Plato, True and False

"Plato, True and False," Review of Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper. The New Criterion, February 1998: 70-74. Reprinted in The Archaeology of the Soul, 2012.


To have everything of Plato in one volume, regardless of whether or not it has been ascribed to him correctly, is a fortunate event: one can survey all at once the man himself and his history, what he certainly wrote and what others foisted on him as well as what at different times, both in the past and at the present, has been denied to be his. In the so-called Thrasyllan edition, there are thirty-six genuine pieces, arranged in nine tetralogies.

The editor of the present edition, which contains translations by several hands, is John M. Cooper, who teaches philosophy at Princeton University. Cooper puts an asterisk against six of the Thrasyllan dialogues, which he says are generally agreed not to be Plato’s, a dagger against two others, whose authorship is still disputed, and a double dagger against the thirteen letters, some of which are thought now to be genuine. The asterisk is also put against eight others that were not part of the Thrasyllan corpus. There are, then, twenty-seven dialogues with which the reader can confidently begin. But how to begin? There were in antiquity various proposals designed to show the way to begin the reading of Plato; but, as they were all geared to a neo-Platonic orthodoxy, they are, despite their apparent plausibility, unsuitable for a contemporary beginner who is not grounded in any school.”

The New Criterion