BMCR 1991.01.14

Il Platone di Tubinga e due studi sullo stoicismo

, Il Platone di Tubinga e due studi sullo stoicismo. Antichità classica e cristiana 30. Brescia: Paideia editrice, 1990. 105 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 9788839404473. Lire 20.000.

Plato von Tubingen is of course the well known author of Ungeschriebene Lehre, a best seller in Germany which has received some attention in France and Italy, but which has not been well received by il mondo anglosassone, where Plato is taken straight and unmediated by later writers such as Aristotle, Aristoxenos, Gaiser, and Krämer. Harold Cherniss’ criticism of the theory of Plato’s unwritten and esoteric doctrine (in The Riddle of the Early Academy, 1945) has proved especially influential; and Vlastos’ long Gnomon review (1963) of Krämer’s Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles reinforced Cherniss with an attack directed specifically against the Tubingen school. Less harsh but still unsympathetic is Guthrie’s History (5.418ff.). See also K. M. Sayre, Plato’s Late Ontology (Princeton 1983) 73ff. The English-speaking world has provided little in the way of defense; cf. J. N. Findlay, Plato: The Written and Unwritten Doctrine (London 1974) and G. Watson, Plato’s Unwritten Teaching (Dublin 1973 [1975]). Pesce too is sympathetic, and like Findlay would continue to take the dialogues into account.

Schematically, the relationship between written dialogues and unwritten teachings may be put as follows: Either (I) what Plato taught in the Academy differs in no significant way from what is found in the Academy (the Anglosaxon attitude); or (II) Plato reserved his most important teaching for oral form because either (a) it was esoteric or intra-academic doctrine meant for his students alone, and/or (b) as living thought it would lose all force when put into written form. IIa alone suggests a jealous attitude on Plato’s part, so IIb, as hinted at in the Phaidros and Seventh Letter is a usual addition. If for the purpose of a short review, we unfairly divide students of Plato into philosophers (who concentrate on argument alone) and classicists (who are concerned with literary form), we can say that philosophers who ignore the evidence for oral doctrine must adhere to I. Classicists, however, can allow for the significance of oral doctrine in the Academy without having to take it into account, on the grounds that each dialogue can, even must, be understood as a unity. What Plato taught before, during, and after the writing of the dialogue in question is as relevant as Sophokles’ actual attitude towards Apollo while writing OT. Philosophers cannot be happy with an approach to the dialogues that downplays their logical analysis (the dialogues’ and the philosophers’), but a classicist can agree with Tubingen in allowing the dialogues to have, in addition to philosophical argumentation, a protreptic message that was designed to motivate the more intelligent readers to hasten to the Academy to sign up with Sokrates’ heir.

In answer then to the question, C’è un testo in quest’aula?, Pesce (who does not in fact put the question in this ichthyic form) argues for position IIb above, agreeing essentially with many earlier scholars on this point. Plato, Pesce reasonably says, kept certain things out of the dialogues not because he wanted to but because he had no choice, given his views on the nature of the Good and its apprehension by the human soul (see esp. pp. 22-24 and 46-49). 1 Pesce, furthermore, thinks that Plato’s reputation is not enhanced (rather, the reverse) by attempts to recreate from the dialogues themselves and from later accounts the so-called true beliefs of Plato. This book makes an attractive case for a middle ground between extremes (without marshalling arguments that would convince extremists), and so can be read as an introduction to the subject.

The title essay (40 pp.) is followed by “La struttura concettuale dell’etica di Epitteto” (23 pp.) and “Il senso dello Stoicismo” (28 pp.).

  • [1] While writing this review, I read in an article in the New York Times that many Native Americans “feel ambivalent if not hostile about writing their languages. Harold Dean Salway, president of the … Ogala Sioux, has made Lakota the language of tribal business…. But he does not like it written down. ‘Writing it is bad, I think,’ he said, ‘because you have a tendency to lose some of the spirituality when it’s down in black and white’.” (Jan.8, p.A12). Plato would have understood.