Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.10.35

Michel Fattal, La philosophie de Platon. Tome 2. Collection Ouverture Philosophique.   Paris:  L'Harmattan, 2005.  Pp. 371.  ISBN 2-7475-8274-7.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Richard Dufour (
Word count: 1659 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

M. Fattal has collected in this volume fifteen essays by scholars from around the world. Specialists from Argentina, Canada, France, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Senegal and the United States, have joined in this endeavor to elucidate some aspects of Plato's philosophy. Five contributions are not original, since they have been presented at colloquia or have been previously published in a language other than French. The papers are of uneven quality, ranging from well-structured accounts to rigmaroles. They are designed for a philosophically educated audience, although the first one may suit the neophyte. Various topics are examined, including literature, mathematics, rhetoric, ethics, politics and cosmology.

D. Samb provides what can be considered as an introduction to Plato. He summarizes Plato's life and enumerates Heraclitus, Pythagoras and Socrates as the main influences on his thought. The authenticity and chronology of Plato's dialogues are also expounded upon. Samb then concentrates on those he deems to be the first dialogues: Hippias Major, Laches and Meno. They exhibit as a common principle the need to discover a thing's definition, that is, the answer to the question, "what is it?" The specialist will not find anything new in this paper.

L. Rossetti discusses the phenomenon of the logoi sokratikoi. He considers that Plato's style of writing was far from being something unique in his time and that a dozen former disciples of Socrates wrote many Logoi Sokratikoi. This is a cultural phenomenon generally overlooked by modern scholars. Rossetti concludes that about three hundred stories on Socrates may have been written between 395 and 370 BC. A Logos Sokratikos would have been published every month, non-stop, over a quarter of a century! Rossetti's results and conclusions remain uncertain, since they are based on many assumptions, but they are provocative, innovative and cannot totally miss the truth.

M. Migliori tries to show that Plato perfectly masters his writing and that every obvious blunder on his part should be considered a hint directed to the reader. In this way, Plato guides his reader and wishes to make him share in the reflection in progress, giving indications instead of a clear solution. This can be seen in the Philebus (33c-35c) and the Euthyphro (14a9-b7).

G. Naddaf elucidates the puzzling assertion made in the Laws, according to which the laws should be interpreted like poetry, being sung and danced in public (VII, 812a-e). This is to be taken seriously. Plato follows an Egyptian custom, which is not without precedent in Greece. Naddaf lists the testimonies of Aelianus, Strabo, Hermippus, Plutarch and Polybus.

S. Scolnicov allegedly studies the Theaetetus and the Parmenides in search of defining anamnesis and explaining the structure of the Ideas. This is one study without a definite structure. The main goal remains obscure, the arguments are badly connected and the conclusion is unclear. The author's basic deduction is that the Ideas must be intertwined with each other if anamnesis is to occur.

E. Cattanei's contribution is a French translation of the second part of a previously published paper.1 She discusses the Platonic reform of arithmetic, geometry and stereometry. Great attention is devoted to the new power, the new δύναμις, that mathematics should gain according to Plato. Cattanei describes the images which Plato uses to depict this power: the light, the soul's attraction to a higher level of reality and the journey from darkness to light. Unfortunately this paper presents no definite conclusion and I cannot see its inner logic. It is hard to say if the translation is responsible for this or if we would get a clearer picture from reading the original work in its entirety.

G. Casertano assumes that Plato invented dialectic and is the first philosopher to theorize on dialectic. But what is it? Plato offers various answers, that cannot be explained away by appealing to an evolution in his doctrine. Casertano recognizes three types of dialectic in Plato: 1) the dialogue; 2) a science which provides a methodology; 3) the methodology in its heuristic and hermeneutic values. Only the first type is of concern in this paper. Studying the Apologia, the Meno and the Phaedo, the author concludes that the goal of dialectic is to demonstrate the truthfulness of an assertion that resists every attempt at refutation.

L. Palumbo shows that dialectic in the Gorgias is to be defined in opposition to rhetoric. She seeks all the relevant allusions that characterize dialectic. For example, dialectic defines the subject under examination, expounds the terms in use, tries to discover the truth, welcomes any refutation, distinguishes between reality and mere appearances, and so on.

G.E. Marcos de Pinotti argues that Plato is closer to the sophists and to Parmenides than modern scholars believe. First, there is no real "parricide" in the Sophist. Second, Plato concurs with Parmenides in his refutation of the sophists' thesis according to which nobody can tell a falsehood, since non-being does not exist and falsehood is non-being. Third, the philosophers and the sophists are, by nature, inextricably interrelated, as producers of images by means of discourse. Marcos de Pinotti's main argument is that neither Plato nor Parmenides believes in absolute non-being. The only non-being granted by Plato is relative non-being. Therefore, Plato does not betray Parmenides, and he contradicts the sophists who assume the non-existence of falsehood based on the non-existence of non-being.

E. Halper takes Socrates at his word that virtue cannot be taught. This claim should be taken literally. The Protagoras and the Meno make it clear that dialectic helps to gain knowledge but cannot bring the student to real knowledge, since knowledge is recollectionand recollection implies an activity that the learning person must accomplish by himself. Recollection being a personal quest, there are no true teachers and no teaching of virtue. The only way to become virtuous is by learning virtue by our own means, that is, by recollection.

C. Joubaud presents a short paper (seven pages) on the tenth book of the Laws, precisely on the interrelation between morality and law. This contribution has been formerly presented at a colloquium.2 It discusses the double status of the laws: 1) legislative and criminal laws, by which the city's order is maintained; 2) the "inner" and "personal" laws, pertaining to each man. According to Joubaud, the law is moralizing, and the happiness of both the city and of men depends on complete virtue. The structure of this paper leaves much to be desired.

Chr. Rowe comes back to a theme he has been working on for a while, for this paper, or previous versions of it, has been presented in three colloquia and published three times, in Spanish, Italian and English.3 Rowe explains that Plato does not change his mind about democracy in his last dialogues. Scholars usually think that, while the Republic condemns democracy, the Politicus is prone to find some merits to democracy. This is not the case, argues Rowe, since this exegesis relies on a faulty translation of Politicus 300a-301a. In fact, Plato's low opinion of democracy is maintained throughout the Republic, the Politicus and the Laws.

C. Viano presented a first draft of this paper ten years ago to a colloquium.4 A longer version of this paper was expected in 2004, but was not published until April 2005.5 The topic itself is interesting: the influence of Greek philosophical speculations on Greco-Alexandrian alchemy. Viano takes into account the testimonies of Zosimus, Olympiodorus and Stephanus. She focuses on three doctrines of the Timaeus which have been appropriated by the alchemists: 1) the various states of water and the idea that metals are kinds of water; 2) the geometrical structure of body, constituted by plane surfaces; 3) the divine craftsman, with his way of modeling natural bodies. Despite its seventeen pages, this paper leaves the reader dissatisfied, wanting more details and explanations.

C. Natali's contribution is a French translation of a previously published paper.6 He studies the notion of cause in the Timaeus and its relation to the Aristotelian causes. Many scholars believe that Aristotle developed his theory along Platonic guidelines, so that Plato's causes are, grosso modo, comparable to Aristotle's. But this is false. Natali explains that Plato considers a cause as something which produces an effect, while Aristotle defines a cause as a principle. Moreover Plato does not distinguish between generic and individual causes.

M. Fattal, to conclude this collected volume, draws attention to a recent publication by M.-D. Richard. In 2004, Richard published a French translation of F.D.E. Schleiermacher's introductions to the Platonic dialogues, and of F. Schlegel's texts on Plato.7

The book ends with two indices of ancient/mediaeval and modern authors.

In short, this is not the best volume edited by M. Fattal. The translations from Italian to French are not up to the mark, a few authors decided not to write an original contribution, and the papers are of uneven quality.

List of Essays

D. Samb, "La vie et l'oeuvre de Platon: les premiers dialogues".

L. Rossetti, "Logoi Sokratikoi. Le contexte littéraire dans lequel Platon a écrit".

M. Migliori, "Comment Platon écrit-il? Exemples d'une écriture à caractère "protreptique"".

G. Naddaf, "Ecriture et récitation poétique dans Les Lois de Platon".

S. Scolnicov, "Anamnèse et structure des idées dans le Théétète et dans le Parménide".

E. Cattanei, "Un nouveau pouvoir pour les mathématiques. Quelques remarques sur le cursus d'études du Livre VII de La République".

G. Casertano, "Définition, dialectique et logos".

L. Palumbo, "Rhétorique sophistique et dialectique philosophique dans le Gorgias de Platon".

G.E. Marcos de Pinotti, "Platon, son "père Parménide" et l'héritage sophistique".

E. Halper, "Peut-on enseigner la vertu?".

C. Joubaud, "Loi et morale dans le Livre X des Lois".

Chr. Rowe, "Condamner Socrate à mort. La position de Platon sur la démocratie dans les derniers dialogues".

C. Viano, "La cosmologie du Timée et l'alchimie gréco-alexandrine. Appropriations et incompatibilités".

C. Natali, "Les causes du Timée et la théorie des quatre causes".

M. Fattal, "Lectures platoniciennes. A propos d'un ouvrage récent de Marie-Dominique Richard".


1.   "Le matematiche al tempo di Platone e la loro riforma", in Platone, La Repubblica, traduzione e commento a cura di M. Vegetti, vol. V, Libri VI-VII, Napoli, 2003, pp. 473-540.
2.   Premier Congrès international sur la Pensée Antique, "Plato's Laws and their historical significance", Salamanque, 24-27 novembre 1998.
3.   Theoría. Revista del Colegio de Filosofía (UNAM, Mexico) 6, 1998, pp. 53-74. Dianoia. Annali di Storia della Filosofia (Dipartimento di Filosofia, Università di Bologna) 5, 2000, pp. 15-37. Journal of Hellenic Studies 121, 2001, pp. 63-76.
4.   Symposium Platonicum de Grenade, septembre 1995.
5.   In Viano, C. (ed.), L'alchimie et ses racines philosophiques. Histoire des doctrines de l'antiquité classique. Paris: Vrin, 2005.
6.   In T. Calvo and L. Brisson (eds), Interpreting the Timaeus-Critias, Sankt Augustin, 1997, pp. 207-213.
7.   F.D.E. Schleiermacher, Introductions aux dialogues de Platon (1804-1828); Leçons d'histoire de la philosophie (1819-1823), suivies des textes de Friedrich Schlegel relatifs à Platon, traduction et introduction par M.D. Richard, Paris, 2004.

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