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Palmer, John A. Plato's Reception of Parmenides.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. xiii + 294 pp. Cloth, $65.00--John Palmer begins his academic writing career with a text concerning the at times fragmentary and widely scattered influence of Parmenides upon the Platonic corpus. A glimpse and reglimpse at the nuances that Palmer brings to light is worthwhile. The text makes use of footnotes, which, opposed to endnotes, facilitate a more rapid assimilation. A lengthy reference list guides the reader to paths of specific interest--this being important in the determination of the difference between Palmer's reading of Plato and Plato's employment of Parmenides. The text is systematic in approach and at times employs formal, logical equations in order to make its points clearer. Palmer explores Plato's epistemology, metaphysics, and pursuit of specific problems. He demonstrates no intention to discover an "accurate" Platonic interpretation of Parmenides. Instead he endeavors to determine the amount and extent of influence on the mind of Plato by snatching up segments and sometimes shreds of Parmenidian influence, a dialectical hermeneutic of Platonic art form. Plato interprets Parmenides; Palmer interprets Plato's Parmenides. Thus with a metaphysic of interpretation and potential misinterpretation Palmer secondarily attempts an implied reconstruction of the creative process of Plato's poetic prose genius. Still, this method of interpreting the interpretation is an apparent strength of the work, since the approach is not so simple as to ensure the boredom of the reader and the reader is obliged to scrutinize his or her own interpretation of Plato and Plato's dialogue with Parmenides in order to determine his or her level of agreement with Palmer. Thus, Palmer certainly propels the reader toward a sort of speculation and philosophical inspiration in general, no doubt one of Plato's intentions. Still one cannot escape the speculative aspect of the text. There is, after all because of the problematic manner in which ancient works come to us, little conclusive proof of the truth of Palmer's assertions besides his own, admittedly thorough, scholarship. Additionally, Plato himself may not have held the answers to the implicit questions that motivated Palmer since creative thinkers take inspiration from other thinkers without explicit acknowledgment. Palmer is thus out on a limb, yet he seems to have made ample preparations by thorough scholarship and he provides useful conjecture. He cites interpretive examples of Parmenidian influence in works of Plato and indeed there is need and room for speculation.

However, danger seems to present itself when Palmer with a methodology oriented in detail utilizes a particular interpretation of Parmenides and a similarly particular interpretation of Plato to discern where each thinker's influence and creativity dwells in the Platonic corpus. He picks up scraps of Parmenides and brings them to light, thereby revealing new problems and minute influences; even the slightest misconjecture will lead him down a path of rather serious mistakes. Still and all, he is careful. Palmer claims sophists made use of the Parmenidian assertion that there exists an inability to speak about what is not, clearly a Parmenidian notion, when defending their arbitrary, nihilistic positions. The idea is not new but the manner and level of detail in which Palmer makes use of his hermeneutic is. He claims that for Plato one must be able to speak of what is not as a defense against sophisticated nihilism, and he finds specific passages in Sophist relating to opinion and distortion of opinion's epistemological status. Thus the difference between knowledge and opinion becomes a Parmenidian problematic explored by Plato. Palmer illustrates Sophists' misconstruction of Parmenides in that there is a significant difference between what is not (something) and what is not anything at all. Again, the detailed problems of Plato's epistemology reveal bits and pieces of Parmenides and generate genuine problems that Plato addressed. One of the more interesting sections of the text occurs when Palmer shows how Plato makes use of Parmenides' dialectical exercise in order to delve more deeply into specific philosophical problems; Plato illustrates and investigates specific points by a sort of metaphysic of examination. Thus Parmenides' dialectical exercise becomes a part of Plato's metaphysic. Still the entirety of Parmenides' stance is not present in Plato and this illustrates a level of and a limit to agreement between the thinkers within the mind of Plato. Awareness of this adaptation helps to comprehend what use and rejection of Parmenides Plato incorporates into his own work. The experienced Platonist and the lover of wisdom will find their views not challenged but expanded, even if they are not in complete agreement with Palmer. They may light upon some portion of Plato's interpretation of Parmenides that has been lost within Plato's corrective assimilation.--Kirk Csoltko, Loyola University Chicago.
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Author:Csoltko, Kirk
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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