Plato on the communication of philosophy

Thus much at least, I can say about all writers, past or future, who say they know the things to which I devote myself, whether by hearing the teaching of me or of others, or by their own discoveries-that according to my view it is not possible for them to have any real skill in the matter. There neither is nor ever will be a treatise of mine on the subject. For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself. 

             — Plato, Seventh Letter, J. Harward translation.

Update on the Book Project

I began this blog for the purpose of airing out some of my ideas on Plato in anticipation of writing a book on the subject. My life is busy and my attention span short. Unless I want to sacrifice other parts of my life to writing (I don’t), the project will likely take me a very long time. That’s OK. My personal motto is from Ovid:

Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo.

(Dripping hollows rock, not by force, but by always dripping.)

I think it is helpful to reflect periodically on what I think I am doing and how I am doing it in order to guide my deliberations about what to do next. Here are a rough plan of my project, not of the contents, but of the process:

1. Last Summer, when I began to entertain such my book project, I set myself the modest goal of writing five sentences per day on Plato. That’s it — just five sentences a day. Sometimes I wrote more than five and sometimes sentences flowed into paragraphs, but everyday I wrote five.
2. Some time around December, I could see that my sentences were starting to coalesce around certain themes. I began sorting my scraps into rough categories. I organized them in a notebook, which has about 130 pages of these sentences and fragments.
3. I decided then that I need to move on to paragraphs and so here I am writing a blog. I really didn’t set myself any goal for posting other than regular progress. I have for the most part kept moving forward, although I have allowed myself the liberty of pursuing any topic that begs to be written.
4. I gave up standards of fluency and perfection. I tried to practice the economist James Buchanan’s advice to his students working on dissertations: “Don’t get it right; get it written!” This was hard for me, to release something into the world that I hadn’t massaged over a couple dozen times, but I know that “good enough” will yield a better harvest than “just right.” The stalk must come before before the flower.
5. I have purposefully shunned reading secondary works on Plato since beginning my project. (This has taken quite a bit of discipline — books are piling up that I am eager to read.) I will maintain this resolution unit I can produce a synoptic draft of the work “out of my head” as it were.
6. I wrote a rough program of topics to cover in my very first blog post, based on my arranging, and have been referring to that occasionally to fill in lacunae in the work. By the beginning of the summer, I hope to have aired all of the themes.
7. This summer I plan to collect those blog posts into a text editing program, play around with the order of exposition and figure out how to create a single synoptic narrative.
8. No post is finished as written, nowhere close. Each needs more examples, more extended development, more textual support. But my immediate goal is not to polish them in any sort of detailed way, but to expand them enough to provide stitching between sections. My next goal for now is a synopsis, not even a draft.
9. Finally, my work and methods should be an enactment of the ideas that they are trying to communicate. I am overcoming my fear of exposing my defects and have learned at Plato’s knee that the defective places are exactly where the real discoveries will eventually happen.

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to this work by commenting and asking probing questions. That has been a genuine help to me and I am humbly grateful to all of you.