Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

Seddon's Salvos - Long on Plato, Pt. 1
by Fred Seddon

SEDDON: I can’t tell you how pleased, and, to be candid, weird I feel at you granting me this interview for SOLOHQ.

PLATO: This is my first interview since my death and I thought it was time to speak up.

S: Time to speak up? What occasioned this desire?

P: An otherwise wonderful piece of writing by Roderick T. Long (you people have more names than us) in #3 of the TOC monograph series titled "Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand." Aristotle versus Rand! Sounds more like a wrestling match rather than a "friendly cross-examination," which is the way I characterized philosophy in my 7th letter.

S: The very passage that Long quotes on p. 12. I take it you have some problems with Long’s exegesis?

P: Yes, I disagree with everything he wrote about me and my writings in that piece.

S: Why don’t you tell us about your complaints?

P: Well, let’s begin at the bottom of page 9 where he talks about me being led to "develop his substantive account of rationality." And on p. 14 he talks about something he names my "Theory of Recollection" and again on p. 15 he talks about "Plato’s theory."

S: You got a problem with that?

P: I sure do. It assumes that my dialogues are treatises in which I set forth "my theories."

S: Well, aren’t they?

P: Absolutely not. My best student, Aristotle, wrote treatises, but I never did. I wrote dialogues and Long seems not to have a clue about what a dialogue is or its purpose.

S: I can only ask you to elaborate.

P: Aristotle tells you in one of his treatises on poetics. They’re akin to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus, not to the writings of someone like, well, Aristotle. You could call them character studies. Did you ever ask yourself why at least 21 of my dialogues bear the name of a person?

S: But surely your theories are in the dialogues? After all, you did write them.

P: Does that mean that every character speaks for me? After all, I wrote every line in my dialogues. (Actually that’s not quite true. I can’t tell you how much input I got from Aristotle, especially in the Philebus.)

S: But doesn’t Socrates speak for you?

P: Where did I ever say that? The characters say what they must say given who they are. And why do you only pay attention to what I have the characters say? After all, they do interact with each other and often that speaks volumes. You know, "actions speak louder . . ."

S: Yes, I know the rest. But then, where can we find out what you thought?

P: Aristotle got it pretty much right. After all, he was my student and colleague for 20 years. Read his stuff and see what he reports on me. Just remember, he did have a first rate mind and tended, in the end, to see the world in his own way, and that certainly pertains to my ideas.

S: But what about Long?

P: Well look, he writes eight pages on my dialogues and never once do we see the name "Socrates," a character who gets lots of lines, so to speak. Not to mention all my other characters. One would never know that he was taking his quotations from dialogues.

S: How would an ideal thinker deal with your writings?

P: John Sallis does pretty well, to name but one contemporary of yours.

S: I know him. He was a teacher of mine in graduate school. Is he the only one?

P: No, no, no. Klein, Braun, Friedlander . . .

S: Ok. But could you give us an example?

P: Sure. Consider a passage that both Long and Sallis discuss. Phaedo 73a-b. Long cites this to back up the following that appears in the body of his text: "Plato is much impressed by the fact that a person initially ignorant in geometry can be led to formulate a correct proof of a geometric theorem simply be being asked the right questions." This is the text to which he appends footnote 23. When we go to the notes we find him quoting the Phaedo: "When people are questioned—assuming someone asks the questions in the appropriate way—they state everything as it is. And yet they would not be able to do this unless knowledge and the correct account happen to be innate within them. Accordingly, if one leads them to diagrams or anything else of that kind, that's what will prove most clearly that this is so."

S: And you’re going to maintain that this is an inadequate interpretation of the text and Sallis gets closer to the spirit of the dialogue?

P: You bet.

S: How so?

P: Let me quote Sallis first. This is from his book, Being and Logos, p. 86. "In accord with the context of the dialogues as a whole, both thematically and dramatically, Cebes introduces the issue of recollection as providing a means of proving the immortality of the soul. We note immediately the contrast with the story about recollection in the Meno in which the thesis that learning is recollection is derived from the immortality of the soul rather than conversely."

S: Let me interrupt to say that Long quotes the Meno also in footnote 23 to complement his Phaedo quotation.

P: Yes, but let me continue from Sallis.

S: Please.

P: "This contrast indicates how thoroughly questionable the connection is between recollection and the immortality of the soul; we suspect that neither the story told in the Meno nor the specific conversation we are considering in the Phaedo is situated at the level at which a genuine questioning of this connection could be initiated."

S: Wait a minute. You mean to tell us that the recollection story (not theory) . . .

P: Now you’re getting it.

S: . . . that the recollection story is first put into play by Cebes, and not Socrates, let alone you?!

P: Right. I have, purposely, no speaking part in any of my over two dozen dialogues. But you would never know this reading Long. He is always writing, "Plato says," "Plato explains," etc., and then quoting some passage from the dialogues as if I were the speaker. But I don’t speak.

S: Why?

P: As I wrote in the 7th letter, "No man of intelligence will ever venture to commit to [written language] the concepts of his reason, especially when it is unalterable—as is the case with what is formulated in writing." (343a)

S: But wait. Let’s be fair to Long. Sallis’ book is an exposition of six dialogues, not a book that tries to get clear on your philosophy, which is Long’s objective.

P: Yet even when Sallis, or Klein, or Braun, or Friedlander or innumereable others refer to my writings, they avoid the "Plato says" kind of phrase and instead refer to the characters who are doing the speaking. Again, they’re dialogues, not treatises. They are never tempted to make some grand conclusion about my philosophy based on the dialogues, whereas Long can’t help doing this very thing because of his questionable approach to my texts.

S: I certainly think you have proved your point in this regard. But I assume you have more to say about Long’s essay.

P: Yes, I would like to question Long’s interpretation of every quotation he cites from my works. And not just to pick on Long, but to actually expose something of what I was about in those five dialogues.

S: I for one, would love to hear what you have to say. It out-Schlipps Schlipp.

P: For sake of brevity, I will restrict myself to "II. Rationality as Substantive but Mystical: Plato" This runs from p. 9 to p. 16. The endnotes begin on p. 56.

S: Please continue.

P. Thank you. If I counted correctly, he quotes Phaedo three times; Cratylus once; Republicfour times, Symposium twice, Meno twice and the 7th letter once. The latter is the only time I speak in my own voice.

S. I think you’re right about the dialogues cited.

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