DOI: 10.30443/POI2020-0006

Writing about Philosophy, Writing for Philosophy: The Polyvocal Platonic Position on Writing

Federica Piangerelli


This contribution aims to examine the particular writing technique developed by Plato. The Athenian, in fact, “invents” a specific modus comunicandi, which makes the reading of his texts an authentic philosophical exercise. More specifically, the article proposes to identify the theoretical reasons underlying the Platonic communicative style, which are due mainly to the desire to reproduce, in the form of writing, the maieutic educational purposes. To this are added critical reflections about writing, which has both limits and potential; it is designed according to an unequal but not antithetical link with oral teaching. On the one hand, writing is a weak medium because it does not allow the reader to be controlled, is unable to defend itself, and is exposed to the risk of misunderstandings. Therefore, Plato devotes the teaching of “major” doctrine to dialectical orality, the natural completion of written dialogue. On the other hand, written text has a hypomnematic value, allows dialogue with posterity, and, above all, serves an introductory function in relation to the most important doctrines, the “unwritten” ones. Hence, to benefit from the potention of writing while avoiding its limitations, the Philosopher devises a provocative style, which he himself defines as “serious game.” In fact, the presentation is not flat and linear but raises problems and incentives that the reader (even the contemporary one) should independently perceive and solve. In this sense, moreover, the dialogues have a protreptic value as tools that guide the scholar in his philosophical growth: they do not impose theories but teach how to think. This paper focuses on some examples of “serious games,” taken from Theaetetus and Euthydemus, to show, in opere operato, the uniqueness of Plato’s expressive form, which makes him not only a great thinker but also a literary genius of Western culture.

Keywords: Dialectic, Theatetus, Phaedrus, Euthydemus, Multifocal Approach

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