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Plato's Phaedo is a literary gem that develops many of his most famous ideas. David Ebrey's careful reinterpretation argues that the many debates about the dialogue cannot be resolved so long as we consider its passages in relative isolation from one another, separated from their intellectual background. His book shows how Plato responds to his literary, religious, scientific, and philosophical context, and argues that we can only understand the dialogue's central ideas and arguments in light of its overall structure. This approach yields new interpretations of the dialogue's key ideas, including the nature and existence of 'Platonic' forms, the existence of the soul after death, the method of hypothesis, and the contemplative ethical ideal. Moreover, this comprehensive approach shows how the characters play an integral role in the Phaedo's development and how its literary structure complements Socrates' views while making its own distinctive contribution to the dialogue's drama and ideas.
This chapter offers a guide to reading Plato’s dialogues, including an overview of his corpus. We recommend first considering each dialogue as its own unified work, before considering how it relates to the others. In general, the dialogues explore ideas and arguments, rather than presenting parts of a comprehensive philosophical system that settles on final answers. The arc of a dialogue frequently depends on who the individual interlocutors are. We argue that the traditional division of the corpus (into Socratic, middle, late stages) is useful, regardless of whether it is a chronological division. Our overview of the corpus gives special attention to the Republic, since it interweaves so many of his key ideas, even if nearly all of them receive longer treatments in other dialogues. Although Plato recognized the limits inherent in written (as opposed to spoken) philosophy, he devoted his life to producing these works, which are clearly meant to help us seek the deepest truths. Little can be learned from reports of Plato’s oral teaching or the letters attributed to him. Understanding the dialogues on their own terms is what offers the greatest reward.
In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates calls things like justice, piety, and largeness “forms.” In several of these dialogues, he makes clear that forms are very different from familiar objects like tables and trees. Why, exactly, does he think that they differ and how are they supposed to do so? This chapter argues that in the Phaedo Socrates does not assume that they are different, but rather, over five stages of the dialogue, provides an account of how and why they do so. To fully understand the claims made in the first stage, one must look to the next stage, and so on until the final stage. Socrates' ultimate reason for distinguishing forms from ordinary objects does not depend on our intuitions about things like justice and largeness, nor on the distinction between universals and particulars. Ultimately, forms cannot be ordinary objects because the form of f-ness must cause every f-thing to be f, but no ordinary object could serve as such a cause. They cannot do so because they have multiple parts and are receptive of opposites; by contrast, the form of f-ness must be simple and unchanging, since it causes every f-thing to be f.
The first edition of the Cambridge Companion to Plato (1992), edited by Richard Kraut, shaped scholarly research and guided new students for thirty years. This new edition introduces students to fresh approaches to Platonic dialogues while advancing the next generation of research. Of its seventeen chapters, nine are entirely new, written by a new generation of scholars. Six others have been thoroughly revised and updated by their original authors. The volume covers the full range of Plato's interests, including ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, religion, mathematics, and psychology. Plato's dialogues are approached as unified works and considered within their intellectual context, and the revised introduction suggests a way of reading the dialogues that attends to the differences between them while also tracing their interrelations. The result is a rich and wide-ranging volume which will be valuable for all students and scholars of Plato.
One of Aristotle’s major contributions to natural science was his development of an idea that he called hulê’, which we translate into English as ‘matter’. The notion of matter seems quite ordinary to us today, but Aristotle’s idea was new at the time. The word hulê’ originally meant forest, brushwood, or cut wood and, aside from a single occurrence in Plato’s Philebus (54c), Aristotle is the first (extant) author to use the term in a general account of things in the natural world. Our notion of matter is a descendant of his, but we should be careful not to assume that he thought of it the way we do today.