Thursday, April 4, 2019

Allan Bloom, Gilbert Ryle, and Plato’s Republic

Allan Bloom
I have found an interesting war of words between Gilbert Ryle and Allan Bloom. Ryle did a nasty review (titled “If Plato Only Knew,” November 6, 1969, NYT) of Bloom’s book The Republic of Plato. On Bloom’s interpretive essay, Ryle says in his review:

“Bloom also provides 130 pages of an “Interpretive (sic) Essay.” This Essay is not a bit satisfactory. It has the outward appearance of a running précis of the Republic, but it constantly slides, without signals, into speculative elucidations, into objections, and into expressions of Bloom’s own sentiments, including some understandably anti-utopian ones. He ought to warn the student that it is not in Plato’s but in Bloom’s mind that “Socrates constructs his utopia to point up the dangers of what we call utopianism…”

Bloom responded to Ryle’s attack with an article titled “Plato,” (April 9, 1970, NYT). Calling Ryle’s review of his book frivolous, Bloom says: “In themselves Ryle’s opinions are beneath consideration, but they do deserve diagnosis as a symptom of a sickness which is corrupting our understanding of old writers and depriving a generation of their liberating influence.”

He goes on to deliver a coup de grace to Ryle’s review with this observation:

“The usual criticism of men of Ryle’s persuasion is that they are dry and unable to deal with important problems. Although this is largely an accurate description, the decisive objection to them is that they lack that very precision on which they pride themselves. They do so because they lack a sufficient motive for care: they do not hope to find the truth in the books they read.”

I am currently reading Bloom’s interpretive essay on Plato’s Republic and I find his perspective quite interesting.

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