Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.04.14
Luc Brisson, Jean-François Pradeau, Études Platoniciennes I. Publication annuelle de la Société d'Études Platoniciennes. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2004. Pp. 350. ISBN 2-251-44265-0. €35.00.
Reviewed by Matthias Perkams, NWG Spätantike und Byzantinische Literatur, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 2192 words
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review].
It is a bold endeavour today to found a new journal about ancient philosophy. There are already a great many of them in which every kind of paper can be published. Hence, if someone is starting a new journal, he should have good reasons for it. The editors of the new yearbook of Platonic studies -- the responsable de publication is Jean-François Pradeau (Paris-Nanterre), the comité de rédaction includes Luc Brisson (Paris), Marie-Laurence Desclos (Grenoble), Louis André Dorion (Montréal), Francesco Fronterotta (Lecce), Francesco L. Lisi (Madrid), and Denis O'Brien (Paris) -- remark on the fact that "il n'existe pas de revue ou de périodique entièrement consacrée à Platon et au devenir de son oeuvre" (announcement of the publishing house Les belles lettres). In order to close this apparent gap, the new journal will for the most part publish studies on the Platonic dialogues, but will also devote space to the ancient Platonic tradition. Some volumes will be devoted to special themes. Further, by adding critical notes and a complete bibliography of Platonic studies, the editors seek to create an effective working tool for anyone engaged in Platonic studies. The journal is financed by the universities of Madrid, Lecce, and Paris X -- Nanterre. "Les études platoniciennes s'efforceront de rendre hommage à la générosité de des institutions en publiant des études de qualité et d'intérêt international" (J.-F. Pradeau: p. 7). The content of the first volume reflects these aims; it contains six papers on Plato, one on Plotinus, one on Porphyry, a critical note on two books on Plotinus and a bibliography of Platonic studies.
The first two articles concern Plato's theory of justice and punishment. Anne Merker shows by analyzing passages from several Platonic dialogues that punishment always aims, according to Plato, at improving the moral status of the soul of the person punished. The framework of this long exposition is given by the subsequent article of Klaus Schöpsdau who explains more generally what judging and punishing mean in Plato. Schöpsdau's article is a clear and useful overview of the question. It is somewhat strange that the editors placed this paper after that of Merker, since the latter offers a more detailed analysis of some points whose importance is clearer after having read Schöpsdau's paper.
Francesco L. Lisi analyzes the myth of Plato's Politicus, arguing for a "simple", literal reading of this myth and of Platonic myths in general. At the beginning of the article, Lisi mentions a reviewer of an early book of his "que muy probablemente no había leído en su totalidad y que con toda seguridad no había comprendido" ("who very probably had not read it completely and who without any doubt had not understood it") and wants to present this article as part of the discussion which began at that time (p. 73). This allusion is hard to understand for someone who is not familiar with the book and the review alluded to. In any case it is not good form to charge a reviewer with not having read one's own book without giving further explanations. This is especially awkward when it serves as the introduction to an article. Authors and editors of scholarly works would do well to avoid such flaws. The paper attempts to refute the interpretation of the myth by Luc Brisson who is charged with having introduced into the interpretation of Plato's text an anachronistic concept of transcendence which is influenced by Christian presuppositions. Instead of Brisson's distinction of three periods in the Politicus myth, Lisi opts for the traditional interpretation which distinguishes only two periods (p. 75).
Francesco Gregorio discusses the relationship of Plato's Politeia and Aristotle's Politics. He aims at elucidating the relations between the two texts by analyzing Aristotle's critiques of Plato. He shows that the former read Plato quite closely and correctly, but that his critiques presupposed his own political convictions. For example, Aristotle interprets the relations between Plato's guardians and his chrematistai as a relation between masters and slaves which is of course not what Plato intended to say (p. 104). Consequently, Aristotle's critiques do not rely on the specific presuppositions of Plato's political theory, but criticize it within Aristotle's own framework, such that they could be answered by Plato by stating clearly his own understanding of the points discussed. Gregorio gives a methodologically interesting reading of Plato and Aristotle. The most important point of this essay is, to my mind, that it is an exemplary analysis of philosophical critiques. It shows the necessity of interpreting a thinker in the light of his own presuppositions in order that one may arrive at a fair critique. It is remarkable that even Aristotle could not do full justice to the arguments of his own teacher.
The most interesting piece in the volume is, in my view, Walter G. Leszl's article "Plato's Attitude to Poetry and the Fine Arts and the Origins of Aesthetics". Leszl argues here at length for the existence of aesthetic thought in antiquity, even though there was not a separate discipline called aesthetics. In order to do so, he criticizes in particular the conflicting account of O. Kristeller who denies that there was an aesthetic theory in antiquity. Leszl charges Kristeller with formulating the criteria for an aesthetic theory in a way which even modern theories of this kind do not fulfil (p. 119-121). Leszl himself concludes that there must have been an educated public in the Athens of Plato's time which was able to judge pieces of art according to aesthetic standards. Consequently, one can hope to find in Plato and other ancient authors some traces of an aesthetic theory which is based on such standards. That such a theory was not explicitly developed at that time, according to Leszl, could be due to the fact that an urgent need was not felt for it. As a reason for this, he suggests that the ancients, contrary to modern philosophers, did not regard art as a fundamental expression of the individual's freedom (p. 124-128). In the next part of his article, Leszl argues that the concept of μίμησις is not the ideal starting point for describing the ancient notion of aesthetics because this concept inclines us to define the Greek conception of art too much in terms of its heteronomy (p. 140f.). Leszl himself proposes that Plato defined art starting from the concept of pleasure (ἡδονή) whose importance in the Platonic dialogues he discusses in the rest of his paper. These are important arguments for any reader interested in aesthetic questions. There is no room here to discuss the correctness of Leszl's views. In any case, they show how fruitful it can be, especially in the case of Plato, to approach the texts with clear questions and with a thorough knowledge of his whole work and cultural background. This can lead to an understanding of his philosophical importance which may be otherwise obscured by Plato's loose terminology and the peculiarities of the dialogical form.
Francesco Bearzi's contribution is intended to be the first part of a series of articles which discuss Plato's notion of noetic thinking. Bearzi criticizes "la critica anglosassone" for disregarding non-propositional thought because of its alleged philosophical improbability, while the historians of philosophy should consider Plato's picture of the world "nella misura del possibile nella sua coerenza interna" (p. 201). Though one may question whether Bearzi's critiques are justified, his approach is quite reasonable, especially concerning the concept of noetic thinking which seems very alien to most contemporary philosophers, but which was essential for most ancient theories of cognition. Bearzi discusses in this article the statements on noetic thinking in the Symposion which are, according to the author, in accordance with what Plato says on this topic in other works and should not interpreted as statements about a mystical experience.
Compared with these extended articles on Plato, the section on the Platonic tradition is conspicuously short and concerns only small sections of text. Francesco Fronterotta who discusses one passage of Plotinus' Enneades about the relation between the world of becoming and the noetic realm (V 1, 6, 19-22), stresses the difficulty in assuming both a diversity of noetic essences and a noetic realm which is defined as "atemporal". This is a problem which was well known to Plotinus himself who especially devotes his treatise III 7 to it, as Fronterotta himself notes (p. 267 f.). However, instead of discussing Plotinus' position and his attempt to give a solution (this attempt was discussed e.g. by W. Beierwaltes in his interpretation of Ennead III 7), Fronterotta just repeats that there is a problem (p. 269 f.). One may hope that we will at some time also receive an account of the attempted solution from his pen which does justice to the complexity of Plotinus' ideas. In the next article, Luc Brisson gives an overview of the well known theme of Porphyry's hierarchical order of the virtues (sent. 32).
The volume closes with a long bibliography by Luc Brisson in collaboration with Frédéric Plin whose aim is "de dresser la liste la plus complète et la plus précise possible des travaux sur Platon et sur ses oeuvres publiés en 2002 et 2003". The list is divided in two sections, "Édition et traductions" (ordered according to the Platonic works) and "Travaux d'interprétation" (alphabetical). It is preceded by a list of abbreviations and of the collective volumes which have been used to constitute the list; it does not contain any notes or comments on the content of the works presented. Such a list is of course a useful tool for any research on Plato. What is not entirely clear to me is why this new list is necessary in addition to l'Année philologique which already presents the books and articles which concern Plato. Is it insufficient where Plato's works are concerned? The editors do not discuss this question. Be that as it may, another question is even more important: Why do they publish such a list in a printed journal, and not on the Internet? There, it is easier to keep the list up-to-date, and there is a greater likelihood that the reader will find the particular titles which are of interest to him. This will be an even bigger problem as more volumes of the new yearbook are published (even if the publishing house will edit the bibliography every five years in a separate volume, as they announce).
If one contemplates the formal aspects of the volume, the editors should be congratulated for having accepted longer contributions: The article of Merker contains 40 pages, Bearzi's more than 50, and Leszl's 86. The last article especially shows the possible value of longer pieces. Such articles would not be accepted by many journals because of their length, but for this very reason they can discuss a point and its textual basis thoroughly without requiring a monograph. Less satisfactory is the treatment of the bibliographies of the individual articles. While Schöpsdau and Bearzi give their own bibliographies, these are lacking in the other articles. It is not a problem to publish an article without its own bibliography, but in this case the author should give with any occurrence of a quoted work the number of the note where it is quoted in full. Quotations like "art. cit." or "op. cit." are a nuisance for any reader who does not have a special interest in surveying dozens of footnotes. Furthermore, there should be a coherent treatment of literature in the whole volume.
All in all, the first volume of the Études Platoniciennes offers a remarkably good collection of articles on Plato which deserve the attention of the academic public. For somebody interested in the Platonic tradition, it is of less interest, though this may change if the editors encourage more contributions in this field. One may still doubt if this journal is a necessary addition to the existing ones. But if the editors manage to maintain the high quality of the published articles, it will be worthwhile for any scholar interested in Plato to take account of the forthcoming volumes.
- Anne Merker, " Corps et châtiment chez Platon "
- Klaus Schöpsdau, " Richten und Strafen. Zum Strafrecht in Platons Nomoi "
- Francisco L. Lisi, " El mito del Político "
- Francesco Gregorio, " Éléments pour une métacritique de l'interprétation aristotélicienne de la République de Platon "
- Walter G. Leszl, " Plato's Attitude to poetry and the fine arts, and the origins of aesthetics "
- Francesco Bearzi, " Il contesto noetico del Simposio "
- Francesco Fronterotta, " La genèse et la succession des réalités atemporelles. Un argument paradoxal chez Plotin (Ennéades V 1  6, 19-22) ? "
- Luc Brisson, " La doctrine des degrés de vertus chez les néo-platoniciens. Une analyse de la Sentence 32 de Porphyre, de ses antécédents et de ses conséquences "
NOTES ET LECTURES CRITIQUES
- Francesco Fronterotta," L'unità del Platonismo : Alcuni studi sulla tradizione medioplatonica e neoplatonica "
- Bibliographie des études platoniciennes : années 2002-03
- Table des matières de la bibliographie