8. Gadamer's Philosophy of
Dialogue and Its Relation to
the Postmodernism of Nietzsche,
Heidegger, Derrida, and Strauss
There is such a thing as being too profound. Truth is not always in a well.
EDGAR ALLAN FOE, The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The reflections that follow are a response to Catherine Zuckert's interesting and provocative book, Postmodern Platos. The premise of the book is that there is a widely perceived crisis in the status and identity of Western philosophy, and leading thinkers since Nietzsche have felt obliged to return to the origins of philosophy in Plato in order to clarify what philosophy means and what it might continue to mean in the light of this crisis. In addition to Nietzsche, Zuckert examines four other thinkers—Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Leo Strauss, and Jacques Derrida—who share the conviction that Plato must be confronted as a privileged philosophical interlocutor in order to illuminate our contemporary crisis:
[Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, and Derrida] look back to the origins of philosophy from an explicitly “postmodern” position. That is, they return to Plato and ask what the character of philosophy was at its origins explicitly on the basis of a conviction that modern rationalism has exhausted its promise and its possibilities. They are all seeking a way of making a new beginning, of moving beyond “modernity” to something better, by articulating a new and different understanding of the distinctive characteristic of “the West.” (Zuckert 1–2)
Zuckert assumes that Strauss is the one for whom it would be “most questionable or controversial” to attach the label “postmodern” (Zuckert 279, n. i). She says, “I am using the term ‘postmodern’ to mean literally ‘after the modern,’ as applied specifically to philosophy” (ibid.), and she argues that for Strauss the crisis of philosophy is sufficiently profound that it doesn't
Is Gadamer a postmodernist, and is his Plato a postmodern Plato? Obviously, what answer one will give to these questions will depend on how one defines postmodernism; and if there is one thing we know about postmodernism, it is that there is an almost infinite malleability in how one defines it. So in order to approach an answer to the questions that I've posed, I want to consider a few possible definitions of postmodernism.
I think it is relatively easy to show what is postmodern about the approaches to philosophical texts in Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. For each of them, Plato is not a dialogical partner whose reasons must be weighed against one's own within a shared intellectual enterprise. Rather, Plato's commitment to philosophy is to be understood as belonging to (in fact, as having initiated) a form of intellectual activity—the search for eternal essences—that is no longer credible, and one must apply to it a diagnostic interpretation from a superior position beyond the boundaries of philosophy. Nietzsche, of course, offers the most extreme instance of the postmodern refusal to engage Plato at his own level, on the level of rational
In Heidegger we get another version of Nietzsche's conception of his relationship to the philosophical tradition, which Nietzsche compares to a physician diagnosing an illness. Zuckert reports Strauss's comment that Heidegger's interpretation of Plato was “the most brazen thing he [had] run into” (Zuckert 321, n. 120). This isn't surprising. For example, near the end of “Plato's Doctrine of Truth,” Heidegger writes, “Nietzsche's concept of truth is an example of the last reflection of the extreme consequence of that changing of truth [enacted by Plato] from the unhiddenness of beings to the correctness of the glance.” In other words, if Nietzsche represents the triumph in the West of the will to will, the blind worship of technological mastery, and “humanism” as all-consuming subjectivism, then we ultimately have Plato to blame for this, for Plato, with his definition of Being as idea, invented Western metaphysics, and the history of metaphysics is the history of the oblivion of Being, which in turn means the eventual undoing of the West. So Plato must be deconstructed.
In Derrida's “commentary” on the Phaedrus, we get a remarkable illustration of the postmodern subversion of philosophical dialogue. Consider the following passage (cited in Zuckert 221), which occurs in the midst of an entire section devoted to a word (pharmakos, scapegoat) that, Derrida informs us, is absent from the Platonic corpus:
We do not believe that there exists, in all rigor, a Platonic text…. provided the articulations are rigorously and prudently recognized, one should simply be able to untangle the hidden forces of attraction linking a present word with an absent word in the text of Plato…. the so-called “presence” of a quite relative verbal unit—the word—while not being a contingent accident worthy of no attention, nevertheless does not constitute the ultimate criterion and the utmost pertinence.
That is, in reading a text one shouldn't privilege words that are in the text over words that are absent from it! For Derrida, the boundary between text and nontext is in large measure a metaphysical construction. Not surprisingly, this deconstruction of the text is accompanied by a deconstruction of the author. On the page preceding this passage Derrida twice places “Plato” in quotation marks and refers to what is “concealed from the author himself, if any such thing [i.e., an author] exists.”
This leaves Gadamer and Strauss. Each, I think, yields a different way of carving up the philosophical turf, one of which I will try to defend and the other
Up to a point, Strauss's critique of historicism seems perfectly warranted. For example, Strauss's critique of Heidegger seems to me more or less correct: one cannot engage dialogically with a philosophical position that one regards as merely a historically contingent emanation of the “history of Being.” In that sense, the encounter between Heidegger and Plato, as seen from Heidegger's side, is not an encounter between two philosophers, each of whom has reasons to adduce why they think they have apprehended the truth, and it is therefore not rationally adjudicable by philosophical dialogue (a parallel analysis applies to both Nietzsche and Derrida).
How does Gadamer fare in the light of this critique? “I am a Platonist,” Gadamer flatly declares in an interview with Ernest Fortin. An important part of what it means to be a Platonist, for Gadamer, is the belief that interrogating the nature of the Good dialectically, and therefore dialogically, is part and parcel of what it is to be human. So, far from agreeing with the Hei-deggerian or Derridean thesis that the reign of philosophy/metaphysics is coming to an end, Gadamer's view is that philosophy is and must be interminable. As Gadamer puts it, “Philosophy is a human experience that remains the same and that characterizes the human being as such…. there is no progress in it, but only participation” (cited in Zuckert 71).
From Strauss's point of view, historicism represents the great breach in the philosophical tradition, and therefore, as a resolute antihistoricist, he alone of Zuckert's five thinkers remains entirely faithful to the Western (Socratic-Platonic) philosophical tradition. Is Gadamer a historicist in the culpable sense? Well, the notion that we all start off within some historical horizon is surely uncontroversial. It seems fully consistent with the Platonic notion that every human society is a cave habituating its inhabitants to a particular set of opinions. One would be a historicist in the culpable sense only if one thought that each of us is locked into our initial horizon, incapable of ever getting outside its fixed boundaries. But this is clearly not Gadamer's view. The very notion of a “fusion of horizons” as Gadamer presents it means that we can open ourselves dialogically to rival horizons: the boundaries are expandable, and we can in principle—through intercivili-zational dialogue (in a spatial and temporal sense)—liberate ourselves from the opinions of our own cave. But this presumably wouldn't fully satisfy Strauss, for the process of self-liberation, in Gadamer's view, always proceeds in an incremental and partial fashion (though the process is open-ended,
Let us now consider a second way of surveying the philosophical landscape, this time inspired by Gadamer. According to this alternative delineation, Strauss is the one who gets aligned with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida, whereas Gadamer gets aligned more closely with Socrates and Plato. I think Catherine Zuckert's book is actually quite helpful in getting us to appreciate this realignment, in two ways: i) by her efforts to distance Gadamer from Heidegger (Zuckert 72–73); and 2) by her suggestions about surprising affinities between Strauss and Derrida. As regards the latter of these two themes, Zuckert offers the crucial comparison between Strauss and Derrida in the following passage:
When we compare Derrida and Strauss, we seem to confront an irony, if not a paradox. By showing that the roots of the Western tradition are fundamentally incompatible, Strauss thought he was preserving the secret core or nerve of its vitality. By revealing a fundamental fissure, cleft, or instability at its roots, Derrida thinks he is showing how the West is necessarily deconstructing itself. To what extent, we are led to ask, do Derrida and Strauss actually have different views of the West, in general, and its Platonic origins, in particular? (Zuckert 200)
This suggests a radical contrast between Gadamer on the one hand and Strauss and Derrida on the other, for of course Gadamer's basic sense of the Western tradition is not one of incommensurabilities and “fissure,” but of continuities and unbroken dialogue. If what defines the postmodern sensibility is a profound sense of discontinuity, then again, Gadamer, with his confidence in philosophy as a unitary dialogical tradition, has less reason to be called postmodern than the other thinkers surveyed in Zuckert's study.
As Zuckert observes (332, n. 8), Gadamer is set off against the other three twentieth-century philosophers she considers—Heidegger, Derrida, and Strauss—because the other three, unlike Gadamer, all take Nietzsche
What distinguishes Gadamer from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Strauss is that for each of the latter four, in their different ways, the “subtext” is more meaningful than the text. One doesn't confront the text, “face-to-face” so to speak, in order to open oneself to a dialogue with it, but one tries to read under the text, through the text, behind the text. The basic meaning of Gadamer's famous “fusion of horizons” idea is that one's relation to the text one is trying to interpret is that of a dialogical encounter: one not only seeks to fathom the meaning of the text by bringing to bear one's own judgments and commitments, but at the same time one exposes those judgments and commitments to possible revision and transformation by reassessing them in the light of what one has been able to understand of the text with which one is in a dialogical relationship. This idea of dialogue is put into practice in Gadamer's two Plato books, Plato's Dialectical Ethics and The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy. One might say that the purpose of these books is to show that it is possible for a sympathetic twentieth-century reader of Plato (even one schooled in the Heideggerian critique of Western metaphysics!) to restate and make a plausible case for the central tenets of Platonic metaphysics. There is no presumption whatsoever that a Platonic understanding of virtue, dialectic, the Good, or the relation between reason and desire is outdated; that Plato's arguments, addressed to the contemporary reader, will succeed in vindicating themselves remains a real possibility. Gadamer is in dialogue with the text rather than trying to read under or through or behind the text.
This Gadamerian way of formulating the basic issues is nicely illustrated by the exchange between Gadamer and Derrida (hardly a dialogue!) published in Dialogue and Deconstruction. In “Text and Interpretation,” Gadamer argues that, contrary to the arrogance of presuming to penetrate the metaphysical determinations of the text of one's philosophical interlocutor, any genuine philosophical (or any other kind of) dialogical encounter takes the form of an open dialogue that presupposes mutuality, namely the possibility
The dialogical character of language … leaves behind it any starting point in the subjectivity of the speaker…. What we find happening in speaking is not a mere reification of intended meaning, but an endeavor that continually modifies itself, or better: a continually recurring temptation to engage oneself in something or to become involved with someone. But that means to expose oneself and to risk oneself.
For a written conversation basically the same fundamental condition obtains as for an oral exchange. Both partners must have the good will to try to understand one another.
Inexplicably, Derrida relates this dialogical impulse to “a metaphysics of the will,” and he expresses his own skepticism about the very notion of a universal ground of dialogical experience, which Derrida cannot help but regard as a “metaphysical” residue:
I am not convinced that we ever really do have this experience that Professor Gadamer describes, of knowing in a dialogue that one has been perfectly understood or experiencing the success of confirmation.
Gadamer, in his compelling reply, points out that the very posing of questions in a philosophical encounter presupposes the hermeneutical intention that Derrida insists is impossible (or at least fatally compromised by metaphysics):
Whoever opens his mouth wants to be understood: otherwise, one would neither speak nor write…. Derrida directs questions to me and therefore must assume that I am willing to understand them.
Surely this is not at all a kind of metaphysics, but the presupposition that any partner in a dialogue must assume, including Derrida, if he wants to pose questions to me. Is he really disappointed that we cannot understand each other? Indeed not, for in his view this would be a relapse into metaphysics. He will, in fact, be pleased, because he takes this private experience of disillusionment to confirm his own metaphysics. But I cannot see here how he can be right only with respect to himself, be in agreement only with himself. Of course I understand very well why he invokes Nietzsche here. It is precisely because both of them are mistaken about themselves. Actually both speak and write in order to be understood.
It would be hard to improve upon this demonstration of the incoherence of Derrida's radical skepticism concerning the possibility of a hermeneutically motivated dialogue.
The activity of interpretation, in the postmodern view, is not a matter of engaging in dialogue with a text concerning a shared subject matter, but of seeing
In a strange and paradoxical reversal, one might say that the way Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida encounter Plato is more dialogical than Strauss's encounter with Plato, because each of them takes the Platonic theory of the ideas at face value, whereas Strauss takes nothing at face value. (From a Straussian point of view, it could be said that Plato did such a convincing job of pretending to be committed to the doctrine of ideas that he not only inspired Christian Platonists like Augustine but also befuddled anti-Platonists like Nietzsche and Heidegger.) According to Stanley Rosen, Strauss's failure to uphold (some version or other of) the Platonic ideas turns out to be fatal to his vindication of philosophy. Unless the philosophical way of life can be grounded in some kind of theoretical teaching, Strauss's defense of the philosophical life inevitably degenerates into either Gadamerian historicism or, worse, Derridean deconstruction. According to Rosen, Zuckert never gets beyond Strauss's exoteric teaching. But as soon as one postulates the distinction between esoteric and exoteric teachings, it is unclear how one could ever know whether anyone had succeeded in penetrating to the (final) esoteric level, since each esoteric level of understanding may be merely exoteric in relation to some further, yet more inaccessible esoteric level. In fact, Rosen himself is unsure whether there is an esoteric teaching in Strauss (the “golden apple concealed within the silver filigree”), in the sense of a theoretical teaching that could in principle
Once we enter the labyrinth of esotericism, how do we know that the philosophical position with which we are trying to engage dialogically isn't merely another veil intended to admit the few and deceive the many? To illustrate, let me just mention the tortuous question of Strauss's theism/ atheism. In Hermeneutics as Politics, Rosen quotes Strauss's view that we are “compelled from the very beginning to make a choice [between Biblical wisdom and Greek wisdom], to take a stand,” and then comments: “No competent student of Leo Strauss was ever in doubt as to his teacher's choice…. Strauss's own respect for and attention to the detailed statements on behalf of revealed religion were primarily intended as extensions of his own elusive propaganda for philosophy. … It was part of his attempt as a political philosopher to convince the city that philosophers are not atheists.” There is a startling symmetry between this claim and the contradictory claim offered by a leading student of Strauss, Thomas Pangle, when he writes that it is “evident from any responsible reading of Strauss's published works … that Strauss emphatically embraced theism.” Something has surely gone wrong with the Straussian practice of political philosophy if two immensely careful and intellectually sophisticated readers of Strauss can disagree on such a fundamental question as whether Strauss is or isn't a theist. How can we be sure that Strauss isn't dissembling his real view about his relation to Western theism? For that matter, how can we be sure that Pangle's avowal of Strauss's “emphatic theism” isn't itself another merely exoteric device intended to help protect the city from corruption or subversion by philosophical wisdom? And how can we engage dialogically with a position where we can never be sure that our interlocutor isn't dissembling? Again, one can only engage dialogically with positions one can presume are literally (nonironically) held by one's interlocutor, and in a Straussian philosophical universe, there's always a lurking question mark about just how far esotericism really extends.
It's hard enough to pursue a philosophical dialogue without tossing in the wild card of esotericism! There's also the related problem of the narcissism of the Straussian conception of philosophy. The fundamental topic of political philosophy as Strauss understands it is philosophy itself: the only properly Platonic teaching, according to Strauss, is the superiority of the philosophical life. Okay, so is there a public argument showing (or even trying to show) why this way of life alone is a happy or satisfying form of human life (for the thesis is, after all, hardly self-evident)? No, none that I
If dialogue is impossible, then philosophy is impossible; and if philosophy is impossible, then we indeed find ourselves in a postmodern intellectual universe. My conclusion, then, is as follows: If postmodernism fundamentally means the end of philosophy as an activity of rational dialogue, as an enterprise of public reason giving and response to reason-based challenges, then Gadamer is the only one of the five thinkers in Zuckert's book who is not a postmodernist.
1. Catherine H. Zuckert, Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). All parenthetical references in the text are to this book. [BACK]
2. The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 474. Philosophers and their judgments concerning life “have value only as symptoms, they are worthy of consideration only as symptoms.” [BACK]
3. Martin Heidegger, “Plato's Doctrine of Truth,” in Phenomenology and Existentialism, ed. W. Barrett and H. D. Aiken (New York: Random House, 1962), 267. [BACK]
4. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 130. [BACK]
5. Ibid., 129. [BACK]
6. “Gadamer on Strauss: An Interview,” Interpretation 12, no. i (Jan. 1984): 10. The context is a response to Fortin's challenge to the universality of hermeneutics in reference to notions of a “pre-hermeneutical” and “post-hermeneutical” situation in Strauss and Heidegger respectively. [BACK]
7. Zuckert suggests that Strauss makes more concessions to history than he professes. See, for instance, Zuckert 197 on “the untraditional character of [Strauss's] view of the tradition”; cf. 276. As discussed earlier, what Zuckert has in mind is that Strauss cannot simply return to the ancients because the need to deal with the tension between ancient political philosophy and biblical morality complicates his philosophical task in a way that wasn't the case for the ancient political philosophers themselves (see 329, n. 67). This strikes me as a vindication of Gadamer's view of Strauss's (necessarily historically mediated) relation to the tradition. [BACK]
8. Cf. “Gadamer on Strauss,” 11–12: “Finitude corresponds to Hegel's ‘bad infinity’…. The emphasis on finitude is just another way of saying that there is always one step more. Bad infinity in the Hegelian sense belongs to finitude. As I once wrote, this bad infinity is not as bad as it sounds.” [BACK]
9. Ibid., 3: “I tried to convince Strauss that one could recognize the superiority of Plato and Aristotle without being committed to the view that their thought was immediately recoverable and that, even though we have to take seriously the challenge
10. Stanley Rosen, “Horizontverschmelzung” (PHGG2O7-i8); and Gadamer's reply (PHGG2ig-2i). Gadamer writes, “Rosen's contribution seems to me to confirm precisely that which I had in view in my analysis of understanding” (221). In general, Gadamer seems to agree with Strauss that “human thought is capable of transcending its historical limitation or of grasping something trans-historical” (Zuckert 128, quoting Natural Right and History). [BACK]
11. “The similarities between Strauss and Derrida are both surprising and striking” (Zuckert 201). “Derrida and Strauss arrive at a remarkably similar understanding of the problematic character and foundation of our common life” (Zuckert 267). See also 225 and 244–45 on Derrida's acknowledgment of Platonic esoteri-cism. The affinities are not hard to locate—for instance, in Derrida's reading of the Phaedrus. Like Strauss, Derrida embraces the Phaedrus's. doctrine of “logographic necessity” (Dissemination 69, 78, 79–80, 85–86, 95–96) and applies his own version of that doctrine to his reading of the dialogue. Derrida, too, is on the lookout for “a more secret organization of themes, of names, of words” (67). Derrida, too, is not above counting lines in order to calculate the center of a text (68). And Derrida, too, attends not just to what is present in the text but equally to what is absent—the silences of the text: what the text should but doesritsay (129–30). [BACK]
12. Cf. Zuckert 270: in contrast to Strauss and Derrida, Gadamer's view is that “there are [in principle] no unbridgeable rifts or differences.” [BACK]
13. Cf. Zuckert 102–3 on how fctfA Derrida and Strauss reject universal dialogue. Also, p. 270: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Strauss, and Derrida share the view that “there is an irreducible conflict at the heart of things.” Gadamer's view, by contrast, is less conflictual; as he puts it in his interview with Fortin, “I think that without some agreement, some basic agreement, no disagreement is possible. In my opinion, the primacy of disagreement is a prejudice” (“Gadamer on Strauss” 9). [BACK]
14. I take it for granted that this applies not only to Nietzsche himself but also to his most influential twentieth-century disciple, Michel Foucault. Cf. Charles Taylor: “[Foucault] is … the most profoundly antidialogical thinker” (“Living with Difference,” in Debating Democracy's Discontent: Essays on American Politics, Law and Public Philosophy, ed. Anita L. Allen and Milton C. Regan, Jr. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998], 224). [BACK]
15. In chapter 1 of Zuckert's book, one is struck by the extraordinary resemblance between Nietzsche's Plato and Strauss's Plato: Plato is a liar (18, 22, 25), a legislator (21–22, 28), someone who believes above all that philosophy is “the only form of human life truly worth living” (30), and someone who propagates salutary untruths in order to mask and minister to this esoteric wisdom. [BACK]
16. Cf. Zuckert 202: “According to both Strauss and Derrida, what an author does not say can be more important than what is said.” Needless to say, I have no interest in denying that each of them, Derrida and Strauss as well as Nietzsche and Heidegger, makes available genuine insights in their interpretations of, for instance, Plato, and that someone who rejects their conceptions of philosophy can nonetheless profit enormously from their interpretive insights. [BACK]
17. Cf. “Gadamer on Strauss,” 6–7: “As I see it, the hermeneutical experience is the experience of the difficulty that we encounter when we try to follow a book, a
18. Gadamer, “Text and Interpretation” (DDea6). [BACK]
19. Ibid., 33. Cf. Gadamer, “Reply to Jacques Derrida” (DDe55): “one does not go about identifying the weaknesses of what another person says in order to prove that one is always right, but one seeks instead as far as possible to strengthen the other's viewpoint so that what the other person has to say becomes illuminating. Such an attitude seems essential to me for any understanding at all to come about.” [BACK]
20. Derrida, “Three Questions to Hans-Georg Gadamer” (DDe53). [BACK]
21. Ibid., 54. Gadamer, of course, never appeals to knowledge of being perfectly understood. Mutual understanding is an aspiration, in the absence of which it would be pointless to engage in any act of communication at all. [BACK]
22. Gadamer, “Reply to Jacques Derrida” (DDe55). [BACK]
23. Ibid., 56–57. [BACK]
24. Cf. ibid., 56: contrary to the hermeneutical intention of mutual understanding, “psychoanalytic interpretation does not seek to understand what someone wants to say, but instead what that person doesn't want to say or even admit to him or herself.” Gadamer argues very persuasively that “it is a mistake to privilege these forms of distorted intelligibility, of neurotic derangement, as the normal case in textual interpretation” when in fact they are aberrations in relation to the norm of attempted mutual understanding (“Text and Interpretation,” DDe4o). [BACK]
25. See, for instance, Dissemination, 103, 107–8, no, 112, 127–33, 149, 158, 169. [BACK]
26. See Zuckert 164: both Nietzsche and Heidegger read Plato in terms of the doctrines concerning the ideas and the soul. See also 154 (citing Thomas Pangle on “Strauss's discounting of the doctrine of the ideas”), 155, 164 (“Farabi led Strauss to question the status of the doctrines concerning the ideas and the soul”), and 178. [BACK]
27. See Rosen's review of Zuckert's book in The Review of Politics 59, no. i (Winter 1997): 162–64. “The praise of the Socratic way of life makes sense as a contra-nihilistic celebration of philosophy if and only if Socrates' way of life is guided by or culminates in knowledge of what we may call here ‘the Ideas'” (164). [BACK]
28. Ibid., 164. [BACK]
29. Ibid. [BACK]
30. Cf. Zuckert 162 and 167 on the need of philosophical atheists to hide their unbelief (or to disclose it “only to sensible friends”); and 175 on Socrates' “dissimulation.” According to Zuckert, the fundamental meaning of the Platonic virtues of justice and moderation (as Strauss interpreted them) is the need to hide one's skepticism about the existence of god and the immortality of the soul out of deference to the needs of the city. [BACK]
31. Stanley Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 112; cf. 17 and 107. [BACK]
32. Thomas Pangle, contribution to APSA Roundtable on Leo Strauss and Religion (1994), manuscript, p. i. Pangle explains that in calling Strauss an emphatic theist, he has in mind a radical dichotomy between natural theology and revealed
33. Cf. Laurence Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 109: “the philosophic spirit points to itself, points to its own nobility as a primary ground for gratitude for the goodness of the world.” [BACK]
34. Cf. Zuckert 148: “The secret Strauss thought he discovered by studying Farabi's Plato was that Socrates represented the only fully satisfying form of human existence … but the open presentation of that fact was apt to provoke popular envy”; see also 276. [BACK]
35. Zuckert 132: “To ask why a human being should pursue philosophy is to ask why human beings should devote their efforts to acquiring knowledge rather than power or wealth; it is to ask what is the best way of life.” Why is it power and wealth that are presented as the alternatives? Why not beauty, or pursuit of justice, or saint-liness? It may be relatively easy to demonstrate the superiority of the philosophic life if the alternative is living the life of a sophist or tyrant (cf. Theatetus i72cff.); a much more ambitious argument is required if one also considers the life of a sculptor, dancer, poet, journalist, community activist, pastor, or jurist. [BACK]