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Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy

Cambridge University Press
December 1995

This 1995 book takes as its starting point Plato's incorporation of specific genres of poetry and rhetoric into his dialogues. The author argues that Plato's 'dialogues' with traditional genres are part and parcel of his effort to define 'philosophy'. Before Plato, 'philosophy' designated 'intellectual cultivation' in the broadest sense. When Plato appropriated the term for his own intellectual project, he created a new and specialised discipline. In order to define and legitimise 'philosophy', Plato had to match it against genres of discourse that had authority and currency in democratic Athens. By incorporating the text or discourse of another genre, Plato 'defines' his new brand of wisdom in opposition to traditional modes of thinking and speaking. By targeting individual genres of discourse Plato marks the boundaries of 'philosophy' as a discursive and as a social practice.