Reader-friendly Plato loses his Greek but gains a soul

Plato One: Metaphysics and Epistemology;
Plato Two: Ethics, Politics, Religion and the Soul. First Edition
May 26, 2000

This collection of Plato succeeds and, with insufficient acknowledgement, largely supersedes, the almost identically titled two volumes edited by Gregory Vlastos for Doubleday in 1971. The new second volume replaces "Art" with "The Soul" as a headlined topic. There are thus no contributions directly on art, poetry, beauty or inspiration. The shift may reflect judgement on the merit of available writing, the importance of the issues or the prospect of a further volume - to include perhaps something directly on education. We are not told. In any case, given that Gail Fine observes in her preface that "the deep connections that are sometimes studied in relative isolation", the absence of a subject index that would highlight common threads and draw attention to topics not heralded by titles, is regrettable.

The collection constitutes an indispensable corpus of secondary reading for any course on Plato, especially on The Republic . The articles are of uniformly high and sometimes classic standing. G. E. L. Owen, J. L. Ackrill, F. M. Burnyeat, Vlastos, T. H. Irwin and others provide, along with the editor's balanced and illuminating commentary, nearly 40 contributions. Owen's "Ryle's Plato", with its careful exegesis almost makes up for the stylish presence of Ryle's Plato itself. Speaking of Ryle, Fine makes a good case for finding Plato innocent of the charge of a category mistake over "knowledge and belief".

The articles are all reader-friendly, following the editor's aim of an open and discussion-oriented style. Unnecessary technicalities are avoided, Greek is translated and readers are pointed to other writings that bear on the issues of each article. The writers assume an interest in their readers and, without patronising, they generally engage it. Thus, the difficult becomes not a barrier but a challenge.

The collection, through its scope and quality, will be a standard for some time to come.

Anthony J. Skillen is reader in philosophy, University of Kent.

Plato One: Metaphysics and Epistemology;
Plato Two: Ethics, Politics, Religion and the Soul. First Edition

Editor - Gail Fine
ISBN - 0 19 875206 7 and 875204 0
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £14.99 (the set)
Pages - 514 and 381

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