Very little information is available about the life of Friedrich (Fritz) Bernhard Jeffré. He was born in Nordhorn, a small town in today's Lower Saxony (not far from the Dutch border), in 1889. As it has long been customary for German students and scholars to move often from a university to another, he pursued his studies of philosophy and the ancient world first in Münster, then in Berlin and in Kiel. His landing in Kiel was originally the result of military orders: after joining the army as a volunteer in the First World War, he became unable to serve at the front due to a severe illness, and in spring 1917 he was transferred to what is still one of Germany's major naval ports (there, only a year later, the well-known mutiny of the Hochseeflotte sailors triggered the socialist Novemberrevolution).
At the Hohe philosophische Fakultät of the University of Kiel, Jeffré earned his Doktorwürde with a dissertation on the concept of τέχνη in Plato: the thesis was discussed on August the 6th, 1920. His doctoral supervisor, Werner Jaeger, had been appointed as ordentlicher Professor at Kiel in 1915, after occupying Nietzsche's chair of Classical Philology at Basel. In the third volume of his Paideia, Jaeger mentions Jeffré's handwritten dissertation in a footnote, stating that the dissertation has not been printed, and that the manuscript is preserved at the Kiel University Library. [1]
From 1927 until 1950, Jeffré was active as a Mittelschullehrer at the Realschule in Hückeswagen (North Rhine-Westphalia), teaching Latin, English, French, and German. At the end of the Second World War, Jeffré's position at the Realschule was affected by the arrival of the American army on April the 13th, 1945. The school itself, in fact, was temporarily transformed into a DP ('Displaced Persons') camp, and the Allied education officers (Erziehungsoffiziere) prevented Jeffré from being confirmed in the post, along with the Rektor Erich Schulte. The latter was then rehabilitated in 1947, followed by Jeffré in 1948. A 1950 Gutachten signed by Schulte praises Jeffré's effort as representative of the teaching community and his role as advisor and conciliator. In 1975, Jeffré died in Düsseldorf at the age of 86. [2]
The interest of Jeffré's doctoral dissertation lies not only in the thorough analysis it offers of the role played by τέχνη in all aspects of Plato's thought, but also in the glimpse it allows us into the crisis of the Altertumswissenschaft during the tough years of the Weimar Republic. [3] Only a few years after supervising Jeffré's work, Jaeger began to unfold his ambitious project, later called the Third Humanism, in the hope of regenerating the German Bildungstradition through the Platonic ideal of intellectual and personal education. The anxiety of the search for a unifying, objective principle on which a coherent set of ethical and political values can be based emerges in Jeffré's assessment of Plato's epistemological distinction between non-technical (i.e. empirical, non-scientific) and technical (i.e. legitimately scientific) ways of reasoning.
Following the model of Hippocratic medicine, Plato's τέχνη requires a deep understanding of the nature of the object it examines, of the causes of the phenomena it observes, and of the method or procedures it applies. Since each aspect of human knowledge and action is subject to the rules of τέχνη, which is considered as being superior to law itself, it follows that both ethics and politics are technical disciplines, i.e. productive science, in the Platonic sense. In both the ethical and the political domain, as Jeffré argues, the Platonic τεχνικός strives to achieve the goal of an organic, harmonic totality which is identified with the good. Given that only the true φιλόσοφος is knowledgeable of the good, and thus master of the political τέχνη, Plato sees the philosopher's rule as the best form of government. Thus τέχνη itself is shown by Jeffré to be the foundation of Plato's all-encompassing παιδεία, which was soon to constitute the core of Jaeger's philosophical and scientific reflection. Jaeger himself, mentioning Jeffré's work in the chapter dedicated to the Gorgias, examines Plato's τέχνη as the concept is developed in the Socratic dialogues, and defines it as the touchstone model for Socrates' pursuit of science: it implies an effort towards scientific exactness, which ultimately has a concrete aim, that is the practice of a science of government. [4]
Jeffré's thesis gained approval for printing, but only a two-page abstract was actually printed by C. Bertelsmann in Gütersloh (1922). The dissertation is here printed for the first time in its entirety. The text is based on two different xerocopied manuscripts: the Berlin exemplar, indicated with the siglum B in the apparatus criticus, is held by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin—Unter den Linden (signature: MS 22/5732); the Kiel exemplar, referred to as K, is held by the Hauptabteilung of the Universitätsbibliothek of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (signature: TU 22/5732). Both manuscripts clearly belong to the same hand, and the Kiel copy is a later, slightly reworked version of the Berlin copy (as is shown by the arrangement of words on the final lines on many pages of K, where the line-ending is often adjusted so as to reproduce the pagination of B). [5] The former, in fact, includes portions of text entirely absent from the latter, but it also exhibits a number of errors due to self-dictation, and especially to phenomena of assimilation. The present edition includes the parts of K which are absent from B, and follows K for all variant readings that are not instances of the aforementioned errors. [6] The Platonic passages cited by Jeffré are reproduced exactly as he quotes (and understands) them, with minor corrections of Jeffré's occasional misspellings. The editor's interventions are indicated between single guillemets, except for the bibliography at the end of the thesis, which has been completely rewritten to improve usability.
– Marco Romani Mistretta


[ back ] 1. W. Jaeger, Paideia. Die Formung des griechischen Menschen, Zweiter Band, Berlin 1944, p. 193 n. 23 (for an English translation cf. Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture, translated from the German Manuscript by Gilbert Highet, New York 1943, p. 130).
[ back ] 2. My best thanks are due to A. Gerhardus and C. Klur of the Realschule Hückeswagen for providing me with original documents concerning Fritz Jeffré's life and career.
[ back ] 3. For Jaeger's assessment of the social and cultural aftermath of World War I, see W. Jaeger, Humanistische Reden und Vorträge, Berlin 19602, pp. 103–105.
[ back ] 4. “Auch in den anderen sokratischen Dialogen Platos erscheint die Techne als das für das Wissensstreben des Sokrates maßgebendes Vorbild, und das ist wohl verständlich für den, der im Auge behält, daß das letzte Ziel dieses Strebens nach Exaktheit des Wissens für Plato ein praktisches ist, nämlich die Wissenschaft vom Staat” (Platos Gorgias: der Erzieher als der wahre Staatsmann, in Paideia, loc. cit.). Highet's translation does not render the full force of Jaeger's Wissensstreben, which emphasizes the Socratic concept of research as a never-ending process: “And there are others of Plato's Socratic dialogues which show that the techné was the ideal on which Socrates believed knowledge should be modelled. It is easy to see why, if we remember that the ultimate aim of all Plato's search for exact knowledge was a practical aim, namely, the science of the state” (op. cit., p. 130).
[ back ] 5. For instance at pp. 12, 28, 34, 52, 70.
[ back ] 6. The Lebenslauf at the end of the dissertation is entirely based on B, since it is altogether missing from the Kiel copy.