Plato, in the Protagoras, suggests that the virtues are profoundly unified yet also distinct. In Plato on the Unity of the Virtues: A Dialectic Reading, Rod Jenks argues that the way in which virtues are both one and many is finally ineffable. He shows how Plato countenances ineffability throughout his corpus. Jenks’s interpretation of Protagoras accounts for the otherwise-inexplicable inability of both Socrates and Protagoras to identify the bone of contention between them. Not only can the thesis not be argued for; it can’t even be properly stated. In this book, Jenks shows how the long exegesis on the Simonides poem is philosophically relevant. Further, he shows that both the parts-of-the-face analogy and the gold analogy are inadequate, arguing that Plato intends them to be so. Jenks explains why the unity thesis is supported by what most scholars agree are terrible arguments: that the virtues are both one and many. He explains why, despite the unity claim being profoundly elusive, Plato believes it to be crucial that we come to appreciate how virtue, which really does have parts, can also be profoundly one.
Rod Jenks teaches philosophy at the University of Portland.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: The Quality of the Unity Arguments
Chapter 3: Unity Passages in the Protagoras
Chapter 4: The Unity Arguments
Chapter 5: Rival Explanations of Unity
Chapter 6: Other Indications of Ineffability
Chapter 7: Meaning and Express-ability
Chapter 8: Socratic Intellectualism
Chapter 9: Indirect Argument in Plato
Chapter 10: The Importance of Unity
About the Author
In this brief, engaging text, Jenks provides an interpretation of Plato’s thoughts on the unity of virtue. Jenks's thesis is that for Plato virtues are one, that is to say a unity, but also many, that is to say a diversity. But how can virtues be both one and many? Is this not a contradiction? In Jenks’s view, the unity of virtues is indeed difficult to reconcile with their diversity, yet this is inescapable: as Jenks notes, the manner in which virtues are both one and many can be neither argued for nor even coherently stated but rather must be “seen.” What emerges from Jenks’s analysis is a refreshingly different portrait of Plato. Against those who see Plato as providing weak arguments and others who see him as targeting Protagoras as intellectually bankrupt, Jenks regards Plato as admitting the obscurity and ineffability of the problem. Some things are simply beyond the boundary of the logos; the human conceptual system has it limits. Students and scholars of Plato, especially those interested in how the dialogues treat ethical matters, will want to add Jenks’s book to their reading list. It is well written and well researched and includes copious endnotes. Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.