The Ambiguity of Plato

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The Ambiguity of Plato

For hundreds of years, Plato has been admired as a writer, a master rhetorician, an artist, and above all, a philosopher; however, Plato's backlashes against sophistry and art have led to much confusion concerning his ideas and beliefs. John Poulakos says of Plato, "[F]or most rhetoricians Plato has always played the same role he assigned to the sophists--the enemy" (Nienkamp 1). Plato will always appear to be the skilled rhetorician or artist who speaks out against rhetoric and art. In Apology and Phaedrus we see the character of Socrates rail against writing because it can quickly get out of control of the author and just as easily be misinterpreted, yet Plato is known for his skillful dialogical writing. In reference to the Divided Line, Plato informs us that art is one of the lowest forms because it is no more than an illusion, yet Plato uses his artistic ability in "Simile of a Cave" to help us understand the journey to knowledge. This ambiguity within the texts leads to, what appears to be, Plato contradicting himself; however, to fully understand these contradictions we must ask ourselves, "Who is the real Plato?" Plato's contradictory nature and overall ambiguity make the lines of distinction between the writer, the rhetorician, the artist, and the philosopher become blurred, so it is difficult for anyone to understand or explain the real Plato.

Jean Nienkamp says of Plato, "[He is] the writer who writes that nothing of importance can be conveyed through writing; the word-smith who argues that words are but imitations of imitations at the same time that he insists on precise definitions, divisions... " (1). In Phaedrus, Plato presents some of his more powerful arguments against writing. Most...

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...1: 23-44.

Plato. Euthyphro. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company Inc., 1981: 5-22.

Plato. Meno. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company Inc., 1981: 57-88.

Plato. Phaedo. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company Inc., 1981: 89-155.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff. Amherst: Hermagoras Press, 1999: 165-213.

Plato. "Simile of a Cave." The Republic. Trans. Desmond Lee. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2002: 1-9.

Tejera, Victorino. "The Apology and the Phaedo: Plato's Tragic Humor." Plato's Dialogues One by One: A Dialogical Interpretation. Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 1999.

Thesleff, Holger. "In Search of Dialogue." Plato's Dialogues: New Studies and Interpretations. Ed. Gerald A. Press. Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1993: 259-266.
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