Theuth Versus Thamus: The Esoteric Plato Revisited
AbstractThe distinction between esoteric and exoteric readings of Plato will be revisited in this article with respect to two esoteric approaches: the German Tübingen School and the American Straussians (i.e., those interpreters who have been inspired by the work of Leo Strauss). There appears to be a joint motivation for these two approaches, namely, the critique of writing in the dialogue Phaedrus and especially Socrates’ objection that the written text speaks indiscriminately to every audience. While the Straussians claim that the Platonic dialogues are exempt from the critique because they exhibit the flexibility of oral speech, the Tübingen School relates the dialogues to an unwritten Platonic doctrine. In this article, I argue that both approaches rightly alert us to the significance and complexity of the critique of writing, yet provide one-sided readings which do not consider all of Socrates’ arguments and neglect the positions ascribed to Theuth and Thamus. When the different arguments are taken into account, the ambiguity of writing is revealed which does not allow for simple solutions concerning the status of the Platonic dialogues as written texts.
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