28 November 2007

The Difficulty of What We Are Doing

From the very conclusion of Debra Nails' recent review. We all aspire to this -- don't we?-- but is it true that only two or three succeed?

Ionescu advocates a "holistic approach" to the Meno, combining "examination of dramatic details and logical analysis of arguments" (xiii), but the two desiderata are effectively segregated, and the logical analysis subdued (cf. 141-42, 147-50). Her advocacy does not mention any history of division among approaches to Plato (so, e.g., Ronna Burger and Gail Fine, the two times that they appear, appear together). Rare, however, is the philosopher who can wield both methods without summoning one just when difficulties are becoming unmanageable with the other. Rarer still is the philosopher who has both acute literary insight and razor-sharp analytic skill. I count two or three, and I am not one of them. The two approaches are extraordinarily difficult for any one person to achieve effectively, especially in a single study, and we cannot all be experts at everything. To say that Ionescu, on her first try, does not successfully combine the two approaches she admires, is not damning criticism. Of Lexington Books, however, I shall be twice shy.