Maya Sukhoshvili # 10
Why the Dialogue? Plato’s Searching for the Genre
Abstract: Plato is the author which was always very popular for scholars for many philosophical and literary aspects of his heritage. One of the most interesting aspects of Plato’s research is the dialogue form and literary genre of dialogue. The following work is concerned with this question. Why Plato wrote his philosophy in form of dialogue. I think that it had two main reasons: 1. the first reason for this was to survive Socrates’ style and manner of discussion and 2. the second reason was to express his philosophical arguments in more conformable form than it is philosophical treatise. Before Plato we have some experiments of using the dialogue form, but the genre of dialogue is undoubtedly created by philosopher – Plato.
Key words: Plato; philosophy; dialogue genre.
Dialogos is a Greek word, which means “conversation”, “dialogue”, “discussion”. It is derivative from the verb dialegomai which in Ancient Greek Lexicons is explained as “to talk”, “to have a conversation with…”, “to discuss”, “to examine a question”, “to conclude after discussion”, “to debate”, “to argue”, “to dispute” (Liddel 1961: 402).
The term “dialogue” can be considered on three main levels: 1. conversation between two or more persons; 2. part of literary text, its component, which represents the verbal relations of characters; 3. literary genre, mainly of philosophical content, in which the ideas of the author are expressed by the conversation of the characters (Kozhevnikova, Nikolayeva 1987: 96). The ancient Greek writer Diogenes Laertius explains the “dialogue” in the same way and paradigm. According to him, “the dialogue is a conversation which contains questions and answers about philosophical and political issues” (Hammond… 1970: 337).
The creation of the genre of dialogue is related with the name of one of the greatest thinkers of antiquity – Plato. It is well known that the works of Plato are not only subjects of history of philosophy but of literature too. It is well known that the creation of this genre by Plato had some different preconditions.
The very earliest germ of the philosophical dialogue is the work of Democritus “The Conversation among the Mind and Sense”. We have some pieces of the dialogical fiction in historical works and of course in dramatic genre too. But the greatest bit in development of this genre was done by sophists and Socrates. Nowadays all of the scholars agree that the very widespread and intensive use of dialogical form of course is one of the greatest merits of the philosopher - Plato.
Why Plato chose dialogical form? The answer can’t be ordinary. It is clear that the first reason for this was idea to preserve the manner of Socrates’ method. Private conversations of Socrates with different kind of people formed as an artistic dialogue in Plato’s works. We need to pay attention to the fact, that for ancient Greeks talking was not only form of relation but of thinking too. Exactly in talking improves idea in one’s mind and is transmitted to the other. Plato’s aim was to show the philosopher in the process of research and investigation. That’s why in Plato’s dialogues philosophical ideas are never delivered to the reader directly. They are always hidden behind the conversations and it appeals readers to think more deeply and polygonal.
Choosing dialogical form Plato has eluded to address directly to his reader. Instead of this in his dialogues his characters speak to each other. In his VII letter Plato says that he never had passed his philosophy directly and that this fact has very philosophical reason – philosophy cannot be passed in words (Plato, Epistulae 341 c-e). What are Plato’s dialogues (if they doesn’t express his philosophy) and how they are connected to his thinking?
According to R. Hirzel, Plato’s dialogues are some kind of dramas where we meet artistic characters, obvious and visible conflict, perfectly improved literary details. The acts of these dialogues are different from standard drama. In other words, dialogue is drama of ideas, in which the truth is spread gradually (Hirzel 1895: 122).
Why Plato wrote such dialogues? The real reason for this is the form of dialogue, as the true philosophical research can be realized only in real everyday life and in society, where people discuss about truth. The wisdom can be provided only in this kind of discussion. Philosophical research begins identifying that our appearances are not conformable to truth. Analyzing this problem it is necessary to begin to search for truth. The whole conception of philosophy is desire to search the truth and this one is indivisible from the structure of Plato’s dialogues. These dialogues are literary imitation of philosophical research. According to H. Sinaico, Plato chooses the strange and paradoxical figure of Socrates to put him in the centre of the scene, because Socrates has the great characteristic to catch the philosophical issue which is hidden behind the dramatic situation and to focus on it. This is Socrates dramatic function in Plato’s dialogues which is realized in different situations and in different context (Sinaico 1986: 7). Accordingly, the dialogues realize in different ways and finish with different outcomes. We can say that Plato’s conception is, that search for wisdom can be provided everywhere with every man, but the results are depended on the nature, skills and aims of the interlocutors.
Rosen says that the dialogue for Plato is experiment of interlocutors to demonstrate their ideas about different things. In other words, it is psykhagogia, which “trains the soul, leads the soul”. But the souls differ from each other by their nature. Thus, their training must be provided by different discussions. The dramatic form of dialogue is the way by which the author can conform his philosophical doctrines to different natures of readers (Rosen 1983: 2).
In this way, scholars agree with the influence of Sokratikoi Logoi on the forming of the dialogue genre. The dialogue style is survived in fragments of Aeschinos and Xenophon. In this style wrote their works the friends of Socrates. But the genre of dialogue is very different in Plato’s use. It is not only dialectics. Here we can find the influence of the ancient Greek tragedy and comedy. The comedy prepares model of the dialogue genre and tragedy becomes its paradigm. Plato’s method is intertextual. It is known that Socrates friends wrote dialogues, but no one of them reached to express the whole cosmos in the dialogue form as Plato. The great philosopher expressed the reflexes of Socrates discussion with literary form of the dialogue. That’s the main reason why Plato needs this form.
The other reason for answering the question, why the dialogue, is connection of the arguments expressed in Plato’s dialogues with this literary genre. The argument is one of the most important parts of the structure of Plato’s dialogues. The absolute majority of Plato’s dialogues are composed from this kind of arguments. It must be underlined that: 1. these arguments are indivisible literary elements of the dialogues; 2. as a rule exactly these arguments form the whole structure of the dialogue; 3. the dialogue form is conformable with the nature of these arguments; 4. the importance of the philosophical conception of the dialogue is directly depended on arguments of this dialogue. We don’t say that for Plato the whole importance of philosophy is to formulate and develop the arguments. We only underline that in Plato’s mind philosophical meaning and content is in direct connection with logical arguments.
Here appears one important philosophical problem. We have one group of arguments which belongs to Plato and besides we have the other group, which we don’t know to whom it can be belonged. Plato constructs his dialogues in such way that we don’t know if the arguments inside the dialogue belong to him. We have to know other additional facts and circumstances about Plato’s thinking and ideas to say that the argument belongs to Plato. This is determined from the literary form of dialogue. If one aims to write philosophical treatise, all is clear. The whole treatise is defense of the writer’s ideas and thinking. We can discuss if the authors argument is logical, persuasive and strong. The dialogue is product of literary thinking and the characters of the dialogue provide different arguments. The author isn’t responsible for these arguments. I think that Plato of course had some arguments on which was based his philosophy, but he never was assured that his arguments where strong and conformable to truth. He wished his arguments to be discussed by others. Plato didn’t want to express his arguments in form of philosophical treatise and to say that they were true, strong and persuasive. That’s one of the reasons that he transmitted to us his arguments in dialogue form, in structure which everyone can argue, extend and provide new knowledge and new thinking.
As a conclusion I want to say that there where many reasons for Plato to write his philosophy in dialogue form. These dialogues are some kind of philosophical lesson for us. This way of writing demonstrates us philosophical arguments and philosophical position very obviously. The form of dialogue and dramatic structure has the “very philosophical aims”. The dialogues compel us to think about their contents, they give us new knowledge and all this supports to create new knowledge and new thinking.
1. Liddel… 1961: Liddell H. G., Scott R Greek-English Lexicon, London: Oxford Press, 1961.
2. Hammond… 1970: Hammond N. G., Scullard H. H. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. London: Oxford Press, 1970.
3. Der Neue… 1983: Der Neue Pauly, Enzyklopadie der antike (H. Cancik und H. Schneider), 15 Bde. Stuttgart: Weimar, 1996.
4. Gadamer 1980: Gadamer H. G. Dialogue and Dialectic, Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato. London: Oxford Press, 1980.
5. Hirzel 1895: Hirzel R. Der Dialog. Leipzig. 1895.
6 Rosen 1983: Rosen S. Plato’s Sophist, the Drama of Original and Image. London: Oxford Press, 1983.
7. Russon... 2000: Russon J., Sallis J. Retracing the Platonic Text, London: Evanston Press, 2000.
8. Sinaico 1986: Sinaico W. L. Love, Knowledge and Discourse in Phaedrus, Republic, Parmenides. London: Oxford Press, 1986.
Volume 4, Issue 2