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Plato book review by Thomas Schlizak

Ulf von Rauchaupt

Responsible for the “Science” department at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

“Main Thinker” is actually no longer an honorary title. Not since 1977, when André Glucksmann published Les maîtres penseurs, and the teacher’s connotation as a “master of discipline” has scratched some German vocabulary. Glucksmann’s book was an account with the great philosophical narratives as midwives of inclusion, a critique of Fichte, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Marx. Karl Popper had previously announced the last two enemies of open society, but only after he had finished with another thinker: Plato.

The Tübingen writer Thomas Alexander Zlizak has now given a comprehensive description of Plato with the subtitle “Great Thinkers of Antiquity”. This raises the question whether he is trying to establish his subject here also as having critique-worthy effects on his intellectual offspring – or, on the contrary, wishing to protect him from such things. Oddly enough, interest in this question evaporates at the beginning of the first chapter. Rather, it gives way to a growing curiosity about a philosopher, who one already thinks knows something, at least more than some other figure in the history of Western philosophy—after Alfred North Whitehead’s famous remark in 1929, this consists only of footnotes to Plato.

Thomas A. Szlezák,

Thomas A. Szlezák, “Plato. The Great Thinkers of Antiquity”, Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2021, 777 p. €38

Image: Publisher

However, Szlezák is not concerned with the place in Plato’s writings, which of these footnotes should exist, and what interpretations, modifications and misunderstandings they owe or even how they should be evaluated today. “As a thinker and poet, Plato has stood the test of time like no other,” Slezak wrote. “His work does not need to be drawn into a shifting intellectual consensus – under this or that side – to be ‘rediscovered’.” What the author instead undertakes is to map Plato’s spiritual universe: his literary means and aims, his scientific theory, anthropology, cosmology, political philosophy, his core philosophy including the famous theory of ideas and, finally, deliberately, as the final chord of the book, Plato’s theology . It is Plato’s atlas for lay people interested in philosophically – all Greek translated – who want to understand what the Athenian thinker was about.

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In doing so, Szlizak usually relies only on prolific secondary literature when it comes to elements of reception history that, in his view, have slipped so much between us and Plato’s texts. However, it is these texts – as well as mentions by Plato by other ancient authors – that are his only basis: those so-called twenty-seven dialogues, which one might assume actually came from Plato. He is the first philosopher, along with Plotinus, the only ancient philosopher whose work was not lost. But more than that has come down to us under his name, including thirteen letters, the correctness of which is at least in most cases in doubt.


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