This episode explores the art of the philosophical dialogue, both as a literary form and as a practice between people in real-time conversation. Much of the discussion revolves around the work of the philosopher Plato, who is widely considered the best writer of philosophical dialogues from ancient Greece, if not of all time. You will probably need to know some basic things about Plato in order to easily follow today's conversation. If you are knew to this podcast and you don't know much about Plato, you may want to first check out our episode 8, called Plato Strikes Back, where we give an introduction and overview of Plato's life and times and his contributions to philosophy.
Hardly any philosophers today publish their ideas the way that Plato did, i.e. in dramatic form as a debate between various characters. Instead, they publish books that offer a series of arguments supporting some big claim(s). There are no characters involved, it's just the author saying what he or she thinks. This kind of straightforward philosophical treatise has been the mainstream way of writing philosophy since at least the time of Aristotle.
Nevertheless, many thinkers throughout history chose to publicize their ideas not in treatises but in dialogue form, with different characters arguing from different viewpoints. This way of dramatizing philosophy was championed by Plato in the 4th century BC. One of his contemporaries named Xenophon also wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as the main character. The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero wrote all of his philosophical works as dialogues. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote dialogues. Davide Hume wrote dialogues. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia wrote dialogues. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is writing philosophical dialogues today. Clearly, the allure of the philosophical dialogue persists. There is still a market for them. And a lot of scholars still read Plato not just out of historical curiosity but out of genuine philosophical interest.
One such scholar is MM McCabe, emerita professor of ancient philosophy at King's College London. She has spent much of her career writing about the philosophy of Plato. Her books include Plato's Individuals (1999), Plato and his Predecessors: The Dramatization of Reason (2007), and Platonic Conversations (2015). She joins us today to help us figure out: What makes a good philosophical dialogue? What can you get out of reading one that you wouldn't get out of a straightforward treatise? Furthermore, is the art of having productive, philosophical conversations something we need more of in today's world?
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