Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Horky, Philip Sidney. "Review of Fritz-Gregor Herrmann's WORDS AND IDEAS: THE ROOTS OF PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY." BMCR (August 2008).
Herrmann, Fritz-Gregor. Words and Ideas: the Roots of Plato's Philosophy. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2007. Starting with Aristotle, there is a long tradition of investigating the origins/first principles (Greek ἀρχαί) of Plato's philosophy. Fritz-Gregor Herrmann innovates in this tradition by investigating the linguistic histories of key terms employed in Plato's philosophy. In this sense, then, the 'roots' of Herrmann's title refer both to the origins of Plato's philosophy, and to the etyma of the words that Plato used. It is a fundamental premise of Herrmann's study that Plato's language and, consequently, his thought grew out of a fertile field of semantic and lexical possibilities ranging from Indo-European roots in pre-Homeric oral traditions to the linguistic practices of his competitors. This premise functions as a gentle exhortation that scholars of ancient philosophy can produce more comprehensive and nuanced understandings of Plato's philosophy when they apply careful philological investigation in the process of reconstructing it. Herrmann's study of the key terms employed in Plato's metaphysics promises to show that Plato did not operate in a vacuum, and, moreover, it highlights Plato's activity of modifying pre-philosophical language to develop a linguistic system that approximates (at worst) or harmonizes with (at best) the concepts with which he was experimenting from the early period through the middle-late dialogue Parmenides, the terminus ante quem for this study. Little further investigation into the post-Parmenides dialogues occurs, although there is a promise of future work on the metaphysics of the Sophist and Statesman, which would be a welcome sequel to this work. The basic argument of Herrmann's study is that key terms in the Phaedo -- those associated with the "Theory of the Forms" by those who attribute such a theory to Plato, including "form", "idea", "being", and "sharing" -- cannot be extricated from traditions of Greek history and culture as demonstrated in pre-Platonic texts of both philosophical and non-philosophical character. . . . Read the rest here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2008/2008-08-14.html.