Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018.01.52

Konstantinos Chr. Stefou, Vindicating the Philosophical Life: An Analysis of Plato's 'Laches'. Ioannina: Carpe Diem, 2016. Pp. 140. ISBN 9789609875939. (pb).

Reviewed by Georgia Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi, Greek Studies on Site (gs2g@virginia.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Stefou's book is divided into sixteen short chapters, which are not numbered, but each of them discusses a particular section of Plato's Laches, following the order of the Platonic text. A general index and a table of contents are included at the end of the book. As I confirmed with the publisher, this is not a peer-reviewed publication.

The book is hard to summarize because it is essentially a close reading of the Laches. There is no systematic defense of an overarching thesis (or set of theses), although the idea that an aristocratic and a Socratic worldview are contrasted in the dialogue is repeatedly emphasized. Specifically, Lysimachus' aristocratic notion of excellence involves the performance of glorious deeds, honoring one's father and fatherland, and benefiting friends. Socratic ethics, on the other hand, conceives of the good as related to knowledge, and stresses the need for self-examination through dialectic. Stefou's main conclusion is that the Laches is intended as a Platonic defense of the philosophical life—a view that seems fairly obvious.

On the whole, one gets the impression that the more challenging aspects of the dialogue and the most interesting philosophical questions are bypassed. For example, Stefou assumes that, for Socrates, wisdom and virtue are not identical, whereas they are for Nicias (p. 104). But Nicias has been presented as the mouthpiece of Socrates (194d), and so it is puzzling that he should defend a non-Socratic view; one would need an explanation for the assumption that he does.

The discussion of the secondary literature is generally very thin, with some nice exceptions, such as Stefou's useful review of the literature on the question of the unity of virtue (pp. 110-11). But even then he does not position himself in the discussion. Further, the English is often awkward, and the various errors tend to distract from the content. Greek terms are constantly cited, often without reference to the specific part of the text they come from, and for no apparent reason.

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