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7 July 1988
In Defence of Rhetoric 
by Brian Vickers.
Oxford, 508 pp., £40, February 1988, 0 19 812837 1
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Recognitions: A Study in Poetics 
by Terence Cave.
Oxford, 530 pp., £40, March 1988, 0 19 815849 1
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... Since Plato, the major European philosophers, consistent upon almost nothing else, have been united in a sustained denunciation of rhetoric. Brian Vickers’s In Defence of Rhetoric is an attempt, copious ...

Plato​ Made It Up

James Davidson: Atlantis at Last!

19 June 2008
The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth 
by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Exeter, 192 pp., £35, November 2007, 978 0 85989 805 8
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... of 1977, the ITV series Man from Atlantis has to be one of the greatest. The title suggested a programme that would have something to do with the lost underwater kingdom described in great detail by Plato in the Timaeus and Critias. But the reality was Patrick Duffy with webbed hands and fluorescent green contact lenses, painfully painted on. Sole survivor of Atlantis, he used his special powers ...
22 November 1990
The ‘Theaetetus’ of Plato 
translated by M.J. Levett and Myles Burnyeat.
Hackett, 351 pp., £20, September 1990, 0 915144 82 4
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... me is that I am always asking questions of other people but never express my own views about anything, because there is no wisdom in me; and that is true enough.’ So says Socrates at 150c of Plato’s Theaetetus, presenting himself as the barren midwife who can help deliver others of beliefs – in this case about knowledge – and test them by argument, but who does so ad hominem, uncommitted ...
17 December 1992
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 520 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 7011 3998 6
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... Murdoch speaks of Aristotle exactly once. His account of tragedy ‘is superbly apt and lucid’. Indeed. Future studies of Murdoch’s fiction must begin with the Poetics and her reading of it. But Plato! The excellent indexer, who gives full details for every other entry, was daunted and wrote only: ‘Plato, passim.’ Jung said that we are born Platonists or Aristotelians. It is remarkable that ...

By the Dog

M.F. Burnyeat: How Plato​ Works

7 August 2003
The Play of Character in Plato's Dialogues 
by Ruby Blondell.
Cambridge, 452 pp., £55, June 2002, 0 521 79300 9
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... Thrasymachus, a well-known teacher of rhetoric, has listened with growing impatience to the discussion of justice in the first Book of Plato’s Republic. ‘What balderdash you two have been talking,’ he says to Socrates and Polemarchus. He cannot wait to astound the company, and win their acclaim, by unmasking justice as nothing but ...

Plato’s Philosopher

Donald Davidson

1 August 1985
... seeks. But unfortunately correspondence theories provide no intelligible answer to the question how we can in general recognise that our beliefs correspond in the required way to reality. No theme in Plato is more persistent than the emphasis on philosophical method, the search for a systematic way of arriving at important truths, and of ensuring that they are truths. Yet I think it is safe to say that ...

What would Plato​ have done?

Christopher Krebs: Plutarch’s Lives

28 June 2017
The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives 
by Plutarch, translated by Pamela Mensch.
Norton, 393 pp., £28, March 2017, 978 0 393 29282 4
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... Personal improvement, Plutarch suggests in one essay, is best achieved by ‘setting before one’s eyes those who are good or who have been so’. Think of a quandary, and imagine ‘what Plato would have done in this situation’. Plutarch conceives of each Life as a mirror, in which readers can adjust their comportment and strive for composure. (This moralising imperative works with ...


John Jones: Iris, Hegel and Me

18 December 2003
... I’ve been basking in a warm glow from A.N. Wilson’s recent book about Iris Murdoch* – I mean its way of holding Plato and Kant not quite on a level with each other but far above everyone else except Hegel, about whom more later, in its account of her attention to the classical masters. This is a big merit, and a ...
21 May 1998
... Plato is famous for having banished poetry and poets from the ideal city of the Republic. But he did no such thing. On the contrary, poetry – the right sort of poetry – will be a pervasive presence in ...

Was Plato​ too fat?

Rosemary Hill: The Stuff of Life

10 October 2019
Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life 
by Christopher Forth.
Reaktion, 352 pp., £25, March, 978 1 78914 062 0
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... for the fact that the Scythians didn’t die out is not explained, but possibly, like many such instances of revulsion, it was less an objective assessment than a reflection of Greek anxiety. Plato’s generation worried that they were less fit than their grandparents, that, as Plato argued, too much readily available food and wine was undermining the health of the state. This is one of several ...
21 November 1991
Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher 
by Gregory Vlastos.
Cambridge, 334 pp., £35, April 1991, 0 521 30733 3
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... rigid; everyone ought to find them puzzling. It is even more puzzling that he claims to have found a rational defence of his convictions through the sorts of cross-examination that we find in Plato’s dialogues. Socrates conducts strenuous, maddening and one-sided discussions of moral questions with interlocutors who lack his argumentative skill. Such discussions can show that the interlocutor ...

Good Repute

M.F. Burnyeat

6 November 1986
The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation 
edited by Jonathan Barnes.
Princeton, 1250 pp., £53, August 1984, 0 691 09950 2
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... Aristotle and Plato’, ‘Plato and Aristotle’ – the coupling of names is something we take for granted. They are the two giants of ancient philosophy, are they not, and who but Kant among later philosophers deserves to rank as ...

Swallowing goldfish

Alexander Nehamas

10 December 1987
The Closing of the American Mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students 
by Allan Bloom.
Simon and Schuster, 392 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 671 47990 3
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... believed it feasible or salutary to change the relations between rich and poor in a fundamentally or permanently progressive way’. Never mind that, in order to be able to attribute this view to Plato, Bloom needs to give a stunningly revisionary reading of the Republic. Plato’s advocacy of the rule of the philosopher-kings, who alone can, through their knowledge, guarantee a good life for the ...
27 October 1988
The Trial of Socrates 
by I.F. Stone.
Cape, 282 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 224 02591 0
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... of Socrates is the latest in the distinguished genre of indictments levelled against the founders of Western philosophy by furious 20th-century liberals. It belongs with Dick Crossman’s Thirties Plato Today, where Plato appears as the first fascist, or with Karl Popper’s postwar assault, The Open Society and its Enemies, which accuses Plato of racism, totalitarianism, and a fair cross-section of ...

Hellenic Tours

Jonathan Barnes

1 August 1985
The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. Vol. I: Greek Literature 
edited by P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox.
Cambridge, 936 pp., £47.50, May 1985, 0 521 21042 9
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A History of Greek Literature 
by Peter Levi.
Viking, 511 pp., £14.95, February 1985, 0 670 80100 3
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... prefer poetry to prose, and they prefer the well-worn to the less familiar. The History shares these preferences. Poetry is better treated than prose – thus Callimachus is allotted more space than Plato, Aristotle gets fewer pages than ‘minor Hellenistic poets’. Unfamiliar prose-writers are largely shunned: Epictetus is briefly discussed, Galen extends to a page, Archimedes, Ptolemy and ...

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