What counts as the central "canonical" text of Platonism?
Let me set the stage for this question: At my academic home, we have a great-books-ish series of courses that are required for every incoming student called "The Search for Values." It's a three-semester sequence that spans from The Epic of Gilgamesh through mid-to-late 20th C. texts, and it has been a central part of the Rhodes curriculum since 1945. I teach in the first semester (Gilgamesh through Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics) and the thirst semester (which, I kid you not, spans from the Protestant Reformation to today). Every year, the faculty who teach in the Search program get together for about 7 days at the end of the school year to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum as it stands and to discuss what, if any, changes should be made.
Of course, because we have so much material to cover in any given semester, almost everything that is covered is done fairly quickly and non-comprehensively. There are, I know, many complaints that can be levelled against this type of learning, but I actually think that one of the advantages of these sorts of programs for first- and second-year students is that they are provided a kind of generic familiarity with a broad swath of texts, and at the end of the courses they not only should be better acquainted with the canon of Western intellectual history, but also better equipped to choose a major. So, I like the program and I don't complain too much about the fact that in the first semester we are only able to cover a few texts of ancient Greek philosophy. I only get to teach 2 texts by Plato/Socrates and 1 by Aristotle, but I get to teach a lot of things that I wouldn't otherwise teach in my regular philosophy courses, like Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Sophocles' Theban tragedies, and the Iliad. (As some of you may remember from last Fall, I discussed the ups and downs of my Search for Values experience on this blog.)
This week, we're having the curriculum discussions and I am considering suggesting a change. As things stand now, the Plato texts that we cover in Search are the Apology of Socrates and the Symposium. I love both of these texts, and I have to admit that my students love them, too. However, I find it very difficult to talk about Plato without any reference to the Republic. Last fall, I "cheated" a bit and added a couple of hefty sections of the Republic to my syllabus as supplemental reading, but the idea behind the Search for Values program is that every first-year student should be reading the same texts in the same order in every Search class, so that they find themselves part of a coherent and engaged "learning community." (As evidence of this, the students here, for many years, have staged an all-night public reading of Homer's Iliad at the amphitheater in the center of our campus, since they are all reading it at the same time. That may be a way around "actually" reading the text for some of them, but I still think it's a pretty cool tradition here.)
I don't want to cut the Apology from the curriculum, because I think it is both accessible and engaging for first-year students. But I don't understand having the Symposium as our other Plato text. Not only is it not a representative example of Platonic philosophy, but I'm not sure it's even a particularly representative example of Socratic philosophy (despite the fact that, as you all remember, Socrates claims only to be an "expert" in love.) However, as is the case in most institutions, I suspect that this curriculum is determined in large part by inertia, and that changes will be be difficult to effect. My inclination is to suggest the Republic on the grounds that it is THE central canonical text of Platonic philosophy, but I'm wondering if there is another (in truth, shorter) dialogue that may accomplish the same ends.