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Plato’s Philosophers

The Coherence of the Dialogues

Faced with the difficult task of discerning Plato’s true ideas from the contradictory voices he used to express them, scholars have never fully made sense of the many incompatibilities within and between the dialogues. In the magisterial Plato’s Philosophers, Catherine Zuckert explains for the first time how these prose dramas cohere to reveal a comprehensive Platonic understanding of philosophy.

To expose this coherence, Zuckert examines the dialogues not in their supposed order of composition but according to the dramatic order in which Plato indicates they took place. This unconventional arrangement lays bare a narrative of the rise, development, and limitations of Socratic philosophy. In the drama’s earliest dialogues, for example, non-Socratic philosophers introduce the political and philosophical problems to which Socrates tries to respond. A second dramatic group shows how Socrates develops his distinctive philosophical style. And, finally, the later dialogues feature interlocutors who reveal his philosophy’s limitations. Despite these limitations, Zuckert concludes, Plato made Socrates the dialogues’ central figure because Socrates raises the fundamental human question: what is the best way to live?

Plato’s dramatization of Socratic imperfections suggests, moreover, that he recognized the apparently unbridgeable gap between our understandings of human life and the nonhuman world. At a time when this gap continues to raise questions—about the division between sciences and the humanities and the potentially dehumanizing effects of scientific progress—Zuckert’s brilliant interpretation of the entire Platonic corpus offers genuinely new insights into worlds past and present.

896 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Philosophy: History and Classic Works

Political Science: Classic Political Thought


"Brimming with original insights, this massive book offers a comprehensive vision of the entire Platonic corpus. . . . Both analytic philosophers . . . and literary interpreters, who eschew argument in favor of artistic structure and presentation of character, will profit from engagement with this brilliant study. . . . This book will allow scholars of all persuasions to make discoveries at every turn as the author guides them through territory they thought they knew well."—Choice


"No serious student of Plato could fail to benefit from [Zuckert’s] careful, intelligent, probing, and illuminating discussions. . . . An important, impressive, and, one hopes, lasting book."

Mark Blitz | Claremont Review

Table of Contents




Part I

The Political and Philosophical Problems

ONE Using Pre-Socratic Philosophy to Support Political Reform

The Athenian Stranger

TWO Plato’s Parmenides

Parmenides’ Critique of Socrates and Plato’s Critique of Parmenides

THREE Becoming Socrates

FOUR Socrates Interrogates His Contemporaries about the Noble and Good

Part II

Two Paradigms of Philosophy

FIVE Socrates’ Positive Teaching

SIX Timaeus-Critias

Completing or Challenging Socratic Political Philosophy?

SEVEN Socratic Practice

Conclusion to Part II

Part III

The Trial and Death of Socrates

EIGHT The Limits of Human Intelligence

NINE The Eleatic Challenge

TEN The Trial and Death of Socrates

CONCLUSION Why Plato Made Socrates His Hero




Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award

Association of American Publishers: R. R. Hawkins Award (PROSE)

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