Earl Jackson, Jr.
Now there is a method of testing such matters
which is not ignoble but really suitable in the case of tyrants, and especially
such as are crammed with borrowed doctrines; and this was certainly what
had happened to Dionysius, as I perceived as soon as I arrived. To such
persons one must point out what the subject is as a whole,
For on hearing this, if the pupil be truly philosophic, in sympathy with the subject and worthy of it, because divinely gifted, he believes that he has been shown a marvellous pathway and that he must brace himself at once to follow it, and that life will not be worth living if he does otherwise. After this he braces both himself and him who is guiding him on the path, nor does he desist until either he has reached the goal of all his studies, or else has gained such power as to be capable of directing his own steps without the aid of the instructor.
It is thus,[ 7.340d] and in this mind, that such a student lives, occupied indeed in whatever occupations he may find himself, but always beyond all else cleaving fast to philosophy and to that mode of daily life which will best make him apt to learn and of retentive mind and able to reason within himself soberly; but the mode of life which is opposite to this he continually abhors.
Those, on the other hand, who are in reality not philosophic, but superficially tinged by opinions,--like men whose bodies are sunburnt on the surface --when they see how many studies are required and how great labor, 7.340e] and how the orderly mode of daily life is that which befits the subject, they deem it difficult or impossible for themselves, and thus they become in fact incapable of pursuing it; [7.341a] while some of them persuade themselves that they have been sufficiently instructed in the whole subject and no longer require any further effort.
Now this test proves the clearest and most infallible in dealing with those who are luxurious and incapable of enduring labor, since it prevents any of them from ever casting the blame on his instructor instead of on himself and his own inability to pursue all the studies which are accessory to his subject.This, then, was the purport of what I said to Dionysius on that occasion. I did not, however, expound the matter fully, nor did Dionysius ask me to do so; [7.341b] for he claimed that he himself knew many of the most important doctrines and was sufficiently informed owing to the versions he had heard from his other teachers.
And I am even told that later on he himself wrote a treatise on the subjects in which I then instructed him, composing it as though it were something of his own invention and quite different from what he had heard; but of all this I know nothing. I know indeed that certain others have written about these same subjects; but what manner of men they are not even themselves know. But thus much I can certainly declare [7.341c] concerning all these writers, or prospective writers, who claim to know the subjects which I seriously study, whether as hearers of mine or of other teachers, or from their own discoveries; it is impossible, in my judgement at least, that these men should understand anything about this subject.
There does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith. For it [i. e., philosophy] does not at all admit of verbal expression like other studies, but, as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled [7.341d] by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.
of thus much I am certain, that the best statement of these doctrines in
writing or in speech would be my own statement; and further, that if they
should be badly stated in writing, it is I who would be the person most
deeply pained. And if I had thought that these subjects ought to be fully
stated in writing or in speech to the public what nobler action could I
have performed in my life than that of writing what is of great benefit
to mankind and [7.341e] bringing forth to the light for all men the nature
of reality? But were I to undertake this task it would not, as I think,
prove a good thing for men, save for some few who are able to discover
the truth themselves with but little instruction; for as to the rest, some
it would most unseasonably fill with a mistaken contempt, and others with
an overweening and empty aspiration, as though they had learnt some sublime
I can't wait to hear your reaction to the above portion of this letter.;-). Notice also the odd symmetry between the "Who is Socrates?" page and this one. In the former page set into dialogue the expected "professional biography" of Socrates with the depiction of him in Aristophane's comedy The Clouds. Here I set the "professional biography" of Plato into dialogue with his major autobiographical statement about his attitude towards the act of writing philosophy. Each of these dialogic introductions of the life a certain Greek philosopher seems to undermine the traditional presumptions and agendas of this kind of biographical sketch in the first place. But take note of what is destabilized in each of these two dialogic portraits, and how that destabilization is effected. This is a question just to jump start your thinking caps.
Below I give you a handy hyperlinked list of all the Platonic dialogues,
the texts (in your choice of Greek or English) archived for free browsing
and download at The
Perseus Project. I have also prepared
a page in which I go into more detail about the dialogues themselves:
their number, their names, the conventions of classification, and the open
questions surrounding the traditional "chronological" ordering of the dialogues.
this larger page is a fuller list of archives for the Platonic corpus,
how to use each of the archives, and why.
Below I list the the titles of the dialogues (linked to the complete texts of the originals archived on the Perseus Project site), which are not the treatises the Plato wasn't writing at the time he either did or not write the Seventh Letter.
[Warning: This WILL be on the test that I will never give.]