Item description for Plato and the Good: Illuminating the Darkling Vision (Philosophy of History and Culture) by Rosemary Desjardins...
This book is an original interpretation of Plato's enigmatic statements about the idea of the Good. Desjardins starts by reconciling two notoriously difficult and different accounts of the dialectical method found in the Philebus and The Republic. She then shows how they are connected to the four forms of god-given mania in the Phaedrus. Desjardins links god-given mania and the dialectical method to the concept of piety in the Euthyphro and to Plato's defense of Socrates' piety in the Apology. Desjardins' interpretation of the idea of the Good that is presented by Plato in words (logoi) and through dramatic action (erga) is compelling and will inspire everyone interested in Plato's dialogues and the idea of the Good.
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A Study of Plato Sep 24, 2005
Rosemary Desjardins's "Plato and the Good" (2004) reminds the reader why Plato remains a seminal figure of Western thought. Her book is a comprehnsive study of Plato focusing on the idea of the good and the nature of piety.
At the outset it is worth mentioning several fundamentals of Desjardins's approach to Plato. These positions are well-warranted and plausible, but they, and the positions they reject, are the subject of endless discussion among careful students of Plato. Perhaps most importantly, Desjardins sees a unity of thought in the dialogues from the earliest to the latest. Thus she does not find a change in teachings from the earliest "aporetic" dialogues through the dialogues of the middle period, such as the "Republic" through the difficult later dialogues such as the "Philebus". Second, Desjardins stresses the internal unity of the dialogues and their dramatic form. The setting of the dialogues, the characters they present, and the dramatic scenes they set (such as the "Euthyphro" in which Socrates engages a young man about to prosecute his father for impiety in a discussion on the meaning of piety) are integral to the meaning of the works and necessary for their understanding. Third, Desjardins sees Plato's most basic purpose in the dialogues as the explanation and justification of the philosophic way of life. Specifically, Plato aims to explain the work of his teacher, Socrates, and to show how it exemplified a life of piety and wisdom.
Desjardins's study thus moves freely from one dialogue to another -- and from one period of Plato's work to another -- and draws intriguing connections between works that are often missed. She wants to show what Plato meant by "the Good", both the good life for human beings and some overriding view of "the Good" as something divine, and why this remains important.
Desjardins begins her analysis with the "Philebus" which seemingly explains a good human life as including elements of both pleasure and knowledge but quickly moves beyond that to elements of dialectic. She proceeds to examine the dialectic of the Philebus, sometimes called the method of division and to compare it with the famous simile of the divided line in book VI of the "Republic" where Plato offers it as a tantalizing picture of the nature of human knowledge. Desjardings finds the discussion in the "Philebus" consistent with the discussion of the "Republic". She finds Plato offering a theory of emergentism in which knowledge is first based upon sense impressions, combined by mind into three-dimensional objects, and unified into a whole. The search for unity is driven by the drive for coherence, consistency, and integrity and, ultimately by ideals of beauty and goodness. The idea of the good is a power that can direct the course of human endeavor and integrate the individual person with other people and ultimately with the divine. In trying to understand through the good, we can see unity, wholeness, and purpose through apparent chaos and diversity. Explaining the nature of the good is the burden of the first part of Desjardins's study.
In the second part of her study, Desjardins explores Plato's understanding of piety and its relationship to the good. Desjardins concludes that, for Plato, "to share in the generation of ordered wholeness ... is to share in the work of the divine, the 'ergon of the gods' which in the "Euthyphro" is identified as 'piety'. (p.229) Her discussion of piety plays close attention to Plato's early dialogue "Euthyphro" which, for most readers, appears to end inconclusively as Socrates tries to get Euthyphrho to realize that he knows nothing of piety. Yet, Desjardins argues, the dramatic structure, the search for truth, and Socrates's character, shown in the "Euthyphro" and in the Platonic corpus shows the reader, in a way that eristic argument cannot, what piety is and how a good human life may be lived.
Desjardins supports her understanding of Plato's conception of piety with diverse readings, including, particularly, the treatment in the "Phaedrus" of divine madness. She also discusses at some length the "Sophist" and "Thaetetus" together with Plato's dramatization of Socrates's defense of himself from the charge of impiety in the "Apology." Piety and the good life involve a sharing of human beings in the life of the divine. Thus Desjardins concludes, regarding the Platonic/Socratic quest:
"[T]he source of wellbeing and happiness for human beings rests upon fulfillment of a divinely human ergon [function] in which, with loving care we create within ourselves and in the world around us ... the kind of order we recognize as beautiful and call 'reality'. To pursue the task of bringing about beautiful order ... through the exercise of loving care.. proves to be (so the "Phaedrus" also tells us) the comprehensive ergon shared by gods and human beings." (pp.229-230)
This is a difficult study which presents a compelling and coherent view of Plato's thought. As with all works of difficulty and importance, it will not convince all readers. The work is extensively footnoted and Desjardins explains the work of other scholars with whom she agrees or disagrees. I found it rewarding to grapple again with the thought of Plato after an absence from him of some time. This book will appeal to students of serious students of philosophy and of the classics. The book will not, and is not intended to, serve as an introductory text to those readers coming to Plato for the first time.