Thursday, March 23, 2023


Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)

274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.

And now, on to the Parmenides.

If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.


Dave Bonta said...

Very interesting, Dale. I am finding this time of life invaluable for going back and re-reading all the philosophy I sort of half-digested in my teens and twenties. Currently reading the Analects in a new-to-me translation that includes traditional commentaries, so one can see it as part of a tradition - eye-opening, to say the least.

Gilmore Crosby said...

I love this: "...denunciation of depending on the written word..." So easy to overlook the power of conversation in a world dominated by texts, videos, e-mails, and yes, even blogs lol.