The Platonism of Hannah Arendt

In a recent post for the Hannah Arendt Center Newsletter, I survey Arendt’s approach to interpreting Plato. That approach aligns with an ancient strategy of interpreting Plato described by Diogenes Laertius (Life of Plato, 3.51-52). Arendt, like so many others, takes Plato to be a dogmatist. Diogenes writes: “To be a dogmatist in philosophy is to lay down positive dogmas, just as to be a legislator is to lay down laws … His own views are expounded by four persons, Socrates, Timaeus, the Athenian Stranger, the Eleatic Stranger … it is Plato’s doctrines that are laid down.”

I challenge this interpretive approach, and the analogy of interpreting Plato as if his writings read like a legal document. Here is an excerpt:

“Proponents of this kind of reading typically scoff at two uncontentious facts: (1) Plato refused to write treatises; (2) Plato refused to insert himself as a character into his dialogues and openly articulate his beliefs, as Cicero and Hume would later do in their appropriation of the dialogue form. (Let’s not forget that even if Plato did insert his voice into the dialogues, readers would surely still ask whether such an insertion served a literary aim other than conveying authorial conviction).”

 

 

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