cover image Acastos: 2two Platonic Dialogues

Acastos: 2two Platonic Dialogues

Iris Murdoch. Viking Books, $15.95 (130pp) ISBN 978-0-670-80074-2

Is art primarily a diversion for the masses, or, as the youth Acastos, friend of Plato, insists, a kind of ""deep wise thinking''? Murdoch, whose novels wrestle with large philosophical questions, here sets forth her views on art, morality, religion and Eros through imaginary dialogues between Plato, Socrates and sundry fictional characters. She clearly believes that good art tells us more about our lives than any other kind of thought; Acastos's vision triumphs over Plato's hostility to art, a cynic's withering comments and the pragmatic outlook of Mantias, a vulgar Marxist of sorts. In the dialogue on religion, Socrates waxes poetic (``Religion is our love of virtue lightening the present moment''); his almost Buddhist reverence (``God is everywhere'') provides counterpoint to Plato's view that religion is a safety valve, a haven of absolutes that keeps us from going crazy and helps us to face life's horrors. (January)