Philosophy and History

Nathan Tarcov, "Philosophy and History: Tradition and Interpretation in the Work of Leo Strauss, Polity, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Autumn, 1983).


The necessity of critical or philosophical activity is increased by the literary character shared to different degrees and purposes by most of the writings Strauss interpreted. “No interpretation of Plato’s teaching,” he says, “can be proved fully by historical evidence. For the crucial part of his interpretation the interpreter has to fall back on his own resources: Plato does not relieve him of the responsibility for discovering the decisive part of the argument by himself” (“New Interpretation,”3 51). When Plato refuses to give part of an argument, the interpreter must discover it by himself, though guided by Plato’s hints; he must use Plato’s writings for philosophizing( “New Interpretation,3″5 1). Not only Plato’s reticence but his irony compels his interpreter to think for himself. He must try to discover why one character makes a certain argument to another in certain circumstances and what would be a more adequate argument free from the requirements of those characters and circumstances (“New Interpretation,”35 2; City and Man, 59-60). Apart from Plato’s particular dramatic method, exoteric writing in general requires its interpreter to think whether its arguments are good and how they can be corrected. Even, and perhaps especially, the exoteric teaching requires the reader to meet the author “half-way” (“Farabi’s Plato,” 387). Concealment can compel the reader to think by himself and thereby become the author’s” accomplice” and not merely his interpreter (Thoughts, 50).