Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s Republic
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018, 288 pp.
When Plato wrote his dialogues, written texts were disseminated
primarily by performance and oral recitation. Literacy, however, was spreading, and Frank is the first to point out
that the dialogues offer two distinct ways of learning to read. One method treats learning to read as being led to true beliefs about
letters and syllables by an authoritative teacher. The other method, recommended by Socrates, focuses on learning to read
by trial and error, and on the opinions learners come to have based on their
own fallible experiences. In all the
dialogues in which these methods appear, learning to read is likened to coming
to know, and the significant differences between the two methods are at the
center of Frank’s argument.
learning to read is understood as a practice of assimilating true beliefs by an
authoritative teacher, it reflects the dominant scholarly account of Plato’s
philosophy as authoritative knowledge and of Plato’s politics as, if not
authoritarian, then at least anti-democratic. Rulers
should have such authoritative knowledge and be philosopher-kings. However,
learning to read or coming to know by way of Socrates’ method, leads to quite a
different set of conclusions.
Frank resists the claim that Plato’s dialogues seek to endorse or enforce a
hierarchy of knowledge and politics. Instead, she
argues that they offer a philosophical education in self-authorization by
representing and enacting challenges to all claims to expert authority,
including those of philosophy.
Prologue Learning to Read
2 Poetry: The Measure of Truth
3 A Life without Poetry
4 The Power of Persuasion
5 Erōs: The Work of Desire
Dialectics: Making Sense of Logos
Jill Frank is associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University and the author of A Democracy of Distinction.
Musei Capitolini (Roma)