceptual apparatus in hope of mutual benefit. This leads me to his next claim.

    (4) We do not have to apply modern concepts and distinctions of various modern notions to Platonic texts, but if we wish to estimate and evaluate Plato's theories, it is vital to use our modern conceptual framework. Therefore we have to rely on modern distinctions while

    reading Plato. Does that amount to the anachronistic fallacy, as might be sus

    pected? Not necessarily, as von Kutschera is not trying to force later distinctions in an old text, for sometimes he recognises that in the

    light of Plato's argumentation these modern distinction turn out to be

    inadequate. Examples of that will be given below.

    According to von Kutschera, modern distinctions concerning truth are methodological tools which have to be used for a better


    understanding of Plato. But ancient texts can also be read for the sake of developing modern theories! In fact, Ryle has called for an

    approach (Ryle 1954, p. 14), in which the ancient texts function as a stepping board or a quarry for arguments. These two ways of reading ancient texts do not exclude each other. Before I discuss these

    questions referring to various interpretations of book II of Plato's

    Republic, I will have to explain why I am focussing on this kind of problem, i.e. the use of modern distinction in the interpretation of Plato.

    (a) It is precisely the approach explained above which makes von Kutscheras books so interesting, (b) Plato has written 26 dialogues

    (plus two presumably spurious but relevant ones, the G


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