Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.10.30 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.10.30

Andrea Lozano-Vásquez (ed.), Platón y la irracionalidad.   Bogotá:  Universidad de los Andes. Facultad de Artes y Humanidades. Departamento de Humanidades y Literatura. Ediciones Uniandes, 2012.  Pp. iv, 256.  ISBN 9789586958301.  $45.00.  

Reviewed by Patrizia Marzillo, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (

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

From the 1960s onwards, one strain of scholarship has tried to analyse Plato by focusing on individual aspects of his philosophy. Hence there have been attempts to read Plato according to sociological, anthropological, historical, and even aesthetic criteria, and the titles of monographs on Plato often follow the pattern “Plato and . . .”.1 Platón y la irracionalidad belongs to this tendency.

Platón y la irracionalidad collects eight essays which embrace both irrational impulses (love, desire, inspiration, pleasure) and the human activities arising from them, such as music and poetry. Originating as the proceedings of a conference held in Cali (Colombia) under the auspices of the III Congresso Colombiano de Filosofía, the collection has been enlarged through the addition of an article by André Laks. The introductory material comprises a table of contents, acknowledgments, a list of the authors, an introduction, a list of abbreviations, and a note on the transliteration from Greek, which is printed throughout in Latin characters. In her introduction, editor Andrea Lozano-Vásquez argues that rationality and irrationality have always been two complementary, though contradictory, aspects of Greek culture and that this is true also for Plato, whose work is read by the contributors to this book as a continuous attempt to reconcile reason and irrational impulses. Far from seeking to offer answers, Platón y la irracionalidad wants to present a number of original and interesting readings of Plato’s dialogues which might inspire further studies on Plato.

In the first two contributions, Catalina González and Sergio Ariza face the paradoxes that arise from the mixture of reason and irrationality. In “Hacer del caso más débil el más fuerte”, for example, González starts from Cicero, De Oratore iii, 129, 1-6, and chooses one of the most challenging passages, the quarrel between Socrates and Polus in Gorgias 469a-481b, to demonstrate that Socrates is an excellent orator who makes use of all rhetorical strategies, including those which pull away from the truth. By doing so, González bridges the gap between the Sophists’ method and that of Socrates.

In turn, in “Inspiración divina en el Menón”, Ariza deals with the thorny question of whether virtue is to be acquired through teaching or through divine inspiration according to the final argument in the Meno, which supports the latter. Ariza retraces points of view from strong scepticism regarding a merely intellectual ethics to a downgrading of the passage through recourse to Socratic irony. Ariza’s thesis defends both intellectualism and the possibility that there are men who are virtuous “by chance”. So he gives more room to irrationality in one of the most epistemological dialogues without denying the acquisition of virtue through teaching.

María Angélica Fierro’s “El residuo de lo irracional” takes a more conservative position. Fierro claims that the many irrational aspects belonging to human nature are only obstacles to our reason. Yet she is against the Cartesian division between soul and body and states that such a dualism can be reached only by philosophers, through education. In addition, she offers a broad overview of positions on the composition and structure of the soul in the whole Platonic corpus.

In “El adiestramiento del thymoeidés, the editor of the volume, Andrea Lozano- Vásquez, analyses the role played by music in educating souls. In addition to reconstructing this theme in Platonic texts, Lozano-Vásquez traces it forward to the Hellenistic period.

Éros y racionalidad: algunas consideraciones sobre el Banquete”, by Jairo Iván Escobar, focuses almost exclusively on Plato’s Symposium. Escobar comments on all the speeches of the dialogue, with a particular focus on the speeches of Aristophanes and Alcibiades. His intention, as he states it himself, is simple: he wants to show how Plato has recourse to Eros in order to integrate some irrational aspects of human life into his theory of knowledge.

Both Alfonso Correa and Fabián Mié deal with irrationality in the Philebus. In “Conocer y elegir el bien: Filebo 20b-22e”, Correa proposes two interpretations of Protarchus’ question as to whether pleasure must be included in the good life. The first explanation, which Correa calls “fuerte” (“strong”), sees desire, choice, and knowledge as closely related: it is not possible to choose something which we do not know. In the “weak” interpretation, Escobar gives room to a reading which sees pleasure in a merely ethical dimension.

Mié’s contribution, “Sobre las condiciones de la vida racional y afectiva humanas en el Filebo”, is a very detailed analysis of the quarrel between hedonism and rationalism in Plato’s Philebus with reference to its contemporary philosophical context. Mié sees the good life as described by Plato as a mixture of pleasure and reason. He considers the Philebus as a kind of De anima and tries to explain the elements of Plato’s psychology, metaphysics, and ethics contained in this dialogue.

In “Una insistencia de Platón: a propósito de la ‘verdadera tragedia’ (Leyes 817a-d)”, André Laks shows how Plato uses tragedy by giving it a particular meaning. The “true tragedy”, which is referred to in Laws 817a-d, is the political life replicating a duality innate to human beings (rationality-irrationality). Laks attempts to reconcile his thesis with Plato’s position in Republic book X, where poetry is harshly criticized.

The volume is closed by an index of concepts, in which the Greek words are transliterated; an index of names; an index of the quoted passages; and a basic bibliography divided into five sections—critical editions of Plato, Spanish translations of Plato, translations of Plato into other languages, other primary ancient sources, and secondary literature.

The contributions have in common not only the intention of providing new readings of Plato with the concept of irrationality in mind, but also the aim of connecting Plato to modernity, to remind us that Platonic questions remain unsolved and that Plato himself is an interlocutor to whom we still owe many answers. The book hits its mark.

Table of Contents

Contenido (pp. iii-iv)
Agradecimientos (pp. 1-2)
Autores (pp. 3-4)
Introducción (pp. 5-9)
Lista de abreviaturas (pp. 11-12)
Nota sobre la transliteración (pp. 13-14)
Hacer del caso más débil el más fuerte: el Gorgias y la retórica socrática - Catalina González (pp. 15-32)
Inspiración divina en el Menón de Platón - Sergio Ariza (pp. 33-49)
El residuo de lo irracional: reflexiones a propósito de algunos diálogos platónicos - María Angélica Fierro (pp. 51-80)
El adiestramiento del thymoeidés: el surgimiento de la conexión entre música y emoción en Platón - Andrea Lozano- Vásquez (pp. 81-103)
Éros y racionalidad: algunas consideraciones sobre el Banquete - Jairo Iván Escobar (pp. 105-123)
Conocer y elegir el bien: Filebo 20b-22e - Alfonso Correa pp. 125-144)
Sobre las condiciones de la vida racional y afectiva humanas en el Filebo - Fabián Mié (pp. 145-203)
Una insistencia de Platón: a propósito de la “verdadera tragedia” (Leyes, 817a-d) - André Laks (pp. 205-222)
Índice de conceptos (pp. 223-225)
Índice de nombres (pp. 227-229)
Índice de pasajes citados (pp. 231-242)
Bibliografía (pp. 243-256)


1.   Some recent examples: G. R. Boys-Stones and J. H. Haubold (eds.), Plato and Hesiod (Oxford University Press, 2010); S. Sanford, Plato and Sex (Oxford, Polity Press, 2010); J. Howland, Plato and the Talmud (Cambridge University Press, 2011); R. Barney, T. Brennan, C. Brittain (eds.), Plato and the Divided Self (Cambridge, University Press, 2012); D. Kochmar (ed.), Plato und die Mousiké (Tubingen, Attempto-Verlag, 2012); P. S. Horky, Plato and Pythagoreanism (Oxford University Press, 2013).

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