The GFPJ Archive on Plato — Darren Gardner

The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, much like the Department of Philosophy of The New School for Social Research, has a noticeable quality of eccentricity to it. Both can appear to be outliers, especially to the guardians of the status quo, but at the heart of both something of inestimable value can be found. I can still recall my first visit to the GFPJ, having just begun my graduate studies. In what appeared to be a dusty and illusive office atop the former Social Research building, I purchased a stack of unsold back copies of the Journal housing articles by David Lachterman, Seth Benardete, Rona Burger, and Reiner Schürmann, just to mention a few. The treasure-trove I had collected included hard-to-find issues to which I gave pride of place on my bookshelf. That feeling of a lucky discovery, much like finding a rare record on Bleecker Street, now seems almost obsolete, for fortunately, these issues are readily available in the GFPJ digital archive. Yet it is the articles themselves that, then as now, offer the kind of richness that makes hoarders of us all.

The articles published in the GFPJ, like the NSSR Philosophy program itself, are an under-appreciated source for ancient philosophy. Not only does the Journal offer a place for scholarship across the spectrum of philosophical inquiry, but also it takes seriously the importance of ancient philosophy. Here it is rightly taken up as an integral part of the philosophical conversation, and not merely a historical artifact to draw upon as a reference to the past or to differentiate from our current views. The GFPJ does this by unflinchingly giving voice to a variety of approaches to ancient philosophy scholarship. The research in the GFPJ archive on Plato alone sets a high bar. Beyond being merely inclusive, the archive is a vital source for questions concerning Plato’s work and its reception, departing from the view that Plato’s thought is understood and as such has a merely historical value.

I myself found that the archive helped inspire a renewed look at the educational program in Plato’s Parmenides, a text that is seen quite differently through the diverse scholarly lenses used by a number of GFPJ authors. These lenses have included: (1) developmentalism, which espouses that Plato’s thought changed in a certain way over the course of his life, and that this change can be tracked by the dialogues; (2) unitarianism, which claims that the dialogues present Plato’s unified view; (3) Tübingen-style research, which emphasizes the importance of finding Plato’s oral teachings beyond or outside of the dialogues themselves; (4) neoplatonism, which emphasizes the preeminence of the “one”; and (5) hermeneutics, which takes dialogic form to be more than just a dramatic garnish on the meat plate of the theory of forms. The hermeneutic tradition’s sensitivity to the dramatic and allegorical aspects, along with its openness to the primary nature of questioning, the Tübingen school’s willingness to suspend sedimented interpretations of Plato in place of a new look, and the various reflections about Parmenides’ and Plato’s “one,” found in the archive, influenced my own philosophical investigation into the notion of “gymnastic practice” in the dialogue Parmenides. 

The GFPJ archive offers the possibility of a broad rather than a narrow view on Plato. It doesn’t only sail with the dominant winds of thought regarding our knowledge of Plato’s development. It also rows, as it were, upstream and across. While a developmental thesis is a viable option, there are other directions to go, holding a developmental theory’s epoc. Take, for instance, Kahn’s “The Philosophical Importance of the Dialogue Form for Plato,” which argues for a soft version of unitarianism. In contrast to strong developmental views of Plato that divide the dialogues into phases mapping Plato’s thought, Kahn presents a thesis of perspectivism according to which the dialogues offer a context-specific look, for instance, at Plato’s noetic vision. Plato’s account of noetic vision is consonant with the way in which he discusses the notion of the “good” in the Republic, which itself is compatible with, for example, the presentation of recollection in the Meno, or the erotic ascent to the beautiful in the Symposium. 

Hans-Joachim Krämer’s “The New View of Plato” offers a different approach. While Kahn and Krämer agree that a doctrine of Plato’s metaphysics cannot be seen in the dialogues per se, Kahn argues that this is the case because of the power of dialogue and context, while Krämer argues that it is because Plato taught an oral doctrine, i.e., the principles of the “one” and the “dyad.” Krämer also argues that the evidence of the oral teachings found in the sources outside of Plato’s written dialogues, when considered in light of the dialogues, can comprehensively illuminate Plato’s metaphysical project.

Claudia Baracchi shows how the “one” is “good” through the close kinship of Plato’s ontological/ethical truths, and those of Aristotle in Metaphysics and Ethics, which differs from the standard approach that views them in opposition to one another. In Baracchi’s essay “One Good: The Mathematics of Ethics,” Aristoxenus’ testimony of Plato’s public lecture on the “good,” while a source for the “New View” of Krämer, also helps Baracchi in another way. She compellingly illustrates what the “one” and the “good” reveal in association. Baracchi’s approach helps orient us to the profound connection of the ethical and the ontological commitments of Plato as it is aligned with Aristotle’s connection of metaphysics and ethics, and even enriched and enlivened by it.

What we desire —Plato calls it “beautiful”—may have a relation to Plato’s “good” itself. This thought leads us to another example in the GFPJ archive: following a hermeneutic path of inquiry, Stanley Rosen’s compelling essay “Erotic Ascent” examines eros and the desire for the beautiful as a daimon, an in-between of the mortal and the divine. Rosen considers how the philosophical life according to Plato aligns with a doctrine of eros. While seemingly specific to the Symposium, the doctrine of eros can be seen across many dialogues, including the Symposium, Phaedrus, and the Republic. Rosen shows how a sensitive and detailed examination of the dialogues reveals the motive force of eros to be a sexual drive, a longing for beauty, and also an intellectual desire.

Drew Hyland’s “APORIA, the Longer Road, and the Good” also dwells on the question of the good, in particular the question concerning the status of considering the good itself. In dialogue with Mitchell Miller’s “Beginning the ‘Longer Way’,” Hyland examines carefully this essential issue. Is the pursuit of the good, which is described in the central books of the Republic, a program or an essentially open-ended question? Plato hints that there is a “longer road” to the good, one that is not the merely image-based representation given to Glaucon. To consider what that may be is nothing less than asking if there is an open-endedness to the pursuit of the good, thus emphasizing the essential priority of the question, or asking if there may be a path of study that prepares one to actually consider the good. Glaucon may agree that such a study could exist and is the proper work of a philosopher, or even agree that the philosophical aspect of his soul should rule. But it remains debatable whether we can actually take up the difficult work of a “longer way” to the good. I conclude with this very question, which is as viable now as ever: Can we not only cultivate a pursuit of the good—be it ethical, metaphysical, ontological, or otherwise—but also exercise our ascent to the good, however difficult, in such a way that, along with Plato, we are able to consider forms in their pure intelligibility? I suggest that as we linger on this question, we return to the treasure-chest of the GFPJ archive that has itself helped to give form to these inquiries.

— Darren Gardner

Further reading:

Charles H. Kahn, “The Philosophical Importance of the Dialogue Form for Plato,” in “Philosophy of Dialogue,” special issue, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 26:1 (2005), pp. 13–28.

Hans-Joachim Krämer, “The New View of Plato,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 19:1 (1996), pp. 25–41.

Claudia Baracchi, “One Good: The Mathematics of Ethics,” in “Essays on the History of the Philosophy of Mathematics,” ed. Alexei Angelides, special issue, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 25:2 (2004), pp. 19–49.

Stanley Rosen, “Erotic Ascent,” in “In Memoriam David Rapport Lachterman,” special issue, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 17:1–2 (1994), pp. 37–57.

Drew A. Hyland, “ΑΠΟΡΙΑ, the Longer Road, and the Good,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 32:1 (2011), pp. 145–75.

Mitchell Miller, “Beginning the ‘Longer Way’,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic, ed. G.R.F. Ferrari (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 310–44.

Darren Gardner (PhD, NSSR’16) is a Visiting Researcher in Classics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. His research focuses on Plato’s metaphysics and the education of the philosopher in the Eleatic dialogues. He is currently working on a book based on his dissertation titled Exercise and Insight: Gymnastic in Plato’s Parmenides.

Darren Gardner’s previous contributions to the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal:

Darren Gardner, review of A Study of Dialectic in Plato’s Parmenides, by Eric Sanday, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36:2 (2015), pp. 485–8.

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