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Plato's Literary Garden

Plato's Literary Garden

How to Read a Platonic Dialogue

Kenneth M. Sayre

Plato’s dialogues are universally acknowledged as standing among the masterworks of the Western philosophic tradition. What most readers do not know, however, is that Plato also authored a public letter in which he unequivocally denies ever having written a work of philosophy. If Plato did not view his written dialogues as works of philosophy, how did he conceive them, and how should readers view them? In Plato’s Literary Garden, Kenneth M. Sayre brings over thirty years of Platonic scholarship to bear on these questions, arguing that Plato did not intend the dialogues to serve as repositories of philosophic doctrine, but instead composed them as teaching instruments.

Focusing on the dramatic structure of the dialogues as well as their logical argumentation, Sayre’s study is organized according to the progression of a horticultural metaphor adopted from the Phaedrus. Sayre illustrates each of these metaphorical “stages” with a sustained discussion of relevant dialogues, ranging from the very early Apology to the very late Philebus. In the culminating chapter, he applies the insights gained along the way to a new interpretation of Plato’s elusive Form of the Good.

In addition to a novel answer to the puzzling question: Why did Plato write the dialogues?, Plato’s Literary Garden includes an extended discussion of the considerations that most likely led Plato to write in dialogue form, as well as new analyses of key dialogues such as the Meno, the Symposium, and the Theaetetus. Providing readers with practical guidelines for the difficult pursuit of trying to read beneath the surface of a Platonic dialogue, this innovative study is sure to open up new perspectives on the dialogues for both the novice and mature scholar.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03876-2
320 pages
Publication Year: 1995

Kenneth M. Sayre is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and the author of many books and articles, including Plato’s Analytic Method and Plato’s Late Ontology.

“Sayre examines with admirable scholarly precision and thoroughness fundamental Platonic themes—the story of recollection, the method of collection and division, the use of paradigms, eros, and dialectic. — International Studies in Philosophy

“. . . an extremely well written, accessible, but demanding introduction to Plato.” — Choice

“Kenneth Sayre’s book addresses students who are undertaking the serious study of Plato for the first time, and its central message is: do not read the dialogues assuming that Plato is attempting to persuade you rationally of certain doctrines; read the dialogues as though you are having a philosophical ‘conversation’ with the author that is designed mainly to sharpen and refine your skills as a thinker. Sayre promises students a method for engaging with the dialogues as actively as the actual participants are engaged, and he promises scholars a much needed account of the significance of the dramatic and literary form of the dialogues.” — Ancient Philosophy

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Plato's Literary Garden

How to Read a Platonic Dialogue

Kenneth M. Sayre

 Plato's Literary Garden: How to Read a Platonic Dialogue
Paper Edition

Plato’s dialogues are universally acknowledged as standing among the masterworks of the Western philosophic tradition. What most readers do not know, however, is that Plato also authored a public letter in which he unequivocally denies ever having written a work of philosophy. If Plato did not view his written dialogues as works of philosophy, how did he conceive them, and how should readers view them? In Plato’s Literary Garden, Kenneth M. Sayre brings over thirty years of Platonic scholarship to bear on these questions, arguing that Plato did not intend the dialogues to serve as repositories of philosophic doctrine, but instead composed them as teaching instruments.

Focusing on the dramatic structure of the dialogues as well as their logical argumentation, Sayre’s study is organized according to the progression of a horticultural metaphor adopted from the Phaedrus. Sayre illustrates each of these metaphorical “stages” with a sustained discussion of relevant dialogues, ranging from the very early Apology to the very late Philebus. In the culminating chapter, he applies the insights gained along the way to a new interpretation of Plato’s elusive Form of the Good.

In addition to a novel answer to the puzzling question: Why did Plato write the dialogues?, Plato’s Literary Garden includes an extended discussion of the considerations that most likely led Plato to write in dialogue form, as well as new analyses of key dialogues such as the Meno, the Symposium, and the Theaetetus. Providing readers with practical guidelines for the difficult pursuit of trying to read beneath the surface of a Platonic dialogue, this innovative study is sure to open up new perspectives on the dialogues for both the novice and mature scholar.

ISBN: 978-0-268-03876-2

320 pages

“Sayre examines with admirable scholarly precision and thoroughness fundamental Platonic themes—the story of recollection, the method of collection and division, the use of paradigms, eros, and dialectic. — International Studies in Philosophy

“. . . an extremely well written, accessible, but demanding introduction to Plato.” — Choice

“Kenneth Sayre’s book addresses students who are undertaking the serious study of Plato for the first time, and its central message is: do not read the dialogues assuming that Plato is attempting to persuade you rationally of certain doctrines; read the dialogues as though you are having a philosophical ‘conversation’ with the author that is designed mainly to sharpen and refine your skills as a thinker. Sayre promises students a method for engaging with the dialogues as actively as the actual participants are engaged, and he promises scholars a much needed account of the significance of the dramatic and literary form of the dialogues.” — Ancient Philosophy