Brian Leiter bizarrely endorses this idiotic review by Aristotle scholar Peter Simpson of Richard G. Stevens’ Political Philosophy: An Introduction. It’s clear that the logic behind this endorsement is that Simpson criticizes the book because it has been written by a Straussian, and Leiter despises Straussians. Unfortunately, the logic behind the review is that Simpson is a Christian and he despises Leo Strauss because he thinks he was anti-Christian (Strauss and Straussians are more typically controversial for their interpretative esoterism and association with neoconservativism).
Whatever one thinks of Strauss (who incidentally taught at my alma mater St. John’s College toward the end of his life), Simpson’s review is unforgivable.
We really learn very little about Stevens’ book. Instead, Simpson spends his ink on the claim that it is an interpretative “myth” that one theme of Platonic philosophy is the idea that because loving is lacking, to be a philosopher is to lack the wisdom one loves (where “philia” is filial love for “sophia,” wisdom).
What utter bullshit. The Symposium is completely explicit about this claim. Simpson must explain that fact away as a “joke” — a contorted and ironically Straussian sounding interpretation. Beyond the Symposium, this theme is entirely consistent with several other themes with which any reader of Plato is regularly beaten about the head: for instance, that philosophizing is a form of dying (wisdom really only being fully attainable in the afterlife), and that Socrates knows only that he knows nothing. You don’t have to be a Straussian to advance the simple interpretation offered by Stevens. And you have to be a completely insensitive reader — or know Plato from textbooks — not to see the strong strain of zetetic skepticism in his work.
It is of course extremely important to Simpson that “wisdom” be obtainable in full, in this life: I suspect he thinks it has something to do with faith. (Faith and reason are uncontroversially not in tension with each other: “…. Christian and Muslim philosophers have, almost to a man, found religion and philosophy in perfect harmony”). And so Stevens book seems to irk Simpson most by not mentioning that “Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, thereby proving himself Son of God and Christ.” (You see? Proof!) And (God the ironies pile on) Stevens must be corrupting the youth by turning them away from God: “How many [of Stevens’ students] will go home and live as practical atheists … ?”— Wes Alwan