As earlier commented on in BMCR ( 2004.02.37), Wilamowitz once sneered at Nietzsche only to be eclipsed by him over time. So too Vina Giannopoulou (G) recently sneered at my non-academic treatment of Platon, which I venture, will also be favored in due time. The issue is whether Platon can be understood by accumulating scholarly facts or whether he requires the reader actively and insightfully to philosophize, as did Nietzsche. The character Socrates, the dialogue form, the literary setting, the pervasive aporia and irony all demand an interpretation going beyond stylistic dating, literal reading and rigorous logical analysis.
The origin of this neutral, disengaged, scholarly objectivity goes back to the 17th century origin of modern philosophy and to the objective/subjective exclusion it fostered throughout modern thinking. My book, Truth and Mockery in Platon and Modernity, spends considerable time (Preface, Chapter I: Knowledge and Blindness, Chapter II: Irony at the Center of the Real and True) critiquing this foundation and viewing it in the wider context of a fundamental opposition in nature. Only then does it approach interpreting Platon’s Euthyphron, Apology, Criton and Phaidon. G, ignoring this critique and one third of the book, mechanically outlines the structure of each dialogue studied and then faults it for being ‘fastidious’, ‘evangelical’, or ‘subjective’ while not fulfilling what in her view was the promise of adding a missing page to the scholarly storehouse on Plato.
The book operates within a much wider context. Just as virtue and the conduct of life are central themes of Socrates and Platon, so this study would reintroduce such purposive thinking into modern living. It does not, however, evangelize any creed or doctrine but exhorts the reader to have a wider, more genuine perception and a recognition of the integral role of irony and mockery in truth and reality. G, seeing this as a ‘self-help’ book, not rigorous logical analysis, ignores the wider argument of the book’s coupling such academic analysis with social nihilism. Nor does she appreciate the central role of Socrates’ inquiring life and death in the dialogues.
The four-part structure elaborated in each dialogue as well as in their tetralogy is misunderstood by G. There are only two poles, not five. Their opposition, unlike that found in Hegel, does not culminate in a synthesis and the start of a new, on-going opposition. There are instead two possible mediations which I call weak and strong logoi. The inferior or stronger logos produces a steadfast synthesis but a partial and alienating one, as in technical knowledge alienating itself from its good or bad use. The better mediation delimits the paradigm of steadfast knowledge (academic, factual, technical, legal or otherwise) and recovers through self-knowledge a situationally appropriate insight that is the ideal in mediis rebus. Such then becomes the fifth position.
Not understanding the verbal complexity but naturalness of this third position, G describes it unwittingly within the modern schema as ‘subjective’ and lumps it together with the ‘subjective’ fourth and fifth position, as ‘redundant’. G misses as well the farce in the fourth position of theoretical knowledge, particularly in Phaidon. G misunderstands my use of the common term perception, which is not mystical or ineffable contemplation of the Forms by a disengaged philosopher but immediate awareness of what’s best and most beautiful to do here and now. It is that which has no factual, theoretical or speakable foundation while yet being natural, honest and real. Nor is this consonant, as G suggests, with the esotericism of unwritten doctrines, as in H. Kraemer and C. Geiser, since it rejects any form of fixed doctrine, written or spoken.
G misstates that I follow ‘Thrasyllus’ principle of dialogic organization’, which I mention only in passing, while omitting my reliance on the tetralogy form of Attic tragedy as Platon’s inspiration for the tetralogical form, particularly its trilogy of tragedies followed by a farcical satyr play. For a fuller answer to G’s questioning of the ‘ninth’ tetralogy (I do not number them) and its make-up of spurious dialogues see my doctoral dissertation, Plato’s Minos, Hipparchus, Theages, and Lovers, Penn State University, 1976.
Finally, G’s lament over the absence of any theoretical reflection over my methods for studying Plato is misconstrued and biased by the modern schema of theory apart from practice, fact apart from value, scholarship apart from life. The book elaborates an abundance of reasons for reassessing our approach not only to Platon but to all of the great books. It is just that those reasons are more perceptions and reflections on the nature of the whole of modern life, on the farce in modern exclusions and on the emptiness of a view of Platon as one incapable of making up his mind theoretically and ultimately failing in logical analysis.
[[For a response to this response by Zina Giannopoulou, please see BMCR 2004.04.36.]]