Volume 19, Issue 1, Fall 2014
"The Special (Dis)Advantage of the Beautiful" in Gadamer's Plato Reading
In this paper, I examine two important claims that Hans-Georg Gadamer makes in his Plato interpretations. The first claim is found at the end of Wahrheit und Methode, where Gadamer suggests that “the special advantage of the beautiful” in Platonic philosophy is both a shelter and a reminder of the good, as well as the structure of eidetic appearance that brings together ideality and appearance in the event of new understanding. The second claim considered here is Gadamer’s suggestion that while non-being is more alive in Plato than Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics admits, a genuine thinking of semblance remains only “subliminal” in Plato. Drawing these two claims together, I argue that Gadamer’s reading of Plato’s Philebus reveals that the nature of the beautiful grounds semblance in a deeper way than even Gadamer recognizes. Specifically, I contend that beauty’s appearance is both a necessary concretion of the dynamic mixture of the good, the limited, and the unlimited, and yet, as just this concrete appearance it also always dissembles this ongoing dynamic. As the context of the Philebus indicates, however, this is a claim that concerns not only human experience, but ontology itself. In the end, such a finding contributes to a more Socratic interpretation of Platonic wisdom and philosophical hermeneutics, suggesting that genuine knowledge begins with the recognition of the limits and vulnerability of understanding.