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Platonism and its Interpretations -
The Three Paradigms and their Place
in History of Hermeneutics


Vittorio Hösle
Full professor at the Univ. of
Notre Dame in Indiana


For Hans Krämer, the Schliemann of the esoteric Plato and nevertheless, malgré lui, the true heir of Schleiermacher, in profound gratitude and admiration


After the Bible, Plato has been the most important interpretandum of the Western tradition. In stating this, I am well aware of the fact that the number of commentaries on Aristotle far exceeds that of commentaries on Plato, [2]
and I am also conscious of the subtle hermeneutic problems that a work like Aristotle’s Metaphysics poses (particularly book Z), not to mention his theory of modal logic in the First Analytics, which up until now is still hardly understood. [3] Nevertheless, I do claim that the hermeneutic challenge represented by Plato is objectively greater, and that this has also been sensed by the tradition. It was forced by Plato’s work to deal with hermeneutic problems more profound and more radical than those connected with Aristotle. (It is hardly an accident that the founder of modern hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, as well as the most influential theorists of interpretation in the 20th century in both the continental and the analytical tradition, Gadamer and Davidson, published on Plato at the beginning of their careers.) [4] Of course, this has to do with the genre of the dialogue Plato used for communicating his thought in written form, as well as with the old distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrines connected with his philosophy. On the one hand, these two aspects contributed to forms of interpretation that from the standard of modern, “objective” hermeneutics appear as adventurous and even absurd, not unlike a great part of patristic and medieval Bible commentaries seems to modern Bible critics. On the other hand, Plato indeed cannot be interpreted in the same way as, e.g., Aristotle, and it may well be that the pre-modern hermeneutics of Plato has to teach us something that the modern approach has lost.
To lay my cards on the table: I do not belong to that group of people who, in the aftermath of Gadamer (interpreted in a peculiar way) and Derrida, deny that there is such a thing as an objective interpretation - on the contrary. Even if Gadamer, by applying historical thinking to hermeneutics itself, has persuasively shown that modern hermeneutics is itself a result of a complex historical development, this does not mean that pre-modern and modern hermeneutics are equally justified. Genesis and validity must be distinguished, and progress in the history of the humanities as well as of the sciences should not be excluded. Still, Gadamer’s radical historicizing of hermeneutics has been wholesome, because progress in some respect is often accompanied by losses that a naive progressivist ideology tends to overlook, and real progress can in most cases be accomplished only if the valid aspects of an earlier way of thinking are integrated into the new paradigm. My own interest is in a hermeneutics that could be regarded as a viable synthesis of the ancient and the modern way, and since unfortunately such a hermeneutics is not yet offered on the market, the following reflections will be tentative and will have to presuppose certain ideas that I cannot justify sufficiently in this context. Nevertheless, an analysis of the different forms of interpreting Plato in our tradition may be a useful preparation for such a synthetic hermeneutics, especially if one can discover a certain logic of development in these different steps.
General hermeneutics is the one motive guiding the following reflections. The other is, of course, a specific interest in Plato himself. [5]
Speaking about oneself is often vain, but sometimes it is helpful for others in order that they may see the reasons for an intellectual endeavor (and thus perhaps disregard it earlier on). Therefore I may be allowed to mention that my dissertation with the immodest title “Wahrheit und Geschichte” [6] was devoted to a great extent to an interpretation of Plato, as seen through the categories of the Tübingen school (among its advisers were Hans Krämer and Konrad Gaiser). Its real purpose, however, was to propose a general theory of the history of philosophy strongly influenced by Hegel and in some aspects opposed to Gadamer’s approach. Like my teachers, I was and continue to be frustrated by the lack of agreement that the new interpretation of Plato encountered among Plato scholars, and came more and more to the conclusion that the disagreement was not so much based on accentuating different passages in Plato, i.e., on concrete philological operations, as on contrasts regarding more general hermeneutic principles. I therefore gave up publishing on concrete Platonic texts, but focused instead on generic features of the Platonic oeuvre that play a role also in other philosophers (though not in many), such as the function of orality and the form of the dialogue. [7] It seemed to me that one might be more willing to consider Plato’s peculiarity if one saw that the hermeneutic principles applying to him are, although quite subtle, not unique and that they have to be taken seriously in interpreting other thinkers (some of them modern ones) as well. This essay continues this line of reflection by putting the different presuppositions of the various ways of interpreting Plato into a developmental context. I follow the first chapters of Giovanni Reale’s main work on Plato when I recognize three fundamental paradigms of interpreting Plato: the first is the pre-modern from the ancient world up until the end of the 18th century, the second was inaugurated by Schleiermacher at the beginning of the 19th century and the third is that of the Tübingen school. [8] (My use of the term “paradigm” is not meant to imply an incommensurability between different paradigms - there are rational criteria to choose between them. It suggests only that the various paradigms start from very different general presuppositions.) I harbor no doubt that the hostilities the third paradigm has provoked have to do partly with the suspicion that it is a particularly hideous way of the first paradigm reemerging in a new guise. I do not deny that in its reconstruction of the content of Plato’s philosophy the third paradigm is closer to the first than the second is. I want to show, however, that the philological methodology of the third paradigm is in a certain sense more Schleiermacherian than that of Schleiermacher himself, whose own philosophical position has influenced his interpretation of Plato far more than the modern demand of a strict separation of the quest for meaning and the quest for truth usually condones. The third paradigm is nevertheless somehow a synthesis of the first two, and therefore its analysis may be particularly useful for those interested in a synthetic hermeneutic. In the following paper I will discuss the three paradigms, focusing mainly on the second and the third, with which I am most familiar, and then sum up my analyses in a short fourth chapter.
The radical modernity of Spinoza’s hermeneutics in the Tractatus theologico-politicus becomes particularly visible in his claim that he wants to find out the “meaning,” not the “truth” of the Biblical texts: “De solo enim sensu orationum, non autem de earum veritate laboramus.” [9]
Even if such a demand seems to be more or less obvious for a modern interpreter of a text, it is extremely important to recognize that such a focus emerged only late in history and that the original task of hermeneutics was a different one: namely, to grasp truth via the interpretation of texts regarded as authoritative. The naïve reader of texts enjoying religious authority still today approaches them with the clear intent to learn from, not about them, and he is not disposed to reckon with errors in them. The passages that seem to imply errors are reinterpreted in such a way that a harmony between the “real” meaning of the text and its truth is reestablished. Even more, new insights of the reader that seem extremely important to him are projected back into the text, read into it, even if the interpreter, of course, sincerely believes that he has read them out of the text. The latent social function of this form of interpretation is obvious and explains why it could survive so long (and is still present in non-Western cultures): It allowed the reader to develop her culture further, while at the same time believing that she was in continuity with her own tradition; it fostered intellectual autonomy, while preserving respect for traditions. Even if I do think that both aims are completely respectable ones and indeed have to be brought to a synthesis, I share modern interpreters’ conviction that the price paid by the aforementioned strategy for achieving them is too high: It destroys what I already have called the “objectivity” of hermeneutics, fully developed only in the nineteenth century.
Two consequences of this new ideal of hermeneutics can be mentioned in this context: on the one hand, the transformation of Classical Philology into an objectifying science of the ancient world, collecting facts instead of proposing a model of life, and on the other hand, the emergence of the new, autonomous discipline of the history of philosophy, which in Germany even threatened to swallow systematic philosophy proper (Dilthey’s Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften being the classical example of this change). Of course, already in the eighteenth century we had had a few comprehensive histories of philosophy, but they had been isolated works - a discipline of “history of philosophy” in itself did not yet exist, and it would have been utterly impossible to think of it as of a worthy replacement of systematic philosophy. This is even truer of earlier attempts: Certainly, already Aristotle and the Peripatos had dealt with the opinions of their predecessors. But their enterprise had mainly served a systematic purpose - in the first books of Aristotle’s treatises, the survey of the predecessors had prepared the statement of his own systematic position. One has to recognize that in the Peripatos, doxography somehow became a more autonomous enterprise (in a way similar to the natural sciences’ emancipation from philosophy), but it never was integrated into the canonical subdivision of philosophy of the Hellenistic ages. And Late Antiquity has even less of a claim to an “objectivist” interpretation of philosophical texts. Of course, whoever criticizes other authors (and criticism of other philosophers belongs to the essence of every philosophy in a way very different from religion), must be able to determine the meaning of their assertions without accepting their truth. But the point is that this activity is regarded as one of philosophy’s preliminaries, not as its core, and even then it is seen as far more important to construct the adversary’s position as a strawman’s argument so that it can easily be confuted or in any case a systematically relevant point can be made regarding it, than to patiently work out its content without having one’s own systematic aim in view.
This applies even more to those authors whose intellectual heirs one pretends to be. In the case of the philosophers who from the first century BC onwards claimed to continue the philosophical tradition of Platonism, there is, as far as I can see, almost no consciousness that their own position differed from that of the historical Plato B even if it in fact did so. The largest extant text of Middle Platonism, Alcinous’ Didaskalikos tôn Platônos dogmatôn (Handbook of Platonism), is a good example of what I have in mind. The work simultaneously offers a view of what the author regards as the central Platonic tenets and of what he thinks is a true philosophical account of reality. The order of the book follows the classical Hellenistic trichotomy of philosophy into logic, physics and ethics, and even if this subdivision can indeed be traced back to the Old Academy (Xenokrates frg. 1 Heinze = frg. 82 Isnardi Parente), its particular interpretation that we find in Alcinous clearly is not Platonic, even if it differs from the standard Hellenistic one, e.g., by speaking of “theoretical philosophy” instead of “physics” and subdividing it in the Aristotelean way into theology, physics, and mathematics (Ch. 3, 7). [10]

Without any awareness that logic was mainly developed by Aristotle and the Stoics, he projects back onto Plato some of the logical knowledge of his own time (as he understood it). Even if he adduces examples of logical forms used by Plato (Ch. 6), he does not realize that to argue using the first syllogistic figure - something probably done quite early in human history - and to state the latter as such are two very different things. [11] The philosophy Alcinous ascribes to Plato is an amalgam of Platonism, Aristotelianism and common Hellenistic as well as Stoic tenets (even if he rejects again and again Stoic dogmas, particularly in the field of ethics). As John Dillon has
pointed out in his introduction to his translation, even the language of Alcinous is eclectic: The fifth chapter ends with the words:
. [12] Even if the underlying idea can indeed be found in Plato, only the term is Platonic (Meno 85c9); is Aristotelean, and is Stoic. “In all this, of course, A. himself would not be conscious of any mixture of terminology.” [13]

Another example of his syncretistic attitude are his statements about the element constituting stars - in one passage it seems to be fire, in the other ether. [14] Dillon writes: “I do not see how these statements can be reconciled, and the contradiction may simply betoken a change of source on A.’s part.” [15] I would suggest the further possibility that Alcinous strongly desired to have Plato and Aristotle agree and that this desire was stronger than the sensibility for possible contradictions.
Three further aspects of the Didaskalikos have to be mentioned in this context. First, the whole book is based on the assumption that Plato’s philosophy is a body of doctrines, and even an organic one. This does not imply that Alcinous was not familiar with the dialogues: They are quoted again and again (particularly the most systematic one, the Timaeus), but with the intent to elucidate from them definitive positions that Plato had with regard to philosophical matters. Even if there is now an agreement among most scholars that J. Freudenthal’s 1879 identification of Albinus and Alcinous is far from being proven or even plausible, [16]
although the texts ascribed to them by the manuscripts do in fact share several common traits, it should be mentioned that Albinus’ Prologos proves the strong interest that Middle Platonists had in the form of the dialogue used by Plato. [17] Indeed, Albinus’ neglected text is one of the most important texts in literary theory that we owe to the ancient world. It is, however, itself an example of a systematic doctrine of the dialogues, as it offers a definition of the dialogue as well as a dihairesis of the various types of dialogue used by Plato (as can also be found in Diogenes Laertius): [18] The topic of the Platonic dialogue, even of the early ones, is approached in a way influenced by the methods proposed in the later dialogues. Second, neither Alcinous nor Albinus are at all interested in a development of Plato’s philosophy; the problem simply does not arise for them. The question of in which order the Platonic dialogues should be read is regarded by Albinus as inessential, because Plato’s doctrine is compared to the perfect figure of a circle, which has no starting point (ch. IV), and the answer he then offers - an answer varying for different readers - has to do with the recipient of the dialogues, not at all with their author (ch. V f.). As for Alcinous, the only passage where, as far as I can see, he explicitly speaks of variations not in Plato’s development but among the Platonists is when he mentions the difficult issue of whether there are ideas of artifacts (ch. 9). Third, both Alcinous and Albinus insist on the importance of the acquisition of a certain mode of life in order to understand Plato appropriately. Alcinous begins his treatise with an account clearly influenced by Republic 485b ff. on the necessary moral as well as intellectual prerequisites for engaging in philosophy - or understanding Plato, both activities meaning the same to him. Both authors, when they describe Plato’s conception of the last end of man, a conception which they clearly share, speak of likeness to God. [19] Alcinous states that Plato communicated his ideas on the Good only to a chosen group (Ch. 27); he thus recognizes a Platonic esotericism.
Neoplatonism is more original than Middle Platonism, and thus more distant from Plato’s own philosophy, and so the lack of hermeneutic appropriateness with regard to the Platonic dialogues in the many Neoplatonic commentaries on them is sensed by modern readers as even more disturbing than what we encounter in Alcinous. The etymologies and allegorizations we find in Hermeias of Alexandria’s commentary to the Phaedrus, to give only one example, as well as its projection of peculiarly Neoplatonic tenets (e.g., regarding the three bodies) onto the Platonic text are hardly to our taste. [20]
Phaedrus was a historical character, as well as his father Pythocles, and therefore we remain utterly unconvinced when Hermeias tells us that his name stands for “appearing beauty”, and that of his father for “listening to speeches” (14, 27 ff; 81, 7 ff. Couvreur). Still, one has to recognize that Hermeias is closer to the text than many modern interpreters when he insists on the unity of the text - in his words: that there is only one skopos. Even if modern interpreters will disagree with Hermeias that this skopos is the beautiful in every sense, they are well-advised to take his hermeneutic maxim seriously, that one should regard the dialogue as one organism (11, 18 Couvreur), for this maxim stems from Plato himself (Phaedrus 264c), and it is without any doubt a reasonable prima facie canon of hermeneutics to consider very carefully whatever an author himself writes about interpretation when one approaches him. (Hermeias does not state explicitly this more general principle, but applies it instinctively. Still, it may well be that he thought that the organological maxim was always valid and not only in the case of Plato, where its validity follows from the aforementioned meta-canon. In this case, he would certainly err, for there are authors whose works are not organic and even intentionally offend our desire for wholeness.) As Plato’s Parmenides is probably his most difficult dialogue to understand, it can hardly surprise us that this dialogue in particular invited Neoplatonic interpretations which we can say with certainty do not capture Plato’s intention, even if we do not exactly know what its correct interpretation would be. [21] Still, one has to recognize that Proclus has a remarkable awareness of the various possibilities to interpret the dialogue (630 ff. Cousin) and that some of his insights have to be taken seriously also by a modern scholar: The allusion to Clazomenae at the beginning of Plato’s text is, in my eyes, indeed of crucial importance for a correct interpretation of the dialogue, even if many modern readers ignore it, and it remains a merit of Proclus’ commentary to have elucidated its function (629 f., 659 f.). Again, the more general hermeneutic maxim that Proclus develops in this context is completely sound for every interpretation of Plato (he recognizes that it is not valid for other dialogues as those of Heraclides of Pontus and Theophrastus, but sees this as detrimental to their aesthetic quality.) According to him, the preludes to the Platonic dialogues announce the basic themes of the dialogues themselves. Proclus rightly recognizes that this maxim is a corollary of the more general one, stated by Plato himself, to see the dialogues as organisms, i.e. as unitarian (658 f.); he thus has even rudimentary insights into the logical relation between different hermeneutic canons.
The distance between Plato and his interpreters increases, of course, with Christianity. This is also true for Renaissance Christianity, although it can claim to have developed philological standards unknown to the Middle Ages. But even if Ficino’s great translation of Plato - a translation still used by Hegel - shows how profoundly he had studied his work, Ficino’s Plato is even more distant from what we think is the historic figure than Alcinous’ or Proclus’; and indeed this is hardly surprising given Ficino’s eclectic tendencies. He also translated, among others, Alcinous, Plotinus, Hermeias, and Pseudo-Dionysios-Areopagita, and he sees all of them as representatives of one continuous line of thought. In a famous letter to Bessarion, Ficino speaks of “aurum hoc Platoni a Deo tributum”, which, however, was somehow hidden: “eos homines latuit, qui Linceos oculos non habebant” (an allusion to Seventh Letter 344a). It is regarded as the merit of Plotinus, Porphyry, Jamblich and Proclus to have cleansed this gold, and Ficino takes pride in belonging to an age, inaugurated by Bessarion, in which this gold can even be handled and looked at by everybody. “Verum in Plotini primum, Porphyrii deinde et Iamblici ac denique Proculi officinam aurum illud iniectum, exquisitissimo ignis examine excussis arenis enituit usque adeo, ut omnem orbem miro splendore repleverit. ... Venerunt iam, venerunt secula illa, Bessarion, quibus et Platonis gaudeat numen et nos omnis eius familia summopere gratulemur.” [22]
The popularity of Ficino’s commentary on the Symposium, to give only one example, in the European Renaissance demonstrates the importance of the work, and one cannot deny that it is an impressive treatise on love, integrating much of what the tradition had thought about the subject, into an elegant form that vies with that of the Symposium itself: The Commentarium in Convivium Platonis, de amore consists itself of seven speeches. These are, however, added more or less mechanically one after the other, and the complex web of personal relations between the participants of the Platonic Symposium is reduced to some hints to Ficino’s love for Cavalcanti (see II 6, but only in the Latin version). [23] We are even less able to discover any differences in the hermeneutics or philosophy of love of the various speakers: Their views converge as strongly as those of the different authorities quoted and of the speakers in Plato’s dialogue, as the latter are interpreted by Ficino’s speakers. Nobody in Ficino’s circle realizes that, e.g., Agathon’s speech is regarded as an inferior one by Plato, and that on the whole there is an ascent towards higher and higher points of view in the dialogue: What Ficino regards as essential, he finds already in the first speech by Phaedrus. Now, one might indeed argue that Plato wants to show us that even the inferior points of view participate somehow in the higher truths - the doctrine of the principles is alluded to in Aristophanes’ speech, [24] and, to mention another dialogue, Szlezák has convincingly pointed out that the sophisms of the Euthydemus somehow mirror in a distorted way the truths of the Meno. [25] But the point is that according to Plato, these deeper relations are not intended by the characters in the dialogue as such. For Ficino, on the other hand, there seem to be no differences between Plato’s and his characters’ insights - at least he never mentions any. Nor is he at all able to recognize differences between his own eclectic Christianity and Plato’s thought. The purpose of his “commentary” clearly is not so much to find out what Plato wanted to say as to present a theory of love that Ficino himself regards as the correct one - but therefore also as the Platonic one - and in which the modern reader easily discovers important insights that are more detailed than what we find in the Platonic texts on love: I mention only Ficino’s reflections on reciprocal recognition (II 8), on the phenomenon of erotic projection (VI, 6, 10), on the subjective moment in erotic choice (VI 6, VII 9) and on the transformation of love into hatred, as caused by the loss of autonomy (VI 10). But as fascinating as these ideas are, Ficino - differently from modern philosophers - would not have felt flattered if someone had explained him that he was more original than he had intended to be.
Of course, the main problem for the modern reader is Ficino’s Christian reading of Plato. In the dedicatory letter to his own Italian translation of his book, he quotes not only the Christian poet Dante; he calls Diotima inspired by God and the Holy Spirit, Plato the most pious of all philosophers, Diotima’s philosophy “quella salutifera manna ... dal Cielo mandata”. [26]
This is, however, still not a breach of what we would regard as sound hermeneutics; we may disagree with it on theological grounds, but one can recognize the power of the Christian God in pagan texts - thinkers from Justin to Hegel have done this, and Hegel certainly is a modernist in his hermeneutics. We may also accept that Ficino identifies the Pagan gods with angels (I 1), since this identification is not ascribed by him to the ancient themselves. What we cannot put up with, however, is, e.g., his interpretation of the Aristophanes myth. Even if Ficino rejects allegorical interpretations as inappropriate in other contexts (I 3), and even if in the case of our myth he insists that not everything in it can be interpreted allegorically, he states that under the veils of the myth divine mysteries are hidden. Mos enim erat veterum theologorum sacra ipsorum puraque arcana, ne a prophanis et impuris polluerentur, figurarum umbraculis tegere.” (IV 2) Aristophanes’ story is then transferred from human bodies to souls and interpreted in a way analogous to the Christian doctrine of the Fall; even the distinction between natural and supernatural light in the human mind is found in the speech - obviously something Plato could hardly have had in mind. There is little doubt that the belief in Plato’s esoteric doctrine (a belief shared by almost all ancient, medieval and Christian Neoplatonists) facilitated this technique of reading into the text whatever one regarded as true.
Even if he is not the greatest philosopher, nor the greatest theologian nor the greatest philologist of all time, Schleiermacher probably deserves to be recognized as the greatest among those who were simultaneously great philosophers, theologians and philologists. Although these three disciplines enjoy a remarkable autonomy in his system, there are also close connections among them: Schleiermacher’s study of Plato influenced his own philosophy and is influenced by it, and his theology is based on the adoption of a decisively modern hermeneutics. (Schleiermacher began to work on hermeneutics in 1805, one year after the publication of the first part of the first volume of his translation of Plato.) Lately Schleiermacher’s political thought and his aesthetics have also begun to be appreciated in their own right; but his hermeneutics has always been highly respected. One can probably state that there is no other hermeneutical work expounding so many plausible canons of interpretation in a rational order. Whoever believes, despite Gadamer, that hermeneutic truth, too, cannot get rid of method (however broadly understood) and that there is something like a correct interpretation, will have to go back to Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutik und Kritik mit besonderer Beziehung auf das Neue Testament (whose reflections on the hermeneutic circle are, in my opinion, far clearer than those by Heidegger and Gadamer.) Recent historians of hermeneutics have shown that this is not really the first book that develops a general hermeneutics, thus transcending the biblical limitations of the discipline; but it certainly is the first still influential book to do so. It begins with the famous statement: “Hermeneutics as the art of understanding does not yet exist in a general manner, there are instead only several forms of specific hermeneutics.” [27]
Schleiermacher aims at granting philology, in which he sees only “a collection of observations” (6/75), a more rational status, and he attempts a more or less aprioristic deduction of the basic categories of the field (clearly related to the procedure peculiar to German Idealism.) As a linguistic articulation of inner thought, an utterance can be interpreted in a grammatical as well as a psychological way (the latter being subdivided into psychological in the narrower sense and technical interpretation.) Both belong together and form the only legitimate way of interpretation. Schleiermacher radically breaks with the idea of the fourfold interpretation of Scripture: There is only one way of interpretation, the historical one that connects an author with the language and the ideas of his age (something that has important consequences for the theory of inspiration.) Philological and dogmatic interpretation of the Bible are two completely different activities, and one must always know in which of the two one is engaged (54; 127). (Analogously, Schleiermacher insists, in a proleptic criticism of Gadamer, that we must not presuppose completeness or perfection in the author whom we interpret [99 f.; 176].) Of course, Schleiermacher recognizes that an author may be original and develop new concepts, thus in a certain sense transcending his own age, but there are limits to this capacity, and thus he rejects completely the idea of an allegorical interpretation of the Bible (its worst form being the cabbalistic). Schleiermacher grants that there are allegories that have to be interpreted as such, but he distinguishes sharply between “interpretation of allegory” and “allegorical interpretation.” He is also familiar with the phenomenon of allusions and therefore refutes the hermeneutic principle that every utterance could have only one meaning - Plato, e.g., according to Schleiermacher wears a mask (104; 181). “For every allusion is a second meaning, and whoever fails to grasp it along with [the first meaning] can fully follow the context, but they still lack a meaning which was put into the utterance. On the other hand, whoever finds an allusion which was not put into the utterance has always failed to explicate the utterance correctly” (15 f./85). The last criterium of the interpretation seems thus to be the mens auctoris. Schleiermacher, however, speaks explicitly of unconscious acts of the author of an utterance that the interpreter has to try to understand (36; 108), and he acknowledges that an author may be wrong about the idea of his own work (98; 175). There may be more in the author’s mind than in ours, as when he coined new words (which Plato may have done) and we do not recognize it, in which case our understanding is not perfect (32; 103); and there may more in our mind than in his, as in the allegorical interpretation - then something even worse occurs. But there are cases where there is rightly more in our mind than in the author’s, where we can claim to understand him better than he did himself, namely, when we render things explicit that were only implicit in the author, that operated in him in an unconscious way: “We understand the author better than he does himself, for in him much of this kind is unconscious that must become conscious in us.” (33; 104) [28] Schleiermacher, however, does not offer canons that would allow us to determine whether we actually grasped unconscious thoughts or projected our own ideas onto the author.
This may be one of the reasons why Schleiermacher, in his famous introduction to his translation of Plato, already in the first pages rejects the idea that one could interpret Plato better than Plato did himself. [29]
No other author has been so often misunderstood, Schleiermacher writes, as Plato (4; 28). His dialogues are full of passages where we recognize only that something is alluded to, without being able to find out what is meant (2; 26). Even if the crassest misunderstandings have been overcome in the recent past, it would be naive to assume that we could already claim that we could understand Plato better than he did himself: “And thus that feeling of satisfaction seems to be somewhat premature, which maintains that we might now be able to understand Plato better than he understood himself; and it may excite a smile to observe how unplatonically one who entertains such a feeling comes to the investigation of Plato, who puts so high a value upon the consciousness of ignorance. He deceives himself by at least one half - by all that, I mean, in the philosophy of Plato which can only be understood by an ability duly to estimate the pervading presence of a purpose in the connexion of his writings, and, as far as possible, to divine it when not obvious at first sight” (5; 29). The passage is interesting because it does not argue only philologically with Plato’s complex purpose; it uses also the philosophical authority of Plato in rejecting the feeling of superiority of those who claim to understand him better than he did himself (perhaps an allusion to a famous passage in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, B 370/A 314). The hermeneutic difficulties peculiar to Plato, Schleiermacher continues, have to do with the use of the dialogue form, whose thorough analysis is indeed the first of his three most original contributions to Plato scholarship (even if we should not forget that Schleiermacher himself mentions the old canon “that all dialogues without Introductions are to be disavowed” [37; 59], that the Neoplatonics had indeed dealt with the
“action” taking place in a dialogue, that Albinus had explicitly discussed the form of the dialogue and that he probably had a superior understanding of how different the various sub-forms of the dialogue used by Plato are, although Schleiermacher’s criticism of the dihairesis he found in Diogenes [21; 45] is not inappropriate). For Schleiermacher, the form of the dialogue has to be distinguished both from the system and the fragment: Only its consideration can save us from two errors - namely, either to believe that Plato did not have his own doctrine (a view betraying a complete misunderstanding of Plato, which is to be imputed to the interpreter alone) or to accept the distinction between exoteric and esoteric dimension.
The rejection of the belief, more than two millennia old, in a Platonic esotericism, is the second of Schleiermacher’s original theses. His arguments are the following: First, the dialogues themselves are difficult to understand, so that the difference between exoteric and esoteric has to be related mainly to the capacities of the reader (9 f.; 34). Second, the defenders of an esoteric doctrine are (with the exception of the Neoplatonists) [30]
unable to reconstruct this doctrine in any plausible form. “For apart from theosophistic matter, and unless they would ascribe to Plato some sort of physical sciences which he could not possess, and which his own writings moreover would at once disavow, they would be at a loss to discover anything in the whole region of philosophy upon which some opinion, either directly and distinctly, or at least as far as a notice of the principles goes, is not to be met with in these writings”(11; 35 f.). (The mere criticism of Greek polytheism cannot be regarded as a relevant content of these doctrines.) Third, there are no documents of these doctrines, not even in Aristotle, who, if anyone, should have become acquainted with them (12; 36 f.). Fourth, an exposition of the Platonic “doctrines,” as was tried, e.g., by Tennemann, is bound to miss the unity of form and content so peculiar to Plato. “So also will those spectators of the analysis fail altogether to attain to a knowledge of the Philosophy of Plato, for in that, if in any thing, form and subject are inseparable, and no proposition is to be rightly understood, except in its own place, and with the combinations and limitations which Plato has assigned to it. And still less will they comprehend the Philosopher himself; and least of all, will his purpose have succeeded in their case, tending as it did not only to exhibit vividly his own thought to others, but by that very means vividly to excite and awaken theirs” (14; 38). Therefore, an analysis of the way an insight is achieved in the dialogues must complement the presentation of the Platonic doctrines in order to understand Plato as both philosopher and artist (14; 39; see also 57; [31] 78). (It may also be mentioned that Schleiermacher is not only a great figure in the history of aesthetics, but that his own dialogue Die Weihnachtsfeier is a remarkable literary achievement. Schleiermacher knew from personal experience what it meant to be a philosopher with literary ambitions.)
Schleiermacher then proceeds to analyze the criticism of writing in the Phaedrus, seeing in the dialogue the literary form that comes closest to the oral teaching favored by Plato (which cannot have taken place in form of long lectures). “As then, notwithstanding this complaint, Plato wrote so much from the period of his early manhood to that of his most advanced age, it is clear that he must have endeavoured to make written instruction as like as possible to that better kind, and he must also have succeeded in that attempt” (16; 40). The dialogues either invite the reader to form his own idea out of the hints given, or they leave him with the feeling that he has not understood what is going on. “And thus this would be the only signification in which one could here speak of an esoteric and exoteric, I mean, as indicating only a state of the reader’s mind, according as he elevates himself or not to the condition of one truly sensible of the inward spirit” (18; 42). The capacity of understanding hints depends, of course, on one’s knowledge, and therefore Plato must have published his books with a plan in mind - the later ones can be understood better if the earlier works have been read: This is his third original claim (and it is compatible with his acknowledgment of the existence of occasional pieces.) Schleiermacher’s attempt at reconstructing the sequence of the Platonic dialogues is, as is well-known, by far the weakest part of his introduction, even if it is a great progress beyond the Alexandrine ordering and even if he carefully avoids any circle between his interpretational approach and his declaring several dialogues spurious (26 f.; 50). On the one hand, he still lacked philological tools as the stylometric analysis that have settled our question within certain margins of probability; some of his blunders, though, could have been avoided and were quickly recognized as such, as, e.g., his opinion that the Phaedrus is the earliest dialogue (even if such an excellent philologist as Nietzsche continued to defend it). [32]
On the other hand, in ordering the dialogues, Schleiermacher superimposes his own subdivision of philosophy into dialectic, physics and ethics. Now we have already seen that this subdivision indeed goes back to the Ancient Academy, and furthermore, one should not exclude that Schleiermacher was influenced by ancient philosophy himself when he developed his own systematic articulation - so he may well have retrojected something which he had found in Plato. Hegel, after all, structures his lectures on Plato according to the same scheme - one of the many similarities between the two thinkers, whose philosophies are far more related to each other than it seemed at least to Hegel and particularly whose interpretations of Plato are strikingly similar (e.g., in the rejection of esotericism). [33] Nevertheless, a consensus was quickly achieved that the order proposed by Schleiermacher does not make any pedagogic sense: Even if the dialectic is in itself more fundamental than ethics, it is not so for us. With all due respect to Schleiermacher, it seems quite awkward that he could believe that the Parmenides was published certainly before the Meno and the Symposium and probably before the Apology, the Crito and the Ion. Still, Schleiermacher’s idea that Plato indeed had a great pedagogic plan in mind when he published his dialogues remains a fascinating one, even if his concrete elaboration of it cannot satisfy us.
It is more than understandable that the discoverer of a new paradigm attacks the defenders of the earlier one, and it is natural that in doing so he sometimes underrates their relative right. Although I do not harbor any doubts about the greatness of Schleiermacher as a Plato scholar, I can therefore accept the harshness of the anti-Schleiermacher polemic one finds in the Tübingen school, particularly in Krämer and Szlezák - the more as it remains an important achievement by Krämer to have shown that Schleiermacher has projected some of the Romantic ideas, like his friend Friedrich Schlegel’s positive evaluation of infinity, back onto an author whose value system is quite different. [34]
But of course Krämer’s main achievement regards Plato, and not Schleiermacher, scholarship. [35] As every paradigm, the third paradigm of Plato scholarship has predecessors - particularly in Léon Robin, Julius Stenzel and Paul Wilpert - and was conceived in his essential traits long before the works of the Tübingen school by J.N.Findlay, who, however, published his results much later. [36] Nevertheless, the decisive book stems from Hans Joachim Krämer, whose dissertation Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles (Heidelberg 1959) is one of the most original works in the history of philosophy written in the 20th century. (By reinterpreting Plato, Krämer redefined Plato’s position in the history of ancient philosophy, particularly his relation to both the pre-Socratics and Aristotle, and prepared the ground for his own later seminal works on Neoplatonism, Hellenistic philosophy and the Ancient Academy. [37] )The title of his first book reflects an earlier stage of the dissertation project - starting from an analysis of the arete concepts in both thinkers, Krämer recognized, first, the Platonic origin of the Aristotelean doctrine of arete as mesotes and, second, the ontological foundations of this doctrine in those doctrines that Aristotle ascribes to Plato, but that are not found explicitly in the dialogues. Now these passages had already been studied before - for in fact Schleiermacher is utterly wrong when he states that the unwritten doctrines are not mentioned by Aristotle. They are (as well as by other direct pupils of Plato’s), and Harold Cherniss’ opinion that Aristotle had merely misunderstood the Platonic dialogues [38] could not convince those who think more highly of Aristotle. But before Krämer, the accepted opinion was that these thoughts belonged only to a late phase of Plato’s development. Third, Krämer discovered a large number of passages in the Platonic dialogues in which it is explicitly stated that something is held back, and, fourth, he interpreted them in light of the criticism of writing that one finds at the end of the Phaedrus (as well as of the Seventh Letter, the assumption of whose authenticity, however, is not a necessary presupposition of Krämer’s argument). According to the new picture, Plato alludes already quite early in his career to a last dimension of justification that is never rendered explicit in the dialogues and whose center is the doctrine of the two principles, of the ªv and the •όριστoςδυάς.
The second decisive book was by Konrad Gaiser: Platons ungeschriebene Lehre (Stuttgart 1963). Not only were all the documents regarding Plato’s unwritten doctrine collected here for the first time, [39]
but Gaiser also showed how this doctrine formed the basis of Plato’s philosophy of mathematics and of his philosophy of history, thus overcoming the second as well as the third of Schleiermacher’s arguments against an esoteric doctrine. It is particularly in his reconstruction that Plato’s metaphysics appears related to the Neoplatonic systems of late antiquity. The Tübingen school was not favorably received in the Anglo-Saxon world (with the exception of Ken Sayre, whose work I will address later), but its ideas were adopted and developed further by several Italian colleagues: Reale’s aforementioned book became a bestseller, and his magisterial history of ancient philosophy was centered, in later editions, around the new interpretation. [40] This is quite remarkable, as Reale had been very skeptical with regard to the new paradigm; but in the process of translating Krämer’s systematic exposition of the Platonic unwritten doctrine (Platone e i fondamenti della metafisica, Milano 1982) - a work now present in various languages, [41] though still not in German - he became convinced of its validity. A further important step is finally represented by Thomas A. Szlezák’s Platon und die Schriftlichkeit der Philosophie (Berlin/New York 1985), a work analyzing in detail the techniques of withholding knowledge in the early and the middle dialogues; a later hermeneutically pivotal book, Platon lesen (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1993) was translated into several languages, as well.
Despite common premises shared by all of the authors mentioned, one should not overlook the fact that their backgrounds as well as their cognitive interests are quite different. The most philosophical mind of them is certainly Krämer (who is also the author of important systematic works in the fields of ethics and hermeneutics). While every reader of Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles feels that its author also regards his historic discovery as having systematic importance, i.e., he is existentially committed to Plato’s ontological conception of ethics (even if he mentions gaps in the Platonic system [42]
), in his later works, including Platone e i fondamenti della metafisica, Krämer describes Plato from outside: He still thinks that his unwritten doctrine of principles can vie with the most influential metaphysical traditions like the analytical, the phenomenological, the transcendental and the Hegelian, but he is no longer committed to it (or in general to the metaphysical tradition - his own ethics [43] is one of the most anti-Platonic that one can imagine.) What he later vigorously defends is only the historical correctness of his interpretation, as well as the value judgment that the Platonic doctrine of principles is no worse than, e.g., Heidegger’s approach to First Philosophy, but he clearly recognizes tensions and unsolved problems in Plato’s doctrine. Reale is a historian of philosophy, but he has obvious philosophical preferences: He is a convinced Catholic, belonging, however, more to the Augustinian than to the Thomistic tradition. Insofar as Plato’s unwritten doctrines prove to be not too distant from the Neoplatonic metaphysics, Reale has systematic sympathies for them. Gaiser and his successor Szlezák are classical philologists with no explicit philosophical ambition. But while Gaiser was extremely interested in the contents of the unwritten doctrine (which he thought had substantial systematic value), Szlezák’s work deals only with the dialogues and their allusions to what is withheld; his contribution to the correct interpretation of the Platonic dialogues is extremely important, but he has not discovered any new content of Plato’s esoteric doctrines. He is thus, malgré lui, the most Schleiermacherian of the defenders of the new paradigm. [44]
The difference in systematic background shows already that the starting point of the defenders of the new paradigm is not at all philosophical, but primarily philological and historical. The factual question of what Plato thought has to be distinguished from the evaluative question of how good these thoughts were in the context of his own time and even more from the problem of whether they are true. This distinction is something the Neoplatonists did not develop, and since even for Schleiermacher Plato remains a model of thought, there is little doubt that the Tübingen school is hermeneutically more modern than Schleiermacher - its aim is the Spinozian search for sensus as distinguished from veritas. (The most important exception was my own work Wahrheit und Geschichte which, when it was at all read, fostered the worst suspicions of the critics of the Tübingen school and thus probably hurt the cause of my teachers: For it is indeed based on the philosophical assumption shared by both Hegel and Gadamer that even work in the history of ideas is possible only if this history partakes in truth and that some - certainly not all - of Plato’s tenets, even some of his unwritten doctrines, are indeed fundamental truths of philosophy.) The third paradigm’s hermeneutic canons are essentially the following: In order to reconstruct the philosophy of an author, one must first of all take into consideration all documents about his thought - not only what he himself wrote, but also the indirect ones such as the accounts of his pupils. Related is the canon that one should try to find out in which intellectual activities this author was engaged, even if they do not appear extensively in his written works: I myself, e.g., think that it is a very good idea for every Plato scholar to get familiar with the mathematics of his time, because we know that most of it was elaborated in the Academy under Plato’s direct supervision. These canons are even more reasonable if the author himself directly addresses the issue of written and oral communication: The interpretation of an author is not bound by what he himself suggests for his own interpretation - some poets are unreliable interpreters of themselves - but one certainly must not ignore what the author has to say on this issue. Second, if the author is as reflexive as Plato is, it is obligatory to read very thoroughly what he says about it. This is also valid if we find out that the author has an attitude towards his own written works that is markedly different from our own. Third, it is simply an elementary presupposition of every serious historical work that we must be prepared to reckon with a value system different from our own, and indeed there have been cultures and persons who rejected the idea that the greatest philosophical insights should be made accessible to everybody. Nor is it historic to protest against the result that Plato’s philosophy now seems - for purely philological reasons - closer to Neoplatonism than to 20th century existentialism (even if its more dualistic than Plotinus’); in fact, given the natural assumption of a certain continuity in tradition, this result is scarcely surprising. Fourth, an interpretation that manages to bring together as many direct and indirect documents of an author’s thought as possible (as in Gaiser’s explanation of Laws 893b-895b) [45]
and thus to explain as many passages in the written work as possible and to weave them together into a coherent whole is better than anyone that has no chance to do so and remains selective from the beginning. I concede that this canon is not an absolute one - there are authors who want to be contradictory or at least fragmentary - but it is certainly appropriate in the case of philosophers who state unity and wholeness as decisive aims of thought, and there is no doubt that Plato is one of them.
Now I do not claim that these canons alone are sufficient to enforce an acceptance of the third paradigm: The status of some of our documents may be debatable (e.g., of parts of Test. 32 Gaiser - Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos X 248-283), and the Phaedrus has been interpreted in different ways. [46]
However, a document like Test. 25 A Gaiser (Aristoteles, De anima 404b16-27) is trustworthy beyond any reasonable doubt, and there are other general philological canons that oblige us to accept, with the highest possible degree of certainty achievable in these grammatical matters (in Schleiermacher’s sense), that, e.g., in the Phaedrus σύγγραμμα does mean all written texts, including dialogues, and that τιμιώτερα relates to an ontologically higher sphere. [47]
Therefore Schleiermacher’s interpretation that the criticism of writing at the end of the Phaedrus justifies the use of the literary form of the dialogue must be wrong. He himself somehow recognizes this when he grudgingly admits in the special introduction to this dialogue that Plato’s written works prove that he later changed his opinion on the function of writing (Schleiermacher regards the Phaedrus as the earliest work). “The depreciation of writing in comparison with true and living philosophical communication is itself perfectly intelligible as a justification of Socrates’ abstinence from writing, and as a sentiment inspired by that method of teaching which Plato at that time despaired of ever imitating in written treatises, though he afterwards learnt to do so, and did not end with believing to the same extent in the utter incommunicability of Philosophy.” [48] However, as a matter of correctly interpreting Schleiermacher’s interpretation of Plato, it is not completely clear to me whether Schleiermacher really thought that Plato wanted to offer a justification for the choice of the dialogic form at the end of the Phaedrus (the passage just quoted clearly speaks against it), or whether he claims something quite different - namely, that Plato’s use of the dialogue can be deduced from his criticism of his writing, either because Plato wants us to draw this conclusion or malgré lui. In its second form, this claim cannot be confuted with hermeneutic means, because it does not state anything about Plato’s opinions but rather about relations of entailment, and in its first version should also be taken seriously by the third paradigm. That the dialogue was regarded by Plato as more appropriate for the literary expression of philosophy than the treatise is undeniable [49] - particularly since this statement obviously does not entail that the dialogue is the right medium for representing all of Plato’s philosophy. And furthermore, since the multiplicity of sub-forms of the dialogue that Plato uses (a fact that was clearer to Albinus than it is to Schleiermacher) allows him to integrate treatise-like pieces into it as well, particularly as in the Timaeus, this concession does not mean too much. I myself, by the way, have tried to show that a very important reason for using the dialogic form is that it permits Plato to use transcendental arguments starting from the fact that communication is possible - a justification of the dialogue that is not at all to be found in Schleiermacher and that can easily be connected with the third paradigm, if one accepts the idea that the decisive arguments for the doctrines of the two principles, as alluded to in the Parmenides, are of a transcendental nature. [50]
I have already given enough hints as to why I believe that the second and third paradigm are less different than one often thinks - they are certainly closer to each other than to the first with regard to all methodological canons, even if with regard to the content of the Platonic philosophy, the third partly returns to the first. [51]
(An analogous relation probably applies also to Aristotelean, Newtonian and Einsteinian physics.) I think that we can integrate even more of Schleiermacher’s approach into the third paradigm than has been done up until now. First, the third paradigm does not have to deny that the distinction between exoteric and esoteric dimension, which is rooted in the oral teaching in the academy, also manifests itself in the various readings of the dialogues. [52] Szlezák is completely right when he insists that the dialogue is not the only form that can be used for hiding deeper meanings; that is also true of great poems or of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. [53] And one can certainly add that there are flat dialogues without hidden meaning (Ficino’s abovementioned work would be a good example). But this does not entail that Plato’s dialogues are not full of allusions that engender in the more talented reader the desire to reread the dialogue and try to understand more of what is going on. Szlezák’s own readings are an example of how much is hidden in Plato and with what different degrees of precision he can be read. Nor should one deny that the dialogue allows for certain forms of hiding that are not possible in a treatise. We owe to Szlezák important analyses of Plato’s dramatic techniques [54] that are Schleiermacherian in the best sense of the word: They take the form chosen by Plato seriously. That there is a dialectic between the form and the content is obvious, and even if we can only regret that we do not have any account of how Plato introduced his pupils to philosophy in the reality of the Academy, we have faute de mieux to try to reconstruct how the ascent to Plato’s doctrine of principles was prepared in the academy from the dialogues, which for this purpose, not for the reconstruction of the doctrines themselves, remain the most important source for us. It would be absurd to ignore them, even if they are not a faithful mirror of Plato’s oral teaching techniques. Indeed, one can even defend the thesis that the way to the (presumed) highest point of philosophy is more important than the rest at the top. Plato would hardly have agreed on this issue, but a systematic philosopher may defend this point of view, as well as the related one that Hegel’s Phenomenology is philosophically more profound than his Encyclopedia. I sharply disagree with this evaluation, [55] but it is clear to me that it is not sufficient to insist upon Plato’s or Hegel’s view to confute it, because an author may indeed be wrong about his or her best achievements. (Petrarca thought far more highly of Africa than of the Canzoniere, but almost nobody agrees with him on that point.) Analogously, one can argue that Plato was a better artist than philosopher - as long as it is not denied that Plato prided himself more on his philosophical than on his artistic work. Nietzsche saw this very well: “Die Absicht Platos gieng nicht auf Kunstwerke: das Kunstwerk wurde nur hier u. da erreicht, fast nebenbei.” [56] But sometimes one is better in what one achieves unintentionally than in what one aims at. In the case of Lucretius, many would agree that he was, malgré lui, a greater poet than philosopher, and for Plato the same may apply. Again, that is not my point of view, but I think it is imperative to distinguish between the reconstruction of Plato’s self-understanding and its evaluation, and only the former is the domain of philology proper.
Another point where a convergence is not only possible but already exists between Schleiermacher and the third paradigm regards the problem of Plato’s pedagogic program in the publication of his dialogues. Already in 1959, Krämer insisted that Schleiermacher’s negation of an esoteric teaching stands in a strange contradiction to his theory that Plato published the first dialogues with the later ones already in mind. What if Plato had lived longer, or what if he had died sooner? [57]
According to Schleiermacher, Plato had far more in mind when he wrote his dialogues - why, then, should he not have had something in mind which he never published (particularly since he claims that there are things he never intends to publish about)? Not only does Schleiermacher’s assumption tend in the direction of the recognition of an unwritten doctrine, but also viceversa. [58] For nobody will deny that there are different levels of foundation (though, according to Plato, not an infinite series), and that some of the later dialogues address more profound justificatory issues than earlier ones: the Republic, e.g., in relation to the early dialogues on the single virtues, and the (uncompleted) Theaetetus tetralogy in relation to the Republic. Szlezák shows himself that some of the gaps in the Platonic dialogues are filled in the later ones. [59] Certainly, the Tübingen school stands correct that the latest dialogues also allude to an esoteric dimension - I already mentioned the passage of the Laws analyzed by Gaiser. But one should not deny that the Parmenides and the Philebus lift the veil more than all earlier dialogues. Ken Sayre (Plato’s Late Ontology: A Riddle Resolved, Princeton 1983; Plato’s Literary Garden, Notre Dame 1995) exaggerates when he claims that the late Plato had completely revealed his doctrine of principles in the latest dialogues. But he is correct that the late Plato is somehow “coming out,” for now Plato could rightly think that he had laid enough foundations for being allowed to allude to more than he had ever done before. [60] Furthermore, I would assert that Plato himself believed that the allusions he was making in the dialogues would enable a very talented mind to find out the essential aspects of his theory of the principles. Szlezák excludes this categorically; such a view “is based on a naive optimism which Plato never shared and which has been completely refuted by the history of the reception of Plato’s works.” [61] I agree with the second part of this statement: The reception of the Tübingen school, which had even the documents of the indirect tradition to support itself, shows this. But I sharply disagree with the first half of the statement just quoted, for Plato is an apriorist and a rationalist - he does not think that his claim to truth is based on authority. Plato clearly believes that a person who is smart and subjects himself to the study proposed in the central books of the Republic will have insights similar to his own, if he has the appropriate mind and character (see Seventh Letter, 341e). He must therefore have hoped that his dialogues were not only an invitation to join the Academy, where an explicit oral teaching was to ensue, but also a message in the bottle that might be decoded, perhaps many centuries later, by kindred minds B like the famous frozen words of Plutarch. [62]
Of course, he knew that such kindred minds are not frequent - they must be far above average, even if they do not need to be as excellent as Plato himself, for they have the help of the Platonic dialogues, a help Plato himself lacked in his education. But they must exist and recur in the ages, for the world is necessarily structured in such a way that its principles are known by man - rarely enough, but again and again in the cycles of human history. (Plato did not believe that a radical progress was still open for philosophy.)
The acceptance of the Schleiermacherian idea that the dialogues are published according to a program [63]
does not entail that Plato’s philosophy did not develop. This reproach, which has been made both against Schleiermacher and the Tübingen school, is not fair. People develop, and Plato will have done so as well. Still, one should recognize that Kant is an absolute exception in the history of philosophy. There are some great philosophers whose basic ideas were ready in their twenties - I name only Berkeley and Schopenhauer - , and probably the majority of the most famous thinkers completed the foundations of their system in their thirties. Of course, the elaboration of these ideas took a far longer time, and during this process some of the foundations were readjusted; and at least this can be reasonably presumed for Plato. [64] But we have no way to prove it, because the dialogues, according to Schleiermacher as well as the third paradigm, do not show the actual state of Plato’s thought. So the point is not to deny that an evolution of Plato’s thought occurred; rather, the point is to deny that we can say much that is both interesting and demonstrable about it. (What we can say with almost absolute certainty, is, e.g., that the ethics of the Laws differs from that of the earlier dialogues in such a radical way that Plato himself must have changed his mind.) For very different reasons and to a far lesser degree, a somehow similar point can be made with regard to Aristotle, for even those of his texts which can be regarded with a great degree of likelihood as early probably have later additions. In neither case do we have diaries or private sketches of the philosophers that allow us to trace so well the development of someone like Hegel or Kierkegaard.
Let me add one final reflection. The third paradigm is a hermeneutic theory, not a philosophical. So even if its historical plausibility is recognized - as I am sure it will be in the course of the next decades - a criticism of Plato’s philosophy and person remains possible (as it remains possible that some misunderstandings of Plato’s intentions, as they were partly provoked by the form of the dialogue, have been philosophically fruitful, perhaps even more than Plato’s own ideas). It may even be - since descriptions and evaluations belong to different orders - that new critics of Plato will emerge who will be even tougher than Kelsen and Popper have been, thanks to the ammunition delivered to them by the Tübingen school. I am still waiting for the equivalent of Hans Kelsen’s famous Imago essay of 1933 [65]
that shows us that all these hiding techniques of the dialogues, this esotericism and this slow coming out were a particularly subtle way of exerting power over young men Plato longed for sexually; for eroticism has indeed something to do with concealing and revealing. And I am also waiting impatiently for an enlarged edition of The Open Society and Its Enemies by a worthy successor of Sir Karl that shows us with new and better philological arguments how utterly undemocratic Plato was, how opposed to Kant’s principle of publicity and the idea of the universal discourse. This sounds ironical, but it is not completely so: For I do indeed believe that esotericism is a way of protecting doctrines from competent criticism and that Plato’s views about women as well as about democracy are not the right ones (even if there is something to learn from them and even if they appear less appalling if they are seen in their proper historical context). The third paradigm shows us a far superior metaphysician than was known before as well as an even more subtle artist, but it also re-enforces our old prejudices. For one paradigm is certainly gone forever - the first, particularly in its Ficinian variant: Plato was, alas, not a Christian, not even an anonymous one. And those who want to continue his philosophy in a systematic fashion, as it can and should be done, do well to learn from those later Platonists who take Plato’s metaphysics seriously, but have thoroughly accepted Christian universalism in its modern variant. Hegel is one of them, another - Schleiermacher.

[1] I thank Katie Freddoso for correcting my English, Gretchen Reydams-Schils for reading the text and suggesting improvements and the Erasmus Institute for having granted me a fellowship that allowed me to write this paper. This paper appears in: Eriugena, Berkeley and the Idealist Tradition, ed. by Stephen Gersh, Notre Dame Press 2003.
[2] Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, 23 vols., Berlin 1882-1909; Ch.H.Lohr, Latin Aristotle commentaries, vols. 2-3, Firenze 1988-1995 (on the Renaissance commentaries; on the medieval commentaries see Lohr’s articles in Traditio 23 (1967)- 30 (1974)).
[3] See Aristoteles, “Metaphysik Z”: Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar von M.Frede, G.Patzig, München 1988; K.J.Schmidt, Die modale Syllogistik des Aristoteles, Paderborn 2000.
[4] H.G.Gadamer, Platos dialektische Ethik, Leipzig 1931; D.Davidson, Plato’s Philebus, New York 1990 (the Harvard dissertation of 1949).
[5] An analogous double interest can be found in my essay: Philosophy and the Interpretation of the Bible, in: Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie 1999/2, 181-210; German translation in: Jahrbuch für Philosophie des Forschungsinstituts für Philosophie Hannover 12 (2001), 83-114.
[6] Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1984. (An Italian translation was published Milano 1998; a short English recapitulation of the argument is to be found in my essay: Is There Progress in the History of Philosophy?, in: Hegel’s History of Philosophy, ed. by D.Duquette, Albany 2002.) My two essays on Plato’s philosophy of mathematics, originarily published in German (one translated into English), were combined into one Italian book: I fondamenti dell’aritmetica e della geometria in Platone, Introduzione di G.Reale, Milano 1994.
[7] Die Philosophie und ihre Medien, in: Platonisches Philosophieren. Zehn Vorträge zu Ehren von Hans Joachim Krämer, hg.von Th.A.Szlezák unter Mitwirkung von K.-H.Stanzel, Hildesheim/Zürich/New York 2001, 1-17; Interpreting Philosophical Dialogues, forthcoming in: Antike und Abendland.
[8] See G.Reale, Per una nuova interpretazione di Platone, Milano 20th edition 1997, 1-74.
[9] Cap. VII, Opera, ed. by C.Gebhardt, Heidelberg1925, III 100.
[10] See G.Invernizzi, Il Didaskalikos di Albino e il medioplatonismo, 2 vols, Roma 1976, I 9-16, 139-141. Invernizzi is not the only author to defend Alcinous’ originality; see also J.H.Loenen, “Albinus’ Metaphysics. An Attempt at rehabilitation,” in: Mnemosyne 4/9 (1956), 296-319; 4/10 (1957), 35-56.
[11] Of course, it might nevertheless be the case that more explicit logic was developed in the Platonic Academy than is generally assumed - this is the result of F.von Kutschera’s analysis of the mereological statements of the Parmenides (Platons “Parmenides”, Berlin 1995). But my point is that Alcinous does not have any idea how to prove such an assumption with philologically reliable tools.
[12] I quote from the edition of J.Whittaker (Alcinoos, Enseignement des doctrines de Platon, Paris 1990, 10).
[13] Alcinous, The Handbook of Platonism, Oxford 1993, XVI. Similarly G.Reydams-Schils, Demiurge and Providence, Turnhout 1999, 189: “Yet the author who compiled the handbook was probably no longer conscious of these elements as alien and thought he was simply representing Platonism.” J.Opsomer, In Search of the Truth: Academic Tendencies in Middle Platonism, Brussel 1998, has shown that Plutarch considered the history of the Academy (including its skeptical phase)as fundamentally unitarian (14 f.).
[14] Cfr. ch. 14 and 15 (in Whittaker’s edition p.34; 36).
[15] Op.cit., 131. See also XXXVI f.
[16] An exception is O.Nüsser, Albins Prolog und die Dialogtheorie des Platonismus, Stuttgart 1991, who continues to regard Albinus as the author of the Didaskalikos (210 ff).
[17] See also the Oxyrhynchus papyrus from the 2nd century AD published by M.W.Haslam in 1972 (discussed in O.Nüsser, op.cit., 15 ff.) as well as the much later (6th century) Prolegomena to Plato, earlier ascribed to Olympiodorus.
[18] III 49. Against Freudenthal and Nüsser, B.Reis, Der Platoniker Albinos und sein sogenannter Prologos, Wiesbaden 1999, 97 ff. defends the thesis that Diogenes may depend (indirectly) on Albinus.
[19] Didaskalikos 28; Prologos VI; cfr. Theaitetos 176 af.
[20] See H.Bernard’s introduction to: Hermeias von Alexandrien, Kommentar zu PlatonsPhaidros”, Tübingen 1997, 23-56: “Zu Hermeias’ exegetischer Methode”.
[21] See J.Dillons introduction to: Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Parmenides, Princeton 1987, xxiv ff. on commentaries anterior to Proclus’.
[22] Marsilio Ficino, Lettere I, a cura di S.Gentile, Firenze 1990, 35 f.
[23] The edition by R.Marcel has been reprinted with a German translation by the publisher Meiner (M.Ficino, Über die Liebe oder Platons Gastmahl, Hamburg 1984).
[24] See my book: Wahrheit und Geschichte, op.cit., 559 ff.
[25] Th.A.Szlezák, Reading Plato, London/New York 1999, 76 ff.
[26] M.Ficino, Sopra lo amore ovvero Convito di Platone, Milano 1992, 15..
[27] The first (posthumous) edition by F.Lücke was reedited in a slightly abridged form (but with the addition of a text edited for the first time in 1959 by H.Kimmerle) by M.Frank: F.D.E.Schleiermacher, Hermeneutik und Kritik, Frankfurt 1977. I quote from this edition, which influenced the English translation of A.Bowie (Cambridge 1998), which, however, drops less than Frank from Lücke’s edition. Since the passages left out by both authors deal with special problems of the New Testament, it is justified in our context to quote from their editions. The passage above is to be found in the German text on p. 75; Bowie’s translation (that I have just quoted) is on p. 5. (In the following I give the page first of the English, then of the German version.)  
[28] On the prehistory of this topos see - besides Gadamer’s well-known remarks in Wahrheit und Methode (Tübingen 4th edition 1975, 180 ff.) - M.Redeker, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Berlin 1968, 256 f.
[29] Schleiermacher’s “Einleitung” to Plato in general as well as to the single dialogues translated by Schleiermacher can be found in F.D.E.Schleiermacher, Über die Philosophie Platons, hg. ... von P.Steiner, Hamburg 1996. An English translation was published by W.Dobson shortly after Schleiermacher’s death (Schleiermacher’s Introductions to the Dialogues of Plato, Cambridge 1836, Reprint New York 1973). Again, since I quote the English translation, I give first the page of the English, then that of the German edition.
[30] This term has been mistranslated by Dobson as “modern Platonists”.
[31] The term “philosophischer Künstler” has been weakly translated by Dobson as “master”.
[32] See F.Nietzsche, Werke II 4: Vorlesungsaufzeichnungen (WS 1871/72-WS 1874/75), bearbeitet von F.Bornmann und M.Carpitella, Berlin/New York 1995, 49.
[33] See G.W.F.Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, in: Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Frankfurt 1969-1971, 19.11 ff. (21 f. on esotericism). An edition of von Griesheim’s manuscript reporting Hegel’s lectures on Plato can be found in: Vorlesungen über Platon (1825-1826), hg. ... von J.-L.Vieillard-Baron, Frankfurt 1979.
[34] Fichte, Schlegel und der Infinitismus in der Platondeutung, in: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 62 (1988), 583-621. See also: La nuova immagine di Platone, Napoli 1986, 39 ff.
[35] I presume that a more complete and balanced evaluation of Schleiermacher will appear in the systematic work on hermeneutics that Krämer is working on at the moment. Krämer’s criticism of Gadamer will have to lead him back to Schleiermacher’s approach.
[36] Plato. The Written and Unwritten Doctrines, London 1974.
[37] Der Ursprung der Geistmetaphysik, Amsterdam 1964; Platonismus und hellenistische Philosophie, Berlin/New York 1971; Die Ältere Akademie, in: Die Philosophie der Antike, Bd. 3: Ältere Akademie - Aristoteles - Peripatos, hg. von H.Flashar, Basel/Stuttgart 1983, 1-174.
[38] Baltimore 1944.
[39] Already in 1959, Krämer had asked for such a collection (Arete..., 272, note 26, 280, note 80).
[40] Storia della filosofia antica, 5 vols., Milano 8th edition 1991.
[41] The English translation appeared in 1990 (Albany, NY).
[42] Arete..., 421: “Die lückenhafte Deduktion fällt nicht der esoterischen Platon-Überlieferung, sondern der platonischen Philosophie selbst zur Last.”
[43] Integrative Ethik, Frankfurt 1992.
[44] Szlezák worked out the program formulated by Krämer, Arete..., 482, where the latter recognizes the greatness of Schleiermacher’s literary approach to Plato.
[45] Platons ungeschriebene Lehre, op.cit., 173 ff.
[46] See Platon, Phaidros, Übersetzung und Kommentar von E.Heitsch, Göttingen 1993.
[47] See Szlezák, Platon und die Schriftlichkeit der Philosophie, 376 ff.; Reading Plato, 51 ff.
[48] 67; 86.
[49] Also Krämer, Arete..., 470 recognizes this.
[50] A similar approach is pursued by C.Jermann, Philosophie und Politik, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1986.
[51] See Krämer, Arete..., 453f.
[52] There is little doubt that the Symposium not only confronts us with different degrees of depth in the various conceptions of love of its speakers, but also can be read on very different levels of depth - a fact to which it also alludes. See the splendid work by G.Reale: Eros dèmone mediatore e il gioco delle maschere nel Simposio di Platone, Milano 1997.
[53] Platon und die Schriftlichkeit..., op.cit., 358 ff.
[54] Reading Plato, 85-93.
[55] I would, however, also disagree, with a statement like: “Er (sc. the Philosophos) hätte ... alle früheren und folgenden Schriften Platons wertlos und protreptisch untauglich gemacht.” (Arete..., 317) What on earth could have rendered the Symposion worthless?
[56] Op.cit., 14.
[57] Arete..., 33 f, note 32.
[58] See Gaiser’s sympathetic assessment of this part of Schleiermacher’s theory (Platone come scrittore filosofico, Napoli 1984, 34 ff.).
[59] Reading Plato, op.cit., 66 ff.
[60] Cfr. Plutarch, Moralia 370 F. Krämer himself speaks of “Konvergenz zwischen Esoterischem und Exoterischem” (Arete_, 533; see also 249 and 397, note 29).
[61] Op.cit., 83.
[62] Moralia 79 A.
[63] This idea is developed for the late Plato by E.A.Wyller, Der späte Platon, Hamburg 1970. Even if I do not agree with his identification of Philosophus and Parmenides, I do think that Wyller is completely right in seeing the ascent-descent movement as characteristic not only of the Republic, but of the whole work of Plato (not only of the late Plato, as I would correct him).
[64] See Krämer, Arete..., 445. Krämer even considers an evolution of Plato’s esoteric doctrine (35 f., 329-341).

[65] Integrated into his posthumous book: Die Illusion der Gerechtigkeit. Eine kritische Untersuchung der Sozialphilosophie Platons, Wien 1985.