The Mystery of the Seventh Platonic Epistle: An Analysis of the Philosophic Digression 公开

Hull, Andrew Tyler (2012)

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The Mystery of the Seventh Platonic Epistle: An Analysis of the Philosophic Digression

The Platonic Epistles recount one of the most important episodes in Plato's life: the catastrophic attempt at cultivating a philosopher king in Dionysius the Younger, Tyrant of Syracuse. Of the thirteen letters, the seventh is without a doubt the most fascinating one. Besides giving an abundance of information about what occurred in Sicily, the letter also contains a small, three page section that holds tremendous philosophic significance. These pages, traditionally called the "Philosophic Digression," provide a fantastic amount of information about Plato. If authentic, they amount to the "last word" on Plato's epistemology. Not only that, they also seek to answer perhaps the most fundamental question about Plato's philosophic style: Why does Plato refuse to write a philosophic treatise, instead deciding to stay anonymous and only write in dialogue form? In answering this question, the Digression also claims the existence of an unwritten, esoteric doctrine that possesses no substantial connection with the written dialogues. However, despite all the fascinating information contained in the dialogues, I contend that the Digression is ultimately an interpolation in an otherwise authentic letter. I argue that, despite the Digression's claims, and the theories of scholars both ancient and modern, including Aristotle, Plato did not possess any sort of "secret" or "esoteric" doctrine. Furthermore, I will advance the claim that the epistemology contained in the letter, especially with regards to the question of how can come to know the Ideas, is quite alien to Plato. Along with this, I will include a general defense of the authenticity of the rest of the Seventh Letter. I posit that the rest of letter coincides extremely well with Plato's politics. I also express skepticism towards stylometric arguments against the letter.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Seventh Platonic Epistle...1
Chapter 2 - Arguments Against the Seventh's Overall Genuineness and Answers...6

The Letter's Attitude Towards Socrates and a Brief Discussion on Platonic Anonymity...6
The Poverty of Stylometric Analysis...11
The General Tone of the Letter and a Pitfall in Translating the Epistle...17

Chapter 2 - Reasons to Believe the Letter is Authentic...17

The Numerous Sources Attesting to its Existence...20
For Those Who Still Believe: The Stylometric Case for the Letter's Authenticity...22
A Recap, followed by the Politics of the Letter and Later Dialogues, particularly the Laws...24
Last Remarks on the Authenticity of the Letter outside of the Digression...27

Chapter 3 - The Sound of Silence: The Complete Lack of the Digression's Influence on Platonism before Thrasylus...28

Not just any Ex Silentio: Plutarch's Numerology of Five and the Digression...28
The General Fascination with Five in Middle Platonism...32
A Quick Note on Philo Judaeus...33

Chapter 4 - Esoteric Doctrine...34

Introduction of Problem and Presentation of Evidence...34
Aristotle's Testimony on Plato and the Idea-Numbers...39
The So-called "Common" allusions in Aristotle to Plato's "Unwritten" Doctrine...45
The Timaeus and the Value of Misinterpretation...49
The Dialogues: An Attempt at Reconstructing the Idea-Numbers...53
The Demise of Aristotle's Testimony in the Face of Mounting Inconsistencies...56
Aristotle's Partial Redemption and the Trouble it causes for Esoterics...60
A Note on Alexander and Partial Disclaimer...62
Sextus Empiricus...64

Chapter 5 - The Platonic Evidence Offered In Support of an Esoteric Doctrine...70

Phaedrus 274b-278e...70
Timaeus 53c-d7...73
Meno 76e-77b and Phaedo 107b4-10...75
Republic 506d-507a and 509c9-11...77
Parmenides 136d-e...78
Statesman 284a-e...79
Laws 894a1-5...81
Closing Remarks on the Esoteric Doctrine Hypothesis...81

Chapter 6 - The Digression's Unplatonic Epistemology...82

A Brief Schematic of the Digression's Epistemology...82
A Fair Attempt at Defending the Digression's Epistemology...86
Philosophic Elitism and Obscurantism...87
Plato's Devotion to the Ideas...93

Chapter 7 - Philo of Larissa: The Culprit?...97
Chapter 8 - Conclusion...103

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