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The Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy and the Reception of Plato

Danielle Alexandra Layne

Often used as a supporting text for understanding Neoplatonic hermeneutical
practices, the Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy has received little
attention in its own right. In this short text the anonym offers an enriching portrait of the
life of Plato and Platonic philosophy, arguing for Plato’s mastery over all other schools of
thought while further defending Plato’s artful choice of presenting philosophy in dialogue
form. In doing so, this anonymous author answers many important questions that saddle
the reception of Plato in antiquity. To be sure, it appears that three questions dominate the
overall outline of the text. First, what were the principle positions that distinguish Plato,
on the one hand, from his precursors in the Pre-Socratics, primarily the Pythagoreans and
Parmenides, and, on the other hand, from later schools of thought like Epicureanism,
Stoicism and Skepticism? Second, with regard to the tendency to associate Plato with
skepticism, how did the anonym defend against the skeptical portrait Plato paints of
Socrates? Here the anonym presciently foreshadows contemporary scholarship by already
addressing the questions of Plato’s relationship with Socrates and the Socratic heritage,
both the Platonic and Socratic use of irony as well as their respective method(s) of
philosophical discourse and investigation, e.g. elenchus and dialectic. Third, and perhaps
most influential in scholarship today, the anonym synthesizes the views of Iamblichus
and Proclus on the question of Plato’s choice to utilize dialogue form and, further, he
outlines ten rules for discerning the skopos of Plato’s text. Interestingly, the anonym
connects all three of these issues to the investigation and discovery of true or absolute
causes. For example, that which distinguishes Plato from his predecessors and successors
is his commitment to immaterial causes. Additionally, the discovery of the skopos of a
particular dialogue is to recognize the intellectual cause of the text, namely, that which
directs each element of the dialogue. Finally, the anonym’s analysis of Platonic and
Socratic method(s), their use of irony and doubt, are all directed toward the final cause,
the good of the text which intends its readers toward conversion from the life of those
“whose faculties are blunted, people who, like bats, are unable to face the sunlight.”
Proleg. 1.8 Consequently, the following essay hopes to illuminate the overall protreptic
skopos of the Prolegomena itself, evidencing that while it may be riddled with errors due
to its incomplete and unedited state, its author certainly captures the view that Platonism
demanded a certain meditation on the absolute causes of existence and their role in
turning us toward the good.

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The Commentary and the Making of Philosophy

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