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Ingle, Jennifer F.
Virtue and inquiry, knowledge and ignorance :
b lessons from the Theaetetus
h [electronic resource] /
by Jennifer F. Ingle.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: Plato's dialogues are set in fifth century Athens but they are performed for a fourth century audience. The context of his dialogues, then is wider perhaps than other philosophers and because of the difference in periods, it is clear that it is necessary for an audience member to possess knowledge of the events of the previous generation, viz., the fifth century BCE. When its cultural context is taken into account, the Theaetetus can not be read as an attempt by Plato to establish an epistemology in the modern sense of the term. While the characters of the dialogue are searching for the 'essence' of knowledge, Plato is teaching the audience of the dialogue to consider the knowledge that different practices of paideia produce and to evaluate that knowledge in light of its implications on the individual and the polis. The answer that emerges is that philosophy is the paideia that will produce the best individual and the best polis, because it is only the practice of philosophy that teaches intellectual virtue. The Theaetetus is an account of the practice of philosophy and the practitioner of philosophy.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 176 pages.
Advisor: Joanne B. Waugh, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Virtue and Inquiry, Knowledge and Ignorance: Lesson s From the Theaetetus by Jennifer F. Ingle A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Philosophy College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co-Major Professor: Joanne B. Waugh, Ph.D. Co-Major Professor: John P. Anton, Ph.D. Roger Ariew, Ph.D. Charles Guignon, Ph.D. Bruce Silver, Ph.D. P. Christopher Smith, Ph.D Date of Approval: April 9, 2007 Keywords: Plato, paideia, hermeneutic interpretatio n, epistemology, classical Greece Copyright 2007, Jennifer F. Ingle
For Jane, who gave me life, and for Joanne, who saved it.
i Table of Contents Dedication Abstract iii Chapter One: Situating PlatoÂ’s Dialogues Historical ly: The Place of Dialogue in Ancient Greek Paideia 1 The Function of Archaic Poetry in Greek Paideia 2 Political Aret and Public Discourse 10 Paideia in AthensÂ’ Classical Age 15 Chapter Two: Platonic Dialogue as Paideia 20 Dialogue and Dialectic 27 Philosophy and Midwifery 34 Chapter Three: Reading the Dialogues: In Search of an Interpretative Strategy 40 The Problem of Mimsis 40 Problems in Interpretation: Dialogue, Drama, and Do ctrine 47 Unwritten Lectures and Esoteric Doctrine 54 Reading Between the Lines 55 A Third Way of Interpreting Plato: The Hermeneutica l Approach 59 Chapter Four: Problems in Interpreting the Theaetetus 67 False Starts 67 The Interpretation of Literary Form and Philosophic al Content 76 The Â‘Outer DialogueÂ’ (142a Â– 143d) 81 The Midwife of the Inner Dialogue (143d -151d) 90 Chapter Five: Knowledge and Ignorance 94 Knowledge as Species (143d Â– 151d) 95 Knowledge as Aisthesis (151d Â– 186e) 98 Knowledge as Doxa Aleths (187b Â– 201c) 112 Chapter Six: Virtue and Inquiry 125 Theodorus, the Mathematician 128 Socrates, the Philosopher 135 Theaetetus, the Potential Guardian 140 Conclusion 149
ii Reference List 153 Bibliography 164 Appendix A: The Authenticity of the Seventh Letter 167 About the Author End Page
iii Virtue and Inquiry, Knowledge and Ignorance: Lesson s From the Theaetetus Jennifer F. Ingle ABSTRACT PlatoÂ’s dialogues are set in fifth century Athens b ut they are performed for a fourth century audience. The context of his dialog ues, then is wider perhaps than other philosophers and because of the difference in perio ds, it is clear that it is necessary for an audience member to possess knowledge of the events of the previous generation, viz., the fifth century BCE. When its cultural context is ta ken into account, the Theaetetus can not be read as an attempt by Plato to establish an epis temology in the modern sense of the term. While the characters of the dialogue are sea rching for the Â‘essenceÂ’ of knowledge, Plato is teaching the audience of the dialogue to c onsider the knowledge that different practices of paideia produce and to evaluate that knowledge in light of its implications on the individual and the polis The answer that emerges is that philosophy is th e paideia that will produce the best individual and the best polis because it is only the practice of philosophy that teaches intellectual virtue. The Theaetetus is an account of the practice of philosophy and the practitioner of philosophy.
1 Chapter One Situating PlatoÂ’s Dialogues Historically: The Place of Dialogue in Ancient Greek Paideia For [Plato] himself knew so well that his philosoph y arose in a particular climate of thought and held a particular position in the whole development of Gre ek mind, that he always made his dialectic take the dramatic form of a dialogue, and begin with an argu ment representatives of various types of contempora ry opinion. On the other hand no great writer more cl early reveals the truth that the only lasting eleme nt in history is the spirit, not merely because his own t hought survived for millennia, but because early Gr eece survives in him. His philosophy is a reintegration of the preceding stages of Hellenic cultureÂ…. [Pla to] must be the culmination of any history of Greek pai deia.1 This study of Plato's Theaetetus proceeds from a perspective that is, at once, philosophical, historical and literary. This approach, I will argue, befits Plato's dialogues, and is required if one aims at understan ding just how important they are in the history of philosophy. Accordingly, its first task is to situate the Platonic dialogue in its historical context, that is, as a contributor to th e cultural conversation of Greece, what is called paideia. There is no denying that the Theaetetus is about knowledge; the overall question Socrates, Theaetetus, and Theodorus attemp t to answer is indeed Â‘What is knowledge?Â’ Yet, I will argue, the dialogue cannot be treated as an attempt to establish an epistemology at least not in the way that contemporary philoso phers know and treat epistemology. Plato asks the question in the conte xt of his time, and so asks it for the purpose of establishing a new type of paideia philosophy. Working against the standards of the fifth and fourth centuries of who counted as wise, Plato attempts to define the practice of a philosophos Socrates, in his dialogues. The question Â‘What i s knowledge?Â’ does not stand alone; the question is a sked in a particular context, fifth and 1 Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture: In Search of the Divine Centre, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford UP, 1943) x.
2 fourth century Athens, for a particular reason: to demonstrate the inadequacy of archaic and classical conceptions of paideia evaluated on the basis of their claims to knowled ge and truth. The investigation carried out in the Theaetetus exposes the flaws not only in considering sophists, poets, or the Presocratics to be sophoi it exposes the problems with democracy and reveals the necessity for a stable, u nchanging ground for an education in aret. The Function of Archaic Poetry in Greek Paideia Plato often singles out the problems with poetry as a vehicle for Greek paideia most notably in Ion There Socrates alludes to problems with the pract ices and the reception of both the rhapsodes and the poets. Th ere is additional criticism in the Republic and again in the Laws poetry is blamed for the degenerate state of the polis.2 To understand PlatoÂ’s criticism, one must understan d the role of poetry in Greek society, education, and politics in both fourth and fifth ce ntury Greece. Plato, Isocrates, Arisotphanes, Euripides, Gorgias, Protagoras, Peric les, Solon, Pindar, Homer, Hesiod Â– these men all deal in poiesis and so are poitai Poetry was an all-encompassing term that could be applied to any prose work Â– oral or w ritten.3 Eric Havelock has argued that 2 The dialogues are literally littered with jabs at poetry, poets, those who perform poetry, and those who accept it as authority. Poetry is mousik ; poetry was sung, often accompanied by musical ins truments and probably dance. Thus Socrates often speaks of music and poetry as the same, and they often receiv e the same treatment. See Rosalind Thomas, Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992) 118ff. 3 See Thomas, Literacy 113-117. Though properly speaking, Homer and Hesi od are aoidoi (singers or bards), not poitai There was a shift in archaic Greece from aoidoi to poiti, probably due to Â“changing socio-political realties of the polis Â” (Jeffrey Walker, Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 20). Poi sis has as its Â“the root sense the notion of Â‘doingÂ’ o r Â‘makingÂ’ or Â‘fabricatingÂ’ something, and can include the notion of Â‘making up Â’ an invented tale or a lieÂ” (Walker 19). Poetry w as created in the performance, the relation between th e poet or singer and the audience. Only with the suppression of dance did a mind and body split, suc h as is shown in the Phaedo become thinkable. Thinking is no longer in the thumos stethos kradia Â– in short, thinking was no longer integrated with th e physical body as it had been in Homer.
3 the importance of poetry in early Greek paideia is a function of the long period in which writing was not available for cultural purposes amo ng Greek speaking people.4 The time period in which Plato wrote, the fourth ce ntury, was still in process of becoming a Â“literateÂ” culture.5 Though the Greeks had been writing in some form as early as the fourteenth century, the fall of the Mycenaea n civilization resulted in the loss of the script Linear B, leaving the populace illiterate on ce more, if ever they were literate.6 There is no evidence that Linear B was used for pur poses other than keeping inventory of palace goods and it is doubtful that the knowledge of Linear B went beyond the palace scribes. Writing was in use again in the eighth an d seventh centuries, though Linear B had been replaced by the Greek alphabet, a system o f writing that bears no obvious resemblance to Linear B.7 Prior to the invention of the Greek alphabet, ora l composition 4 Of course, societies have long existed and endured without writing systems to record their speech. Speech is present in all human societies; writing is, as Eric Havelock notes, a relatively re cent invention. See Eric A. Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece and Its Cultural Consequences (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982). 5 The problem of defining a literate culture stems f rom the imprecision of the term Â“literate.Â” What does it mean to be literate? It has long been held that the Â‘miracleÂ’ of Greek rationality was p roduced by their alphabetic literacy. Goody and Watt argue d that it was Greek writing that created Â“democracy, rational thought, philosophy and historiographyÂ” (T homas, Literacy 17). But is literacy to be confined to learning letters? The results from an assessment of the Â‘literacyÂ’ of a culture will be inadequate bec ause any definition of literacy is itself arbitrary, Thomas reminds us, citing UNESCOÂ’s 1958 attempt to define and survey world literacy (Thomas, Literacy 3). Because there are degrees of literacy Â– for in stance, being able to read and write at varying levels to signing oneÂ’ s own name to simply Â‘knowing oneÂ’s lettersÂ’ Â– sett ing the boundary between literacy and illiteracy will b e with respect to the literate culture making the distinction. Regarding the progress of Greek liter acy, see Eric A. Havelock, Prologue to Literacy (Cincinnati: University of Cincinnati) 1971, and Ke vin Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984). Literacy is tied to tec hniques; Thomas reports that the form and even the typeface conveys meaning to the content (Thomas, Literacy 75). 6 William V. Harris, Ancient Literacy (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989) i; G. S. Kirk, Â“Oral ity and Sequence,Â” Language and Thought in Early Greek Philosophy, ed. Kevin Robb (The Hegeler Institute: LaSalle, 1983) 89. For discussion of the extent of Mycenaean literacy see T. G. Palaima, "Comments on Mycenaean Literacy," Minos 20-22 (1987): 499-510. 7 Though it is debatable, evidence supports the Gree k alphabet having been adapted from the Phoenician script and not from Aramaic. Comparing the earliest Greek inscription with contemporaneous
4 appears to be the only method available for the pre servation and transmission of Greek myth, customs, rituals, history, and knowledge thro ughout Magna Graecia.8 It is worth noting that the earliest extant instances of Greek alphabetic writing recount sentences expressed in dactylic hexameter verse, the language and verse of Homer.9 Early Greek writing is also found on sepulchral ins criptions and names scrawled onto pottery.10 The uses for writing spread, ranging from public writing to graffiti.11 In the fifth and fourth centuries, writing was used in the courts and to inscribe laws, and the Sophists, Presocratic philosophers and the poets pe rformed the compositions they had written.12 Writing was used as a supplement to oral communic ation, and there is no Phoenician inscriptions shows a greater degree of s imilarity than other possibilities. The meter of p oetic speech probably provided the impetus for the separa tion of vowels and consonants. See Kevin Robb, Â“Poetic Sources of the Greek Alphabets,Â” Communication Arts in the Ancient World ed. Eric A. Havelock and Jackson P. Hershbell (New York: Hastings House, 1978) 23-38, and Eric A. Havelock, Â“The Alphabetization of Homer,Â” Communication Arts in the Ancient World, ed. Eric A. Havelock and Jackson P. Hershbell (New York: Hastings House, 1978) 3-22 8 Thomas, Literacy 62ff; Jesper Svenbro, Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993) 12-27 ; Hershbell 28ff; Eric Havelock, Â‘AlphabetizationÂ’, Preface to Plato (Harvard UP: Cambridge) 1963, The Muse Learns to Write (Yale UP, 1986); Joanne Waugh, Â“Neither Published Nor Perishe d: The Dialogues as Speech, Not Text,Â” The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies, ed. Francisco J. Gonzalez (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefi eld Publishers) 1995; Thomas Cole, The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP) 1991; Bruno Gentili, Poetry and Its Public in Ancient Greece: From Homer to the Fifth Century, trans. Thomas A. Cole, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP) 1988; Deborah Steiner The Tyrant's Writ: Myths and Images of Writing in Ancient Greece (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994); Rosalind Thomas Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989) and Literacy esp. 101 Â– 127; and Harris 1989. For the problems of ascertaining the details of an ancient oral culture; see Charles Segal, Â“Spectator and Listener,Â” The Greeks ed. Jean-Pierre Vernant (Chicago: University of C hicago Press, 1995) 194; and see Niall W. Slater, Â“Literacy and O ld Comedy,Â” Voice Into Text (Leiden: Brill, 1996) 99114, for a discussion of the impact that literacy h ad on Old Comedy. 9 See Robb, Literacy esp. 21-73. Dactylic hexameter verse acted as a m nemonic aid, in place of, or before there were, written texts. That the earl iest alphabetic writing was in dactylic hexameter i mplies the priority of song. 10 Svenbro, Phrasiklea 9. 11 Thomas, Literacy 57-61. 12 Though writing was used in the courts and the law, it is unclear to what extent the oral codes and laws were reflected in the written law; archaic writing was, Thomas speculates, Â“in the service of the
5 evidence that it was intended (initially) as a repl acement. Texts were means as a mnemonic aid, Thomas writes, Â“an aide-mmoire a silent record of a much richer experience.Â”13 Moreover, as ancient Greek writing is scripta continua written without spaces, it can only be made readily intelligible by reading it aloud; vocalization was necessary to establish meaning for the audience. Â“ What is written,Â” Svenbro writes, Â“is incomplete until such time as it is provided with a voice.Â”14 Only with the introduction of word separation did silent reading become intelligi ble.15 Though the poetry of Homer and Hesiod had been written onto scrolls of papyrus at some time, the poetry continued to have an oral and primarily performative dimension.16 In the Archaic and Classical ages, spoken wordÂ” ( Literacy 68-72). See also Thomas, Literacy 128-ff for a discussion of the status of written testimony in the ancient Greek world. The Athenian s had a mistrust of written testimony, Elinor West tells us, when it was not vocally endorsed by eyewitnesse s (Elinor J. M. West, Â“PlatoÂ’s Audiences, or How Plato Replies to the Fifth-Century Intellectual Mis trust of Letters,Â” The Third Way ed. Francisco J. Gonzalez (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 1 995) 48-49). A written document could not be interrogated, asked for clarification; the letters were silent, as in the example of Hippolytus (West 49). See also Rosalind Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athe ns (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989) for a discussion of the AthenianÂ’s mistrust o f sophists in the context of the Athenian mistrust of writing. 13 Thomas, Literacy 119; see also 101-127. As evidence that writing w as used as a device to aid memory, Thomas cites the lists of names of victors or officials; she also discusses officials known as mnemones and the authority they and their memory held over and above writing (Thomas, Literacy 66-71). Reading silently may have been done as early as the fifth century B.C.E., but it was by no means a com mon practice. See Svenbro, Phrasiklea 163-164; cf. M. F. Burnyeat, Â“Postscript on Silent Reading,Â” The Classical Quarterly ns 47.1 (1997): 74-76. 14 Svenbro, Phrasiklea 44-63. 15 See Paul Saenger, Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997) for a detailed explanation of the importance of word separation and the development of silent reading. 16 Havelock suggests that the poems were written down first as a mnemonic aid, much in the same way that rhythm and what he terms the Â‘echo princip leÂ’ were used as mnemonic devices. The poetry was eventually preserved in the manner it should be performed Â– it is Â“conceived as a performance to be heard and seen and memorized but not readÂ” (Alphabetizati on 19). See Gregory Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry, Rev. ed. (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1999).
6 writing did not replace the oral preservation and t ransmission of cultural communication; rather, writing enabled modifications of oral publi c discourse. Indeed, Hesiod tells us of the poetÂ’s roles in arch aic Greek society in the Theogony which is echoed by the description Aeschylus give s of poets in AristophanesÂ’ Frogs .17 Thus was the role of the poets, such as Homer and Hesiod, to educate the Greeks on customs, rituals, history, laws, and mora ls Â– in short, their role in Greek society was enculturation, paideia As Socrates observes in the Republic people Â“Â…praise Homer and say that heÂ’s the poet who educa ted Greece, that itÂ’s worth taking up his works in order to learn how to manage and ed ucate people, and that one should arrange oneÂ’s whole life in accordance with his tea ching Â… Â” (606e), echoing Xenophanes: Â“Since from the beginning all have lear ned according to Homer Â…Â” (DK10).18 Hesiod tells us in the Theogony he sings Â“of all the laws and all the gracious customs of the immortalsÂ” (66-67). To sing of the laws of the divine is to impose normative standards to the listeners. As anthropom orphic beings that are necessarily Â‘betterÂ’ than the Â“shepherds of the wildernessÂ” (61 ), the gods set a standard for behavior in society and the home, in both public and in priv ate interactions. 17 Hesiod, in the Theogony, describes the singing Muses as singing of Â“the laws and all the gracious customs of the immortals,Â” (Hesiod, Theogony, trans. Richard Lattimore (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1959) lines 66-67). In Frogs, Aeschylus informs Dionysus, Euripides, and the audience that Â“Â… the poets, who helped us escap e from the laws of barbaric society. Â‘Twas Orpheus who taught us to reverence life, a religion of myst ical piety; Musaeus who brought us oracular wisdom, and magical methods of healing; And Hesiod told of the tillage of the earth, her opulent beauty revealingÂ… Â” (Aristophanes Frogs The Complete Works of Aristophanes, ed. Moses Hadas (1962 New York: Bantam Books, 1988). 18 Xenophanes, Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments trans. J. H. Lesher (1992 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).
7 Thus the poets were the Â‘masters of truth,Â’ as Marc el Detienne puts it, for poets had the ability to sing truth Â– a talent endowed by the Muses. Note that aletheia which we translate as truth, is the opposite of forgetful ness, leth, and that poetryÂ’s function in Greek culture was to ensure its topic, person, or e vent was not forgotten; poetry was a practice that was Â“seen as transmitting and preserv ing the truth.Â”19 The compositions and epics of Homer, Hesiod and the other poets were aco ustic narratives that helped to maintain the social, political and religious struct ure of Greece.20 The term Â‘poetÂ’, in archaic Greece, encompasses a number of what curren tly might be considered separate roles: philosopher, historian, sage, lawgiver.21 Thus poetry is not something that may be described as merely an aesthetic work; its influent ial role in Greek society, as authority in Greek paideia is evident in the extent of its power in the polis .22 The poets claim to be Â‘masters of truthÂ’ because th ey can trace their authority to the Muses. The claim undergoes a transformation wh ich some scholars have linked to the rise of the polis and the opportunities writing afforded the poets to other traditional forms. DetienneÂ’s analysis of the work of Simonide s of Ceos details the transformation 19 Thomas, Literacy 115. See Nagy 20 The demonstrations that the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed in a style typical of oral compositions and performance was provided by Milman Parry in a series of journal articles, collected b y his son Adam Parry and published as The Making of Homeric Verse That ParryÂ’s critical thesis is true has won almost universal acceptance. There are and dou btless will continue to be debates about the detail s. For further discussion, see Milman Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers o f Milman Parry, ed. Adam Parry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) and Nagy. 21 Performers are excluded from this list as aoidos is the term for singer, or bard, and so is more properly applied to performers. 22 That is not to say that the poetic qualities were unimportant. Rather, artistry enabled the poet to be the educator of men. Svenbro emphasizes the imp ortance of kleos to ancient Greek culture, and the association between voice and kleos To have your name sung by the poets was to achie ve a certain measure of immortality. Thus, one of the reasons t hat poetry was revered is that through it, one coul d share divine characteristics.
8 from the type of poetry of Homer and Hesiod to a po etry disassociated, to a certain extent, from the divine. Simonides treated poetry as a profession, as something to be paid for, rather like a pre-sophist.23 Of course, in the case of Simonides, this was Â‘scandalousÂ’, according to Pindar. But Simonides m arked out a new path for poetry by replacing HomerÂ’s ideal (of agathos ) with Â“the ideal of the Â‘healthy man ( hugis anr ), whose virtue is defined by reference to the Polis ( eids gÂ’ onsipolin dikan ).Â’Â”24 Poets after Simonides were no longer Â‘masters of truth;Â’ by breaking the ties between truth, memory, and the divine, truth began to take on a mo re familiar meaning. ParmenidesÂ’ truth, for instance, claims the status of objective truth.25 The PresocraticsÂ’ use of muthos and logos suggests a more complicated picture than the tradi tional one. The Presocratic philosophers stood Â“poised between literacy and nonliteracyÂ” and so Â“their style of composition is a mediation betwe en ear and eye.Â”26 They, principally Heraclitus, attacked the poets in order to establis h a different genre of disembodied discourse.27 The Presocratics rejected the narrative account o f the world preserved in Homer and Hesiod and aimed at a rational explanatio n of the kosmos Â– in particular, the processes of causation. Rather than rely on Olympi an gods as the cause or origin of the kosmos, they introduced impersonal forces, non-anth ropomorphic notions of the divine 23 Marcel Detienne, The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece trans. Janet Lloyd (New York: Zone Books, 1996) 107. Detienne reminds us that sophist ry, like SimonidesÂ’ poetry, is Â“founded on ambiguit yÂ” (116). 24 Detienne 114. 25 Detienne 133. 26 Eric A. Havelock, Â“The Linguistic Task of the Pres ocratics,Â” Language and Thought in Early Greek Philosophy, ed. Kevin Robb (La Salle: The Hegeler Institute, 19 83) 9. 27 HeraclitusÂ’ work was not intended for oral perform ance.
9 and non-Olympian gods (i.e. the unnamed goddess of Parmenides). Xenophanes is quite explicit in his dismissal of muthos in favor of logos ; for example, he says Â“for all things are from the earth and to the earth all things come in the endÂ” (DK27).28 It is also quite evident that the Presocratics were interested in re vising morality and customs through an injection of rationality. For example, Heraclitus criticizes the manner in which blood crimes are dealt with Â– if one has committed a bloo d crime, he suggests sacrificing animals is not the way to rid oneself of miasmos : Â“They vainly (try to) purify themselves with blood when defiled (with it)! Â– as if one who had stepped into mud sh ould (try to) wash himself off with mud!Â” (DK5)29 Unlike Homer and Hesiod, the Presocratic philosophers were not so concerned with the preserv ation of existing cultural values as to challenge traditional ways of thinking Â– all the wh ile trying to please their audiences with their performances.30 The instructional tenor of their work initiated a s hift from muthos to logos JeanPierre Vernant summarizes the traditional view of t he Presocratics: It is said that in the Milesian school logos was for the first time freed from myth, just as the scales fall from the eyes of a blind ma n; it was not so much a change in intellectual attitude, a mental mutation, as a sing le decisive and definite revolution: the discovery of the mind. It would ac cordingly be futile to seek the origins of rational thought in the past: true thoug ht could have no origin outside itself. It lies outside history Â… This is the mean ing of the Greek Â‘miracleÂ’: in the thought of the Ionian philosophers, a nontemporal r eason was embodied in time. The arrival of logos is thus held to have introduced a radical disconti nuity into history. Philosophy is seen as a traveler without luggage, entering the world 28 Xenophanes DK27. 29 Heraclitus, Heraclitus: Fragments trans. T. M. Robinson, (1987 University of Toront o Press: Toronto, 1991); Richard D. McKirahan, Jr., Philosophy Before Socrates (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994) 13. 30 Havelock, Linguistic 9.
10 without a past, without antecedents, without affili ations; it was an absolute beginning. 31 The Milesians were the first to move away from myth and towards reason, but it is not correct, Vernant stresses, to assume that the Miles ians abandoned muthos entirely to supplant it with logos Rather, the Presocratics mimicked the structure and the details of the myths while removing the Â“dramatic imagery,Â” an d so enhanced and amended what the poets of old had begun.32 Nor can the importance of the performative aspect of poetry be neglected; poetry was something that, unl ike poetry in a fully literate age, was Â“ actually created through a process of collaboration and interaction between artist and public.Â”33 The rationality of the Presocratics was mirrored and, Vernant claims, derivative from changes in the political structure of the polis It was Simonides who first noticed and expounded upon the change in value, tha t Â‘The city teaches the manÂ’ ( polis andra didaskei ).34 Political Aret and Public Discourse What changed was the political and civic space of G reece. In the eighth century, the political structure in Athens changed from the rule of a basileus (king) to the rule of a group of men called the Areopagus. This council he ld power over the people until the 31 Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Thought Among the Greeks, trans. Janet Lloyd with Jeff Fort (1983 Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2006) 371. See also Br uno Snell, The Discovery of Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature (New York: Dover, 1982). 32 Vernant, Myth 402; Vernant, Myth 372ff; see also F. M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Specu lation (New York: Harper & Row, 1957). 33 Gentili 14. 34 Detienne 115.
11 reforms of Solon, himself a poet at well as a lawgi ver, at which time the Areopagus was limited to acting as a judicial body. As Vernant i ndicates, there were affinities between a man like Thales and his contem porary in Athens, Solon, the poet and legislator. Both were included among the Seven Sages, who, in the GreeksÂ’ eyes, embodied the first kind of Sophia to have appeared among men: a wisdom permeated with moral reflection and politica l preoccupations.35 Solon was a noble who freed the peasants from their endless cycle of debt, which often resulted in the debtorÂ’s enslavement. He expressed concern for nobles and commoners alike, and put forth laws that had a decidedly mora l bent. But it was not until the reforms by Cleisthenes, beginning in 508, that Athenian dem ocracy became possible. He reformed SolonÂ’s Boul so that it was no longer based on wealth or privile ge; every male citizen had a role in the polis through participation in CleisthenesÂ’ Assembly.36 It was the polis with its institutional structures that allowed for rational debate, for politk, a discourse that was both political and competitive. 37 Ober writes that what was at stake in public discourse was no small thing: Every major public confrontation was a chance for a public speaker to establish or elaborate upon his own reputation, and to undermine the reputation of his political 35 Vernant, Myth 404. 36 Cleisthenes organized the civic space of the polis, which in turn had a Â‘democratizingÂ’ effect on the political institutions. The reorganization ini tiated by Cleisthenes moved Athens away from the traditions of archaic Greece and towards the democr acy it became in the classical age (Pierre Lvque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Cleisthenes the Athenian: An Essay on the Represent ation of Space and Time in Greek Political Thought, trans. David Ames Curtis (The Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1996) 9ff, 81-97). Isonomia or Â‘equality of menÂ’, was what Cleisthenes called his restructuring of the tribes/political hierarchy and civic spaces. Lvque reminds us tha t isonomia is a concept developed in the context of tyranny and oligarchy; Â“Isonomic Athens is therefor e Athens rid of tyrantsÂ” (21). As evidence, Lvq ue cites the famous passage: Â“In a handle of myrtle shall I carry my sword Like Harmodius and Aristogiton When they killed the tyrant And rendered Athens isonomousÂ” (21). 37 Vernant, Myth 397: reason Â“was truly a product of the city.Â”
12 opponentsÂ… The stakes were high, finally, because major speeches to large audiences were occasions for public deliberation on the core values that underpinned the democratic polity and the relations hip of those values to practices, public and private: how individual Athen ians acted and behaved in institutional contexts and in their everyday lives.38 Public discourse was the basis for Athenian politic al institutions; it also defined and revised truth, Â“assimilating local knowledges into an overarching democratic knowledge.Â”39 Truth was produced in the Assembly and the law co urts, through public forum and debate; in short, truth was assembled und er the hegemony of public discourse. Athenians, Ober says, Â“predicated their decisions o n Â… ideology rather than established doctrine or scientific principles. AthensÂ’ democr acy operated on the basis of opinion, not truth.Â”40 Ober relates that for fifth and fourth century Athenians, it would never have occurred to them that truth and knowledge were anything but political; the political construction of truth was the norm, and accepted by the elite and the demos alike. Vernant likens public discourse to a Â‘political gam eÂ’ Â– and that political game became an Â‘intellectual gameÂ’ for Â“alongside the mass of comm on beliefs that everyone shares without question, a new notion of truth takes shape and is affirmed: open truth, accessible to all, and justified by its own demonstrative forc e.Â”41 Such was the shift from muthos to 38 Josiah Ober, Â“I, Socrates Â… The Performative Audac ity of IsocratesÂ’ Antidosis, .Â” Isocrates and Civic Education, ed. Takis Poulakos and David DePew (Austin: Univer sity of Texas Press, 2004) 21. 39 Josiah Ober, The Athenian Revolution: Essays on Ancient Greek De mocracy and Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996) 154. 40 Ober, Athenian 141. 41 Vernant, Myth 405.
13 logos : truth and rationality take center stage while exp lanations grounded in myth must stand aside.42 Even though there remained economic class distincti ons within the political power structure, as it took wealth to hold the appo inted positions, through the leveling force of the Assembly, power was dependent upon a m anÂ’s ability to deliver convincing, persuasive speeches: Â“Through speech men were effe ctive in assemblies, established their command, and dominated others.Â”43 The importance of oratory to Athenian culture is made clear by adopting OberÂ’s analysis of power in democratic Athens as a Â“discourse paradigm.Â”44 In this paradigm, power is produced through Â“the production of social understandings regarding what is true and what beha viors are right, proper, even conceivable.Â”45 All social interactions are intertwined in the do minant power structure by necessity; if the ideology of Athenian society is c onstructed through discourse, then all social communications accept, or assume, as their b asis that fundamental ideology. The power that oratory held is that through discourse, the social understandings of Athenian society were Â“produced and reproduced Â– or challeng ed and overthrown.Â”46 Power, then, 42 To be perfectly clear, muthos, as a type of discourse, was also a type of logos See From Myth to Reason? Studies in Development of Greek Thought, ed. Richard Buxton (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005). 43 Detienne 105. 44 Ober, Athenian 89. 45 Ober, Athenian 89. 46 Ober, Athenian 90. Gorgias, in his piece Praise of Helen, speaks to the power logos has: Â“She did what she did Â… or because she was taken by forc e, persuaded by words (logoi), or conquered by Love Â… Not even if speech (logos) persuaded and deceived her soul, it is hard to make a defense against thi s charge and free her from blame as follows. Logos i s a powerful masterÂ…Â” (DK8B11, McKirahan 376). See also W. K. C. Guthrie, The Sophists (New York: Cambridge UP, 1971) 42-44.
14 was discourse Â– persuasive public speech.47 It is in terms, Gentili writes, of Â“expertise in public discourse,Â” that Â“the activity of the Â‘wise manÂ’ ( sophos ) is conceived in Greece from the earliest period down to the end of the fif th century.Â”48 The debates, Ober reminds us, waged in public were parallel to Â“debat es among philosophers, by whom I mean all those who claimed the title philosophia for their own intellectual enterprises.Â”49 A Â‘philosopherÂ’ was anyone who claimed such an expe rtise; moreover, if sophos was linked to public discourse then education was aimed at producing experts in public discourse.50 Hence, many sophists focused on improving their s tudentsÂ’ rhetorical abilities, and thus people like Meno and Thrasymach us claim that virtue has more to do with power and control than any of the Â‘cardinalÂ’ v irtues. Comedy was an important a vehicle for political dis course: the comic poets Â“could, indeed were expected to, comment on, and se ek to influence public thinking about matters of major importance.Â”51 There are parallels to the seating arrangements o f the theatre and the seating arrangements of the Boul; Â“the money paid out to citizens to 47 The power of public speech was long recognized. T he importance of dialogue-speech, as Detienne writes, superseded and eventually replaced the prior Â“dominionÂ” of magicoreligious speech and poetry. See Detienne 89-106. 48 Gentili 14. 49 Ober, Isocrates 22. 50 See Joanne B. Waugh, Â“Socrates and the Character of Platonic Dialogue,Â” Who Speaks for Plato? Studies in Platonic Anonymity ed. Gerald A. Press (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 2000) .47. Waugh posits that the expertise Socrates is attempt ing to undermine in the Platonic dialogues is preci sely due to the conception of sophs as expertise in public discourse. 51 Jeffrey Henderson, Â“Demos and the Comic Competitio n,Â” Nothing to Do With Dionysos? ed. John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Pr inceton UP, 1990) 271. Henderson argues that the p oets of Old Comedy were a primary vehicle of intellectua l and political discourse. See also Christian Meie r, The Greek Discovery of Politics trans. David McLintock, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1 990).
15 attend the festival was distributed by the deme and was tied to registration on the deme census lists.Â”52 Paideia in AthensÂ’ Classical Age Despite the fact that in the fifth century the aris tocracy was probably literate, no one seemed to recognize the full potential of this new technology of writing. Thus, the culture remained dependent on performed speech Â– wh ich persisted as the primary vehicle for paideia The educational program of the classical period did not differ dramatically from that of the archaic age; paideia was mostly oral, although in the fifth century boys probably learned their letters around the age of puberty.53 Traditional aristocratic education consisted of two parts: gymn astics and mousik. Aristocratic youth had to be prepared to take part, and compete, in th e religious festivals in Athens, Panhellenic competitions and the military. Archaic paideia and classical education did just that. Most importantly, the youth were to mem orize poetry in order to absorb the values and virtues contained within that poetry. After the boys had been educated in these three categories, they were left to learn the laws from the polis Then, their fifth-century education was complete. The problem with this education was the gap between the time that the boy s finished their education and the age that they were allowed to participate as citizens i n the polis From the ages of fifteen to twenty-one the young men needed instruction in how to be a Athenian citizen, for they had finished their core education by age fifteen bu t were not able to participate as citizens 52 John J. Winkler, Â“The EphebesÂ’ Song,Â” Nothing to Do With Dionysos? ed. John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990) 38 53 Havelock, Literate 8.
16 in the Assembly until age twenty-one. During this time fathers or guardians chose mentors for their sons; this practice became known as sunousia .54 From the attitude and opinions of Anytus in the Meno we can infer that one reason Socrates was put to death was that he was perceived to be interfering with sunousia e.g., Anytus condemns the practice of hiring a sophist for instruction. Impl icit in his condemnation are two key points: that hiring a sophist replaced the need for sunousia, and that he takes Socrates as a sophist (or at least as presenting the same problem s to society as a sophist): Â“It is much rather those among the young who pay their fees who are mad, and even more the relatives who entrust their young to them and most of all the cities who allow them to come in and do not drive out any citizen or strange r who attempts to behave in this mannerÂ” ( Meno 92a-b). Sunousia an association with the Â‘rightÂ’ man that often to ok on a sexual character, filled the years from fifteen to about t wenty-one with instruction on the responsibilities of citizenship and the laws of Ath ens.55 The older man ( erasts) theoretically an accomplished and wise citizen and typically a friend of the family, would educate the young man ( eromenos ) in politik techne the art of being a good and accomplished citizen Â– gaining experience in what i t means to be an expert in public 54 See Robb, Literacy 87. 55 See Kevin Robb, Â“ Asebeia and Sunousia : The Issues Behind the Indictment of Socrates,Â” PlatoÂ’s Dialogues: New Studies and Interpretations, ed. Gerald A. Press (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993) 87. It should be noted that it is a mistake to consider the paideutic practice of sunousia as Â‘homosexualÂ’, Â‘pederastyÂ’, or Â‘pedophiliaÂ’. Halper in writes that Â“sexuality is a cultural productionÂ” and as such, it was accepted as a cultural practice, and d id not have the stigma that accompanies same sex ac ts of today (David M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love (New York, Routledge: 1990) 25). Men, regardless of the ir gender preference of sexual partner, were not considered deviant unless they were unmasculine. T hough, as Robb notes, while it could be a sexual practice, more often than not it was Â“familial, tri bal, and civic, not sexualÂ” ( Asebeia 91); it is also possible that the sexual practice was a result of the cultur al practice.
17 discourse. The youth was to listen, absorb the wis dom of the older man and learn his skills, as well as imitate the older manÂ’s virtues. The origins of sunousia are found in an oral society, and sunousia continues until the last quarter of the fifth centu ry, when texts became more available, popular, and the institution s of the polis began to depend on texts. Until a culture has acquired a critical mas s of literate writers as well as textbooks and schools, most cultural knowledge would still be transmitted orally. AthensÂ’ defeat in the Peloponnesian war had called into question the paideia of the fifth century; specifically, the traditional educational archetype s for making virtuous young men. Thus, many young men Â– and their fathers Â– were turning t o a new class of instructors: the sophists.56 The aret that traditional pedagogy worked to inculcate in y oung men was political excellence ( dikaiosun), and that aret was expressed in the Assembly through the quality, and the success, of their discourse. Developing a talent for rhetoric or oratorical speech was mandatory for public achievem ent as the fundamental outlook of Athenian society was Â“established and constantly re vised in the practice of public debate.Â”57 Sophists billed themselves as professional educat ors who could be hired, at a substantial price, to give instruction in aret (public discourse) or to write speeches. The Sophists furthered the project the Presocratic philosophers had begun, supplanting the divine inspiration of the Muse with persuasion ( peith). The Sophists aimed at educating the mind, and, according to Jaeg er, had two distinct methods for 56 Plato has Socrates say this to Anytus: Â“Do you not agree that [Aristides] was good? Â… He too gave his own son Lysimachus the best Athenian educa tion in matters which are the business of teachers, and do you think he made him a better man than anyo ne else?Â” ( Meno 94a) Though Socrates is speaking in the context of providing Anytus with proof that vir tue cannot be taught, the observation works equally well with regard to the generalization Â– of traditional educational practices. 57 Ober, Athenian 91-92.
18 educating it. The first was to furnish it with enc yclopedic variety of facts Â– the material of knowledge Â– and the second was to give it formal training of various types.58 The two methods had in common that they aimed at teaching p olitical aret by increasing the powers of the mind through some type of training. Increasing political aret meant increasing the capacity one had to influence effect ively and to convince the Assembly and thereby to win debates. Sophists also provided texts or instructional speeches that citizens could memorize to use in the courtroom or the Assembly in order to increase the citizenÂ’s ability for persuasive speaking. Thomas Cole describes how it was that sophistsÂ’ texts were adopted by those citizens will ing to submit themselves to a text:59 The busy sessions of courts and assemblies, and the crowded halls dedicated to Sophistic or eristic debate were an inseparable and characteristic part of Athenian life in the fifth century. The neophyte confronted by choice or necessity with the prospect of taking part in such sessions would be a n eager user of any text that could select and compress what was likely to prove of recurring practical value in the performances of recognized masters and preserve it in isolation from what was less valuable.60 The instruction or demonstration texts of the sophi sts were a pedagogic technique that failed to move much further beyond the imitative pr inciples of traditional pedagogy. As with the exemplar from epic poetry, demonstration t exts did not address the particular situation in which the speaker found himself. The speaker had to realize, without help, how the particular situation might be relevantly si milar and dissimilar to that expressed by the formulae or example. Neither traditional no r sophistic education included training in reasoning, the speaker would not necessarily pos sess the critical reasoning skills 58 Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture: Archaic Greec e: The Mind of Athens, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford UP, 1939) 292-293. 59 The author/reader relationship may be expressed as an erast s/eromenos relationship gone awry, for the reader is being dominated by the writer (Sv enbro, Phrasikleia 189). 60 Cole 79.
19 required to tailor the demonstration text to his si tuation and so the speech that he gave was easily otiose, covering irrelevant topics as we ll as not addressing the appropriate relevant topics.61 While students might learn techniques of oratory from sophists, they did not acquire skills that would allow them to rea son. 61 In On Those Who Compose Written Speeches (or Against the Sophists) Alcidamas berates the sophists as having little ability at speaking and r hetoric, and attests that Â“writing should be practi sed as an ancillary pursuitÂ” because writing may be memorize d and rehearsed, which is in direct conflict with t he extemporaneous speaking that he values. Implicit i n his contempt for those who prefer the written to the oral is contempt for anyone buying speeches Â– such people clearly fall within his ana logy of Â‘athletes of feeble powersÂ’. Alcidamas, On the Sophists trans. LaRue Van Hook, 20 Jan. 1919, Classical We ekly, 10 Aug. 2006 .
20 Chapter Two Platonic Dialogue as Paideia If we view PlatoÂ’s dialogues in their historical an d cultural context, one in which texts are produced to serve the needs of Greek paideia the question that arises is how did PlatoÂ’s dialogues work to educate their audience? Philosophic texts, like other compositions, were written by an author in a partic ular time and place. In order to best understand any text, including philosophy, readers need to understand as much as possible about the cultural context that the work w as composed in, written for, and written about. For Plato more than any other philo sopher, these elements are essential to understanding his philosophy for his philosophy is in dialogue form and the speakers are figures with counterparts from history, with whom h is audience was undoubtedly familiar. PlatoÂ’s works are kindred to the tragedies and come dies of his predecessors for they each have a setting, characters, and, as James Arieti says, Â“conversation in the characterÂ’s own persona without benefit of a narrat or.Â”62 At least, this is the case with some of PlatoÂ’s dialogues, the Â‘lateÂ’ dialogues suc h as the Theaetetus Harold Tarrant believes that Plato initially wrote narrative dialo gues in an effort to capture a typical oral narrative (it is assumed that PlatoÂ’s audiences wou ld be accustomed to this type of 62 James A. Arieti, Interpreting Plato: The Dialogues as Drama (Rowan and Littlefield: 1991) 3.
21 delivery), and then developed the dramatic dialogue modeled after the mimes of Sophron.63 The details that allude to historical events are on ly possible due to the dialogue form. According to Diogenes Laertius, Plato might as well be regarded as the inventor of the dialogue, although Aristotle reports that the i nventor was Alexamenus of Telos ( Poet. I). But Plato was not the first to write dialogue; he was preceded by Aeschines and Aristippus.64 Nor was Plato the only one to write Socratic dialogues; in the Poetics Aristotle tells us about a type of imitation that h as no name and does not fit into the standard conventions of what is called poetry; Sokratikoi logoi are among the representatives of this category.65 Though there is evidence that points to dialogue as an established literary form, it is one among several; Plato had no shortage of choices for literary styles. 66 He could have mimicked the tragic, comic, or epic poets with their use of rhythm and meter; certainly, Plato demonstrates in the Phaedrus Symposium and the Republic that he does indeed have the skill requisite to cra ft (good) poetry proper (tragedy and comedy). Plato also demonstrates in t he Protagoras, Gorgias, and Symposium that he possesses the skill to write prose speeche s like those of the Sophists. 63 Harold Tarrant, Â“Orality and PlatoÂ’s Narrative Dia logues,Â” Voice Into Text: Orality and Literacy in Ancient Greece ed. Ian Worthington (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996) 1 29-131. 64 Diskin Clay, Â“The Origins of the Socratic Dialogue ,Â” The Socratic Movement, ed. Paul Vander Waerdt (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994) 28. 65 Clay states that Â“Aristotle, who refers to the n along with the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus as a recognizable yet nameles s genre of Greek Â‘poetryÂ’.Â” Aristotle writes in Poetics 1 1447b10: Â“ rr n Â” Clay proposes that Â“The literary form may have b een suggested to Plato in part by other established literary forms, like t he drama or the mimes of SophronÂ” (55). 66 Besides Aeschines and Aristippus (and Plato and Xe nophon), Diogenes Laertius also indicates that Antisthenes, Phaedo and Euclides also wrote So cratic dialogues (Charles H. Kahn, Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use if a Liter ary Form (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996) 9).
22 That Plato chose dialogue over the other literary f orms of his day suggests that there is something peculiar to the dialogue form that best e xpresses his philosophy Â– or that he is able to reach the wider audience beyond the Academy The Platonic dialogues appear remarkably similar to Attic drama with regard to PlatoÂ’s choice of characters. Plato uses historica lly significant figures as SocratesÂ’ interlocutors throughout the dialogues. Like the c omedies of Aristophanes, Â“the personae of the dialogues are people of historical reality, the topics are contemporary, and the discussions contain commentaries, parodies, and critiques.Â”67 Indeed, Socrates himself has historical significance (though unquest ionably not as much significance as he attained post-Plato).68 The reason for Plato invoking historical figures, Mark Gifford contends, is that it is necessary for the use of a literary technique that draws on the audienceÂ’s common knowledge.69 67 Arieti 3. 68 Andokides who was also on trial for impiety in 400 arguably has (almost) as interesting a story as Socrates, but lacks the historical significance that Socrates gains by Â‘starringÂ’ in PlatoÂ’s dialog ues. See Josiah Ober and Barry Strauss, Â“Drama, Rhetoric, Di scourse,Â” Nothing to do with Dionysos? ed. John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990). 69 Robb remarks that the dialogues are the best sourc e of information available to us for everyday life in fourth century Athens. Historians have observed that, by reason of what is found in such details in the pages of PlatoÂ’s dialogues, we know more about daily life Â– peopleÂ’s thoughts, activities, concerns, conversations, even their humor Â– for his century, the fourth, tha n in any other in antiquity, whether in Greece or elsewhere. That is true. No comparable secular po rtrait comes to us from any other century or culture, nor would one have been possible without a developed alphabetic literacy. PlatoÂ’s evidence is second to none. In comparison to what he tells us of Hellenic life in the late fifth century and at the turn of the fourth, any earlier century is for us a veritable Dark AgeÂ…. they were written in the first half of the fourth centur y, and the issues that they address and argue are still those of PlatoÂ’s own day, a point often made by Werner Jaeger, Robert Brumbaugh, Eric Havelock, and many others ( Literacy 160). The dialogues are full of asides, quips, jokes, and comments beyond SocratesÂ’ philosophical discussion s, as well as the details Robb addresses. For instance, many of the dialogues have proems replete with this type of cultural information. The beginning of the Protagoras gives a great deal of information about the sophistsÂ’ practice, how the Athenians viewed the so phists, the threat the sophists presented to the At henians Â– even the difficulty in distinguishing Socrates fr om a sophist.
23 Dramatic irony, understood generically, is made pos sible by a discrepancy between a characterÂ’s view of himself and his circu mstances, on the one hand, and the reality of his situation, on the other Â– a discrepancy which the dramatist deliberately produces with the intention that his a udience appreciate this disparity between appearance and fact.70 Gifford argues that Plato specifically uses a speci fic type of dramatic irony to convey his philosophical message: tragic irony. Tragic irony was a staple of fifth-century tragedies; for example, SophoclesÂ’ Oedipus Rex employs the technique in that it assumes the audience already knows what happens in the end; the audience is presumed to be Â‘omniscientÂ’.71 The audience watches Oedipus make his mistakes th at ultimately lead to his fate; they see the qualities of his character p rove to be the same qualities that are his undoing. It is only through their full knowledge o f the Oedipus myth that the tragedy gains a secondary character: the audience is able t o reflect on OedipusÂ’ choices and the qualities of his character while the action of the play unfolds, increasing the emotional impact of the drama and providing a secondary messa ge about self-discovery. When the chorus sings after OedipusÂ’ lineage is revealed, al ready the audience has been aware of the transitory and illusory nature of human happine ss throughout the entire work: Show me the man whose happiness was anything more than illusion Followed by disillusion. Here is the instance, here is Oedipus, here is the reason Why I will call no mortal creature happy.72 Like the mythological figures of fifth-century dram a, PlatoÂ’s charactersÂ’ utterances often resonate with the life of the historical person, th at is, the life of the person after the 70 Mark Gifford, Â“Drama and Dialectic in Republic I,Â” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, XX Summer 2001, 37. 71 Gifford 42. 72 Sophocles, Â“King Oedipus,Â” The Theban Plays, trans. E. F. Watling (Baltimore: 1957) 59.
24 dramatic date of the dialogue. PlatoÂ’s dialogues a re composed with the assumption that his audience knows the main events of the lives of his fifth-century characters. Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, Nicias, Cephalus Â– these are all names and lives that would be familiar to every person in fourth-century Athens. Nails reminds her readers that Plato did not invent Athenians with names, demes, a nd kin; he wrote about real people Â– some of them active and still living in At hens Â– people with reputations, families, neighbors and political affiliations, peo ple who show up elsewhere in the existing historical record: lampooned in comedies, called as witnesses, elected to office, being sold, marrying, buying property, trav eling, dying. SocratesÂ’ society was not only a matter of institutions and ideologie s, but a matter of actual people, individuals within a nexus of familial, social, and political relationships, without whom PlatoÂ’s dialogues would be denatured.73 The majority of people in the dialogues exist in ot her historical records as well as the dialogues, providing Â‘empiricalÂ’ evidence that Plat o did not simply invent characters. The fact that he used real persons should not, howe ver, lead to the conclusion that the event of the dialogue itself Â– that is, the interch anges between Socrates and his interlocutors Â– actually took place. There is noth ing about the dialogues that necessitates a conclusion that Plato is reporting history.74 Plato is writing Â– and speaking Â– philosophy using historical persons in a literary f orm.75 While the interlocutors and 73 Debra Nails, The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and O ther Socratics (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002) xxxvii-xxxviii. 74 Charles Kahn presents a solid argument for rejecti ng the view that the dialogues report the life of the historical Socrates. Instead, Kahn reasons that scholars ought to treat the dialogues as histo rical fiction. That PlatoÂ’s Socrates is identical with t he historical figure, or that the dialogues are rec ords of Socratic conversations, is easily seen as problemat ic. Many dialogues, including the Parmenides, the Laches, Charmides, Protagoras, and Symposium carry a dramatic date from before Plato was born or when he was a young child (Charles H. Kahn, Â“PlatoÂ’s Met hodology in the Laches, Â” Revue-Internationale de Philosophie 40 (1986): 9). 75 We do not, for instance, assume that Shakespeare i s writing as a historian, or that he witnessed, recorded, or reported the exact events in his histo rical cycles. One cannot learn anything of the particularities of the events and characters in Sha kespeareÂ’s history cycles, for he significantly alt ers the
25 Socrates Â– the audience in the dialogue Â– share a certain perspective and thi s is reflected in their speech and their actions, the audience of the dialogue has the advantage of full historical knowledge and so will, more often than n ot, find the charactersÂ’ perspectives pathetic, tragic, and comic. The last lines of the Charmides, for instance, become sinister in their allusion to CharmidesÂ’ future installment as one of the Thirty Tyrants:76 We are not conspiring, said Charmides. We have con spired already. And you are about to use violence, without even giv ing me a hearing in court? Yes, I shall use violence, he replied, since [Criti as] orders me, and therefore you had better consider what you will do (176c-d). This explicitly shows a darker side to the youth, o ne that is prophesied by Socrates and hinted at in CharmidesÂ’ earlier exchanges with Crit ias.77 One particular way in which Plato employs dramatic irony is to draw attention t o the Â‘epistemic hubris Â’ of an interlocutor.78 Ion, a rhapsode, declares that he is an expert in Homeric poetry, making details for his own purposes. What can be learned from the plays are the generalities Â– t he names of the places and people, a general flow of events, the ma nner in which people of that time period (or ShakespeareÂ’s time period) interacted, their values Similarly, by understanding the accuracy of the historical content, we may gain insight into what P lato is doing in the dialogue. Because the audienc e of PlatoÂ’s time would have been familiar with the hist ory and with the historical events and personages, they would have detected discrepancies and recognized th e discrepancy as important to the overall message o f the dialogue. 76 Critias and Charmides are notable, of course, both as PlatoÂ’s cousin and uncle, respectively, and as members of the Thirty Tyrants. Thirty Tyrants, a group of men that were installed by Sparta after the Peloponnesian War, held an iron grip on Athens for less than a year before the Athenian democrats returned and overthrew and executed them. In the s hort time that the Thirty were in power, they terro rized the population of Athens by executing, often withou t trial, anyone they pleased (though generally democrats). Altogether, it is estimated that the T hirty had several hundred Athenians executed. Socr ates tells us in Apology 32c-d that he was instructed to bring a man to face such an execution. Upon hearing the orders, Socrates went home rather than commit the w rong. He attributes his own escape from execution to the fact that the Thirty were overthrown soon there after. 77 See SocratesÂ’ prophecy at Charmides 175d-e Â“But for your sake, Charmides, I am very so rry Â– that you, having such beauty and wisdom and tempera nce of the soul, should have no profit nor good in life from your wisdom and temperance.Â” See also 162c-d. There, Socrates reports that Charmides was all bu t outright taunting Critias, and foreshadows the late r violence in which both men participate. 78 GiffordÂ’s term, 38. Gifford provides an argument for PlatoÂ’s use of dramatic irony both in the Laches and Republic I.
26 the outrageous claim that he deserves Â“to be crowne d with a wreath of fold by the HomeridaeÂ” (530e). Socrates proceeds to reduce Ion Â’s claim to absurdity, for by claiming expertise it turns out that when Ion claim s he is the most able rhapsode, Ion is claiming to be the most able general as well (541ad). That the claim is preposterous is clear to the reader, as is IonÂ’s hubris ; Ion, however, maintains that it is the case Â– due to political and military practices, Athens would not accept him as a general, and so the rhapsode persists in his epistemic hubris to the very end of the dialogue and most likely for the rest of his life. But the historical signi ficance of the characters performs a task separate from that of generating irony; they are ch osen because, as Gifford writes, Â… rather than leaving it to the audience to infer t he value of a characterÂ’s life from the philosophical deficiencies in his action-g uiding principles (proof n), Plato could set directly and vividly before the min ds of his readers the practical implications which certain mistake ethical beliefs can and perhaps actually did have for the quality of a personÂ’s life (proof ).79 The significance of the characters and the familiar ity a fourth century audience would have of their fates provides a didactic lesson as w ell. While the dramatic irony at work in Attic tragedy requires, in many cases, a reversal a nd a discovery, but a reversal of the sort found in Attic tragedy is not clear in the dialogue s; the reversals of the dialogues rely completely on the knowledge their audience members possess. 80 Platonic discoveries are more explicit. Jill Gordon finds three types o f discovery in the dialogues: Â“(1) an interlocutorÂ’s discovery of his own identity; (2) t he readerÂ’s discovery of an interlocutorÂ’s 79 Gifford 47. 80 Aristotle defines a reversal as Â“the change of the kind described from one state of things within the play to its oppositeÂ” and a discovery as Â“a cha nge from ignorance to knowledge, and thus to either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil fortuneÂ” ( Poetics XI.11 1452a).
27 identity; and (3) the readerÂ’s discovery of her own identity.Â”81 Theaetetus is an example of the first type of discovery and the above exampl e of IonÂ’s epistemic hubris may be recast as the second type of discovery. 82 The third type of discovery, the self-discovery of the audience member, is the undocumented Â– yet p revalent Â– discovery of the listener or reader. I say it is prevalent, obviously so, fo r the dialogues have inspired listeners and readers, for over two millennia, to examine themsel ves, and maybe even examine others. Dialogue and Dialectic Though PlatoÂ’s dialogues share features with drama and sophistry, the dialectic Plato portrays is meant to be different from the di alectic used by the sophists and dramatized by the poets, as well as the dialectic o f common discourse. That difference is spelled out in Republic VI and the Phaedo the foundation of which is the method of hypothesis. In the Phaedo Socrates imparts that, due to the failure of othe rs, he was forced to develop a method that he could use to exp lain causation. Lapsing into characteristic metaphor, Socrates explains that rat her than burn out his eyes by staring directly into the sun, he would study it through re flection in water or other surfaces [hypotheses] (99d). The metaphor of the sun is a natural way for Plato to exemplify, using a particular, the abstract concept of knowled ge.83 81 Jill Gordon, Turning Toward Philosophy (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999) 82. 82 Theaetetus begins from a position of Socratic igno rance/humility and thus is not a reversaldiscovery, though it still fits under the umbrella of GordonÂ’s definition. Laches, on the other hand, begins the dialogue from the standpoint of believing he kn ows and ends the dialogue realizing his ignorance, thus making both a reversal and a discovery. 83 Bruno Snell traces the link between sight and know ledge to archaic Greece and, he postulates, it arose naturally through the Greek language. As far as [Homer] is concerned, ideas are conveyed through the noos a mental organ which in turn is analogous to the eye; consequently Â‘to know Â’ is e dvai which is related to dev Â‘to seeÂ’, and in fact originally means Â‘to have seenÂ’. The e ye, it appears, serves as HomerÂ’s model for the
28 In the Phaedo Socrates says that Â“I decided that I must have re course to theories, and use them in trying to discover the truth about thingsÂ” (99e). This method, the method of hypothesis, does not approach directly the topic of discussion but rather approaches it obliquely through things we say ( logoi ).84 In the Republic Socrates informs Glaucon and the rest of his audience: By the other subsection of the intelligible, I mean that which reason itself grasps by the power of dialectic. It does not consider th ese hypotheses as first principles but truly as hypotheses Â– stepping stones to take o ff from, enabling it to reach the unhypothetical first principle of everything. Havi ng grasped this principle, it reverses itself and, keeping hold of what follows f rom it, comes down to a conclusion without making use of anything visible a t all, but only of forms themselves, moving from forms to forms, and ending in forms (511b). Socrates does this to distinguish dialectic from th e sciences that accept hypotheses as first principles, like geometry and mathematics must do. Mathematical objects are not really understood because the discipline accepts hypotheses as first principles. As such, the discipline does not know its subject in the same way philosophy does; philo sophy uses hypotheses as tools in order to see, or know, the o bject itself. The mathematical sciences absorption of experiences. From this point of view the intensive coincides with the extensive: he who has seen much sufficiently often possesses inte nsive knowledge (18). Homer, of course, was influential in the formation of Western philosophy as Â‘hisÂ’ works had a profound effect on the evolution of the Greek language. The link of noos to the eye created an occular metaphor that would form the foundation of Â“Western epistemologic al vocabulary: eidos, eidetic, idea, ideation, intuition, theory, theorize and the whole cluster of more directly Â‘opticalÂ’ expressions such as reflect, speculate, focus, view, inspect, introspect, insight, outlook, perspective etc.Â” (James M. Edie, Â“Expression and Metaphor,Â” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 23.4 (1963) 552). See also Snell, especially 1-22 and 226-245. In the Enlightenment, the commitments of ocular epistemic metaphors expanded to include a disembodied objectivity, forming the basis of what John Dewey termed the Â‘spectator theory of knowledge.Â’ Vision, as our primary metaphor for kn owledge, encourages and promotes the perceived separation of knower from object, as well as a part icular conception of objectivity. Dewey stresses t hat theories of knowledge are Â“modeled after what was s upposed to take place in the act of visionÂ” (John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929 New York: Capricorn Books, 1960) 23). 84 Â“ rnnr !" nr rr r "rn"r !r!rnn!# r$ r rrn" Â” ( Phaedo 100a).
29 can Â‘knowÂ’ their subjects, but they apprehend witho ut understanding, without discourse ( logos ).85 It is discourse that renders knowledge transparen t and reveals truth.86 PlatoÂ’s thought, however, is greatly influenced by the para digm of mathematics. Mathematics is placed after philosophy on the RepublicÂ’s divided line precisely because it is a practice that sees a stable truth, a truth that cannot be co ntroverted by any speech ( logos ), unlike truth for the sophists. For the sophists, masters of dissoi logoi any truth is controvertible; for every argument there is a counter argument. Since sophistsÂ’ texts did contain dialectical dialo gue, distinguishing the sophistsÂ’ writing from PlatoÂ’s writing was quite difficult fo r the average Athenian. R. B. Rutherford explains that the Â“antithetical and anta gonistic forms developed by the sophists, and more particularly the use of mythical dialogue by Hippias and Prodicus for moral instructionÂ” shared elements of PlatoÂ’s fullblown dialectical discourse.87 As Plato presents in both the Meno and the Apology separating the practice of sophistry from the type of discourse that the Platonic Socrates practi ced was no easy task for Athenians. Plato indicates through the character of Anytus tha t the conservative elements of Athenian society felt threatened by the practices o f the sophists because they interrupted the traditional education ( paideia ) of Athens. The historical Anytus is both one of SocratesÂ’ accusers and one of the most important of the democratic politicians that returned at the end of the reign of the Thirty Tyra nts. He was the son of a wealthy tanner and, although not an aristocrat, was still able to receive a traditional education. Because 85 Samuel Scolinov, PlatoÂ’s Metaphysics of Education (London: Routledge, 1988) 87. 86 Scolnicov 88. 87 R. B. Rutherford, The Art of Plato : Ten Essays in Platonic Interpretation (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995) 11.
30 of his political importance, Anytus was an influent ial man that many Athenian citizens, including some aristocrats, would both respect and listen to; thus, his views on sophistry and education are important to SocratesÂ’ trial. In Meno Anytus finds no difference between the practice of Socrates and that of a soph ist. It is clear that Anytus harbors an intense dislike for the practices of the sophists; when Socrates postulates that a sophist is a person capable of teaching virtue, Anytus respond s with extreme antagonism. Sophists Â“clearly cause the ruin and corruption of their fol lowersÂ” and, he claims, they Â“manifest ruin and corruption of anyone who comes into contac t with themÂ” ( Meno 91c). Those that are willing to pay fees to the sophists Â“are m ad,Â” he says, and implies that Socrates is in fact a sophist at 92b: Â“Worst of all are the cit ies who allow them in, or donÂ’t expel them, whether it be a foreigner or one of themselve s who tries that sort of game,Â” finishing with a mild and, for PlatoÂ’s audience, po rtentous threat to Socrates at 94e, warning him Â“to be carefulÂ” (91c, 92a-b). Guthrie writes that during SocratesÂ’ lifetime, the Sophists were all foreigners and if this is the case, AnytusÂ’ statement is strange unless he is accusing Socrates, Â“one of themselves,Â” of pr acticing sophistry.88 In this brief exchange, Plato depicts Anytus as antagonistic both towards sophists and Socrates and we can infer from historical and textual evidence t hat Anytus truly considered Socrates to be a sophist. In the Apology Socrates begins by claiming that his accusers mis represent him by depicting him as an orator, for, he says, Â“I have not the slightest skill as a speaker Â– unless, of course, by a skillful speaker they mea n one who speaks the truthÂ” ( Apol 17b). It does not seem to be the case that Socrate sÂ’ accusers intend Â‘skillful speakerÂ’ to mean Â‘one who speaks the truthÂ’ for the prosecutors do not desist from bringing charges 88 Guthrie, Sophists 40.
31 meant for sophists against Socrates (17b). Plato h as implicitly criticized the profession of orators Â– to be an orator does not necessarily mean to speak the truth. The irony of course lies in the text Â– that PlatoÂ’s Socrates was indeed a skillful, or effective, speaker. Within the first few lines of the Apology Plato establishes that there is a difference between what Socrates does and what sophists do Â– m oreover, Plato lets us know that what Socrates does is truthful, affixing a normativ e element to both practices. The Apology sets PlatoÂ’s practice apart from sophistry and poe try as well as competing definitions of Â‘philosophy,Â’ IsocratesÂ’ c onception of philosophy being a primary example. Isocrates, PlatoÂ’s contemporary, wrote eulogies as advertisements for his school of rhetoric and it is likely that, Ariet i claims, Plato was in competition with Isocrates for students for his Academy. 89 For IsocratesÂ’ part, Antidosis incorporates PlatoÂ’s Socrates in order to assail PlatoÂ’s concept ion of philosophy and the philosopher, using the character as a foil to promote and defend his own idea of philosophy.90 Ober relays that Antidosis is also a discursive form that seeks to demonstrate alike to Â‘those who are wiseÂ’ and Â‘those who are ignorantÂ’ why it is that Isocrat ean rhetoric is the most suitable vehicle for achieving personal integrity and the re newed political order that could Â… replace the currently messy business of democrati c public life.91 89 Arieti 7. 90 Nightingale adds that Isocrates is clearly address ing the definition of philosophy found in the Gorgias Republic and Theaetetus (Andrea Nightingale, Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995) 29). For a discuss ion of the Â‘subversive misperformanceÂ’ of PlatoÂ’s Socrates by Isocrates, see Ober, Isocrates In Excitable Speech Judith Butler discusses a form of resistance, Â‘subversive misperformance,Â’ wherein pe ople misperform a conventionalized speech or social custom, thus resisting oppressive social institutio ns (when the conventional performance reinforces behaviors or social standards). See Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997). 91 Ober, Isocrates 23.
32 The content of SocratesÂ’ apologia works to establish a definition of philosophy by comparing and contrasting it with sophistry by mean s of a defense against charges of sophistry ( Apol. 19b). When Plato has Socrates defend himself again st the charge of being a sophist, Plato informs us what his idea of philosophy is not Of course there is no reason for the prosecutors or the audience to reali ze that SocratesÂ’ practice differed from that of a sophist until SocratesÂ’ defense, just as philosophy itself has no technical definition until Plato assigns one.92 The ancient Greeks did not consider wisdom to be a gift from the gods or a natural capacity, but somet hing that one must strive to attain. Prior to Plato, to be a philosopher, or to engage i n philosophy, was simply to engage in Â– to value Â– the pursuit of wisdom. Â‘PhilosophyÂ’ mean t only the attempt to acquire wisdom, or to cultivate oneÂ’s intellect.93 Plato establishes the boundaries of the genre Â‘ph ilosophyÂ’ by setting out what is not philosophy Â– philosophy is not sophistry, and philo sophy is not poetry Â– whether tragic, comic, or epic. Through common discourse, which was informed by the dialogues of Plato and the speeches by Isocrates (and Alcidamas), parodies by Aristophanes and the other 92 Nightingale argues that there was no technical def inition for philosophia until, in the fourth century, Plato, Isocrates, Xenophon, and others too k it upon themselves to create a specialized meanin g for the term. Philosophoi were the intellectuals of the day, certainly not i n the way that we think of philosophers today. It was a term that applied to a great deal of professions: Â“poets, prophets, doct ors, statesmen, astronomers, scientists, historians, inv entors, and various kinds of artisansÂ” (Andrea Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth in Ancient Greece 29 ). For further discussion on the rivalry between P lato and Isocrates, see Nightingale, Genres 13-59 and Walker 29ff; for a statement of Isocrates Â’ position on philosophy, see Ober, Isocrates. Cole and Gentili situate the debate in the political discourse of th e day. It is appropriate to include the performance of plays as well, since the performances were used to influe nce the citizens. Attending the theatre was linked to oneÂ’s citizenship, as tickets were distributed to c itizens by the political council and, since CleisthenesÂ’ time, the theatrical space was arranged just as the poli tical space was arranged (John J. Winkler and Froma I. Ze itlin, Â“Introduction,Â” Nothing to Do With Dionysos? Athenian Drama in its Social Context (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990) 4). See also Havel ock, Preface 276311. 93 Nightingale, Genres 1-12.
33 Sokratikoi Logoi philosophy acquired meaning as a way of living, e ducating and conversing.94 Philosophy is a certain type of discourse, dialec tic, which is defined against the type of discourse of the sophists and t he poets. The form of the dialogues demonstrates the definition of philosophy in a Â‘pos itiveÂ’ fashion by showing Socrates practicing the art of dialectic. While the form of PlatoÂ’s dialogues give the definition of philosophy in a positive sense, the content of his dialogues focus, for the most part, upon a negative method for defining of philosophy, that is, defining it through what it is not If Plato had chosen to write philosophical treatises r ather than dialogues, the tension between positive demonstration and negative content would not be possible. It is easy to see why the practice of philosophy as conducted by Socrates was not received well by the conservative elements of the A thenian society. Yet it is just as easy to see, for a contemporary audience, how SocratesÂ’ practice of philosophy differs from that of the sophists. His method is aimed at disco vering truth through dialectic, often using the hypothetical method; philosophy is a dialectical process Concepts, and understanding of concepts, occur through dialectic. A dialectical method does not aim to achieve an answer or a solution as a sophistÂ’s spee ch aims to do; philosophy is not a rhetorical tactic used to Â‘winÂ’ an argument. The r esult of dialectical discourse is rarely an answer to an argument, though dialectic is truth-se arching, aimed at achieving 94 Thesleff disagrees, thinking it obvious that Â“no c oherent Platonic philosophy did ever reach the general publicÂ” (Holger Thesleff, Â“Looking for Clue s: An Interpretation of some Literary Aspects of Pl ato's TwoLevel Model,Â” PlatoÂ’s Dialogues: New Studies and Interpretations ed. Gerald A. Press (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield, 1993) 39). He feels that othe r works of that time (for example, of Isocrates and Xenophon) do not support the conclusion that PlatoÂ’ s dialogues were available to the public. He does, however, agree with Konrad Gaiser that Plato did de liver the pubic lecture %&" Thesleff accompanies his argument with the relevant passages from the Republic, Phaedrus, and the Seventh Letter taking their meaning to be against publishing philosophy (i.e. delivering philosophy, in any for m, to the public). The lecture Â‘On the GoodÂ’ was meant to Â“s hock and mock the AtheniansÂ” and to make clear that publishing philosophy is a mistake: the public cann ot handle it ( Looking 39).
34 understanding while producing an account for the be liefs that have passed the test of consistency. Philosophy and Midwifery The midwife metaphors present in the Symposium and the Theaetetus suggest that philosophy is a method for giving birth to ideas, o r concepts, and testing the ideas and the person. Philosophy is a method that is distinct fr om the persuasion and rhetoric of the Sophists. It aims at knowledge, whereas sophistry stops at opinion. Outwardly, the two disciplines may appear to mimic each other as some sophistsÂ’ texts used dialectic and both are pedagogical practices. It is perhaps the c ase that only a careful observer or active participant would have been able to distinguish bet ween the two. SocratesÂ’ elenchus forces the interlocutor to examine his own set of b eliefs and assumptions about the subject matter, which, in most cases, is ethics. T his is protreptic, propedeutic; now Socrates is able to engage in genuine dialegsthai.95 The interlocutor or acute observer typically realizes that they are not being told what to believe or what to think, as happens in the case of sophistry, and that if they stopped to consider, there is no appeal to emotions as there is with sophistry and tragic, com ic, and epic poetry. Socrates does not ask irrelevant questions of his interlocutors. Within the Platonic corpus we find Socrates asking about the n ature of temperance, courage, friendship, justice, and implied, if not stated, in each inquiry are the ground for the possibility of teaching each virtue. Socrates inqu ires about the merits or disadvantages of poetry, sophistry and writing as a means by which t o acquire virtue or knowledge, which will amount to the same thing. PlatoÂ’s inquiry, in the Theaetetus, into the nature of 95 Dialegesthai is a Â“talking things throughÂ” or as conversation.
35 knowledge is not a separate, compartmentalized proj ect but rather a question that arises naturally from his primary inquiry into how to impr ove the characters of the future citizens (leaders) of Athens. To tackle that proje ct, he must ask about the nature of virtue, not only enumerating the virtues but inquir ing into the essence of each virtue; above all he must consider a method for educating m en to be virtuous and in the process evaluate current methods of teaching arte ; and finally, knowledge comes into play when discussing the educational aspect of his project. The art of midwifery Â– philosophy, truth-searching Â– is a metaphor about the task of d ialectic. In Theaetetus (148e-151d) and Symposium (206b) Socrates likens himself to a midwife, sayin g that he helps others give birth to ideas Â– helping men give birth to ideas as a midwife helps women give birth to children. Socrates describes himself as a midwi fe, because, he explains, he helps othersÂ’ minds give birth to Â“something true and gen uineÂ” ( Thea. 150c). SocratesÂ’ midwifery delivers the beliefs of his interlocutor and then examines the belief to determine if it is a viable belief, or if it is a Â“ wind-eggÂ” (150a-b). This metaphor is analogous to the art of dialectic and the method of hypothesis; testing a person or a hypothesis for consistency and eventually leading i n the direction of an ultimate, uncontestable hypothesis Â– but never reaching that hypothesis ( Phaedo 101c-e). Once a person gives birth to an idea, that idea must be ex amined through discourse to determine its merit Â– before it can take root in the soul. I f a Â‘badÂ’ idea lives in the soul, it can be difficult to tear out at a later point in time. Id eas link together to form conceptual frameworks and Â‘lifeworldsÂ’ and so attempting to co rrect an idea can involve revising an entire conceptual framework Â– a difficult and often traumatic process. SocratesÂ’ dialectic has an affect on the interlocutor; in the aporetic dialogues, Plato gives us the image of the
36 angry or the livid interlocutor time and again. Th eaetetus is a notable exception, and this is due, in part, to his training as a mathematician He is already at a level of thinking where conversation is possible. Philosophical conv ersation is active in transforming the interlocutor, revealing their true (historical) cha racter and giving the audience reasons for the fates the characters will suffer. Philosophic discourse is distinct from all other types of conversation, as Socrates chides himself and The aetetus: We seem to be adopting the methods of professional conversationalists: weÂ’ve made an agreement aimed at getting words to agree c onsistently; and we feel complacent now that we have defeated this theory by the use of a method of this kind. We profess to be philosophers, not champion conversationalistsÂ… ( Thea. 164c).96 Philosophic discussion moves beyond superficial con versation, which makes the words agree but not necessarily the concepts .97 PlatoÂ’s complaint, here, is not limited to sophists but to anyone else that professes to condu ct the activity of philosophy. While differences are indeed espoused in argumentat ion, style of discussion, and context of the interactions between Socrates and hi s interlocutors, it is important to realize as well the positive demonstration of that difference in the structure of the dialogue itself. It is not only the intertextual Â‘ playÂ’ that establishes boundaries between philosophy and other disciplines but that the dialo gues are depicting embodied speakers. The form of dialogue constructs PlatoÂ’s conception of philosophy as it supports and provides a vehicle for the intertextual discursive oppositions required the Â‘negativeÂ’ definition. Poetry is memorized and repeated with the intention of preserving the exact 96 Â‘Champion conversationalistsÂ’ might refer to any f orm of public discourse at the time, for all public discourse was competitive (Thomas, Literacy 109). 97 But as P. Christopher Smith observes, if Gadamer i s right then this distinction will not hold up for Plato.
37 meaning as carefully as possible. Sophists give sp ecious speeches to amaze and persuade or to teach others how to do this; they also write speeches that will enhance the speakerÂ’s power. It is PlatoÂ’s unique dialectical conversat ion that forms the primary difference between philosophy and other practices. Concepts, and understanding of concepts, occur through dialectic as opposed to rhetoric, wherein c oncepts are given as stable, if not static, propositions from a persuasive speaker.98 As Plato is addressing the genres of discursive practices that make claim to producing a certain type of wisdom, Plato is concerned with the knowledge that a person may walk away with from each practice.99 PlatoÂ’s dialectical method of instruction, while a universally applicable method, is in practice particular to both the questioner and to t he interlocutors or respondents. The success or failure of this method to achieve its di dactic apex of understanding also depends on the particularities of the respondents. What is shown in PlatoÂ’s dialogues is that we understand concepts through dialectic with ourselves and each other Â– and in the aporetic dialogues this is shown negatively, in a f ailure to achieve knowledge of a propositional definition of a concept. The failure shows only that language and statements are not enough Â– expressions and lists add nothing to our true no tions. Sophistry, on the other hand, is devoted to apparen t propositional definitions that cannot yet be trusted for as Socrates relates to Theaetetu s, orators and lawyers are Â“men who use their skill to produce conviction, not be instructi on, but by making people believe 98 In the case of Isocrates, who strove to implement his own Â‘philosophicÂ’ enterprise, Ober says that IsocratesÂ’ rhetoric could never be reconciled with nor stand up to PlatoÂ’s idea of philosophy sin ce Â“For the Academy, rhetoric was a branch of Sophism and a s such was inevitably foreign to philosophy properÂ” ( Isocrates 26). 99 All knowledge Â– or opinion Â– is, as Socrates obser ves in the Protagoras taken directly into the soul: Â“you cannot carry teachings away in a separat e container. You put down your money and take the teaching away in your soul by having learned it, an d off you go, either helped or injuredÂ” ( Prot. 314b).
38 whatever they want them to believeÂ” ( Thea. 201a). From the Apology and the other dialogues we can infer that PlatoÂ’s idea of philoso phy was superficially similar to the practice of sophistry, similar enough that demonstr ating the divergence between the two was of great importance. Moreover, the form itself presents the difference between philosophy and other genres of public discourse whi le retaining the customs inherent in oral communication, and introducing a new layer of concerns with the technology of reading and writing. The contemporary trend of examining PlatoÂ’s dialogu es in a holistic fashion, that is, viewing the dramatic and literary forms of the dialogue as inseparable from the philosophical arguments, reveals that the character s themselves often provide dramatic demonstration of the philosophical argument and con cept.100 Rather than understanding an aporetic dialogue as a failure to reach a defini tion of virtue, holistic interpretations agree that a positive definition of the philosophic al concept is demonstrated, if not spoken: a non-propositional understanding is reache d, though a propositional definition is not. The analytic tradition as it is seen in Grego ry Vlastos, Terence Irwin and Gail Fine, committed to the logical analysis of arguments, has failed to recognize the value of this approach. Indeed, on this approach it makes sense to ask whether there is a system to be found in the dialogues at all. The practice of att ributing doctrines to Plato by constructing arguments that are not made by any cha racter in the dialogues is at odds with the approach adopted here, according to which Plato chooses to write dialogues in which he never speaks in his own voiceattributes than are antithetical to the presentation of a systematic philosophy. 100 Though sometimes that demonstration is negative, o r opposite, of the virtue being discussed.
39 Plato, in attempting to map out the enterprise of p hilosophy against the background of an oral culture, created a new type o f public discourse. But this new type of discourse did not emerge fully formed and all at once. PlatoÂ’s philosophy was, in part, the product of an evolution of public discourse. N or did that evolution stop with him. Nietzsche writes that Â“The Platonic dialogue was, a s it were, the barge on which the shipwrecked ancient poetry saved herself with all o f her children: crowded into a narrow space and timidly submitting to the single pilot, S ocrates, they now sailed into a new world Â….Â”101 Through Plato, archaic and classical paideia were transformed by his appropriation of the term philosophy.102 Poetry had Â‘shipwreckedÂ’ herself between Scylla and Charybdis, between the instability of muthos and the relativism of isonomia One must situate PlatoÂ’s project historically, in o rder to grasp its full import and see the way between the natural disaster and the monster. The next chapter addresses the importance of interpretative strategy with regard t o PlatoÂ’s philosophy. If, as I have attempted to show in Chapter I, Plato is challengin g conventional practices of paideia by establishing a new practice, philosophy, then conve ntional interpretative strategies must be rejected in favor of a hermeneutical approach. Conventional interpretation strategies generally assume that Plato has doctrines, either e xoteric or esoteric, and do not consider the historical context of the dialogues Â– nor do th ey see form, and content, as necessary for PlatoÂ’s philosophy. 101 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann (Random House: Toronto, 1967) 91. 102 It is also possible that nothing much actually cha nged; Plato had made serious recommendations for the renovation of education Â– w hether or not those changes were adopted is a matte r of serious study. See John P. Anton, Â“From Sophia to Philosophia : The Greek Conception of Philosophy,Â” Conceptions of Philosophy: Ancient and Modern ed. K. Boudouris. (Athens: Ionia Publications, 2 004) 2637.
40 Chapter Three Reading the Dialogues: In Search of an Interpretati ve Strategy The Problem of Mimsis In the Poetics Aristotle begins his discussion of poetry with an enumeration of the different types of poetry: Epic poetry and Tragedy, as also Comedy, Dithyrambi c poetry, and most fluteplaying an lyre-playing, are all, viewed as a whole modes of imitation (). But at the same time they differ from one anoth er is three ways, either by a difference of kind in their means, or b y differences in the objects, or in the manner of their imitations (") (1447a10-15). The Sokratikoi logoi belong to a nameless class of poetry, a type of po etry that Â“imitates by language alone, without harmony, in prose or ver se Â…Â”103 As Plato wrote Sokratoi logoi what he wrote was (according to Aristotle) a type of mimsis What does it mean that the dialogues are a species of mimsis particularly considering PlatoÂ’s critique of the poets in the Republic ? Eric Havelock reminds us that mimsis which is imperfectly translated as imitation or representation, was appl icable to more than poetry Â– and that poetry, for the ancients, had a different role in t heir society, than that of contemporary poetry. Ancient poetry also had a different purpos e in its composition.104 For us, poetry is not used primarily or exclusively for the purpos e of conveying custom, tradition, moral 103 1447a 25; cf. Clay 34 fn.22. Clay writes that Ari stotle had a Â“critical habit of restricting mimesis to poetry. If there can be conversations t hat are mimetic and mimes that are conversational, mimesis cannot be restricted to poetry.Â” Havelock, too, notes that mimesis can be descriptive or dramatic or both, and that one of the points Plato makes in the Republic is to differentiate between the types, in particular criticizing the imitation in performance ( Preface 21). 104 See Havelock, Preface especially 20-60.
41 knowledge as it was in ancient times; instead, it i s used to express emotion and provoke aesthetic pleasure in its readers or listeners. Th e role of poetry in ancient Greek society was educational. Mimsis is a complex term that cannot be captured in a one to one correspondence with an English expression, because mimsis implies much more than mere Â‘imitationÂ’ or representation as late as the c lassical period. Indeed, Ferrari goes so far as to claim the meaning of mimsis is closer to identification or emulation.105 Eric Havelock speculates: Â“Poetry represented not someth ing we call by that name, but an indoctrination which today would be comprised in a shelf of text books and works of reference;Â” however, the centrality of the role poe try plays in education was not the passive works of reference found in contemporary li braries, but active instruction Â“on the ground that it provided a massive repository of use ful knowledge, a sort of encyclopedia of ethics, politics, history, and technology which the effective citizen was required to learn as the core of his educational equipment.Â”106 The mimsis which Plato attacks in the Republic is not all forms of mimsis, but a particular kind that evokes a particular effect on the audience. As Ferrari remarks, the exposure to poetry today is similar, if not as perv asive, to the exposure of ancient times: Â“citizens experienced poetry Â… as members of an aud ience.Â” 107 For contemporary citizens, poetry may be experienced in the context of a classroom, theatre, or coffee house but in ancient Greece, the social context was much broader. Plato is attacking the authority the poets held over moral knowledge in pa rticular, challenging their claim of 105 G .R. F Ferrari, Â“Plato and Poetry,Â” Cambridge History of Literary Criticism ed. G. A. Kennedy, Vol. 1. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 116. 106 Havelock Preface 27. 107 Ferrari 93.
42 knowledge and expertise. Â“Poetry,Â” Ferrari offers, Â“being oriented towards the values of performance, is by its nature indifferent to the wi sdom it its practitioners.Â”108 This, he claims, is the lesson we are to learn from PlatoÂ’s Ion and why he has Socrates engage such a vain peacock in conversation. It is only be cause we can see from the character of Ion that he is vain and a rather silly, though apparently quite t alented, rhapsode, that the problems with poetry are revealed, that is, that po etry does not value truth as we think of it, i.e., as what the philosopher seeks, but instea d values truth as what the poet performs, the knowledge of Â“what is, and what is to be, and w hat was before now,Â” the knowledge he gains from the Muses.109 PlatoÂ’s critique of poetry is not a critique of poe try per se but a critique of the values poetry holds and expresses, not to mention t he psychological phenomenon created by public performance.110 Havelock writes that in the fourth century Â“ mimsis has become the word par excellence for the over-all linguistic medium of the poet and his peculiar power through the use of this medium Â… to render an account of reality.Â”111 The 108 Ferrari 97. Here, Ferrari intends wisdom not in t he sense the Ancients used sophia, that is, expertise (Â“For our expertise is better than the st rength of men and horsesÂ” '()*( / '*+'''(!! Xenophanes says (DK2.12). The expertise of a sophos is more valuable to the polis than brute strength. This expertise is more valua ble than physical strength because truth was established through public discourse, and thus could be affected by anyone with a convincing speech or performance. As mentioned above, a sophos was, in Archaic and Classical Athens, someone who possessed expertise in public discourse. PlatoÂ’s agenda involves brea king the tie between sophia and expertise in public discourse by introducing philosophia as expertise in abstract, rational thought. 109 Hesiod 125. 110 See Havelock Preface 57 n22. Havelock contends that Plato understood t he psychological phenomenon associated with the experience of mimesis A rhapsode, Plato tells us in Ion is successful when his recitation has an obvious emotional impact on the audience, when they are swept up in the dra ma. Havelock believes this identification with the rhap sode, or actor, as the case may be, can only be ach ieved Â“at the cost of total loss of objectivityÂ” ( Preface 45). 111 Havelock Preface 25.
43 poets use the medium to twist reality Â“by appealing to the shallowest of our sensibilities.Â”112 Poetry, like sophistry, appeals not to our ration ality, as Plato would have it, but to our unthinking emotions. The performanc e of poetry that he critiques in Republic III is a critique of poetry that does not promote t ruth-yielding inquiry: he critiques the muthoi that deceive. Though Havelock posits that during P latoÂ’s lifetime Athenians were literate, the content of cultural co mmunication continued to include Â– even in PlatoÂ’s dialogues Â– the stories that were c entral to the success and appeal of the oral poetic performance. In the fifth century Simonides made poetry somethin g that could be bought and sold, and once it had Â‘cashÂ’ value, the poetsÂ’ focu s became even more a concern with performance over content. Because the focus is on performance, no one is critically assessing the content of the poetry Â– most importan tly, the values and virtues that an audience member might be swayed to imitate, or to t hink correct. Moreover, Simonides sings the praises of men for either heroic acts for the polis or being victorious at athletic competitions and, in so doing, he alters Homeric id eals.113 Poetry engenders a value in performance that surpas ses any value placed on the content, except insomuch as the content can enhance the performance. Yet Plato levels criticism at both the form and the content of poetr y, in the Republic. In the Republic, Socrates critically assesses the values expressed i n the content of poetry. Socrates objects to the stories Â“that Homer, Hesiod, and other poets tell usÂ” because they are false stories that do not Â‘paint a pretty pictureÂ’ of the gods, f or they tell of the gods acting in ways 112 Havelock, Preface 26. 113 Detienne 114.
44 men should not ( Rep. 377d ff). These misrepresentations of the gods and heroes are, as Xenophanes had said, Â“all sorts of things which are matters of reproach and censure among men; theft, adultery, and mutual deceitÂ” (DK1 1). Poetry is problematic for Socrates, Waugh insists, due to Â“the mechanism by w hich it affects beliefs and behaviorÂ” for when it portrays gods and men Â‘doing wrong,Â’ it Â“inspires its performer and audience imaginatively to identify with them in their immora l behavior.Â”114 As Socrates informs Adeimantus, the poets are dangerous because of the role and authority the poets held and the eagerness by which the young men soaked up the lessons contained in the poetry: they will Â“listen to these stories without ridiculi ng them as not worth hearingÂ” and so will imitate the behavior of the characters, lamenting e very small misfortune and other, more dangerous behaviors ( Rep. 388d). Plato continues the attack on the poetic tradition that begins with the Presocratics because poetry, in PlatoÂ’s time, is still Â“first an d last a didactic instrument for transmitting the tradition.Â”115 What values might an audience take away from a p erformance, that Socrates finds so objectionable? Poetry promotes t he fear of death, which is surely a problem for educating future warriors (386b ff). M oreover, poetry preserves the lamentations of gods and heroes, thus encouraging t hat type of behavior, which is the behavior of Â‘cowardly men, and womenÂ’ (387c ff); it tells of violent mood changes (389a), which can hardly be a good thing for an aud ience to Â‘imaginatively identify withÂ’ when moderation is a considered a virtue. Not all poetry corrupts; there are some 114 Joanne B. Waugh, Â“Art and Morality: The End of an Ancient Rivalry?Â” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 20.1 (1986): 7. Plato was aware of the effect of a tragedy like Medea on the audience. 115 Havelock, Preface 43.
45 instances when poetry upholds the values that Socra tes and company wish to instill in their ideal city, i.e. moderation, which HomerÂ’s Di omedes encourages (389e).116 The problem is that contradictory values are expressed in Homer and the other poets, as Socrates quotes an earlier passage from the Illiad that demonstrates a lack of moderation (389e) and a passage from the Odyssey demonstrating, again, a lack of self-control (390a). The dialogues are PlatoÂ’s replacement for poetry as a vehicle of paideia and for sophistic speeches as means of generating truth. T hey are meant to instruct the audience of the dialogue on how to live a good life; the instr uction received by the audience in the dialogue contributes to the larger discussion of th e good life by showing philosophy as a search for non-relative truth. If PlatoÂ’s dialogue s are of the genre of Sokratikoi logoi and Sokratikoi logoi are a form of mimsis then the dialogues must be seen and treated as mimsis as an educational method and a way of life. A Pl atonic dialogue, then, is operating on several levels. The first is as a par adigm of paideia This encompasses its form, its aim, as well as its actual practice. An analysis that takes the dialogues as a form of mimsis must also take into account the external audience Â– what is the intended effect? What does (should) the audience learn from the dialogue? Second, the dialogues critique fifth and fourth century educational pract ices so that there is an interaction between different forms of mimsis Â– Plato defines his form through criticism of othe r 116 Though of course what they are busy constructing i s not the ideal city, the Â‘city of pigsÂ’, but rather the city of luxury. See John P. Anton, "Pla to as Critic of Democracy, Ancient and Contemporary ,Â” Philosophical Inquiry: International Quarterly 20.1-2 (1998): 1-17.
46 forms as he articulates the practice of philosophy.117 The third level is also internal to the dialogue, and that is the positive demonstration of technique shown in the dialogue. For this analysis, the audience within the dialogue nee ds to be considered. How are they being educated? What should they learn? What do t hey learn, if anything? If not, why is that the case? Because of the historical importanc e of PlatoÂ’s choice of characters, their historical counterparts must be taken into account in any Â‘internalÂ’ analysis, as must any cultural details for which we have evidence.118 Finally, there is the consideration of the philosophical concepts in the dialogue. It remains to be seen how interpreting PlatoÂ’s dialogues as mimsis affects our understanding of PlatoÂ’s philosophy, f or many contemporary philosophers writing in the analytic m ode ignore, if not dismiss, the techniques and assumptions required to examine the dialogues as mimsis But increasingly philosophers are taking an approach th at is historical rather than merely analytic; they believe that looking at the dialogue s as mimsis is essential to understanding PlatoÂ’s purpose. Hayden Ausland, for instance, insists that Â“PlatoÂ’s dialogues require a treatment in terms germane to their philosophical natureÂ” and that they Â“need to be appreciated as real works of literary art, conveying what they do as poetic wholes rather than as vehicles for views attributed to select characters.Â”119 As his works are dialogues that never feature 117 See Nightingale, who argues that Â“Plato uses inter textuality as a vehicle for criticizing genres of discourse and, what is more important, for intro ducing and defining a radically different discursiv e practice, which he calls Â‘philosophyÂ’Â” ( Genres 5). 118 This is not to be confused with what Tigerstedt te rms the Â‘genetic approachÂ’. The most renowned proponent of this approach is Ulrich von W ilamovitz-Moellendorff, who Tigerstedt characterize s as believing Â“we can and must interpret PlatoÂ’s wor ks as expressions of his lifeÂ” (Eugene Tigerstedt, Interpreting Plato (Stockholm Studies in the History of Literature, 1 977) 40). 119 Hayden Ausland, Â“On Reading Plato Mimetically,Â” AJP 118 (1997): 373.
47 the character Plato, Plato relinquishes authorial a uthority and, in so doing, avoids appropriating the audienceÂ’s understanding in a dog matic fashion 120 Instead, he shapes the audienceÂ’s understanding by directing their att ention to key questions and issues Â– but he does not attempt to control it. The conversation in the dialogues is extended to the reader; moreover, as Ruby Blondell remarks, Â“dramat ic mimsis just is the suppression of the authorial voice.Â”121 Yet, Ausland relates, most scholars who do attemp t interpret the dialogues mimetically Â“still seek to maintain the r eader somehow critically outside the theater of action.Â”122 In an attempt to treat the Theaetetus as mimsis one of the features of the interpretive strategy I will take is a sensi tivity to the audience of the dialogues. Problems in Interpretation: Dialogue, Drama, and Do ctrine Acknowledging that PlatoÂ’s dialogues are a species of mimsis requires that one give careful consideration to the manner of their i nterpretation. The interpretative strategies recognized and adopted by many scholars fall into two main categories that we will designate as doctrinal and esoteric. In keepi ng with AristotleÂ’s characterization of the dialogues as a species of mimsis these strategies must be assessed in terms of the ir 120 Ludwig Edelstein raised the problem of Platonic an onymity in Â“Platonic Anonymity,Â” The American Journal of Philology, 83.1 (Jan. 1962) 1-22; Edelstein discusses the pos sibility, given the content of the Platonic epistle, PlatoÂ’s true thought does not even begin to resemble the philosophy of the dialogues. He firmly banishes that possibility Â– f or it is impossible to imagine that all of PlatoÂ’s associates (who make reference to the dialogues when discussin g PlatoÂ’s philosophy) would not Â“have grasped a clearly avowed injunction that the endeavor to stud y his writings for the purpose of finding out about his Â‘seriousÂ’ teaching would be futile Â…Â” (5). With hi s anonymity, Edelstein writes, Plato is not unique, but Presocratic philosophy did stress authorial origina lity as well as the authorÂ’s opinions (11ff). 121 Ruby Blondell, The Play of Character in PlatoÂ’s Dialogues (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002) 16. 122 Ausland 377.
48 capacity to deal with both the form and content of the dialogues. What does it mean if one interprets Plato as treating form and content a s (1) separable and (2) inseparable? Interpreting Plato is not an easy thing to do, as S chleiermacher remarks, for there is not only the customary difficulty of deciphering philosophical thought, there is also Â“his utter deviation from the ordinary forms of phi losophical communication,Â” i.e., treatises.123 Of course, Plato did not write in a form that dev iated from the norm of writing in his day Â– it is only due to the two millennia that hav e passed since Plato wrote, two millennia filled with philosophical treatises e stablishing systems of philosophy that present enchantingly Â“straightforwardÂ” and Â“clearÂ” philosophical notions and doctrines, that scholars consider Plato an eccentric.124 Schleiermacher continues, Â“Whoever then is spoiled by use of the expedients which these method s seem to afford, will necessarily find everything in Plato strange, and either devoid of meaning or mysterious.Â”125 While Schleiermacher does attempt to base his interpretat ion in the idea that PlatoÂ’s dialogues are mimsis he finds the purpose of that mimsis is to produce PlatoÂ’s doctrines and such an assumption, I will show, is problematic at the v ery least.126 Mining the dialogues for Platonic doctrines is not incompatible with seeing the dialogues as a species of mimsis, as we can see in SchleirmacherÂ’s case. The esoteric 123 Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher, SchleiermacherÂ’s Introductions to the Dialogues of Plato trans. William Dobson (New York: Arno Press, 1973 ) 5. 124 Yet, Schleiermacher remarks, Plato Â“ could have availed himself of the Sophistical method of long and continuous discourses [emphasis added]Â” (1 6). But its identification with the sophists and t he audienceÂ’s inability to criticize a speech Â– even G orgiasÂ’ Â“On NatureÂ” Â– while it is being performed, may be relevant here. 125 Schleiermacher 7. 126 Specifically, that the dialogues are an imitation of his Â“oral instructionÂ” (Schleiermacher 17). There is also the issue of Schleiermacher assuming that Plato had these doctrines from the very first dialogue (for him, the Phaedrus ) and for reasons unknown decided to reveal those d octrines gradually.
49 approach also arrives at Platonic doctrines, but on this approach one can only arrive at PlatoÂ’s thought by reading the dialogues as drama.127 The doctrinal approach has several defining characteristics, but the approach generally begins with the assertion that PlatoÂ’s thought developed over the years. However, the doc trinal approach often takes the form of ignoring most, if not all, of the dramatic aspec ts of the dialogues. The character of Socrates is sometimes granted dramatic significance but more often than not Socrates is seen as the mouthpiece of Plato, or representing th e historical SocratesÂ’ views, or frequently as both. Â‘The Socratic problemÂ’ Â– that is, locating the historical SocratesÂ’ true thought Â– has been dealt with by such doctrinal sch olars as Vlastos and Irwin through viewing the Socrates of the Â‘earlyÂ’ or Â‘SocraticÂ’ d ialogues as representative of the historical Socrates.128 In The Philosophy of Socrates Vlastos writes: Â“The Socrates of this book is the Platonic Socrates Â… That this figu re is a faithful and imaginative recreation of the historical Socrates is the conclu sion of some very reputable scholars Â…Â”129 Vlastos offers, as an alternative to this view, X enophonÂ’s Socrates, but then refutes the alternative immediately thereafter. Th e problems with searching for the historical Socrates are many, and typical of the pr oblems of the doctrinal position as a 127 Esoterists come from a long tradition of Platonic interpretation that claims Aristotle as its progenitor. The idea of Â‘unwritten doctrinesÂ’ gain ed momentum with the Neoplatonist tradition, but th e Neoplatonist interpretation was for the most part r ejected in the 1700Â’s (See Eugene Tigerstedt The Decline and Fall of the Neoplatonic Interpretation of Plato: An Outline and Some Observations (Helsinki: Societas Scientariarum Fennica (1974)). Wilhelm G ttfried Tennemann began a new esoteric movement, one that rejected the Neoplatonic system yet mainta ined that there was a system within PlatoÂ’s dialogu es. Tennemann was followed by Karl Friedrich Hermann, P hilip Merlan, Konrad Gaiser, Hans Joachim Krmer; these scholars point to evidence in the Phaedrus and the Seventh Epistle that Plato had unwritten doctrines. See Tigerstedt, Interpreting 63-91. 128 See Terence Irwin, PlatoÂ’s Ethics (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995). 129 Gregory Vlastos, Â“The Paradox of Socrates,Â” The Philosophy of Socrates: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Gregory Vlastos (New York: Anchor Books, 1971) 1.
50 whole. The dependency on chronology Â– that is, Vla stos clearly relegates the Â‘historicalÂ’ Socrates to the Â‘earlyÂ’ dialogues, yet does not dea l with several Â‘earlyÂ’ dialogues that would confound his position, as well as including Â‘ middleÂ’ dialogues when it suits him Â– is problematic because of the problems with chronol ogy in general as well as the haphazard fashion by which scholars adhere to it.130 Havelock refers to AristotleÂ’s Poetics and argues that if we take Aristotle at all seriou sly, we must recognize that PlatoÂ’s dialogues are Â“mimetic Â‘ poiesis Â’Â” and as such, when Aristotle refers to Socrates, he is referring to the character Socrates; moreover, while refuting the collective positions in VlastosÂ’ volume, Havelock observes that Â“It is a mazing how many readers of Plato can get hung up on a confusion between the two [the his torical Socrates and the character Socrates], as though dramatic realism were a sign o f historical fidelity.Â”131 Doctrinal types of interpretation of the sort found in the work of Gregory Vlastos and Terence Irwin came to prominence when the Anglo -analytic tradition was at its strongest, i.e. from the 1960Â’s until the mid-1980Â’ s. This type of interpretation mines the dialogues to put together systematic doctrines, usu ally relying on chronological composition schema to buttress that system with dev elopmentalism. In Â“The State of the QuestionÂ” Gerald Press outlines six principles that by and large, these mainstream, dogmatic interpretations employ as principles: doc trines, development, didactic function, 130 See Holger Thesleff, Studies in the Styles of Plato (Helsinki: Acta Philosophica Fennica 1967) for further discussion of the problems of the devel opmentalist position. See Eric Havelock, "The Socr atic Problem: Some Second Thoughts," Essays in Ancient Greek Philosophy Vol. 2, ed. J.P. Anton and A. Preuss (Albany: SUNY Press 1983) 147-73,for a pierc ing criticism of the Vlastos-Irwin position. 131 Havelock, Socratic 154.
51 probative arguments, seriousness, and treatises.132 Press points out that the doctrinal element of contemporary interpretation can be trace d back to Eduard Zeller who claimed that to be a philosopher, one needed a doctrinal sy stem.133 If so, Zeller has had a marked and lasting effect on the scholarship, though perha ps not for the reasons he might have preferred. The second element in the doctrinal approach is the assumption that Plato began with a Socratic system of doctrines, became disench anted with SocratesÂ’ ideas and finally developed his own system.134 Developmentalism holds that there are three perio ds of Platonic writing that register the developments of his doctrines and system.135 Interpretations grounded in the developmental view are especially problematic given the inherent uncertainty in ascertaining chronological composition and authenticity.136 The 132 Gerald A. Press, "The State of the Question in the Study of Plato," Southern Journal of Philosophy 34.4 (1996): 509-510. 133 Press, State 509. Though Zeller assumes a system, he admits that any system formed must depend on developmentalism (chronological compositi on) and that anyone constructing a system faces the difficulty that Plato never states that there is a system or that he intends for there to be one; in Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy in the section entitled Â‘Character Method and Divisions of the Platonic SystemÂ’ he remarks: Â“Although PlatoÂ’s philosophy i s nowhere transmitted as a systematic whole and in the dialoges we can only observe from afar its gradual growth and development, it is only in the form of a system that any account of it can be given. The ju stification for this is the incontestable fact that in the dialogues we see circles spreading wider and wider until they finally embrace the whole universeÂ” (Edu ard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy trans. L.R. Palmer (New York: The Humanities Press 1980) 126). Zeller, Tigerstedt maintains, Â“retaine d the Hegelian conviction that philosophy must be systematic Â– or cease to be philosophyÂ” ( Interpreting 16). 134 Press, State 509. 135 See Tigerstedt for a comprehensive discussion of t he rise of the developmentalist interpretation. Â“How can we ever be quite sure that the difficultie s which oppose any systematization of Plato are not intentional?Â” Tigerstedt asks while discussing Robi nsonÂ’s observation that there are many logical fall acies in Plato Â“which are consciously and deliberately us ed by himÂ” (Tigerstedt, Interpreting 22). 136 See Charles M. Young, Â“Plato and Computer Dating, Â” Plato: Critical Assessment Vol. 1, ed. Nicholas D. Smith (London: Routledge, 1998) 29-49 f or a serious criticism of stylometric analysis with respect to two books: Leonard Brandwood, The Chronology of PlatoÂ’s Dialogues (Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Gerard R. Ledger, Re-counting Plato: A Computer Analysis of PlatoÂ’s S tyle (New York: Oxford UP, 1989). Young points out a serious problem that can be leveled against all stylometri c
52 developmental view is intertwined with the view tha t Plato had doctrines, though it is not necessarily the case that a scholar who finds doctr ines in Plato must also hold with deveopmentalism.137 Adopting a developmental thesis means that the sc holar constructs doctrines by stringing together pieces of the dialo gues in accordance with a chronology Â– which is clearly problematic, given the inherent un certainty in ascertaining chronological composition. Developmentalism advocates the view t hat the contradiction among the dialogues is evidence par excellence of PlatoÂ’s development of a systematic philosophy.138 Doctrinal and esoteric interpretations tend to as sume a didactic principle of sorts, although they do not recognize the dialog ues as paideia it is assumed that Plato, as is the case with later philosophers, wrote dialo gues in order to Â“teach or communicateÂ” analyses of Plato: the selection of variables for t he analysis involves assumptions regarding the chronological ordering of the dialogues. With Ledg er, he Â“compares groups of dialogues Â‘knownÂ’ (LedgerÂ’s word) to be early with other groups Â‘know nÂ’ to be lateÂ” (41). The same criticism applies to the stylometric analysis conducted by Levinson, Morton and Winspear (See M. Levinson, Q. Morton and A. D. Winspear,Â“The Seventh Letter of Plato,Â” Mind ns77.307 (1968): 309-325). I submit that their st udy cannot be sufficiently objective, for their conclusion dep ends on a sequencing of the dialogues which is stil l in question. The selection of dialogues they chose fo r indicators in their study is suspect and relies o n the idea that the Apology is an Â‘earlyÂ’ dialogue and that the Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias and Laws are all Â‘lateÂ’ dialogues that were written close t ogether. While there is good reason to consider the Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias and especially the Laws as Â‘lateÂ’ dialogues, when setting out to determine chronology, if a chro nology is assumed and made an integral part of the testing method, the study cannot be seen as anythin g other than circular reasoning. 137 See Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933) who h as a Unitarian doctrinal view. ShoreyÂ’s argument agains t developmentalism, in its simplest form, is that t o consider more than the broadest strokes in chronolo gy (i.e. that Laws and the Timaeus are late dialogues) Â“is to beg the question; it is to assume the very p oint in controversy that the philosophy set forth i n the dialogues did develop in the sense required by the argumentÂ” (3). Shorey maintains that Plato has doc trines but does not think Plato has a system: Â“Expositors of Plato seem strangely oblivious of the limits th us far set to all systems of philosophy. They treat as pe culiar defects of Plato the inconsistencies which t hey detect in his ultimate metaphysics after they have elaborated it into a rigid system which he with sou nd instinct evaded by poetry and mythÂ” (6). It is imp ossible, he writes, for Â“a complete system of philo sophy with principles subordinate, derivative, and interd ependent, and a fixed terminology, cannot be extrac ted from the Platonic writingsÂ” (8). Shorey applauds t hose who, instead, treat the dialogues in an atomis tic fashion. 138 Tigerstedt notes that scholars pedaling these type s of interpretations claim that Â“All those obscurities and ambiguities, gaps and contradiction s that trouble us in the Dialogues are as many testimonies to this change or rather evolution in h is mindÂ” ( Interpreting 25).
53 these doctrines and the arguments in the dialogues are arguments for those doctrines.139 Another flavor of the doctrinal position involves r ejecting the humor and irony of the dialogues on the grounds that its purpose is to mas k the doctrines that were unpalatable to audiences of PlatoÂ’s time. Finally, doctrinal inte rpretations cannot help but strip the dialogues of the features of the dialogue form in o rder to make clear the propositions that the dramatic elements confuse; as Press puts it, Â“[ for them] literary and dramatic characteristics are merely formal, at best unimport ant sugar-coating, at worst, confusing and inhibiting.Â”140 When scholars seek out Â‘PlatonicÂ’ doctrines, littl e to no thought is given to the possibility that assuming that there are doctrines, and especially these par ticular doctrines, is all it takes to find those doctrines in the dialogues. On the basis of this circular reasoning, some philosophers mine the dial ogues for support of these doctrines Â– either positively or negatively Â– and in so doing, assume that the very form of the writing is unimportant to the philosophy contained within. 141 An assumption that is often prominent to systematic interpretation is that Socr ates Â– or the main speaker in each 139 Press 510. 140 Press 510. Thesleff dismisses, with finality, any attempt to order the dialogues using a developmental thesis: Â“The shortcomings of the att empts to determine the chronology of PlatoÂ’s writin gs principally from theories of Â‘developmentÂ’, and the unreliability of the apparent accumulation of seco ndary chronological Â‘evidenceÂ’ from constructions on line s of development based on the traditional chronolog y Â– however elegant such constructions may appear to be from a mainly philosophical point of view Â– requir e no more commentsÂ” (Holger Thesleff, Â“Platonic Chro nology,Â” Phronesis: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy 34(1989) 6. See also Thesleff, Studies 40-52). 141 What I call cherry-picking and what Tigerstedt cal ls Â‘resorting to the scalpelÂ’ amounts to the same thing. Scholars begin with an interpretation and then either cherry-pick the parts of the dialog ues that support their interpretation or, they remove the pa rts (sometimes entire dialogues) that disagree with their interpretation, either by declaring the section or dialogue inauthentic or arguing the dismissal of th e portions of which they are not in agreement.
54 dialogue Â– is espousing PlatoÂ’s views and that the other characters of the dialogu e are unimportant ancillaries. Unwritten Lectures and Esoteric Doctrine The Tbingen school is most representative of conte mporary esoteric interpretations of Plato. The Tbingen school hold s that Plato does indeed have doctrines but these doctrines are unwritten. While they reje ct SchleiermacherÂ’s principle that form is inseparable from content, they endorse the princ iple that PlatoÂ’s philosophy is systematic. According to some of the esotericists, the unwritten doctrines may be understood only through a study of secondary source s, for they were delivered orally by Plato to the Academy. The Tbingen school takes as the foundation for their interpretation AristotleÂ’s mention of the doctrines Plato delivered orally (the lecture Â‘On the GoodÂ’ and the One and the Indefinite Dyad).142 It is a revival of the Neoplatonic tradition, where Neoplatonic indicates, as Tigerste dt lays out, Â“the transformation into a metaphysical or theological system, occurring in th e last century B.C. and the first two centuries A.D.Â”143 While the esoterists are grounded in the Neoplatoni c tradition, they have staked out differences between oral and written. The Neop latonists made no such distinction; for them, the dialogues were the same as PlatoÂ’s or al teaching and the results of their interpretation was at once both theological and eso teric. Wilheim Gottfried Tennemann is often seen as inspiring contemporary esotericism of which the most prominent 142 For a thorough discussion of the unwritten doctrin es see Guthrie, Plato 418-442; Tigerstedt, Interpreting 62-90; both TigerstedtÂ’s Decline and John Findlay, Plato: The Written and Unwritten Doctrines (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974) are subst antial studies of the matter. 143 Tigerstedt Decline 7.
55 contemporary exponents are Konrad Gaiser and Hans J oachim Krmer. According to these esoteric interpretations, Plato delivered the doctrines orally to his students in the Academy, in which case the only way to learn of his doctrines is through secondary sources. As evidence, they point to the Phaedrus the Seventh Letter Aristotle and sources referring to Aristotle. Giovanni Reale sums up what the esoteric tradition accomplishes: Â“by revealing the essential character istics of the Unwritten Doctrine and hence offering us that plus that the dialogues lack, bring us knowledge of the chief supporting axes (that the highest concept or concep ts) that organize and unify in a remarkable way the various concepts as presented in the dialogues.Â”144 For Reale, there is Â“no doubtÂ” that Plato was interested in construc ting a system Â– that is, when Â‘systemÂ’ is considered not in the Hegelian sense, but as Â“an or ganized connection of concepts, in function of a central concept (or of some central c oncepts). And, naturally, understood in this way, the system does not involve any rigid, do gmatic, closed ordering, but rather it is an open-ended project of chief supporting axes of r esearches and of connected supporting axes and their implications.Â”145 Reading Between the Lines Leo StraussÂ’ version of the esoteric position is di stinctive; it is a rejection of Neoplatonism and a return to what Strauss views as the original Plato. StraussÂ’ aim is to recover a Plato that modernity and history had perv erted Â– one that establishes the original link between philosophy and civic life. E soteric interpretations blur the line 144 Giovanni Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy II: Plato and Arist otle, trans. John R. Catan (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) 24. 145 Reale 23-24.
56 between seeing form and content as separable/insepa rable. And Strauss and his followers do, at least, see the form and content as inseparab le, while most traditional doctrinal strategies do not. Leo Strauss believed that given the history of the phenomena of persecution, writers adapted their literary techniq ues in order to hide their actual theories. In this way, Strauss can make the claim that works have an exoteric and an esoteric meaning; the exoteric is meant as a cover for the m asses, to prevent persecution, while the esoteric is meant not for Â“the unphilosophic ma jority nor the perfect philosopher as such, but the young men who might become philosophe rs.Â”146 Strauss advocates reading between the lines to reveal the unwritten doctrines intended for the potential philosopher. In the case of Plato, this involves considering the dramatic elements of the dialogues. Straussians may be viewed as a branch of the esoter ic school of interpretation, stressing the import of every dramatic detail of the dialogue s, sometimes in order to realize unwritten doctrines. Because Straussians are const ructing a system, their interpretation is open to the same criticism of the doctrinal interpr etation. Still, their stress on the dramatic provides interesting and worthwhile observ ations. For instance, KleinÂ’s rich commentary on the Meno is governed by his attempt to see the dialogue as a drama, and takes seriously the device of irony.147 Klein writes that Â“Everything about SocratesÂ’ irony depends on the presence of other people who a re capable of catching the irony, of hearing what is not said. A dialogue, then, presup poses people listening to the 146 Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (3rd reprint Greenwood Press, 1977) 36. 147 Klein quotes J. A. K. Thomson: Â“The old Irony of t he tragic or comic reversal of fortune they [PlatoÂ’s contemporaries] perfectly appreciated. Bu t this new kind, which had a trick of making you uncomfortable if you took it as a joke and of getti ng you laughed at if you took it seriously? People did not like it Â…Â” (Jakob Klein, A Commentary on PlatoÂ’s Meno (1989 Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965) 5).
57 conversation not as casual and indifferent spectato rs but as silent participantsÂ” and, he continues, the dialogue Â“has not taken place if we, the listeners and readers, did not actively participate in it.Â”148 But Klein does not find the dialogues to be devoi d of doctrines Â– he just denies that there is a philosop hical system to be discovered in the dialogues.149 He advocates being wary of certain ideological in terpretations: Â“to become obsessed by the view that the chronology of the Pla tonic dialogues implies a Â‘developmentÂ’ in PlatoÂ’s thoughtÂ” or Â“to render wha t is said and shown in the dialogues in petrified terms derived Â– after centuries of use and abuse Â– from AristotleÂ’s technical vocabularyÂ” is to distort our understanding of Pla toÂ’s philosophy.150 In his introduction to the Republic Alan Bloom immediately displays for us one of the main problems with the Straussian interpreti ve principles: Â“The dialogue is,Â” he says, the synthesis of these two poles and is an organic unity. Every argument must be interpreted dramatically, for every argument is inc omplete in itself and only the context can supply the missing links. And every dr amatic detail must be interpreted philosophically, because these details contain the images of the problems which complete the arguments.151 148 Klein 6. 149 Â“The dialogues not only embody the famous Â‘oracula rÂ’ and Â‘paradoxicalÂ’ statements emanating from Socrates (Â‘virtue is knowledge,Â’ Â‘nobody does evil knowingly,Â’ Â‘it is better to suffer than to co mmit injusticeÂ’) and are, to a large extent, protreptic plays based on these, but they also discuss and sta te, more or less explicitly, the ultimate foundations on which those statements rest and the far-reaching conseque nces which flow from them. But this is never done with Â‘complete clarity.Â’ It is still up to us to try to clarify those foundations and consequences, using, if neces sary, Â‘another, longer, and more involved road,Â’ [ Rep IV 435d3] and then accept, correct, or reject them Â– it is up to us, in other words, to engage in Â‘philosophyÂ’Â” (Klein 9). 150 Klein 9-10. 151 Alan Bloom, The Republic of Plato (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1968) xvi.
58 The problem is with the notion of Â‘completeness.Â’ It requires assumptions about PlatoÂ’s dialogues, namely, that they are imitations of oral teachings and that there is a systematic completeness to be had. Berger argues that Strauss ian interpretations fail to avoid making dramatic assumptions about the text, even wh en they avoid making philosophic assumptions (of doctrines or a system). Klein, spe cifically, Â“assign[s] the written text the job of completing the unfinished oral discussion by its representation of Â‘the drama itself, Â‘the deed,Â’ the Â‘work,Â’ the ergonÂ’ .Â’Â”152 Straussians all, by and large, assume the Â‘mouthpiece fallacy,Â’ that is, assuming that the ma jor character in the dialogue speaks for Plato and searching out the Â‘true doctrinesÂ’ of Pla to. In some instances, the esoteric position takes its point of departure from Aristotle and the Seventh Letter Many scholars now consider the Seventh Letter to be authentic, as debates about its authenticity are not as vigoro us as they once were.153 Bowen writes that we cannot necessarily depend on the most tempo rally proximate interpreters for Aristotle and the Neoplatonists Â… aimed to determin e what Plato was really trying to say, always in contexts determined by their own immediate philosophical purposes ; they very clearly felt no obligation to render Pl atoÂ’s thought as he thought it, that is, to defend by ref erence to the text their accounts as ones to which Plato would have assented or to conne ct these accounts closely with the letter of the text [emphasis added].154 152 Harry Berger Jr., Â“Levels of Discourse in PlatoÂ’s Dialogues,Â” Literature and the Question of Philosophy ed. Anthony Cascardi (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1987) 85. His criticism of Friedlnder, whose position is similar to the Straussians, in th at he assumes Â“Platonic writing is a copy justified by the original it represents.Â” 153 See Appendix A for a discussion of the authenticit y of the Seventh Letter 154 Alan C. Bowen, Â“On Interpreting Plato,Â” Platonic Writings, Platonic Readings, ed. Charles L. Griswold, Jr. (New York: Routledge 1988) 58. See H arold Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of Presocratic Philosophy (1935 New York: Octagon Books, 1964) for a discuss ion of AristotleÂ’s manner of rendering history.
59 BowenÂ’s criticism of AristotleÂ’s interpretation of Plato is startling, until one considers analogous contemporary examples. R. M. Hare believ ed that his students got him wrong Â– and so, David Sedley argues, it is easy Â“to imagi ne a Plato who denied or minimized discontinuities in his own work, even when challeng ed by his eminent pupil Aristotle, who is widely agreed to make a sharp distinction be tween PlatoÂ’s Socratic dialogues and those representing his mature work.Â”155 A Third Way of Interpreting Plato: The Hermeneutica l Approach Instead of attempting to recapture an oral doctrine Berger advocates a different approach, one that avoids the mouthpiece fallacy: To approach Plato in terms of a dialectic between o ral and written discourse is to situate the interpretive project in a more general discussion that has been going on for some time. I refer to the hermeneutic theories of Gadamer, Ricoeur, Benveniste, and others, and more specifically to Ri coeurÂ’s two basic propositions about the changes produced by the transfer of a tex t from speech to writing: (1) emancipated or Â‘distanciatedÂ’ from speech, speaker, and author, the text becomes autonomous, is appropriated by readers Â… and opens itself up to the endless conflict of interpretation; (2) in this process, th e intentional control of a speaker and author over their texts diminishes, and the mar gin or surplus of unmeant meaning increases.156 Revealing the shortcomings in these two general cat egories of interpretation speaks to the need for a third way of interpreting Plato. Recent ly, a number of scholars have sought to interpret the dialogues using a hermeneutic approac h, in order to avoid the problems of the first two strategies. The hermeneutical strate gy begins by seeing the dialogue form as necessary and involves examining the dialogue as a unity, taking into account the literary and dramatic details for, as mentioned above, the b urden of proof rests on those who 155 David Sedley, The Midwife of Platonism: Text and Subtext in Plato Â’s Theaetetus ( Oxford: Clarendon, 2004) 14. 156 Berger 96.
60 would assume that the dialogue form is not necessary to convey the content Indeed, a hermeneutical strategy disputes the very division b etween form and content. This strategy situates a text in relation to the authorÂ’ s original audience. Attempting to situate the text in its original context requires an examin ation of the assumptions made about the past. By addressing the fact of presuppositions, a ny interpretation is left open for future revision. The result is a position irreconcilable with both the aforementioned groups, because the hermeneuticists shun the notion of unwr itten doctrines, as it implies the dialogue form is not necessary, and, in fact, some call into question whether Plato had doctrines at all or at the very least, deny that Pl ato had a system. Most controversially, they point out that there is little evidence in the dialogues for the Â‘ doctrine of FormsÂ’ as it has been articulated by those who attribute doctrin es to Plato.157 The movement is an attempt, writes Francisco Gonzalez, to move away fr om Â“interpreting the dialogues as aiming to either establish or refute philosophical doctrines.Â”158 A main feature of this third way is to emphasize the importance of the his torical, literary and dramatic elements of the dialogues Â– in short, to see the dialogues a s integrated wholes. Distinguishing form from content is to treat the content alone, bu t the content without the form is an incomplete picture of PlatoÂ’s philosophy. Gonzelez writes that Â“if we can show the real opposition between philosophy understood as systema tic and philosophy understood as 157 Francisco J. Gonzalez, Â“A Short History of Platoni c Interpretation and the Â‘Third WayÂ’,Â” The Third Way: New Directions in Platonic Studies, ed. Francisco J. Gonzalez. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995) 12. See Kennet h Sayre, Â“Why Plato Never Had a Theory of Forms,Â” Boston Area Colloquim in Ancient Philosophy V9 1993 (Lanham: UP of America) 167-199, based on the claim, found in the Seventh Letter that Plato never wrote down his philosophy Â… lang uage altogether, written or spoken, is not a sufficient vehicle for philosophy Â… Â“it clearly is PlatoÂ’s view that this knowledge comes to fruition as a state of the soul, and that the object of this knowledge cannot be adequately represented in propositional languageÂ” ( 183). 158 Gonzalez, Third 2.
61 dialectic and show further that Plato sides with th e latter conception of philosophy, then we will be in a position to avoid both Â‘development alismÂ’ and Â‘esotericism.Â’Â”159 Hermeneutics imparts a method of understanding, the paradigm of which is found in our understanding of texts and works of art. Â‘ Hermeneutics,Â’ which of course comes from the Greek word ',, was initially used (in modern times) to describe a method of interpreting the Bible, and Schleirmacher expanded the use of hermeneutics to include interpreting Plato. Dilthey moved further away from Biblical hermeneutics by appropriating hermeneutics as the methodology of th e human sciences. Seen in this way, hermeneutics was not only applied to texts, but als o to Â“any human phenomena whatsoever, including actions, historical events, m onuments, works of art, and social institutions.Â”160 To understand humans, it is necessary to make sen se of the revisionist narrative that human beings bring to their lives. In Truth and Method Gadamer makes explicit the basic conditions for understanding (a text or another person) through an analysis of why understanding is often not achieved between persons. There is no ex act method for understanding. Gadamer observes that method as such conceals; meth od superimposes a Â‘gridÂ’ on its object of study, forcing things to fit into a pre-g iven blueprint of assumption. The best we can hope to do is to avoid a systematic, pre-def ined approach and instead make use of a phenomenological attitude and describe the process of understanding. With this attitude Gadamer can impart the basic conditions re quired for understanding. Like other 159 Francisco Gonzalez, Dialectic and Dialogue: PlatoÂ’s Practice of Philoso phical Inquiry (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1998) 13. 160 Frank C. Richardson, Blaine J. Fowers and Charles B. Guignon, Re-envisioning Psychology: Moral Dimensions in Theory and Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999) 201.
62 hermeneutical philosophers, Gadamer believes that e very individual is entangled in a historical culture and as such always possesses a t acit understanding, or prejudice ( Vorurteil ), of what things mean in our world: Â“Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self-examination, we underst and ourselves in a self-evident way in the family, society, and state in which we liveÂ… That is why the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being .Â”161 Prejudices are the conditions for our understanding as interpretation is always a circular process. To understand any part of the text or con versation, we must already possess some grasp of the whole; yet, to understand the who le, we must possess understanding of the parts. The tacit understanding we possess is our frame of reference. Any conversation is an attempt to reach an agreement, b ased on a shared understanding, and it occurs in the context of this hermeneutical circle. In a conversation, we begin with this pre-understanding absorbed from our historical cult ure, and our questions and answers proceed from presuppositions. As the conversation progresses, we revise the initial presuppositions. The importance of acknowledging t hat humans bring tacit understanding to a conversation is twofold. To und erstand a text or another human being, it is necessary to understand the historical contex t of that text or human, else the process of understanding cannot be undertaken. Second, the misunderstandings that arise in a conversation are dependent upon the inferences that each individual brings to the conversation from their tacit understanding of the subject matter at hand. To understand texts that we are temporally distant from, we must attempt to gain like-mindedness with 161 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (2nd Rev. Ed. New York: Continuum, 2000) 276-277.
63 the culture of that time, to reconstruct. Human na ture is essentially the same Â– that is, we begin from Â“a shared understanding that results fro m our enculturation into communal practices and our mastery of a common languageÂ” Â– a nd thus it is not an impossible task, but it is a task that necessitates imperfection, es pecially considering that ancient Greek is a dead language. 162 If we follow GadamerÂ’s advice and conceive of phi losophy as Â“a human experience that remains the same and that cha racterizes the human being as suchÂ” then the task, recast thus, is well within reach.163 Press calls for a different type of interpretation that, like GadamerÂ’s, requires that Â“the dialogues are no longer taken to be the kinds of texts they were widely believed to be at mid-ce ntury. There is need for a broader inquiry into the nature, presentation and a udience of the texts based on historical knowledge,Â” for large and pivotal portions of the d ialogues involve myths and characterbuilding.164 Only by ignoring the text can scholars truly proc eed with a doctrinal or esoteric interpretation. What criteria can be used to evaluate interpretive strategies? To evaluate interpretive strategies is to give voice to value s ystems that are often incommensurable Â– at best incompatible. Perhaps we can recur to the criterion used as a primary evaluative factor in sorting out scientific theories: explanat ory power. Explanatory power seems a good rule of thumb by which to judge these strains of interpretation and the end result is that a hermeneutic interpretation ignores the least amount of actual text and require the least amount of juggling to make the Â‘idiosyncrasiesÂ’ of the dialogues fit within a 162 Richardson 118. 163 Hans-Georg Gadamer, The Idea of the Good in Platonic and Aristotelian P hilosophy, trans. P. Christopher Smith (New Haven: Yale UP, 1986) 6. 164 Press 517.
64 philosophical system or set of doctrines. Press as ks, Â“Given the growing consensus that Plato is not (directly, primarily) teaching doctrin es in the dialogues, for example, we need to investigate what kind of Â‘philosophic meaningÂ’ t he dialogues might have other than dogmatic or doctrinal?Â”165 At the end of the day, surprisingly enough, this s tudy will take to heart Terence IrwinÂ’s advice regarding interpretative strategies, although surely not in the way he intended it, and certainly not in agreement with hi s conclusions. Irwin suggests that it is a mistake to focus exclusively on questions of inte rpretation; Â“We are likely to take a method of interpretation more seriously if it produ ces philosophically interesting and significant results Â… It is an illusion to think we can find the right interpretative methods and strategies in advance of considering the philos ophical merits of the conclusions they yield.Â”166 Though I think Irwin is misguided in an apparent belief that the Â‘philosophical meritsÂ’ of a strategy will exclude the hermeneutic or philological approach to Plato, and that he intended this bit of advice as an admonitio n against just such interpretative strategies, I will treat it as serious advice. The fact of the matter is the third way of interpreting Plato does yield Â“philosophically interesting and significant resultsÂ” Â– though the results of these analyses often are in oppositi on to the analytic approach that Irwin upholds.167 165 Press 515. 166 Terence Irwin, Â“Reply to David Roochnik,Â” Platonic Writings, Platonic Readings, ed. Charles L. Griwold, Jr. (New York: Routledge 1988) 198. 167 Though it is likely Irwin and I intend Â‘philosophi cally interestingÂ’ in different ways, I think it a good criterion even with the ambiguity inherent to the word Â‘interestingÂ’.
65 Because I adopt a hermeneutic approach to the dialo gues, I recognize that it is impossible that one may approach a text with no assumptions or preconceptions Â– thus, I will list the assumptions I consciously bring to th e interpretation of the Theaetetus :168 1. The dialogue form is necessary to PlatoÂ’s philosoph y. I will assume that the dialogue form is important, integral, to PlatoÂ’s ph ilosophy. This assumption is in no way outlandish or unsupported by the dialogue s themselves; the frequent jabs Plato takes at the sophists throughout the dia logues are often grounded in the lack of discussion that is inherent in the form of discourse of a sophist Â– giving speeches and not inquiry.169 2. If the dialogue form is necessary, the characters, setting in short, the dramatic details which make up a dialogue are neces sary to convey PlatoÂ’s philosophy. It is the entirety of the dialogue that demonstrates PlatoÂ’s dialectical method, i.e., the reopening of question s presumably closed, not solely the character Socrates or SocratesÂ’ question s, answers, and arguments. The respondents are equally as important as the mai n speaker, and the respondents must be understood in terms of the argu ments they offer, their historical counterparts, and their dramatic actions in the dialogue in order to investigate the meaning of the dialogue. 168 The hermeneutic circle, to be sure Â– every interpr etation begins with preconceptions. But, Â“during the act of interpretation the scholar shoul d always be able and ready to adjust or even change his initial view, as his knowledge of and insight into his subject deepenÂ” (Tigerstedt, Interpreting 21). That willingness to yield to a new insight, to adjust, t o leave claims of expertise aside Â– this is what do gmatic, systematic interpretive strategies lack. 169 Henry Teloh remarks that the dialogue form, Â“unlik e [a] treatise Â… imitates different conversations within the psychai of different interlocutors in a way that is imposs ible for a treatiseÂ” ( Socratic Education in PlatoÂ’s Early Dialogues (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986) 5).
66 3. Plato is first and foremost concerned with paideia. 4. Like all plays, the dialogues have two distinct aud iences: the audiences in the dialogues, and the audience of the dialogues. The meaning of the dialogue differs according to the perspective of the audienc e.170 In Chapter I, I outlined Mark GiffordÂ’s discussion of the literary technique known as dramatic irony. Ultimately, this technique depends on the audience of the dialogue possessing a fuller and more complete understanding of a chara cterÂ’s life. Thus, the external audience will grasp a meaning of the dialo gue that differs from that of the audience in the dialogue, the audience that does not possess t he future knowledge. The audience in the dialogue participat es in philosophic inquiry, and the audience of the dialogue participates in ph ilosophic inquiry of a related, yet disparate, sort. 170 This is not to be confused with the Straussian tec hnique of Â‘reading between the linesÂ’ to discover unwritten doctrine.
67 Chapter Four Problems in Interpreting the Theaetetus The Theaetetus appears to be an anomaly among the dialogues, or s o some scholars have held, for several reasons: the embedd ed dramatic dialogue, the uniqueness of TheaetetusÂ’ appearance and character, its aporet ic character despite it being a Â‘laterÂ’ dialogue, and its being the only dialogue of PlatoÂ’ s (ostensibly) devoted to the question of knowledge.171 I will argue that the Theaetetus is not an anomaly; the embedded dialogue serves a philosophic purpose, as does the oft-negle cted prologue, and that TheaetetusÂ’ Â– and othersÂ’ Â– characterizations are essential to ac hieving its purpose. Finally, I will argue that the Theaetetus is not concerned with the epistemological question qua epistemology, viz., what is knowledge, but rather with understand ing how to pursue knowledge; the concern is centered on pedagogy ( paideia ) and not epistemology by itself. The reason why some scholars see these features as anomalies i s that the scholars in question attempt to turn Plato into a contemporary philosopher, i.e. they attribute to Plato their own philosophical conceptions instead of looking for hi s. False Starts The first sort of interpretative strategies ignore, completely, the dialogue form. Any scholar working from the dogmatic interpretativ e principles described above will 171 The relative uniqueness of the Theaetetus is reflected even in the grammar of the first sentence: "Of the Platonic dialogues other than Theaetetus only the Timaeus Phaedrus and Menexenus begin with a sentence not containing a verbÂ” (Joan C. Harrison, Â“Plato's Prologue: Theaetetus 142A143C,Â” Tulane-Studies-in-Philosophy 27 (1978): 111). Harrison comments on the opening sentence, relating how there is irony by Eucleides not using a verb Â– verb is motion, and there is no physical m otion (Eleatic) Zeno's paradoxes.
68 ignore the prologue. Gail Fine is a good example o f a scholar working within this sort of interpretation.172 She accepts the common chronological grouping of the dialogues, though notes Â– and skims over Â– that there are alte rnative chronologies as well as arguments warning against chronological groupings a t all. Following Vlastos, Fine assumes that the early, or Socratic, dialogues repr esent the historical SocratesÂ’ philosophy, not PlatoÂ’s. Fine extracts a full-blow n epistemology from Theaetetus Meno and Republic and in doing so, strips away the dialogue form and examines the dialogues as if they were no more than dressing for treatises Reducing the dialogues to propositions and principles is indeed one method of interpretation that yields Â‘philosophically interesting resultsÂ’ and enables t he construction of a systematic philosophy. It is not that Fine constructs a theor y from nowhere; her type of interpretation has the advantage of being able to p oint to the text, as opposed to some of the esoterics who at times forfeit that luxury of u sing PlatoÂ’s texts as evidence. The problem with this type of interpretation is that it does not consider that which is most evident about the text Â– that the text is a dialogu e, or if you will, drama or poetry. Thus, by excluding the dramatic elements of a dialogue, s cholars that indulge in this type of interpretation inadvertently shape PlatoÂ’s philosop hy in an anachronistic manner and more often than not, they interpret the statements in the text in the language emblematic of contemporary philosophy. This is not to say tha t such analyses do not bear useful or interesting results. It is to say that they should be considered with a critical eye. A reductionist, analytic interpretation of PlatoÂ’s dialogues necessarily ignores the dramatic nuances, as well as entire sections of the text. For instance, nowhere does Fine 172 CIte
69 discuss the prologue; based on her interpretative s trategy, there can be no information useful to her analysis within the prologue. Even R osemary DesjardinsÂ’ commentary on the Theaetetus begins with the interchange between Socrates and T heaetetus, skipping the prologue.173 In terms of explanatory power, this method of int erpretation falls short as the only explanation for numerous lines must be Â“tr ivial dressing.Â” Such interpretations, while philosophical in a most familiar way, lapse i nto proleptic. A second sort of interpretation takes into account the dramatic elements of the dialogue yet holds that the philosophic content doe s not depend, or is separable, from the dramatic form.174 For example, CornfordÂ’s interpretation of the Theaetetus does make mention of the prologue, using it as an opportunity to mention the problems with fixing its dramatic date, as well as to remind the reader that it is possible that the prologue we have now may not have been the original. The prolo gue that is currently attached to the dialogue is there to commemorate Theaetetus Â– a fam iliar view that Cornford feels no need to defend. The prologue explained as a commem oratory addendum releases the prologue from having philosophic import, either on its own or contributing to the philosophy of the dialogue proper. He devotes a sc ant two paragraphs to a section he titles Â‘Midwifery and AnamnesisÂ’. Had Cornford tur ned his attention to the characters and the proem, he might not have downplayed the imp ortance of the Theaetetus : Â“the dialogue is concerned only with the lower kinds of cognition, our awareness of the sense173 Desjardins, Rosemary. The Rational Enterprise: Logos in PlatoÂ’s Theaetet us New York: State University of New York Press, 1990. 174 This is not to say that these types of interpretat ions do not produce valuable insights and analysis; in general, though, they are limited.
70 world and judgments involving the perception of sen sible objects.Â”175 CornfordÂ’s contention is that the Theaetetus a Â‘laterÂ’ dialogue, serves only the purpose of ma king it clear that any epistemology requires the Forms. Th e dialogue fails, Cornford believes, due to the omission of the Forms. Guthrie, like Cornford, finds doctrines in the dial ogues and yet Guthrie himself writes that Â“the dialogues are not systematic treat isesÂ” and Â“there are limits to the extent to which they can legitimately be synthesized.Â”176 He does not dispute the categorization of the dialogues in the typical early, middle, and late periods and yet for the most part manages to avoid relying on that chronological stru cture in his discussion. GuthrieÂ’s commentary on the Theaetetus does mention the dramatic elements, the historical and cultural content of the dialogue, but he does not l ink the two and thus remains at the level of analyzing the philosophic content apart from the dramatic and historical content. Guthrie calls the Theaetetus a brilliant adaptation of the manner and plan of the earlier dialogues to the more critical and probing approach to knowledge of Plato Â’s late maturity. The restoration of Socrates to his original role, with much of his original personality, shows Plato still anxious to be regarded as the tru e heir and continuator of Socratic teaching.177 Plato shows the Socrates of the Theaetetus to be similar to the Socrates of the earlier dialogues. Invoking the midwife analogy, Plato sho ws Socrates is Â“not just a thinkingmachine like the Eleatic visitor,Â” the Theaetetus and Sophist work together, with a philosophical purpose: Â“the one aporetic, setting f orth problems, the other didactic, 175 Francis M. Cornford, PlatoÂ’s Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist (1957 Mineola: Dover, 2003) 28. 176 Guthrie, History 97. 177 Guthrie, History 64-65.
71 solving them.Â”178 For Guthrie, the Theaetetus is replete with reminders of the earlier dialogues: Socrates desires to discover the best an d the brightest boys; Socrates and his interlocutors set out to give a concept a definitio n, the first suggestion is comprised of instances; and the dialogue Â“ostensibly ends in fai lure.Â”179 Knowledge is the concept under scrutiny, Guthrie says, that sets the Theaetetus apart from the other aporetic dialogues. The question is not an ethical or aesth etic concept, but knowledge itself. He looks at the opening moves of the dialogue with the intention of making the relation between the Theaetetus and the early aporetic dialogues. But surprisingly he has nothing to say about the midwife metaphor as he did with re gard to the proem. BurnyeatÂ’s commentary on the Theaetetus involves more discussion of the dramatic elements than either discussion of Cornfor d or Guthrie, and also takes an approach that is more open-ended, in the spirit of SocratesÂ’ dialectic. In the Preface, he refers to own approach as unorthodox,180 which is immediately evident in his commentary on the prologue: Â“we should not fail to think about the dramatic emphasis which Plato has contrived to place on the notion of expertise.Â”181 But he does not address anything in the outer dialogue beyond that single p rovocative comment, and neither does he comment about the midwife metaphor.182 178 Guthrie, History 65. 179 Guthrie, History 65. 180 Myles Burnyeat, The Theaetetus of Plato (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1990) xiii. 181 Burnyeat, Theaetetus 3. 182 It should be noted that Burnyeat has published an article on the Socratic midwife (Â“Socratic Midwifery, Platonic Inspiration,Â” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 24 (1997): 7-16.) and perhaps it is meant to be understood that the article shoul d be read in tandem with the commentary.
72 In an effort to provide a maieutic commentary on th e dialogue, Burnyeat presents multiple possible interpretations in order to allow the reader to discuss and decide on her own which interpretation is more likely. He begins by stating Â“This is a dialogue, not a treatise. As such it invites us not merely to witn ess but to participate ourselves in the philosophical activity of the speakers.Â”183 Burnyeat splits the dialogue into three parts, as most scholars do, but his reasoning is a little different: he claims the first and longest part is a discussion that could be used to educate undergraduates, the second for graduate students, and the final section is for fellow acade mics. Keeping in line with the protreptical nature of the dialogue, Burnyeat wishe s for the readers of his commentary to make their own decision about the interpretations h e presents. But for the most part he favors discussing the philosophic content, and whil e he does not dismiss outright the dramatic elements from the interpretations he prese nts, he does not present an interpretation to counterbalance the dogmatic inter pretations or attempt to construct one himself. He carries two interpretations throughout the commentary, which he labels Â‘AÂ’ and Â‘BÂ’. Though Burnyeat prefers the Â‘BÂ’ interpret ation, the interpretation that follows Bernard Williams, Burnyeat presents an alternative interpretation that follows Cornford. BurnyeatÂ’s error is that his commentary lacks the s ynthesis of philosophical and contextual elements. David Sedley, uses BurnyeatÂ’s presentation as a lau nching point for his own interpretation. Sedley makes clear from the outset the strategy which he will use to interpret the Theaetetus situating it between contemporary and traditional interpretations. He does not dispute, but upholds, the traditional o rdering of the dialogues. Along the 183 Burnyeat, Theaetetus 3-4.
73 same lines as Vlastos, Sedley believes that there a re Socratic and Platonic phases, while conceding that Â“the dialogues of the [Platonic] pha se necessarily succeed in achieving historical authenticity Â… [they] showcase, for bett er or worse Â… PlatoÂ’s own perspective on the historical figure Socrates.Â”184 He considers the interpretations of both Cornford and Burnyeat. On the Cornford interpretation, the dialogue fails shows that one cannot construct an epistemology without the Forms, settin g the stage for the Sophist On BurnyeatÂ’s interpretation, he says, dialogue is to be seen as a Â“dialectical exercise rather than a doctrinal one.Â”185 For Sedley this involves a Â“double dialectical co nfrontationÂ” Â– one within the text, the other between the audience and the text.186 Sedley echoes A. A. LongÂ’s approach to the dialogues: Â“Long properly em phasizes where most others have failed to do so is its Socratic aspect: in one way or another, the Theaetetus is PlatoÂ’s reevaluation of Socrates.Â”187 SedleyÂ’s appears to be a third sort of interpretati on that he calls a Â‘maieutic interpretationÂ’.188 According to Sedley, Socrates is forced to stop at the end of the dialogue: Because, as the dialogue tells us, the correct phil osophical method is that of midwifery, where it falls to the interlocutor, and no one else, to give birth to the true doctrine. Once Plato has brought us, the read ers, as close as he can to the true definition, short of actually stating it, his work is done.189 184 Sedley 3 185 Sedley 4. 186 Sedley 4. 187 Sedley 6. 188 SedleyÂ’s principles of interpretation are not espe cially novel; as Press has noticed a traditional interpretation often involves doctrinal, developmen tal, and didactic principles (though not in the sen se of paideia ). See above, page 50-51. 189 Sedley 5.
74 SedleyÂ’s is a motley interpretation, with bits from each of the afore-mentioned interpretations. He takes the idea of the Theaetetus as a late dialogue, and as such evincing late Platonic doctrine, adding BurnyeatÂ’s idea of two simultaneous readings, and recognizes there the distinction between the author and the character Socrates, who in this case is a version of the Socrates that appears in t he early dialogues.190 To that medley Sedley injects his own Â“maieutic interpretation: th at the internal and the external dialectic are both, in their own way, applications of philoso phical midwifery.Â”191 SedleyÂ’s interpretation, he himself notes, is in opposition to the essays found in PressÂ’ 1996 collection, in that SedleyÂ’s reading takes the most recent of many Â‘orthodoxÂ’ positions Â– the view that the main speaker, generally Socrates, espouses PlatoÂ’s own views.192 However, the Theaetetus should be seen as an exception to treating speaker and author as one, for he feels that Theaetetus involves Â“ autobiographical self-commentary. Â”193 SedleyÂ’s interpretation does not involve a break fr om characteristic doctrinal interpretation, but he does approach the hermeneutical way of interpreting Plato. Sedl ey does not believe that PlatoÂ’s message in the Theaetetus is voiced by Socrates for Â“Socrates fails to see the Platonic implications, a nd instead it is we, as seasoned readers 190 Sedley 6 191 Sedley 6. 192 Sedley 6. See Who Speaks for Plato? Studies in Platonic Anonymity ed. Gerald A. Press (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000). 193 Sedley 7
75 of Plato, who are expected to recognize and exploit them.Â”194 In a move that is favorable to the third way of interpretation, Sedley makes ex plicit that there is a distinction to be found between the intended results of the dialogue internally and the intended result of the dialogue externally; that the internal dialogue Â’s midwifery fails but the external midwifery has a chance at success: Â“the external mi dwifery consists partly in the dialogueÂ’s power to bring us to the point where we are ready to abandon the written text and continue the dialectic for ourselvesÂ…Â”195 But Sedley is also caught up in the dogmatic, doctrinal approach to Plato and thus cons tructs his analysis on the following assumptions: that Plato has a doctrine of Forms and that it is found in, at least, the Republic ; that the Theaetetus was written after the Republic ; and that because this doctrine is not present in the Theaetetus (yet is present in Â‘laterÂ’ dialogues) its absence must be accounted for, in order for the system of d octrines to continue to cohere.196 Notably, Sedley finds the purpose of the Theaetetus is just that Â– to show PlatoÂ’s systematic coherence; he writes that Â“by developing this implicit portrayal of Socrates as the midwife of Platonism, Plato aims to demonstrate if not the identity, at any rate the profound continuity between, on the one hand, his revered masterÂ’s hi storic contribution and, on the other, the Platonist truth.Â”197 Sedley devotes a few words for the dialogueÂ’s 194 Sedley 8. Sedley does subscribe to the doctrines usually described as Platonism. Sedley simply makes a mistake by assuming that a contempor ary audience full of seasoned readers would have the same reaction and see similar Â‘Platonic implication sÂ’ as an audience of fourth century listeners 195 Sedley 11. 196 Â“Any serious interpretation of the Theaetetus must explain the lack of Forms.Â” (Gokhan Adalier, Â“The Case of Theaetetus, Â” Phronesis: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy 46.1 (2001): 1-37.) 197 Sedley 8.
76 frame, comparing it with other dialoguesÂ’ proems th at stress the source of the information as well as the relation between memory and writing.198 Though Sedley addresses the prologue and the metaph or of the midwife, it is not taken so seriously as to become a cornerstone for S edleyÂ’s argument; on his interpretation there remain many unanswered questions. Beginning with the assumption that the prologue was written by Plato Â– even assuming its d edicatory capacity Â– why choose Eucleides, one might ask, as the record-keeper; why begin with the Megarians? Why spend time developing the similarities between Socr ates and Theaetetus, and why are two mathematicians chosen for SocratesÂ’ interlocutors i n a dialogue about knowledge? Mark McPherran suggests that these questions might be an swered with due consideration to the nature of philosophic character i.e. by answering what is it about Socrates and Theaetetus that characterizes the virtue, moral exc ellence, of the philosopher. The Interpretation of Literary Form and Philosophic al Content This is precisely what commentators such as Paul Fr iedlnder and Ruby Blondell attempt. Of the prologue, Friedlnder says it has significance in three ways: it fixes Â“the ideal historical accuracy of the report,Â” emphasize s the main dialogueÂ’s importance, and it provides information about TheaetetusÂ’s characte r as a grown man: we are shown how the youth of good (epistemic) character becomes a m an of good moral character.199 Because we learn in the prologue that the conversat ion between Socrates and Theaetetus took place before the events of the Apology the references later in the dialogue about court become intelligible and hold meaning beyond w hat is gained from an analysis of 198 Sedley 16. 199 Paul Friedlnder, Plato III trans. Hans Meyerhoff (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1 960) 145-146.
77 the digression.200 As the final scene in the dialogue is also a refe rence to SocratesÂ’ trial, Friedlnder finds that the dialogue, bookended by t he references to the trial (and death) of Socrates, Â“shows the sublime yet precarious existen ce of the philosopher.Â”201 Friedlnder thinks it significant that Plato chooses the same M egarians that are present at SocratesÂ’ death in the Phaedo to be the prologueÂ’s speakers. These dramatic det ails as well as the connection with dramatic details of other dialogues give what Friedlnder terms a Â“personal dimensionÂ” that provides the grounds for the later discussions.202 Friedlnder focuses on the likeness between Socrates and Theaet etus, both the physical and the psychic resemblance; surely there is significance i n the resemblance and the question of the dialogue Â– in that there is something that inhe res in Theaetetus that is relevant to the question at hand, so that the question Â‘what is kno wledge?Â’ may only be discussed with Theaetetus. Similarly, the inclusion of Theodorus is for both personal and philosophical reasons. Friedlnder sees the midwife metaphor as an extension of the relevance of the Â‘personal dimension,Â’ noting that the practice esta blishes an idea of a model teacher and a model student. He sees Theaetetus in terms of one of the Republi cÂ’s guardians, as does Ruby Blondell. Blondell also emphasizes the interr elationship between form and 200 We are reminded of SocratesÂ’death in the prologue of the Theaetetus : Eucleides tells Tepsion that Â“It was not long before [SocratesÂ’] death Â… th at he came across Theaetetus, who was a boy at the timeÂ” (142c). 201 Friedlnder, Plato III 147. 202 Friedlnder, Plato III 148. Polansky finds a similar conclusion, based o n the use of the word wonder ( "); from SocratesÂ’ statement Â“ nn!" "-.rrnnrn Â“ (155d). Polansky assumes that the three uses of Â‘wonderÂ’ or its derivatives in the outer dialogue a re meant to Â‘foster philosophical activityÂ’ among t he external audience (35). See Aristotle Met I.1
78 content.203 The approach is a necessary one for she adopts a hermeneutical principle, and so takes as her basis that Â“the fundamental lit erary-critical axiom that every detail of a text contributes to the meaning of the wholeÂ” but cautions against attempting to give equal weight to every detail.204 A consideration of the dialogue form recognizes t hat what the dialogue shows is people, and Blondell bel ieves that the dialogue form lends itself to the conclusion that it is Â“a vehicle for characterization.Â”205 Specifically, Blondell argues that: Through the characters and their interactions, abst ract epistemological issues are shown to play themselves out in the world of specif ic, particularized human beings, with their varied abilities to learn from t he world, themselves, and each other. It is this personal dimension of epistemolo gy Â– the fact that we are particular, embodied individuals Â– that generates m ost of the problems explored in the dialogue (especially the reliability and the su bjectivity of sense-perception). This makes Theaetetus peculiarly self-referential in a dramatic sense, i n so far as its subject is the very process in which the partic ipants are engaged.206 BlondellÂ’s hermeneutic approach takes into account both the literary and dramatic context; what is lacking and what must also be accounted for is the historical context.If we take the literary context seriously, then we mu st also take the historical context seriously Â– for Plato writes dialogues populated wi th historical figures related to historical events, in existing settings and about a ctual issues. Thus, his philosophy demands that an interpreter account for context. I ndeed, one may miss or mistake his philosophy if one does not account for the historic al context in the synthesis of form with content. 203 Blondell 2. 204 Blondell 4. See Griswold 11-16. 205 Blondell 53. 206 Blondell 252.
79 A method for relating form and content has been sug gested by Holger Thesleff: Â“the so-called Â‘pedimentalÂ’ principle of compositio n.Â”207 This means that the literary composition is like a Greek temple, with the most i mportant thing is in the center Â– Greek temples have arrangements of figures in this manner as do other genres of ancient literature.208 This principle of composition is seen in other an cient genres and involves placing the most important things in the center.209 At a basic structural level, then, the heart of the Theaetetus is the self-proclaimed digression about philosophy Drawing on ThesleffÂ’s Â‘pedimentalÂ’ concept, I will assume that because the Â‘digressionÂ’ regarding the philosopher is set at the heart of the dialogue it is what is most important about the Theaetetus As Benitez and Guimares point out, making such a n assumption does not obviate the discussion of knowledge; in fact, the d iscussion of knowledge has everything to do with the discussion of the philosopher, as I will show.210 If knowledge is wisdom (145e), and a philosopher is a lover of wisdom, a p hilosopher is a lover of knowledge.211 The question of the dialogue, then, pertains and is directly related to the question of philosophy Â– both what it is (in terms of a practic e, a way of living) and its object (what is produced by that practice). I will argue that t he future character of Theaetetus is at 207 Thesleff, Looking 19. 208 Thesleff, Looking 19 n4. 209 Thesleff relates this to that arrangement of figur es in a Greek temple. 210 Benitez, Eugenio and Livia Guimaraes, "Philosophy as Performed in Plato's Theaetetus," Review of Metaphysics 47.2 (1993): 297-328. 211 This is a surprising move, for it seems Socrates e quates s ophia with epist m : rr r! However, it is not entirely the case that Socrates thinks the two are one and t he same, for very soon thereafter (150b) he claims tha t his knowledge ( techne ) of midwifery does not grant him wisdom (150c).
80 stake; determining what knowledge is, or rather wha t educational technique will produce it, will in turn shape his life. The description p hilosopher does, and how he lives his life, should be paramount to TheaetetusÂ’ further educatio n. Theaetetus must be Â‘matchedÂ’ to the appropriate instructor. While the audience in the dialogue is having a specific, controlled discussion about knowledge, the audience of the dialogue is participating in that same discussion but on a much larger scale. F ourth century audiences, as the people that determine endoxa are part of the ongoing debate as to what constit utes a sophos as I noted above. What they witness in the dialogue is slightly different than the audience in the dialogue; they see a youth in need of further e ducation; representations of a sophist, a mathematician, and a philosopher are present to dis play their wares and so, the audience is directed to compare the knowledge that each discipline brings. The dialogue asks th e audience to evaluate which is the best type of educ ation for Theaetetus and presumably their own sons. Clearly the answer to the best typ e of education for Theaetetus worked; the prologue tells us as much by vouching for the c haracter of the future Theaetetus. Even if the Theaetetus were written before the Republic it does address questions that are raised and discussed in the Republic In so doing, the Theaetetus raises questions that are central to the Republic. This would be true even if the language in which Theaetetus is described were not that of a Guardian as Ruby Blondell has noted. The Republic is central to any discussion of Platonic paideia and so the discussion of the Theaetetus as concerned with pedagogy must consider the Republic. Like the Republic the Theaetetus is also concerned with the problem of mimsis, although it is not readily evident to present day audiences as it would have b een to fourth century Athenians. Indeed, the character of Socrates unites the dialog ues as do his concerns and his projects;
81 thus, my concern with the relation of the dialogues to each other is not in terms of doctrines, but character-oriented. The projects of other characters, as well, shape the dialogues and SocratesÂ’ questions (and manner of qu estioning). Henry Teloh identifies a distinction between two Â‘modesÂ’ of Socratic dialect ic: elenchus and psychagogia Psychagogia is used when the interlocutor is favorably situate d towards the inquiry, or as Teloh puts it, uncorrupted. Elenchus is reserved for confrontational interlocutors and Â“refutations proceed by making use of the beliefs o f an answerer, and hence we cannot infer that Socrates endorses the premises used in r efutation.Â”212 In the Theaetetus I believe Socrates engages in psychagogia with both Theaetetus and Theodorus, leading them towards the realization that it is only throug h dialectic that they might grasp knowledge, if only for a moment. `The Â‘Outer DialogueÂ’ (142a Â– 143d) At first glance, the prologue, a scant two Stephanu s pages, does not seem to contain any philosophical insight if Â‘philosophical insightÂ’ is identified with contributing to Â‘Platonic epistemology.Â’ It has traditionally b een seen as a charming dedication to a fallen comrade before Â‘getting to itÂ’ Â– discussing philosophical doctrines concerning knowledge and ontology. Paying tribute to Theaetet us could be the reason for the dialogueÂ’s frame. Still, it is doubtful that Plato would have written a frame that was not tied to the main dialogue in some substantial manne r. In any event, in applying the hermeneutical principle and adopting ThesleffÂ’s ped imental assumption, we must ask how it contributes in the procession to the highpoi nt of the dialogue Â– the Â‘digressionÂ’ about philosophy. 212 Teloh, Socratic 23.
82 In the opening scene, set in Megara, Terpsion meets up with Eucleides, who has just returned from the harbor.213 There, he informs Terpsion, he witnessed Theaetet us being transported from an army camp in Corinth to A thens. Theaetetus, though badly wounded, wished to return home to Athens rather tha n stay in Megara. Eucleides mentions that he has heard TheaetetusÂ’ praises sung and reflects to Terpsion that after a conversation with Theaetetus, Socrates remarked tha t Theaetetus would certainly become famous, if he lived to adulthood.214 Theaetetus, Eucleides says, has lived up to Socra tesÂ’ prophecy. Terpsion inquires as to the specifics of the conversation between Socrates and Theaetetus, and we learn that Eucleides did not wit ness the conversation, but had Socrates recount the conversation to him, which he then wrote down in full, making several trips to Athens to be certain he got it rig ht.215 He went to extremes to be sure that he had the story exactly as Socrates told him, for he checked his written account with Socrates several times. Eucleides offers to have t he written version of SocratesÂ’ conversation with Theaetetus read to Terpsion; Eucl eides either cannot remember the conversation in full, or he does not trust his memo ry. The dialogue is thus Â“authoredÂ” by Eucleides, and though the manuscript is ostensibly a record of SocratesÂ’ narration, 213 The proem is most likely set in the spring of 391 according to Nails; see 275-278. Guthrie, believing it a tribute to a recently dead Theaetetu s, so considers battles at Corinth. There are two candidates. One battles occurred around 394 and th e other in 369. Guthrie reports that most scholars place the date at 369/7. See Guthrie, History 62-63. 214 John Anton notes that Theaetetus, while becoming a famous mathematician, did not become a great leader, such as a philosopher-king. I specul ate that this is most likely due to lack of trainin g in dialectic; as this dialogue takes place when Theaet etus is a young boy and Socrates is put to death so on after, Theaetetus lacked the educator that could ha ve moved him beyond mathematics. 215 Nails reports that Â“Gellius ( NA 7.10) Â… adds that, when Athens was hostile toward M egara, Eucleides dressed as a woman so he could avoid arre st when walking back and forth to Athens to see SocratesÂ” (145). For PlatoÂ’s audience the level of determination would have been noted, for Eucleides to disparage himself by dressing as a woman.
83 Eucleides has taken the liberty of editing out the Â“I saidÂ” when Socrates spoke and the Â“he saidÂ” when Theaetetus or Theodorus spoke. Just as Plato writes dialogues in which there is no character Plato and so writes himself o ut of the dialogue, Eucleides writes both himself as the author and Socrates as the narr ator out of the text. John McDowell, in his commentary on Theaetetus remarks, as many other scholars do, that although it is not unusual among PlatoÂ’s dialogues for the main dialogue to be embedded within a dialogue frame, Â“ Theaetetus is unique in that the embedded main dialogue is in dramatic, not narrative, form.Â”216 Through the MegariansÂ’ conversation, the frame narrative strategically pos itions several concepts for further exploration in the remainder of the dialogue: the i ssues of writing, reading, recollection and understanding, to say nothing of the death of S ocrates and of Theaetetus. These issues of writing, reading, recollection and understanding are not minor issues, despite the fact that contemporary philosophers oft en treat them as such. That they should appear to be unimportant to contemporary phi losophers simply underscores the fact that for us, reading and writing are so famili ar and so taken for granted, that we fail to consider the material and cultural differences i n paideia between fifth and fourth century BCE. Today, writing is used in every secto r of our society, from communicating information to storage of information. To modern day philosophers, the use and significanc e of writing has become transparent, as the outermost ring, something we ta ke for granted, even going so far as to label oral cultures Â‘pre-literateÂ’. Illiteracy is regarded as a problem and a disadvantage for full participation in our culture, though the i lliterate person undoubtedly mastered oral 216 McDowell 113.
84 communication Â– or sign language. Part of what is not captured in written texts is the performative aspect of language Â– an aspect which i s readily present in oral communication. J. L. Austin identifies sentences t hat do things as performative utterances: that the utterance is itself the action ; for example, by saying Â‘I doÂ” when asked Â‘Do you swear to tell the truth Â…Â’ you have p erformed the action with the utterance. Â‘I doÂ’ is not a report of the action; i t is the action itself.217 In archaic Greece, writing was a supplement to oral practices of commu nication and information preservation. We need to remind ourselves that the attitudes towards writing and reading in archaic and classical Greece were quite differen t; it is unlikely that the ability to read and write were widespread in the fifth and fourth c enturies, and even more dubious that silent reading was a common practice. The first me ntion on record of a solitary reader reading a text for the sake of enjoyment alone is i n AristophanesÂ’ Frogs (405 BCE); reading and listening was, in archaic and even clas sical Greece, a shared experience Â– at least, for the audience. 218 The role of the reader was separate from that of an audience member. Svenbro talks of a gap between a reader reading a text aloud and an actor performing memorized lines, stressing that the acto r is not reading: Â“they may have read the text to memorize it, but during the performance their voices replace the text, conspicuously absent from the stage.Â”219 Moreover, reading a text aloud meant that the 217 See J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words (Harvard UP: Cambridge, 1962). 218 See Harris 13, and G. M. A. Grube, Â“How Did the Gr eeks Look at Literature?Â” Lectures in memory of Louise Taft Semple: second series, 1966-1 970, ed. C. G. Boulter et. al., (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press for the University of Cincinnati, 19 73). 219 Svenbro, Interior 371.
85 reader was subjugating himself to the author; a per former does not suffer that same binding: Â“a readerÂ’s voice simply does not have the autonomy of the actorÂ’s voice.Â”220 Note that in of both types of speech acts the audie nce members are considered passive.221 In classical Greece, reading was an activity fit fo r slaves because to speak othersÂ’ words was to turn oneself into an instrument of the autho r, thus submitting oneself to a status of powerlessness.222 The author dominates the passive reader. Thus it is the slave who reads the words Eucleides has written Â– that were, originally, the words of Socrates. That a slave is made to read EucleidesÂ’ transcription of SocratesÂ’ conversation is predictable and conventional. But in the Theaetetus this reading aloud may have an additional purpose. Tarrant attributes this shifting of autho rial voice to the structure of oral narratives: In the Theaetetus the slave simply reads aloud, while the author sin ks into the audience, thus allowing the words and arguments the mselves to have their own independent effect upon his friends and colleagues. In allowing the slave to read he is allowing the book to speak for itself he is t esting its ability to be released into the public domain, and thus to speak to others as well.223 The issue of writing is one of the most important p hilosophic issues about the Platonic dialogues, but our literacy makes that issue disapp ear. For the ancient Greeks, the performative aspect of language could not be replac ed by written words. Because reading was seen as emasculating, the use of writte n testimony in court was frowned 220 Svenbro, Interior 372. 221 Svenbro suggests that Â“the passivity of the reader is modeled on the passivity of the spectatorÂ” (Interior 373). The reader is not in control of his speech, but is the instrument of another, of the t ext. 222 Svenboro, Phrasiklea 189. Tarrant notes that Â“The slave thus plays the strange role of a solo actor, giving animation to all part of the drama in the presence of the playwright and his friendÂ” (13 3). 223 Tarrant 132-133.
86 upon. Writing was incomplete without a voice; the Â“purpose of writing Â… was to produce and to control a deferred oral statement.Â”224 Written contracts required witnesses, which implied Â“an agreement was built up partly from the memory and scrutiny of the witnesses, partly through the writt en document.Â”225 As Tarrant remarks, written works are likely to inv olve a more complicated structure if the work is not committed to preservin g an oral narrative.226 Certainly, this is indicated by EucleidesÂ’ transposition of narrative to direct speech. But even as direct speech, the framed narrative displays features of o ral narrative and the frame story holds this tension of an oral versus a written narrative. As Socrates protests in the Phaedrus, a failure of texts, and learning from texts, is the m otionlessness of written words; the preference of motion to motionless is reflected in the Theaetetus too, at 153b. Even though a person wrote the text (or transcribed it), it is impossible to converse (sanely) with a text in order to determine if one has unders tood what the author was attempting to communicate.227 A problem of language is that it, and consequentl y the inferences drawn from it, is open to error. Conversing in speech ac commodates the fact that language is open to revision, to correct errors in understandin g a hearer can ask the speaker for clarification or elucidation one can ask as a mid wife. There is no midwife when dealing with texts, for their author is not present for que stioning. In the beginning of Theaetetus 224 Svenbro, Interior 367. Nomos Â“is originally conceived as a Â‘reading aloud,Â’ and thus as a reading voiceÂ” (Svenbro, Â“InteriorÂ” 372 fn. 20). 225 Thomas, Literacy 89. 226 Tarrant 139-140. 227 The assumption, here, is that Plato values understanding over and above other types of knowledge. Understanding is best achieved when the one has a responsive partner in the learning proce ss.
87 we learn that Eucleides makes several trips to Athe ns for the purpose of writing down the precise words of SocratesÂ’ conversation with Theaet etus; however, Tarrant points out that Â“one recognized feature of oral composition is the tendency to repeat something with variation.Â”228 Despite EucleidesÂ’ obsession with writing the precise words, it is unlikely that Socrates tells the tale using the same words e very time, as if he were no more than a voice recorder. What Socrates conveys is meaning Â– and exhortation Â– something that Eucleides may fail to grasp in his eagerness to cap ture, instead, the exact words. The Â‘oppositionÂ’ that may be observed in the outer stru cture, between meaning, or understanding, and precision, is echoed in the dial ogue by the use of mathematicians as interlocutors. Just as it may be more precise to r epresent propositions, arguments, even speakers as symbols (i.e. Â‘AÂ’ and Â‘BÂ’) that precisi on is aimed at capturing a logical structure, not the underlying Â‘messyÂ’ inferences th at convey meaning. PlatoÂ’s text, as opposed to EucleidesÂ’ text, puts t ogether both the transcription and the transcriber, calling attention to the dramatic elements of the dialogue, perhaps indicating that it is the meaning and exhortation, and not the words, that is important. Due to PlatoÂ’s melding of transcription and transcr iber into dialogue, more, rather than less, of the meaning of the words are captured by t he portrayal of actions, events, and speakers. Plato appears to be gently injecting hum or to the transcription process by pointing out EucleidesÂ’ weaknesses as a philosopher Eucleides was the founder of an Eleatic school of thought that Â“denied potentiality and had recourse only to logos in 228 Tarrant 139. See also Havelock, Preface 72-3.
88 rejecting all phenomena.Â”229 Eucleides hears but may not understand; he preser ves bare words but not necessarily their meaning. He memori zes but misremembers. Eucleides repeats the words of Socrates but it is not clear t hat he understands what the words mean, when taken as a whole. As a whole, the sum is grea ter than the parts; the meaning behind the words can only make sense as a unity, as a whol e Â– the parts alone are just random names. For the Megarians, Â“language itself becomes an issue and is subject to revision.Â”230 Ironically, the Eleatic-minded Eucleides is a lin k between the past, present, and future; the Eleactics believed that there could be no motion, either temporal or spatial. Eucleides, in the Â‘present,Â’ has a slave read a dialogue Eucleides recorded in the past before the death of Socrates Â– and Theaetetus, the prominent interlocutor in the dialogue, is going to die in the near future. The irony in the dialogueÂ’s frame abounds, for though we are told that Socrates related the ev ent to Eucleides and Eucleides writes down SocratesÂ’ words, Eucleides proceeds to efface Socrates as author of the text, but notice Plato always does that to himself. So how s hould we view the scribe, Eucleides? He is neither the author nor the reader, but stands in between the two as a seer stands between the divine and the individual seeking proph ecy. 229 Seth Bernadete, PlatoÂ’s Theaetetus : Part I of The Being of the Beautiful (1984 Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) I.84; See Diogen es Laertius II 106-12 (105). Aristotle says: Â“Ther e are some who say, as the Megaric school does, that a th ing Â‘canÂ’ act only when it is acting, and when it i s not acting it Â‘cannotÂ’ act, e.g. that he who is not bui lding cannot build, but only he who is building, wh en he is building; and so in all other cases. It is not har d to see the absurdities that attend this viewÂ” ( Metaphysics IX.3 1046b30-1047a20). 230 Harrison 112. Evidently the Megarians attempted t o do away with the copulative esti according to Aristotle Physics I.2 185b28-32: Â“So some Â… were led to omit Â‘isÂ’, o thers to change the mode of expression and say Â‘the man has been whitenedÂ’ i nstead of Â‘is whiteÂ’, and Â‘walksÂ’ instead of Â‘is walkingÂ’, for fear that if they added the word Â‘isÂ’ they should be making the one to be many Â– as if Â‘oneÂ’ and Â‘beingÂ’ were always used in one and the same se nse.Â” The audience listening to the dialogue would be certain to catch the implications of the Megarians involved in the dialogue.
89 Hayden Ausland suggests that an outer dialogue is m eant to increase audience involvement for Â“by observing a fictional surface d ialogue about a hypothetical earlier dialogue we by analogy contemplate a further living dialogue about one or another of these.Â”231 Taking AuslandÂ’s suggestion, I propose that the p rologue of the Theaetetus points to an educational purpose for the audience of the dialogue; that by extension, the purpose of the Theaetetus Â– of any Platonic dialogue Â– is to bring the conve rsation to the audience so that they might discover the answers fo r themselves. The dialogues are pedagogical works, and the telos of the works is increased understanding in a topic or a discussion. Plato does not desire his audience to remain passive, like the slave reading EucleidesÂ’ transcription. Plato does not attempt t o subjugate his listeners; by composing a dialogue, by extending the conversation to the li steners, Plato is inviting the audience members to participate Â– in both the inquiry and th e ethical life. The dialogue is set grimly before Socrates faces th e indictment by Meletus Â– in fact, the dialogue ends on that note Â– and thus the entire dialogue is shadowed by the impending death of Socrates. There is no way to kn ow precisely why Plato chose to set the dialogue before that event, but there are a few things that are perhaps so reasonable so as to escape the realm of idle speculation. First, it is worthwhile to ask how Socrates, the philosopher of the Apology, compares with the philosopher described in the Theaetetus Secondly, with SocratesÂ’ death looming in the futur e and the many references to parentage and offspring in the dialogue, it seems r ight to see one aspect of the dialogue as addressing whether or not the young Theaetetus is a suitable replacement for Socrates: can Theaetetus be Athens next gadfly? Finally, for the audience of the dialogue, it lends 231 Ausland 387.
90 a sense of urgency to the dialogue in general and t he comparison of the attorney to the philosopher in particular. It seems clear that the audience of the dialogue is meant to have the trial and death of Socrates in mind as the y hear this dialogue Â– in fact, it is imperative that they make connections between the d ialogue and the historical facts. The parallel between the appearances of Theaetetus and Socrates contributes to a reinterpretation of the death of Socrates as patrio tic. From the discussion of the Megarians, we might infer that since Theaetetus was dying due to wounds he earned in the military Â– surely a patriotic death Â– that we c an infer that Socrates, too, dies a patriotic death, though he dies for the polis as a philosopher and not a soldier. Plato here seems to be extending the concept of patriotism bey ond dying for Athens on the battlefield, for Socrates dies for AthensÂ’ paideia by portraying Theaetetus as someone on the road to becoming a philosopher Â– a Guardian Â– a nd Socrates as a philosopher, in contrast to Theodorus, the mathematician.232 But what is the process that will take Theaetetus from the level of mathematics to that of philosophy, i.e. from the purely theoretical to the existential? The answer seems t o be within the prologue: the midwife, wielding the art of dialectic. The Midwife of the Inner Dialogue (143d -151d) He explains to those assembled that much as his mot her was a midwife to women, he is a midwife to men, delivering them of ideas. In declaring himself a midwife, Socrates claims that he himself is barren, unable t o conceive Â– a claim that matches with his usual claim of ignorance. SocratesÂ’ midwifery is also an art that distinguishes Â“the 232 In the Crito Socrates stresses that to do anything (like escape ) other than die would be apolitical, or unpatriotic.
91 true from the false offspringÂ” Â– truth from falseho od (150b). This is an apt description of Socratic elenchus wherein Socrates generally leads his interlocutor s to realize their beliefs are logically inconsistent and that should, but often does not, cause the interlocutor to reject the belief as falsehood. Bu t a midwife has a skill other than the abilities to determine if they ought to induce a bi rth or a miscarriage as well as to deliver a baby safely, and that skill is matchmaking. A tr ue midwife knows which two people will bring forth the best offspring. Socrates often complains when interlocutors make an appeal to authority, by reciting what others have said and not their own be liefs. In the Protagoras when Protagoras realizes the first logical trap Socrates has allowed him to walk into, he protests, claiming, Â“What does it matter? If you li ke, let us assume that justice is holy and holiness justÂ” (331c). Unable to respond, he appea ls to Socrates to simply continue as if they had managed to reach an agreement on the subje ct. SocratesÂ’ reply is poignant: Â“It isnÂ’t this Â‘if you likeÂ’ and Â‘if thatÂ’s what you th inkÂ’ that I want us to examine, but you and me ourselvesÂ” (331c). In other words, the discussi on cannot uncover any truth unless both Socrates and Protagoras are engaging each othe r as they engage themselves. Gifford agrees with the importance of the many instances th at Socrates chides the interlocutor that it is their selves they should examine, to obtain any truth: Â…a main goal of Socratic questioning is to reveal t he quality of an interlocutorÂ’s life Â… it is in this dialectical form of argumentat ion that he himself mimetically replicates in the dialogues (however much he may mo dify it for dramatic ends of his own.233 233 Gifford 46.
92 Indeed, it is the willingness to examine oneÂ’s self that Socrates requires of the interlocutor. The self-knowledge gained from the d ialectical experience with Socrates may not be of any help in putting into words a defi nition of whatever concept they are discussing, but it should put them in a better position to put the concept i nto practice It provides the grounds for the possibility of virtue, both moral and intellectual virtue. The problem is what paideia will bring a person to virtue Â– the answer is obvio usly philosophy. In the Theaetetus the concern, I argue, is clearly with the epistemi c virtues Â– and these virtues are specific to philosophers ; philosophers must know, inquire, and live in the right way. This can be seen in the moral ch aracter of Theaetetus and the guiding question of the dialogue. Theaetetus is already a youth of good moral character, according to Theodorus. Michael Stokes writes that in order to take the dia logue form seriously we must take the characters of the dialogues seriously, and that Â“includes examining the constraints placed upon them by the context in whic h they speak.Â”234 This means both the constraints of the character Â– who and what the y are Â– and the constraints of the actual conversation with Socrates. Any action that the historical personage makes in life is taken to follow from the beliefs and desires exp ressed in the dialogues. While it is not novel to consider the Theaetetus as a dialogue about the philosopher, my interest lies in not only assuming that common conclusion, but examining what it is the external audience is to le arn from the dialogue, in the context of learning what is required of the philosopher. In t he Theaetetus we are able to see what is 234 Michael C. Stokes, Plato's Socratic Conversations: Drama and Dialecti c in Three Dialogues (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986.) 32.
93 particular to the goals and the practice of philoso phy through its comparison to other epistemic practices, how the practice works, the ki nd of person a philosopher is, and the way of life a philosopher leads, as well as the way a philosopher dies. In the case of Theaetetus, the manner of his death is addressed in the very beginning of the dialogue. By placing the death first in a manner that demands attention from the audie nce, Plato may be giving tribute to Theaetetus, as many commen tators have suggested. But the end of the transcribed dialogue taking place right befo re the event of the Euthyphro and subseqently the Apology suggests a significance to the concept of death Â– and elevating the prologue, with its references to both SocratesÂ’ and TheaetetusÂ’ death, above a laudatory tribute to an admired colleague. Death m ay be a physical representation of the problems with the first definition, that knowledge is perception. The knowledge of the philosopher extends beyond the Â‘realmÂ’ of physical perception, into the furthest reaches of the abstract.
94 Chapter Five Knowledge and Ignorance I have argued above that the fourth century was mar ked with a specific conception of sophos one that stresses successful public speaking Â– th at is, public speaking that sways and influences other citizens Â– as a criterion. In the Theaetetus as well as other dialogues, Plato subverts the meaning of sophos through a critique of knowledge-yielding practices, in order to establish the life and practice of a philosopher. Through a discussion of the meaning of Â‘knowledge,Â’ Socrates shows that truth, or the failure to reach truth, is a direct result of the practice that yields that Â‘knowledge.Â’ Indeed, any knowledge-yielding practice requires th at the learner possess particular virtues, and it is those virtues, as well as those practices, that fail to meet PlatoÂ’s standard of embodied virtue: Socrates. In the other aporeti c dialogues, it has been argued that Socrates exemplifies the virtue under discussion in both word (n) and deed (/) : the Charmides shows him as temperate, the Laches shows him as courageous, the Euthyphro shows him as pious, and so on and so forth.235 In the Theaetetus we have a perplexing situation, if we wish to extend this tre nd among aporetic dialogues to include the Theaetetus : the Â‘virtueÂ’ in the Theaetetus is knowledge and Socrates is well known for his professions of ignorance. How, then, can S ocrates exemplify knowledge when he himself denies having it and the dialogue itself en ds in aporia irresolution to the 235 Though, technically, the virtue in both word and d eed is in both cases a type of action. In the Laches we are told of SocratesÂ’ courage in battle, and we see that he is courageous in inquiry. The latter i s a different type of action, one that is expressed in discourse and cannot be expressed otherwise, and so I will refer to it as virtue in word.
95 question? As we, and PlatoÂ’s intended fourth centu ry audience, are aware, SocratesÂ’ only claim to knowledge is that he does not know: he cla ims to know that he knows not. How can Socrates embody knowledge in the same manner that Socrates embodie s sophrosne or andreia in both words and actions? One can be courageous or temperate in words and deeds, it is easy to see, but it is not so easy to see in the case of knowledge. If, however, knowledge is characterized by Socratic knowledge a profession of ignorance of what one knows they do not know, then one can be knowledgeab le in word and deed through a display of epistemic virtue. The profession of ign orance is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for a successful inquiry to o ccur; it requires a certain humility that indicates disinterest in power or winning. It show s an interest in Truth. To be knowledgeable in word and deed, then, is to inquire in a particular way, one that requires the speaker to have epistemic virtue. Knowledge as Species (143d Â– 151d) The transcribed dialogue opens with Socrates inquir ing if Theodorus has come across exceptional Athenian youth Â– which, of cours e, Theodorus has. Theodorus praises the boy in everything but his appearance Â– in appea rance, Theaetetus looks rather like Socrates.236 Socrates uses this claim of similarity to launch into a discussion of the nature of knowledge. TheaetetusÂ’ first response is to enu merate the sciences Â– geometry, astronomy, mathematics Â– and adding to this list, c rafts such as cobbling. Theaetetus appears to be making the same mistake all of Socrat esÂ’ aporetic interlocutors make on their first attempt Â– answering with an example, an instance of the concept under 236 TheaetetusÂ’ form is similar enough to SocratesÂ’ fo rm that the two might be mistaken for each other from a distance.
96 discussion. His answer is also tied to personal ex perience, as seen in Laches Euthyphro and other aporetic dialogues, for he begins his enu meration with what the subjects he is learning from Theodorus, a not unimportant point as the dialogue unfolds. Socrates gently shows him the error in attempting to form a definition from instances, and then declares him Â“pregnant.Â” When Socrates proposes to deliver TheaetetusÂ’ idea concerning knowledge and Theaetetus offers the definition of Â‘ knowledge as aisthesis ,Â’ Socrates proceeds to refute the definition in the context of the sophoi with whom he identifies it, i.e, in the context of practices of paideia Theaetetus has been training with Theodorus in the subjects of mathematics, geometry, and astronomy. Of course, none of these subjects are the highest possible object of knowledge, that which is revealed in the pure science of dialectic, but considering what Socrates says in the Republic about the training of the guardians, these three subjects stand close to philosophy. When The aetetusÂ’ first attempt to define knowledge is lacking, for it is only a list of inst ances of knowledge, Socrates offers an analogous definition of clay (147c-d) so that Theae tetus might better understand how to answer. In return, Theaetetus tells Socrates about a problem he and Socrates the younger were attempting to solve. Following a demonstratio n by Theodorus that was intended to show a Â“point about powersÂ” (147d), the two boys at tempted to define Â‘powerÂ’ ( dunamis ).237 This is an example of Â“a transformed dialegesthai ,Â” writes P. Christopher Smith, that is, Â“not as Â‘talkingÂ’ something Â‘throug hÂ’ in ordinary word names, but as 237 Â“Theaetetus speaks in the manner typical of geomet ers of numbers Â‘arising,Â’ as if the subject matters of mathematics were locked in a dynamic pro cessÂ… Socrates aids Theaetetus to appreciate that t he Â‘perceptionÂ’ involved in mathematics is not sense-p erception and that the intelligible objects of mathematics have a different ontological status fro m objects of senseÂ” (Ronald Polansky, Philosophy and Knowledge: A Commentary on Plato's Theaetetus (Cranbury: Associated UP, 1992) 71).
97 Â‘sorting out,Â’ by collection into a genus ( genos ) and division according to species ( eid ), some preconceived thing in its relationships to oth er preconceived things.Â”238 TheaetetusÂ’ description of his solution to the dunamis problem seems to rely heavily on diagrams and visual cues, as would be expected from a mathematicianÂ’s pupil.239 Socrates advises Theaetetus to Â“Try to imitate your answer about powers Â…now I want you in the same way to give one single account of t he many branches of knowledgeÂ” (148d).240 TheaetetusÂ’ next attempt is then made using the m athematicianÂ’s method, the transformed dialegesethai Â– and, of course, it fails to satisfy the conditio ns of the philosopher. The philosopher inquires for the purpose of reveali ng truth. Truth is the object of the practice of philosophy Â– but it is a particular type of knowledge that only a philosopher, one who possesses appropriate epistemi c virtue and practices philosophy, one who lives the philosophic life, can pursue. Truth is not necessarily the property of a proposition, and philosophy is not, or not merely, the formulation of propositions. Communicating what philosophy is Â– a way of living Â– requires at least dramatic embodiment. All that is carried out in linguistic discourse Â– what is communicated in philosophy Â– also requires embodiment. If the Theaetetus is about what it is to be a philosopher Â– which includes the practice of philos ophy Â– then the question Â‘what is knowledge?Â’ has a context: what is knowledge if one Â’s goal is to establish the practice of 238 P. Christopher Smith, "Between the Audible Word an d the Envisionable Concept: Re-Reading Plato's Theaetetus After Gadamer," Continental Philosophy Review 33.3 (2000): 327-44. 329. 239 Smith 329. 240 As usual, Socrates tailors his discussion to the i ndividual he is speaking with, in this case, advising Theaetetus to attempt to answer in a manne r with which he is comfortable and accustomed.
98 philosophy? In the dialogues, philosophy is shown to reveal non-propositional (and in many cases inarticulable) concepts. The Theaetetus presents misconceptions of knowledge in Athenian s ociety, and how those misconceptions are tied to political prac tices, which are bolstered by practices of paideia Knowledge is typically conceived as perception Â– but this is wrong. Knowledge can not be perception nor can knowledge b e the doxa that is a product of debates in the democratic polis .241 Since the practices of sophistry and poetry produ ce the conception of knowledge as relative and democra tic, they should not be standard practice. Philosophy is a type of discourse that a llows for open-ended investigation; it is a dynamic process that does not have an assumed end, unlike debate i n the polis Endoxa Â‘received belief(s)Â’, is the starting point for r hetorical pistis which is opposed to the self-evident arche of mathematical apodeixis A debate conducted by sophoi presents the speakerÂ’s position and then contrives, through rhetoric, argument, and emotional persuasion, to Â‘win overÂ’ the audience. A debate a nd sophistic speech or dialectic is always, first and foremost, about winning, about po wer, about skill in persuasive technique. It is not aimed at establishing truth: the performative aspect of sophistry prevents it from being a truth-seeking practice. T he performative aspect of poetry does the same; moreover, the performative aspect becomes the reason for the practice of poetry. Poetry (re)presents events and characters from history and myth, creating a 241 See Aristotle, Rhetoric.
99 pleasurable experience for the audience, an experie nce in which they can forget their own troubles.242 Knowledge as Aisthesis (151d Â– 186e) TheaetetusÂ’ second definition of knowledge is that it is perception ( aisthesis ). On one level, attempting to define knowledge as percep tion answers a challenge to PlatoÂ’s conception of philosophy. The knowledge of the phi losopher extends beyond the Â‘realmÂ’ of physical perception, into the furthest reaches o f the abstract. If sense perception is knowledge, then appearances are all that is. There would be no need to look for a greater truth; no need for philosophy. The good life is th en comprised of whatever each person conceives it to be and the polis is left without clear direction, wallowing in the opinions of the moment ( endoxa ). The discussion in the Theaetetus makes clear to the fourth century audience the problems involved in defining knowledge as perception, and implies that any practice resulting in perception can not b e the Â‘answerÂ’ the polis needs: a lasting true standard. It can not provide principles for t he Good life. When examined from the perspective of a fourth cent ury citizen, the Theaetetus is, as most of the aporetic dialogues seem to be, a bout defining philosophy as a new standard of paideia In particular, this dialogue highlights the diff erences between the practice of philosophy and that of mathematics, as evidenced by the choice of interlocutors. However, the first definition of kn owledge is arguably not about mathematics; and the lengthy discussion that knowle dge is aisthesis seems to be more about democratic knowledge and traditional concepti ons of a sophos Designating 242 As Smith points out, this is key because poetry ca lls things into presence for the listeners for the first time, rather than reminding them of preco nceived realities.
100 knowledge as perception allows for Plato to accompl ish several things. First, separation of the practice of philosophy from the practice of the poets, the sophists, and the Presocratics Â– from their language of word-names. Secondly, this distinction draws attention to the failure of mathematics to complete ly devote itself to abstract, a priori reasoning; and thirdly, it draws attention to and d eals with the common opinion of many Athenian citizens. Aisthesis indicates the problem with mathematics as well, vi z. its reliance on diagrams Â– or the staticity of sight, a t least for puposes of paideia as we see in the Meno Geometry concerns figures that have spatial dime nsions, albeit ideal spatial dimensions. It is evident, when one situates the dialogue in it s historical and cultural context, that SocratesÂ’ response to TheaetetusÂ’ suggestion t hat Â‘knowledge is perceptionÂ’ is a response that is meant to provide an opening of the practices of paideia to criticism. Thus, Socrates conflates TheaetetusÂ’ definition wit h Protagorean relativism, that Â‘man is the measure of all things.Â’ Protagoras, we see, is to represent the sophists, the class of educators who were mostly not Athenian but foreigne rs, and who educated the mekarion in virtue, or anyone willing to pay a hefty fee. I n the Protagoras Plato has the character of the name argue that all the wise men before him were, in fact, sophists and so it is fitting that in the Theaetetus too, Protagoras is grouped together with Heraclit us, Empedocles, Epicharmus and Homer. Understanding what these sophoi have in common and what Plato found objectionable about their positions will inform us of what Plato thinks philosophic paideia ought to be. Most of the sophoi listed speak to a world of change, of becoming Â– the world that we are able to perceive All claim (or, others claim for them) that their
101 work is an instance of paideia Rather than addressing TheaetetusÂ’ definition in an abstract manner, Socrates grounds the definition in terms of instances of sophoi each of whom represents a particular practice of paideia and yet each one of these practices grounds Truth in a world of flux. What is common t o all is the implications for knowledge that emerge from their practices. The structure of the argument for knowledge as perc eption ( aisthesis ) has an introduction and two main refutations, interspersed with a Â‘digressionÂ’ about the nature of the philosopher. Upon Theaetetus answering Â‘knowle dge is perceptionÂ’ Socrates immediately relates the definition to ProtagorasÂ’ d octrine: Â“Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, and of things which ar e not, that they are notÂ” (152a). Using the example of wind, an object that does not exist except as a perception, in a few brief moves Socrates equates Â‘perceivingÂ’ with 'appearing ;Â’ the definition, with substitution, is now Â‘knowledge is appearance.Â’ This, in turn, lead s to the inclusion of Â… Â… all wise men of the past Â… Let us take it that we find on this side Protagoras and Heraclitus and Empedocles; and also the masters of the two kinds of poetry, Epicharmus in comedy and Homer in tragedy. For whe n Homer talked about Â‘Ocean, begetter of gods and Tethys their motherÂ’, he made all things the offspring of flux and motion (152e). The inclusion of these sophoi indicates the problem with the definition of knowl edge as perception is tied up in the problem with public di scourse, paideia and the implications the definition has for morality. Their conception of the Â‘world of becomingÂ’ is damaging, in particular, because of the authority these sophoi held over the general population as well as other sophoi These sophoi are present in the Theaetetus for the same reason they are included in other dialogues: Plato is attemptin g to appropriate the term philosophy for
102 a practice of paideia that stresses universal truth over temporary spect acles of appearance; a practice that examines the eternal di vine and not the immediate now. This is a problem with these Â‘fluxers,Â’ for neither truth nor knowledge can be grounded in perception. Philosophers, after all, l ove the sight of truth, not of sights and sounds ( Rep. 475d), whether of the sensible world or the poetic realms. The changing sights and sounds catch the eye, and perhaps even t he imagination; certainly, they catch the appetites, which come and go as does truth and knowledge in a democratic city. SocratesÂ’ combination of these sophoi serves to demonstrate that the problem with the definition of knowledge as aisthesis and the ensuing problematic implications, is a problem that reaches to the very heart of Hellas, f or it is a problem entrenched in Homer. The poet and his audience inhabit a world of sights and sounds, one which Socrates tells us in Republic 10, is even less stable than the ordinary sensible world. The poet need not understand the world of which he sing s, or the sensible world that it imitates; the poet needs only to capture its look a nd feel. Homer is chosen to represent the tragedians because of the authority and the est ablished role his poetry held in archaic paideia which Socrates also documents in Republic X. In Homer, memory ( aletheia ) comes from the muses; whatever stability knowledge has, it has because of the Muses. Even the muses move and change and perform, as Hesi od, who is paired with Homer in Republic Books II and III, shows us in the opening twelve li nes of the Theogony : Let us begin our singing from the Helikonian Muses Who possess the great and holy mountain of Helikon And dance there on soft feet by the dark blue water Of the spring, and by the altar of the powerful son of Kronos; Who wash their tender bodies in the waters of Perme ssos Or Hippokrene, spring of the Horse, or holy Olmeios And on the high places of Heliokon have ordered the ir dances
103 Which are handsome and beguiling, and light are the feet they move on. From there they rise, and put a veiling of deep mis t upon them, And walk in the night, singing in sweet voices, and celebrating Zeus, the holder of the aegis, and Hera, his lady Of Argos, who treads on golden sandals Â… Hesiod sings from the Muses, those who are tender a nd soft, and beguile men with their dances Â– dances which are part of the poetry.243 They rise from a deep mist Â– and mist, as we all know, obscures our senses and plays trick s on them. Of Epicharmus, little is known, though there is evi dence to suggest that he was known as the first comic playwright and as a philos opher, but a fragment from Epicharmus reveals that his work, as well, has them es of transience and its implied relativism:244 A. In the same way now consider mankind: one grows, a nother dwindles, and we are all subject to change every moment. But what c hanges by nature, never remaining in the same state, must therefore be diff erent from that which has suffered alteration. Thus both you and I are not t he same men now that we were yesterday; later we are others again and never the same according to the same argument.245 Thus, one might argue that a man could not be tried for crimes he committed yesterday on the basis that the man in the present is a diffe rent man.246 It is easy to make the connection to Heraclitus and the theory of flux in the above fragment. Epicharmus implies that identity can not be maintained without the stability of something beyond 243 Dancing was as much a part of poetry as singing an d the playing of instruments. 244 Gilbert Norwood, Greek Comedy (1931 London: Methuen & Co Ltd., 1964) 84; Â“Hippob otus placed him on a list of philosophers which included Thales and Pythagoras.Â” 245 Norwood 86. 246 In a footnote, Levett comments that Â“Epicharmus ma de humorous use of the idea that everything is always changing by having a debtor cl aim he is not the same person as incurred the debtÂ” ( Theaetetus trans. M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat, ed. Berna rd Williams (Indianapolis: Hackettt, 1992) 15).
104 appearance. Identity requires an immaterial stabil ity, which may be found in the divine. For the Greeks, whatever exists, never goes out of existence and is not visible Â– unless it chooses to be Â– is divine. What makes the divine divine is that stability that Vernant attributes to the Â“divine super-body,Â” which stands in stark contrast to the ephemeral, congenitally doomed mortal body.247 The properties of the godsÂ’ bodies are the contraries of mortal bodies and were not, contrary to common opinion, conceived as anthropomorphic because the human body was used as a model, but just the opposite: Â“the human body reflects the divine models the inex haustible source of a vital energy when, for an instant, the brilliance of divinity ha ppens to fall on a mortal creature, illuminating him, as in a fleeting glow, with a lit tle of that splendor that always clothes the body of a god.Â”248 The mortal body must return and lose itself in the nature to which it belongs, a nature that only made the body appear in order to s wallow it up again. The permanence of immortal beauty, the stability of undying glory in its institutions, culture alone has the power to construct these by c onferring on ephemeral creatures the status of the illustrious, the Â‘beaut iful dead.Â’ If the gods are immortal and imperishable, it is because, unlike me n, their corporeality possesses, by nature and even in the very heart of nature, the constant beauty and glory that the social imagination strives to invent for mortal s when the no longer have a body to display their beauty or an existence that c an win them glory. Living always in strength and beauty, the gods have a supe r-body: a body made entirely and forever of beauty and glory.249 But the gods, as portrayed by the poets, have fleet ing emotions that give rise to arbitrary actions, anthropomorphic actions. Perhaps it is th e fact of this anthropomorphism that 247 Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals (Princeton, Princeton UP: 1991) 31; or as Heidegger puts it, Â“the most beingful beingsÂ” (Mart in Heidegger, The Essence of Truth: On Plato's Cave Allegory and Theaetetus (Continuum New York, 2002) 124-125. 248 Vernant, Mortals 35-36. 249 Vernant, Mortals 41. Emphasis is mine.
105 makes the gods suspect in ProtagorasÂ’ eyes. Among the fragments we have of ProtagorasÂ’ book Â– named, ironically enough Â– Truth : Â“Concerning the gods I cannot know either that they are or that they are notÂ” (DK B4). According to Protagoras, we can not even have knowledge of the gods, calling into q uestion the very possibility of an incorporeal, immortal existence. Without the divin e, then man truly is the measure. It is this focus on the anthropomorphic characteristics o f the divine that obscure what it is that Plato reveals: Plato points to a conception of know ledge and truth modeled on the divine, that deathless Â‘shining, radiant existence.Â’ As Socrates presses Theaetetus on the problem with relative terms, Socrates strengthens the bond between perception and flux. Perception, if Protagoras is correct, is unerring Â– for the perceiverÂ’s judgment of his perc eptions is always correct for him. There are not, however, any reasons or arguments ( logoi ) given for the judgment. The statement Â“I believe it is coldÂ” is a subjective st atement for no objective truth can follow from it. A perceiver can report his perceptions, a nd while they are true for him, it is not necessary that they be true for anyone else. It al so follows that it is impossible for the perceiver to not know the things that he perceives (160d). Assuming that the world itself is in constant flux, the problem for truth is worse ned; it is not just that there is no truth between, or shared by, perceivers, but even subject ive truth Â– truth for the individual perceiver Â– is called into question. The world bec ome unintelligible, and we cannot trust our own perceptions. The only thing that could per sist through flux is a priori knowledge: objects that do not have an appearance, objects that are non-sensible, i.e., intelligible objects. Clearly, the world is in a c onstant state of becoming and we can state with assurance that sensible objects do not persist for eternity. Knowledge, for Socrates
106 and Plato, must be akin to the Â“shining radiant exi stenceÂ” of the gods. Thus, our perceptions are not the proper objects of knowledge because perceptions are ephemeral, and perceptions change as the world changes. Moreo ver, reliance on appearance for description leads to a violation of the law of cont radiction. This is seen through SocratesÂ’ example of the dice. Six dice on a table are both more and less, depending on whether you add or take away dice from the table (154c). R elational concepts such as greater and lesser, larger and smaller, generate these types of contradictions; four dice are more than three dice and at the same time, less than six dice .250 In order to resolve the contradiction caused by relational concepts, a kind of cognition that does not rely on appearance is necessary. There are two types of change: there is relational change, as in the example of the dice, and there is absolute change, as in the examp le of the size of Theaetetus, whose change from a shorter, younger Theaetetus to a tall er, older Theaetetus who grows no more (155b). Everything is in motion Â– all is beco ming and nothing is and there is no being Â– Socrates strives to remove all unity from t he theory, to return to what William James called a Â‘blooming, buzzing confusion.Â’251 Next, Socrates moves from sense perception to judgments and considers the judgments of the insane, diseased, and dreamers (157e) Â– and then having completed melding perception with flux, proceeds to bring objections to the theory and its associated p arts. 250 Of course, one of the things Â“ProtagorasÂ’Â” theory may be challenging is the principle of noncontradiction. 251 Polansky 102. William James, The Principles of Psychology (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981) 462.
107 The two types of change correlate to the practices of paideia. Philosophic dialectic brings about knowledge that transforms, a bsolutely, the knower while other practices create relative changes in the knower, th at is, beliefs. But as for knowledge as a fixed object, there is no room for that sort of kno wledge in the doctrine of flux, in equating knowledge with perception. Paideia that affixes Truth to phenomena lapses into relativism and confusion. This introduces the second of the two major figures that Socrates refutes: the Heracliteans. One aspect of the problem with defin ing knowledge as appearance may be seen in the ontology of Heraclitus and Empedocles. These two philosophers have been singled out because their theories of phenomena imp ly particularly provocative conclusions for one who shares PlatoÂ’s concerns abo ut knowledge and truth. Knowledge, for these sophoi is relegated to descriptions of phenomena and the ir understanding of phenomena. Knowledge is predicated on the shifting phenomena that is the world; for example, Empedocles tells us that Â… these things never cease from constantly alternat ing, at one time all coming together by love into one, and at another time agai n all being borne apart separately by the hostility of strifeÂ…in this respe ct they come to be and have no constant life; but insofar as they never cease from constantly interchanging, in this respect they are always unchanged in a cycle (DK 25 .6). HeraclitusÂ’ ontology represents the world as a cons tantly changing entity. All that we can say about our experience is to give a phenomeno logical account, but as Socrates ridicules the Heracliteans at 183b, they would have to establish another language in order to discuss their beliefs and not be hypocritical. Logos, when pronounced and heard, has the status of phenomena. Language fixes a descript ion of phenomena; if the phenomena
108 are in constant motion, language needs to account f or that, somehow. Therefore, the position of Heraclitus and Empedocles make logos itself an impossibility. Nor is there room in the theory of flux for a neces sary condition of knowledge: memory. Memory is what allows us to recognize, reidentify and represent what we have perceived; through memory the world of which we are a part is stabilized, and its objects become objects of knowledge. But as we are part of the world of appearances, coextensive with nature, how do we account for the fact that we can fix objects in memory? The answer is dependent on understanding t hat the Greeks saw nature as intelligent and alive in its own right. Nature, of which we are a part, is alive and intelligible if one knows how to think about it Vernant explains how the Greeks thought of their relationship with nature Â”Man and his body are embedded in the course of nature, phusis which causes all that is born here below to rise, mature, and disappear Â…. Man and his body therefore, bear the mark of a congenit al infirmity; like a stigma the seal of the impermanent and evanescent is branded on them.Â”252 Because Man is embedded in the natural world, a soul that is not exactly part of the natural world is necessary for memory. Memory is necessary for knowledge; a timel ess soul is necessary for memory. The logos that must accompany true belief is that which talk s of what is timeless in the language of the timeless Â‘isÂ’, the answer to the Socratic question Â‘What is X?Â’ But this logos and the knowledge it reveals exceeds our grasp of t he world of becoming. In a world of becoming a mortalÂ’s knowledge Â– a philosop herÂ’s knowledge Â– of that logos is fleeting and insecure, but we must resist the impul se to comply with what we see and 252 Vernant, Mortals 31-32.
109 hear and sense. ProtagorasÂ’ maxim Â‘man is the meas ureÂ’ would provide us with a knowledge no less secure and fleeting than what we see when we glimpse the logos The account Â– the logos Â– of our beliefs must reveal that knowledge that ex ceeds our grasp of the world of becoming; the logos must be stable, based on the model of the divine. Non-philosophical practices of paideia do not reveal; the logos they offer is muthos representation, and a narrative that is relativis tic. Heraclitus and Empedocles can only give accounts based on the now since the world of phenomena is completely changing. Two paradigms were present in the ancien t world: that of an ever-changing Heraclitean reality, and the Eleatic world, wherein all that we take for granted, our senses, is deceiving, causing false judgment. Parm enides and Melissus are the only Presocratics that Socrates names who present the po ssibility of a timeless, unchanging Â‘isÂ’. The wiseÂ’ mean those who are better at determining Â‘betterÂ’ or Â‘worseÂ’ from previous argument; Protagoras says things are for e very man what they seem to be ( Theat. 170a); all men believe they are wiser than others i n some area, and others are wiser than them in other areas: Â“You find also men who believe that they are able to teach and to take the leadÂ” (170b). Wisdom is what is true and false judgment results from ignorance. For Protagoras, things are true fo r every man, as he believes Â– that the judgment a man makes is true for him. What an indi vidual judges is true only for him; it can be false for everyone else (170d-e). Still, endoxa (received opinion) is quite powerful, and that power explains the use of persua sion: the more people that believe X is false, though one person holds X to be true, the more X seems false (171a). If one holds man is the measure, she must admit that while her belief is true, that others who
110 think that man is not the measure have a true belief as well. A contrad iction is generated: Â“man is the measureÂ” is both true and false. At 17 2a, Socrates shows the relationship between the theory of flux with politics, and that some hold the same view of wisdom as Protagoras: Â“It is in those other questions I am talking about Â– just and unjust, religious and irreligious Â– that men are ready to insist that no one of these things has by nature any being of its own; in respect of these, they say what seems to people collectively to be so is true, at the time when it seems that way and for just as long as it seemsÂ” (172b). Protagorean relativism is, as we all know, paradoxi cal and self-defeating: the claim that Â‘all truth is relativeÂ’ Â– a universal claim that, i f true, makes the claim false. A. A. Long points out that refutation itself is a problem for Protagoras: if he believes all truth is relative there is no point to attempting to defend his belief, just as there is no point to refuting a relativist.253 Discourse becomes moot; strangely enough, the rel ativism results in an unchanging and epistemically empty unity. So crates also makes this criticism against the Heracliteans at 183b, declaring that th ey would have to establish another language in order to discuss their beliefs and not be hypocritical. The problem that follows from the homo mensura doctrine is that it was the measure for Athenian politics Â– that justice is sim ply what the demos agrees it is Â– because all menÂ’s opinions or expertise must necess arily be equivalently empty. Justice was, in Homeric times, Â“a procedure, not a principl e or any set of principles.Â”254 In the fifth century that convention was still in practice Justice was found in the agreement of 253 Alex Long, Â“Refutation and Relativism in Theaetetu s 161-171,Â” Phronesis: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy 49.1 (2004): 24-40. 254 Havelock, Greek 137.
111 the demos not in adherence to a rationally determined stand ard; thus, the definition of sophos has to do with the power wielded through public sp eech. The best thing a man can do, says Socrates later in the dialogue, is to become Â‘like god,Â’ that is, to become Â“just and pure, with under standingÂ” (176b). To see becoming just as the best thing a man can do, Socrates impli es that there are rational principles to appeal to; thus, Â“with understanding.Â” Clearly, So crates does not believe justice is a procedure, which follows naturally from the homo mensura principle Â– that there are no experts. When pressed on the issue, his interlocut ors do not agree on the equality of menÂ’s opinions (as we see at 178b-e). It is also u nlikely that Protagoras believed that all opinions are equal Â– else there would be no need fo r his services as an educator. Theaetetus does recognize that something else is ne eded to persist through the world of phenomena when he offers that an illiterat e person perceives letters Â– that is, knows the shape and color of the letters Â– but requ ires the additional perception of an instructor in letters (163b-c). Yet what is percei ved, there, is not perceived by the senses.255 He agrees with Socrates that Â“seeing is perceivin gÂ” and Â“sight is perceptionÂ” (163d).256 To see is to know; thus, it only makes sense that to perceive is to know. Given the Greek cultureÂ’s focus on Â‘the spectacle,Â’ it wa s common to believe that knowledge was gained through the senses, particularly the sen se of sight. But what Theaetetus has realized is that sometimes we Â“seeÂ” with our soul r ather than our physical eyes. 255 It is natural for Theaetetus to realize that somet hing else is needed for, as Smith remarks, it is mathematics that uses written signs to communicate imperceptible realities. 256 As I mentioned in an earlier note, the notion that Â“seeing is perceivingÂ” Â– if we are equating perceiving with knowing, has its basis in the Greek language. See Snell, 1-22 and 226-245.
112 Knowledge as perception has two problems (1) the ob ject perceived, an appearance, may be deceiving and (2) the locus of t ruth is with the perceiver. The second problem has the added implication that it encourage s relativism and coincides with the power struggles that took place in public debate. Sense-perception cannot be knowledge and Theaetetus must now offer a different suggestio n as to Â“whatever we call that activity of the soul when it is busy by itself about the thi ngs which areÂ” (187). That suggestion is that knowledge is true judgment. Knowledge as Doxa Aleths (187bÂ—201c) TheaetetusÂ’ suggestion leads to a problem that Socr ates has been bothered by before: the problem of false judgment. Socrates be gins by bracketing off learning and forgetting in order to concentrate on the idea that one either knows or does not know an epistemic object (188a). The previous discussion r evealed the necessity of memory for knowledge, which leads to the problem of false judg ment. To get at this problem as well as examine the definition that Theaetetus has put f orth, Socrates formulates two models of the soul: a wax tablet and an aviary. These two models allow for a discussion of the nature of knowledge acquisition and retention. The soul, as the receptacle for knowledge, opens a space for the possibility of error, much in the same way a text opens itself to the possibility of error (as opposed to a speaker Â– who must rely on his fallible perceptions to determine if he is being understood correctly). Th e reader of a text has no way of knowing whether or not she understands the text Â– o r the author Â– correctly; she also is unlikely to have access to the author to discuss th e text. If perceptions are directly pressed into the wax ho w, then, is it possible for a person to make an error, either in believing that o ne knows what one does not, or
113 mistaking what one knows for something else that on e knows, etc. (192a-d)? Still within the analogy, Socrates explains that if a personÂ’s w ax is too hard or too soft, dirty or impure, then a correct corresponding imprint of the perception will not be made. There is the self-evident problem of the unreliability of th e senses, and there is the problem of forgetting. Both are causes of error in judgment. But once Socrates has come to the conclusion that false judgment does exist, he calls himself garrulous; he has not yet examined the possibility of an error made in pure t hought, without a corresponding perception. In that case, it becomes possible for a man to Â“know and not know the same objectsÂ” (196c) Â– which is a contradiction and as s uch, impossible. But if thinking is Â“a talk (n) which the soul has with itself about the objects under its considerationÂ” (189e) and a judgment is a statement that is silently addressed to oneself (190a), then perhaps Socrates is suggesting exactly what is enacted by his discussion with Theaetetus. In the Theaetetus we have Socrates in discussion with a younger version of himself. Socrates also carries on conversations between himself and himself posing as Protagoras, or an unnamed person. One gets the feeling that Socrates is, perhaps, having a conversation with himself Â– h is soul Â– about knowledge. A dialogue, with yourself or another, is in motion. There is no chance of inscribing Â‘knowledgeÂ’ into the wax during the dialogue Â– not until a conclusion is reached (and no conclusion is reached). In the case of the wax blo ck, Socrates expresses a tabula rosa model of the mind/soul/person. Knowledge is inscribed Â– so that all we need do is be careful passive listeners, spectators, or readers i n order to acquire knowledge. This is the common way that knowledge and knowledge acquisition is thought of Â– in contemporary times, as attested by the practice of lecturing, an d silent solitary reading. It seems that in
114 ancient times it was also a common belief that know ledge could be obtained by a passive audience. All knowledge Â– or opinion Â– is, as Socr ates observes in the Protagoras taken directly into the soul: Â“you cannot carry teachings away in a separate container. You put down your money and take the teaching away in your soul by having learned it, and off you go, either helped or injuredÂ” ( Prot. 314b). If something is inscribed directly onto the soul without reflection or consideration, without a midwifeÂ’s dialectic, the resulting inscription is mere opinion. The Â‘inscriptionÂ’ oug ht not be left unexamined Â– even if one passively listens and takes teachings directly into the soul without reflection, dialectic can still reveal and challenge the Â‘inscription.Â’ Acco rdingly, the polis faced this same issue Â– polis andra didaskei. Inscriptions, physical or otherwise, no longer ar e left the luxury of remaining untouched Â– reasons are required to expre ss understanding. Understanding of a concept is a process a process that is represented Â– and fostered Â– by Socratic dialectic. One person may believe that they truly understand a concept Â– but discover that, in expressing it, they do not have the knowledge they thought they had. In trying to make another understand, oneÂ’s own understanding must be understood. Judgments are about epistemic objects that one kno ws or does not know. In order for a judgment to be false, the man must judge an e pistemic object that he knows as an epistemic object that he does not know, or vice ver sa. According to this either/or setup, the possibility for false judgment appears non-exis tent. Yet we see that Socrates and Theaetetus make false judgments; they catch themsel ves as they make false judgments, but they make them nonetheless. The action of the dialogue allows a reader or listener to see the process of knowing, ignorance, learning: th e making of true and false judgments. How is it that one is able to recognize false judgm ent? We are given the answer through
115 demonstration; by talking it through rational discussion, Socrates is able to question each conclusion in a continual spiral of dialectic, neve r claiming to know, in fact, espousing ignorance Â– until he must leave the conversation. In order to talk about thinking, a new metaphor is introduced. In this metaphor, again the soul is represented, this time by an avia ry. While the metaphor of the wax block discusses the errors that may follow from per ception, the metaphor of the aviary discusses errors that may follow from theorizing, s uch as mathematics, and forming judgments. How can one know that one does not know viz., how is Socratic ignorance possible? In the aviary are many different birds, in various combinations: flocks, small groups, and solo birds. The aviary is empty when w e are young, and gradually fills as we learn. The birds represent pieces of knowledge. C atching the birds for examination places a requirement of both activity and active at tention to the knowledge acquisition process. It also represents how easily we are redu ced to confusion when we have many Â‘pieces of knowledgeÂ’ as well as the difficulty in holding on to a piece of knowledge that seems to always be struggling to elude our grasp. As Socrates notes, towards the end of this portion of the dialogue ( Theat. 200c-d), they need to answer the prior question, Â‘w hat is knowledge,Â’ before attempting to answer Â‘what is false judgment.Â’ This issue mirrors the Meno Â– surely they know something about what they do no t know. Indirectly, Socrates critiques the mathematical sci ences, for they can Â‘knowÂ’ their subjects, but they apprehend without understanding, without logos .257 Socrates also uses the example of orators and lawyers to explain that Theaetetus is wrong in thinking that knowledge is true judgment. The jury can make a tr ue judgment but they do not have 257 Scolinov 87.
116 knowledge. If we think of knowledge as something t o collect and hold, like a bird in the hand, and not use or achieve, then we are, in essen ce, playing the role of jury members. The wax tablet and the aviary present two models of pedagogy, the first static and the second dynamic. Judgment can be false if the i nformation is not gained in an active investigation that will waylay the possibility of e rror. This is the necessity behind the philosophic method; avoidance of error. What is di stinct about philosophic dialogue is that it engages reason rather than emotion, promote s understanding rather than acceptance. It is teaching rather than persuading Â– which is the difference between knowledge and true judgment. The jury example that Socrates uses, shows that it is possible to have true judgment and not knowledge. The jury is persuaded by testimony Â– and implied is the notion that the reporting of an experience is not knowledge Â– of a thing, but without the firsthand experience of the eyewitness, they do not have knowledge. SocratesÂ’ critique of other practices of paideia established not only that knowledge is not aisthesis but that knowledge must be infallible and stable.258 The practices that Socrates critiques Â– of the sophos Â– show that the character of the Â‘knowledgeÂ’ that the practices produce is one of ev er-changing flux. Next, Socrates considered the possibility of false judgment Â…. Sho wing that knowledge must be true. Between the two discussions, we realize that the tr uth Â– and knowledge Â– that Socrates is searching for must be produced by another practice, the one he is engaged in: philosophy. Finally, Socrates and Theaetetus turn to the last c ondition for knowledge: logos 258 Socrates gives the attributes of infallibility and the stability of eternity when he says Â“Perception, then, is always of what is, and unerri ng Â– as befits knowledgeÂ” (152c).
117 Socrates and Theaetetus turn to a definition that T heaetetus has Â‘heardÂ’ and Socrates dreamt. Theaetetus had forgotten that he had heard of this definition Â– that knowledge was true belief with logos Considering the last part of the discussion, it seems relevant that Theaetetus forgot this, for now the external audience has an example of precisely what Socrates and Theaetetus discussed Theaetetus knew something but forgot and so he knew something that he did not kno w. Socrates (ever the midwife) causes Theaetetus to remember. This turns to a dis cussion of Â‘knowablesÂ’ and Â‘unknowablesÂ’ Â– objects that we have no logos of and therefore no knowledge. With unknowables defined as objects without logos the previous understanding of ignorance is undermined. TheaetetusÂ’ forgetting no longer means he did not know something he knew. At 201c, Theaetetus remembers that someone suggeste d that knowledge is true belief plus logos Socrates asks him how it was that this someone d istinguished between knowables and unknowables; when Theaetetus does not recall, Socrates offers Â‘a dream for a dreamÂ’. He relates a theory of primary eleme nts Â“of which we and everything else are composedÂ” that Â“have no logos Â” (201e). Each element Â“can only be namedÂ” and the elements are Â“woven togetherÂ” to become a sumplok (202a-b) Therefore, Â“the elements are unaccountable and unknowable, but they are perc eivable, whereas the complexes are both knowable and expressible and can be the object s of true judgmentÂ” (202b). In SocratesÂ’ dream, people said that the primary eleme nts Â“of which we and everything else are composed have no accountÂ” (201e). These primar y elements are nothing besides the name, neither being or not-being and, Socrates says Â“the elements are unaccountable and unknowable, but they are perceivable, whereas the c omplexes are both knowable and
118 expressible and can be the objects of true judgment Â” (202b). If knowledge is true belief with a logos Socrates has already found an exception: these pr imary elements have no logos and yet it seems we must have knowledge of them in order to have knowledge of anything else. Logos here, means something different from merely Â‘spee chÂ’ or Â‘talk.Â’ It is not clear exactly what logos means at this point in the Theaetetus. The ambiguity motivates disagreements among scholars as to the me aning of the entire final section of the Theaetetus. If we follow Gilbert Ryle in taking logos to mean Â‘sentenceÂ’ or Â‘statementÂ’ then to not have a logos is to be unable to express the element in a propos ition. Gail Fine argues against RyleÂ’s suggestion that logos means Â‘sentenceÂ’ or Â‘statementÂ’. Fine argues that the dream theoristÂ’s account is sensible only when logos is taken to mean account or evidence, the kind that brings knowledge.259 She circumvents the issue that elements can be described in other ways, that is, sentences may be ascribed to them, and settles on forcing a very modern epistemology onto Plato.260 The dream theory indicates that elements are unknowable, in stark contrast to both Russell and Descartes who hold a similar theory in order to avoid infinite regress ( infinite analyzability) but that their elements may be known non-propositionally (intuited directly). These elements may be named and perceived, but a name is hardly knowledge and perceiving as a source of knowledge has already been refuted. FineÂ’s analysi s of the dream theory contains the 259 Gail Fine, Â“Knowledge and Logos in the Theaetetus ,Â” Plato on Knowledge and Forms: Selected Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003) 231-232. 260 That knowledge includes an account, a modern formu lation that is often read back into the Theaetetus IÂ’m not denying the possibility that Plato meant that, because if logos does map best to account then clearly scholars that interpret it in this man ner are correct. If, however, logos does not mean account, FineÂ’s theory (as well as others) doesnÂ’t hold wate r.
119 following disclaimer: Â“I do not deny, of course, th at in the Theaetetus Plato thinks knowledge requires propositional expression; indeed I think Plato always assumes that knowledge is essentially articulateÂ….Â”261 Guthrie conflates the final attempt to define knowl edge with the contemporary definition: Â“A man knows that p Â… if ( a ) he believes p, ( b ) he has adequate evidence for p ( c ) p is true Â… knowledge is justified true belief.Â”262 But, he adds, Â“there is a difference in that the modern definition speaks onl y of knowledge in propositional form (knowledge of facts) whereas in Plato it is more li ke knowledge of things, not Â‘knowledge thatÂ’ but knowledge with a direct substa ntival object.Â”263 What is common to the aforementioned treatment of logos is the assumption that knowledge can be articulated, but it is by no means obvious this is the case. For example, Frank Gonzalez maintains that knowledge of certain things in Plato is nonpropositional; Â“knowledge of something whose nature or essence can not be reduced to a set of properties Â… it cannot be articulated in any proposition.Â”264 Some objects cannot be conveyed through proposition, but require analogy, metaphor, (unscientific) 261 Fine 231. Here Fine is hedging her bet by equivoc ating Â‘propositional expressionÂ’ and Â‘essentially articulateÂ’ Â– the set of articulations utterances, does include non-propositional statem ents. Gonzalez argues in Dialectic and Dialogue that moral knowledge, for Plato, is always going t o include a non-propositional component, at the very least. As Plato is essentially concerned with Â‘moral paideiaÂ’ it stands to reason that moral knowledge is, in the ma in, the only kind of knowledge of which he is concerned. 262 Guthrie, History 67. 263 Guthrie, History 67. 264 Gonzalez, Dialectic 8.
120 demonstration Â– knowing how or as Gonzalez describes it, Â“what is manifest without being describable.Â”265 The nonpropositional character of knowledge for Pla to is demonstrated in the dialogue form itself. Knowledge is not simply desc ription; the purpose of knowledge is action Success, in terms of knowing, is acting. Dialog ue enables people to reach an understanding with themselves and others which prov ides the basis on which to act. Though the conditions for understanding another spe aker or text are never explicitly laid out in PlatoÂ’s dialogues, they are demonstrated by his use of embodied speakers. Understanding a concept requires a process of negot iation between one Â‘horizon of understandingÂ’ Â– which is confined and restricted b y the tacit assumptions absorbed from a personÂ’s culture Â– and another, resulting in a fu sion of horizons. The interactions of the speakers demonstrate that understanding, and knowle dge, are gained through a dialectical exposure of assumptions through contradiction. Pla toÂ’s conception of philosophy is expressed in the fluidity of dynamic interaction, i n dialogue. The understanding or knowledge achieved through dialogue is not the type of object that can be pinned to a wall and ogled for years to come, but an object tha t must be reconstituted anew each time it is considered. Of the latter part of the Theaetetus, Hans-Georg Gadamer comments: Like all knowing, philosophical knowing is identifi cation of something as what it is and has the structure of recognition, or Â‘knowin g again.Â’ But the object of philosophy is not given in the same way as the obje ct of the empirical sciences. Rather, it is always reconstituted anew, and that o ccurs only when one tries to think it through for oneself. 266 265 Gonzalez, Dialectic 8. Gonzalez is quick to point out that even thoug h a thing is irreducible to a description does not mean it is entirely ineffabl e. 266 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato trans. P. Christopher Smith (New Haven: Yale UP, 1980).
121 Our interaction with the texts of Plato is the same hermeneutical interaction as the characters in the dialogue for the simple reason th at Plato chose to write dialogues rather than treatises, to show characters perform concepts rather than present us with clear answers, with propositions. A reader interacts wit h a text with the same hermeneutical methodology that is demonstrated in the dialogue an d thus the structure of the dialogue itself mimics and reflects the hermeneutical conten t. Rather than reaching propositional definitions, more often than not the characters of the dialogues are left in a state of aporia Our interaction with the text, then, is dialecti cal, for we are left to further the questioning with ourselves and others. PlatoÂ’s dialectical method of instruction, while a universally applicable method, is in practice particular to both the instructor or qu estioner and to the interlocutors or respondents. The success or failure of this method to achieve its didactic apex of producing virtuous men and virtuous actions also de pends on the particularities of the respondents. What is shown in PlatoÂ’s dialogues is that we understand concepts through dialogue with ourselves and each other Â– and this i s shown negatively, in a failure to achieve knowledge of a propositional definition of a concept. The failure shows only that language and statements are not enough While a variety of pedagogical methods serve to ins truct a person in propositional knowledge, understanding is provoked strictly through the philosophic metho d demonstrated in PlatoÂ’s dialogues. Still, there is a problem in thinking the dialectical method is all that is required to instruct and ensu re understanding. While a dialogue demonstrates how it is possible to provoke understa nding in an interlocutor using the
122 dialectical method, aporia demonstrates that understanding, and incorporation of that type of knowledge, must proceed from the particular individual from a conscious, internal decision to recognize the knowledge that they do an d do not know. Once that understanding has been reached, a conscious choice must be made by the interlocutor to keep or reject the understanding he has attained. SocratesÂ’ method of inquiry, then, succeeds or fails due to no fault of his or his method ; it is contingent upon the interlocutorÂ’s decision to self-reflect. If he doe s choose to engage in the self-reflective process, then he should be transformed.267 Dialegesthai with oneÂ’s self is the necessary self-reflection. Yet not every conversation is a s uccessful dialogue; not every conversation results in a shared understanding or i nsight between participants. Although the dialogue ends in aporia one thing has changed: Theaetetus. As the inquiry progresses, so does his skill at participat ing in the inquiry increase. Theaetetus is learning something though he is not learning the definition for know ledge. Theaetetus is learning to inquire by inquiring; he is learning to philosophize by doing and speaking and he is learning via the practice of philosophy. Learning through poetic performance by means listening, absorbing, aping, imitating, bu t there is little in the way of active engagement. It is intended for a passive receptacl e: Â‘Let the wisdom of the poets fill you!Â’ As Socrates makes quite clear in the Symposium knowledge is not the kind of thing that can be passed like a cup of wine from on e person to the next ( Symp. 175d). What is gained by imitation is not knowledge, but t he appearance of knowledge. There is no deeper understanding underlying the appearanc es. What Theaetetus learns is not 267 See Meno 97e Â– 98a. Socrates is examining what will tie do wn knowledge: Â“To acquire an untied work of Daedaulus is not worth much, like ac quiring a runaway slave, for it does not remain, bu t it is worth much if tied down, for his works are very beautifulÂ” (97e).
123 propositional; it is a knowing how, not a knowing t hat. What philosophy teaches is virtuous inquiry ( episteme ). At the beginning of the dialogue, Theaetetus is put ting his heart into the discussion Â– he genuinely attempts to answer Socrat esÂ’ questions. Socrates describes Theaetetus as Â“inspiredÂ” ( Thea. 154e) and Theaetetus calls himself Â“giddyÂ” (155c). He hardly contributes to the conversation, either agre eing with Socrates or asking for clarification, and admits confusion (at 157c, 164d) After the Â‘digressionÂ’, TheaetetusÂ’ intellectual involvement in the conversation increa ses. Socrates praises Theaetetus for answering him as Â“one ought Â– with a good will, and not reluctantly, as you did at firstÂ” (187c); Theaetetus encourages Socrates to pursue th e question of false judgment if Â“this appears for any reason to be the right thing to doÂ” for, he reminds him, they are not pressed for time (a quality of the discussion a phi losopher holds) (187d). However, Theaetetus is still clearly not the leader in the d iscussion Â– Socrates chides him at 189c: Â“you have not much opinion of me; you donÂ’t find me at all alarming.Â” Socrates is still the only one self-reflecting: Â“I should be ashamed to see us forced into making t he kind of admissions I mean while we are still in difficulties. If we find wha t weÂ’re after, and become free men, then we will turn round and talk about how the se things happen to other people Â– having secured our own person against ridi cule. While if we canÂ’t find any way of extricating ourselves, then I suppose we shall be laid low, like sea-sick passengers, and give ourselves into the hands of th e argument and let it trample all over us and do what it likes with usÂ” (190e-191 a). Socrates echoes his earlier statement later on in t he dialogue: Â“IÂ’m afraid a garrulous man is really an awful nui sance Â… IÂ’m annoyed at my own stupidity Â– my true garrulousness. What else c ould you call it when a man will keep dragging arguments up and down, because h e is too slow-witted to reach any conviction, and will not be pulled off an y of them? (195b-c)
124 Theaetetus makes an intellectual contribution in th e metaphor of the aviary by suggesting that some of the pieces flying about the soul are p ieces of ignorance (199e). Socrates hints at the need for experience with his reference to a fable (200e-201a) and finally we see Socrates has stirred the soul of Theaetetus, fo r he remembers something a man said to him, that true judgment with logos is what constitutes knowledge (201c-d). PlatoÂ’s critique of these other techniques of paideia and their ability to bring about an adequate account of aletheia concludes when the final definition of the Theaetetus is put on hold as Socrates and Theaetetus fail to put forth a logos that adds anything to true belief. In the end, as Guthrie writes, Plato shows the need for th e divine: though he enjoys playing with the indefensible thes is that all knowledge is provided directly by the senses Â… there is for him only one unassailable refutation of these theories, which he is saving fo r the end: the need for mind which can go beyond the senses to use its peculiar power of reason, drawing its own conclusions from the data which the senses pres ent but cannot interpret.268 268 Guthrie, History 84-5.
125 Chapter Six Virtue and Inquiry I suggested in the previous chapter that the only character in the Theaetetus who changes and grows is Theaetetus himself; he is the one benefiting from SocratesÂ’ instruction in the dialogue. But in what might Pla to be instructing his audience? To answer this question, we need to examine the struct ure of the dialogue Â– its physical composition and characters. In a dialogue ostensib ly about knowledge, it is safe to assume that the characters stand-in for something t o do with the acquisition of knowledge. In this case, the historical context, t hat is, the debate about what it means to be a sophos an expert at public discourse, provides the orien tation for the discussion. Representatives of different types of educational p ractices are instantiated by the characters: sophistry or rhetoric in Protagoras, tr aditional paideia in the poets, Â“physicalÂ” theories in the Presocratic philosophers, and mathe matics or demonstration ( apodeixis ) in Theodorus. Theaetetus represents the aristocratic youth that receive their education through such practices; in a more general sense, Th eaetetus represents the future of Athens. Socrates, of course, is a dialektikos representing philosophy through the use of dialectic. What is at stake in this dialogue is wh at a philosophos is, and does, and how he lives his life While the internal audience works towards a definit ion of knowledge, the external audience is instructed in what is unique about philosophy as a pedagogical practice, SocratesÂ’ dialegesthai It is unavoidable that the audience will compare this dialogue to
126 other Platonic dialogues they are familiar with, wh ich is likely to include another aporetic dialogue, and it is unavoidable that the audience w ould ask the question: Â‘Why does the execution of SocratesÂ’ dialegesthai have a different tenor in the Theaetetus than in the other dialogues?Â’ Both the dramatic action of the dialogue and the content of the discourse exchanged between Socrates and the two ma thematicians constitute an instance of pedagogy. What we, members of the external audi ence, are learning is what is required for knowledge Â– epistemic virtue Â– even as Theaetet us and the internal audience strive to learn what knowledge is. Even prior to e stablishing the essence of knowledge, one must have a method for obtaining the answer to the question. Clearly, PlatoÂ’s method is philosophy and Socrates is his example of a philosopher. But the curiousness of the aporetic dialogues leads one to wonder if it is the object of the inquiry that produces the result of aporia, or if it is the subject involved. Given that objects of inquiry from non-aporetic dialogues such as the Republic are similar in nature to the objects of inquiry of the aporetic dialogues, I sug gest that the difference in Â‘epistemic successÂ’ Â– that is, reaching a satisfying conclusio n Â– among dialogues is the purpose, the telos of the dialogue. Aporetic dialogues are not inte nded to reach a propositional definition; rather, they are intended as a demonstr ation of inquiry that, when conducted in the proper way, leads to the very object under disc ussion. The aporetic dialogues are explicitly about intellectual virtue, in the sense that they enact a mode of discourse that requires. Obviously PlatoÂ’s Â“epistemologyÂ” is not modern epistemology, for PlatoÂ’s epistemology is not concerned with the same things as modern epistemology, at least its dominant formulations. Still there are some topics in contemporary epistemological discussions that echo what we find in Plato.
127 We can see in the entirety of the dialogue, if we e xamine it from the standpoint of the audience, that PlatoÂ’s epistemology is more aki n to what we might call a virtue epistemology, an epistemology inspired by contempor ary conceptions of virtue ethics. This view of knowledge focuses on the concept of in tellectual excellence Â– how and why we learn and should hold particular beliefs. Conte mporary epistemologists who favor this approach see Â“intellectual virtue is the prima ry normative component of both justified belief and knowledge, and their concern i s with Â“epistemic evaluation on properties of persons rather than properties of bel iefs or propositions.Â”269 We, the audiences of the dialogue, are in a constant state of evaluation when reading or listening to the dialogues. As I argued in Chapter One, Plat o engages in dramatic irony, which implies an expectation for the audience to evaluate the charactersÂ’ words, actions, choices, and lives. The audience is expected to ev aluate the statements that the characters make, but they are also in a position to evaluate h ow the characters conduct themselves in the inquiry. Their conduct has an effect on the su ccess of the inquiry, the length of the inquiry, and the other characters involved in the i nquiry; the charactersÂ’ conduct is a product of their intellectual virtue. One of the l essons learned from the Theaetetus is that intellectual virtue is key to being a philosopher.270 269 Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Virtue and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996) 3. 270 In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle Â– as we knowdivides intellectual virt ue into phronesis and theoria I am suggesting that the intellectual virtue req uired for productive inquiry is more than those vir tues for Plato Â– the love of truth, for instance, and the appropri ate attitude. Aristotle does account for the thing s that I suggest Plato is bringing out in SocratesÂ’ discussions, but it must be remembered that because we do not possess the e soteric teachings of Plato (if there were any) nor the exoteric teach ings of Aristotle, that it is unclear how much of P latoÂ’s philosophy may be found in Aristotle. Regardless, I am attemp ting to avoid the approach of reading Plato through Aristotle.
128 Theodorus, the Mathematician Theodorus enthusiastically informs Socrates of Thea etetus, who he thinks is Â“remarkableÂ” and Â“amazingly giftedÂ” Â– for all that he looks like Socrates, with a snub nose and bug eyes. Theodorus does not say that The aetetus is like Socrates in terms of attitude towards inquiry and potential, but this is what PlatoÂ’s audience would infer. When he calls Theaetetus over, Socrates asks if the y should accept TheodorusÂ’ judgment, or should they discover whether Theodorus has the e xpertise required to make a true statement; Theaetetus thinks they need to inquire. Socrates declares that they shouldnÂ’t accept any claims that Theodorus makes about their physical similarities but should consider the claims that their souls are similar, f or Theodorus is a master of geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic. The assumption here is that Theodorus has expertise (wisdom) in those matters and so it is possible tha t Theodorus is making an expert claim. It is telling that Socrates discounts Theodorus as possessing expertise in drawing conclusions about physical similarities, in appeara nce Â– Socrates examines every claim before accepting it as truth. However, Socrates is more concerned with whether Theodorus is an expert about that which can not be perceived with the senses: intellectual and moral characteristics. The question of similar ity between Theaetetus and Socrates is never really about their physical characteristics. Including TheaetetusÂ’ teacher, Theodorus, in the di alogue gives the dialogue a feeling of commencement; Theaetetus is graduating f rom mathematics and moving on to dialectic, from one instructor to another: Theodoru s the mathematician to Socrates the philosopher. The metaphor of the midwife helps to indicate this potential commencement Â– the metaphor evokes the idea of Thea etetusÂ’ beginning a new life, a
129 philosophical life in which he may realize his pote ntial. The mathematical instruction that Theaetetus receives from Theodorus uses demons tration, and this involves visual signs and symbols. It is its dependence on the vis ual, which exists only in the phenomena, that relegates mathematics to a category of practice that cannot reach truth because the participants are not exercising the nec essary epistemic virtues. SocratesÂ’ attempts to have Theodorus take on the ro le of the sophist are met with fierce evasion. Theodorus may not wish for the wis dom he has to be mistaken for that wisdom that Protagoras claims to possess and disper se through instruction. Theodorus is identified as an expert in geometry, mathematics, a stronomy, and music Â– and these are the subjects that he teaches (or will teach) Theaet etus (145a-c). But what else do we know of the character? Socrates implies with his r esponse to Theaetetus at 145c that he believes Theodorus is a truthful man.271 He opts out of the forthcoming discussion by claiming unfamiliarity with the discussion and his age makes him unsuitable as an interlocutor Â– for he will not benefit from the dis cussion, whereas someone younger would.272 We do, however, learn that he engages in discussi ons about geometry; Theaetetus offers that Theodorus was demonstrating powers to both him and the younger Socrates with the use of diagrams (147d). Socrates allows him to bow out of the discussion, though it is interesting to compare his reason, old age, with the conclusion of the Laches where everyone there enthusiastically desires fur ther instruction, regardless of age. Of course, that scene in the Laches served the purpose of acknowledging what 271 Socrates assures Theaetetus, Â“That is not Theodoru sÂ’ way.Â” 272 TheodorusÂ’ Â‘excuseÂ’ is a poor attempt to cover his reluctance to enter into the conversation Â– a reluctance that Socrates criticizes Theaetetus for later in the dialogue.
130 SocratesÂ’ dialectic brings Â– awareness of ignorance Â– and a revision of educational practice. Here, TheodorusÂ’ comment on age perhaps reinforces the educational program in the Republic where the guardians-in-training must start there e ducation at a very young age. It suggests that Socrates may have changed hi s position from the one he held earlier in his (dramatic) life. Has he accepted that some people will not change? Later in the dialogue, Socrates declares Theodorus a Â“lover of discussionÂ” Â– a description to which Theodorus readily agrees. Thi s enables Socrates to bait Theodorus by asking him to defend his friend, Protagoras. Th eodorus resists, because if he takes part in the discussion, he will be helping to refut e his friend but acknowledges that the refutation may be something he will agree. This, a gain, shows that Theodorus is a man interested in truth, not falsehood. He knows that his diligence to what is logically true must win out over his friendship. But his loyalty to his friend is what keeps him out of the discussion (for a little while), which speaks b oth highly of his moral character and poorly of his intellectual character. Most people in the dialogues who resist entering into a conversation with Socrates do so out of fear: th ey are afraid they will be made fools of, or shown to not possess the knowledge they claim to have. After a brief exchange with Theaetetus, Socrates once again invites Theodorus t o participate by claiming Theodorus is Â‘guardianÂ’ of the Â‘orphanÂ’ of Protagorean relati vism Â– orphaned because Protagoras is not present. Again, Theodorus begs off, claiming t he true guardian of the Protagorean orphan is Callias, and that he himself is Â“very soo n inclined away from abstract discussion to geometryÂ” (165a).273 Theodorus will Â“get tripped upÂ” (165b) if he is 273 Benitez finds that the translation of ,nn, into Â‘mere wordsÂ’ is superior to Â‘abstract discussion.Â’ Really, translating it as Â‘abstract d iscussionÂ’ does not make much sense, since geometry itself is an abstract science Â– in the main (304).
131 SocratesÂ’ interlocutor and likens talking with Socr ates to wrestling, accusing him of playing Antaeus (169a-b). Theodorus admits at 165b that that he is concerned for his own dignity and begins to sound like the typical re sistant interlocutor of the aporetic dialogues: Â“Tell us both, Socrates; but the younger had better answer. It will not be so undignified for him to get tripped upÂ” (165b). On SocratesÂ’ third attempt, Theodorus quits resisting Socrates, and allows himself to be pulled into the discussion, although he accuses Socrates of using the methods of Sciron (16 9a).274 By maligning Socrates, Theodorus shows us that he sees Socrates as a sophi st, someone who is pursuing winning Â– which in this case, means Theodorus participating in the discussion Â– and Socrates quickly reinforces the analogy, claiming he has met Â“many a Heracles and Theseus in my time, mighty men of wordsÂ” (169b). Socrates does not attempt to change TheodorusÂ’ mind, but simply states the truth, that he has met and spoken with powerful and clever men. Theodorus must come to the conclusion that So cratesÂ’ discourse is different from a sophistÂ’s. Indeed, we see that Socrates urges Theo dorus to reflect on what he thinks of Socrates and Protagoras, in the discussion that ens ues. Socrates remarks that Theodorus sees him as Â“a sort of bag of argumentsÂ” (161a) Â– i t is evident that Socrates observes that Theodorus does not perceive a difference between So crates and other sophoi such as Protagoras. By making this observation present to Theodorus, Socrates invites Theodorus to examine the statement to determine if it is true, viz., whether it is true that Socrates is a bag or arguments or whether Socrates is doing something else. From the 274 The example seems worthy of note as it refers once more to Megara, though there is no indication of a deeper meaning to the reference. I n our uninformed case, it simply reinforces the importance of Terpsion and Eucleides as narrators.
132 perspective of the external audience, however, we c an see that because Theodorus is standing in for Protagoras, acting as a guardian fo r ProtagorasÂ’ orphan. Plato likens mathematics, which Theodorus stands for with sophis try, to what Protagoras stands for. Rather than seeing Socrates as a sophist, Plato equ ates TheodorusÂ’ practice with sophistry, albeit in a gentle manner. If mathematics is placed next to philosophy in the intelligible portion of the divided line, then its practitioners should be able to think abstractly as well. Indeed, Theodorus groups himself with the philosophers at 1 73b, claiming that Â‘theyÂ’ are the masters of their arguments, not the slaves (173b-c) : Â“We have no jury, and no audience (as the dramatic poets have), sitting in control ov er us, ready to criticise [ sic ] and give ordersÂ” (173c). The claim here is that unlike poli ticians, sophists, or poets, philosophers have no concern for the performative aspect inheren t in all of the above practices. Mathematical science, as well, has no need to Â‘perf ormÂ’ Â– being a wise mathematician, geometer, astronomer, or philosopher has nothing to do with an audience, that is, these disciplines have nothing to do with non-rational persuasion In the Republic, Socrates implies that studies are only valued insofar as the y are useful to the city Â– this is why no city has developed solid geometry ( Rep. 528b-d). What is useful, besides the obvious crafts that a city requires, is persuasive speech. Controlling and influencing opinion through public discourse is extremely useful in the democratic polis. Those skilled sophoi Nightingale says, Plato relegates to the banausic class of workers: [In the Republic ] Plato defines the philosopher, in part, by way of opposition: he juxtaposes this new kind of sage to a disparate gro up of individuals identified as nonphilosophers. In particular, Plato targets inte llectuals and sophists who offered serious competition to his own programme Â– men reputed to be wise and powerful Â… Plato portrays these men as banausic Â‘la borers for hireÂ’ in contrast to
133 the philosophic theorist: the servility of the nonphilosophers stands in diam etrical opposition to the freedom of the theoretical philos opher.275 Only the philosopher is free to be impartial regard ing all political, social, and ethical matters. By considering these wise men as banausic Plato is relating them to the mercantile class, telling the audience that the sophoi are interested in power and wealth but not truth. Indeed, the coinage of power in Ath enian democracy was persuasive public speech. TheodorusÂ’ characterization of the Heracliteans hi ghlights their lack of epistemic virtue by depicting them as Â“always on the moveÂ” (1 79e); not giving answers or maintaining consistency with what they have said be fore (180a); also, they use Â“enigmatic phrases,Â” give Â“no conclusions,Â” their p hilosophy is full of Â“strange turns of languageÂ” such that they Â“give no account of themse lvesÂ” (179e-180c). Theodorus denigrates the Heraclitians and advocates that he a nd Socrates Â“take the doctrine out of their hands and consider it for ourselves, as we sh ould a problem in geometryÂ” (180c). This shows that Theodorus is interested in the answ er, not the way to the answer; if he were to wrest the doctrine from the Heracliteans an d Â‘solveÂ’ it, he has a solution but no action has been conducted. The Heracliteans can no t learn anything by the answer alone Â– only by going through the process of obtaining th e answer can they understand and fully accept it. The problem with Theodorus being a Â“lover of discussionÂ” is that he is not going through the process of dialectic Â– he wan ts to be entertained, and then he wants the answer, like someone reading a mystery novel. The reader will not be happy with the author of the text unless both of those conditions are met. But, Socrates points out the 275 Nightingale, Spectacles 123.
134 importance of method to Theodorus, for the Heraclit eans used poetry to discuss the doctrine of flux, and this is a problem Â‘inherited from the ancients.Â’ Poetry, he says, is used to make their theory, that every thing is in m otion, intelligible to all men. Theodorus happily ducks out of the role of interloc utor, claiming that Â“when these matters were concluded I was to be set free from my task of answering you, according to our agreement, which specified the end of the discu ssion of ProtagorasÂ’ theoryÂ” (183c). Theaetetus immediately protests for that leaves the other half of the discussion, the discussion of Parmenides, untouched and unfinished. Theodorus accuses Theaetetus of attempting to teach him to be unjust, as he would b reak his agreement. Again, we see Theodorus is reluctant to pursue the inquiry and so he again takes up the role of spectator. If we consider the place of mathematics and geometr y in the Republic we find that their place on the divided line is with philos ophy in the intelligible portion. The mathematical disciplines rely on figures and begin Â“from hypotheses, proceeding not to a first principle but to a conclusionÂ” ( Rep. 510b). Thus the hypotheses, in mathematics, are treated as first principles. While both mathematic s and philosophy deal with abstractions, mathematics inevitable relies on demonstrations Â– i mages Â– and does not question its hypotheses. Polansky conjectures that Theodorus op poses speculation and philosophical discussion Â– that he may Â“well view the foundations of his science, its ultimate hypotheses, as merely conventional, human suppositi ons.Â”276 Theodorus aligns himself with philosophy insofar as it promotes abstract, ra tional thought and does not rely on the empirical, relative appearances, and yet he sees no difference between the rhetorical techniques of the sophists and what Socrates does. This is reflected in the structure of the 276 Polansky 111.
135 dialogue, as Socrates speaks for Protagoras. Plato clearly points out that what Protagoras does, and what Socrates does, is very similar and e asily conflated. The dialectic Plato portrays is meant to be different from the dialecti c used by the sophists and dramatized by the poets. In philosophic dialectic, there is n o assumed end. It is not necessarily a search for Â‘the answer,Â’ as in mathematics. As suc h, philosophical dialectic requires from its participants characteristics that Socrates has and Theodorus clearly does not. It is through the character of Theodorus that the audienc e is able to see the limitations of mathematics but also the limitations of his generat ion. All of TheodorusÂ’ complaints about dialectic being for the young lead the audien ce to believe that this is something that older men cannot do (notice Theodorus is never specific in his attempts to bow out of the conversation Â– it is always the young, like Theaetetus, not Theaetetus only and specifically). This is most likely the reason that Theodorus is paired with Socrates for the Â“digressionÂ” rather than Theaetetus. Plato is pres enting what the older generation believes about philosophy, and perhaps why the olde r generation are causing the polis problems. Socrates, the Philosopher While it is a mistake to understand Socrates to be PlatoÂ’s mouthpiece, there can be no doubt that Socrates stands as the paradigm fo r a philosopher in the dialogues. What Socrates does and how he does it, what Socrates says and how he says it, and the effect Socrates has on those around him tell PlatoÂ’ s audience what a philosopher is and does, and in so doing, what philosophy is. Guthrie believes the lesson of the Â“digressionÂ” is easily seen:
136 The attempts to define knowledge in the main part o f the dialogue are carried out by every means short of the doctrine of Forms, and end in failure. The digression assures us that the teaching of Phaedo and Republic Symposium and Phaedrus has not been abandoned, and that a successful searc h for the nature of knowledge lies beyond PlatoÂ’s self-imposed limitations here.277 I believe the purpose of the digression is quite di fferent than what Guthrie believes. The digression seems more for the audience of the dialogue than the audience in the dialogue, for it is speaking to a fourth century audience tha t would be aware of the irony of SocratesÂ’ presentation of the lawyer in light of th e philosopher. If the main discussion is with the young then perhaps it is for the young (in terms of education Â– education for t he young); but in the digression, Socrates insists tha t Theodorus take up the role of interlocutor. Theodorus points out that they have Â“no jury and no audience (as the dramatic poets have)Â” Â– an observation that Theaetetus echoe s later in the dialogue. Socrates decides to tackle TheodorusÂ’ assumptions head on, t hat is, TheodorusÂ’ perceptions of the lack of difference between sophists and philosopher s. In doing so, Socrates enters into a Â‘digressionÂ’ that compares the two lives, the two t ypes of education that lead them to live their lives, and then evaluates the two lives. Fir st, he evaluates the lives from the standpoint of the general citizenry and second, he uses standards based on Â‘universalsÂ’. The practical man, the lawyer or sophist, speaks wi th one eye on the clock and the other on his opponent. His speeches are composed for a s pecific purpose; he cannot speak on a subject of his choosing. Socrates likens him to a slave serving a master, the master being the demos (172e). And of course, any speaker concerned with persuading the demos with gaining political power, must, in the end be m ore concerned with them and their 277 Guthrie, History 91.
137 endorsement then with the content of his speech Â– o r the truth of his words. A man of the law-courts does not have the Â‘luxuryÂ’ of truth for truthÂ’s sake. Socrates describes him as: Â“keen and highly-strung, skilled in flattering the master and working his way into favour; but cause his soul to be small and warpedÂ” (173a). The conditions of the lawyerÂ’s life Â“forces him into doing crooked things Â… and so [he] resorts to lies and to the policy of repaying one wrong with anotherÂ” which drains the v itality from his now-stunted soul (173a). Socrates describes this morally-deficient man as believing himself to be Â“a man of ability and wisdomÂ” (173b). Clearly, the lawyer is lacking in at least one more area: he lacks the self-knowledge that would inform him t hat he is not a man of ability and wisdom. Besides lacking in moral virtues, the lawy er lacks the desire for the truth that governs the philosopher, i.e. proper epistemic moti vation; he also takes no epistemic responsibility for the persuaded jury or demos for he is persuading for the sake of someone else. It is no surprise, then, that his so ul becomes so warped. This discussion occurs in the midst of refuting Pro tagorasÂ’ relativism, and it easily relates to that surrounding argument. The life of the lawyer is lived as if he were a slave; in fact, he is slave to the ever-changing beliefs and emotions of the people. His Â‘truthÂ’ will, therefore, be relative to the people and must change with their caprice. The philosopher, on the other hand, has no constraints and is in a position to seek Truth. The listening or reading audience learns that parti cipating in inquiry about topics such as knowledge, virtue, and beauty is itself a p articular way of life Â– for these are the marks of a free man and a philosopher. Engaging in speech only for a set purpose, say to win an argument or a case, is damaging to the soul. For instance, in the Republic Book
138 VII Socrates has a great deal to say about sophists and it complements what he says in the Theaetetus : There are other ways of living, however, opposite t o these and full of pleasures, that flatter the soul and attract it to themselves but which donÂ’t persuade sensible people, who continue to honor and obey the convicti ons of their fathersÂ…And then a questioner comes along and asks someone of t his sort, Â‘What is the fine?Â’ And, when he answer what he has heard from the trad itional lawgiver, the argument refutes him, and by refuting him often and in many place shakes him from his convections, and makes him believe that th e fine is no more fine than the shameful Â…from being law-abiding he becomes lawless (538d Â– 539a). The problem with shaking someone from his convictio ns is that, if there is nothing offered in return, the person may end up believing everything is equal and relative, and that what is good is equivalent to what is shameful That type of elenchus is utterly destructive and not instructive Â– it does not give the person tools with which to then seek an answer Â– that is, such elenchus does not instruct the person on how to inquire. The paideia that Socrates offers is instructive Â– the interloc utors learn, through dialectic, skills such as the appropriate way to inquire (which will turn out to be epistemic virtue), something about the topic under investigation, and the notion that there is an objective standard. Interlocutors learn that values should n ot be relative, based solely on the current, non-lasting opinion of the demos Socrates implies that it is that very lack of objective standard that allows people to stray and to become unjust. Part of the art of sophistry is to argue both sides (antilogic) of an argument, and to argue them equally well, regardless of the sophistÂ’s own beliefs.278 278 What is considered GorgiasÂ’ display piece, Praise of Helen is meant as an example of what students would learn from Gorgias. In the piece, t he speaker argues that Helen is blameless for elopi ng with Paris and then presents an equally strong argu ment that she should be held accountable for leavin g with Paris (McKirahan 376-377).
139 The philosopher of the digression seems a descript ion of the exact opposite of Socrates, for the philosopher of the digression is not acquainted with his neighbor, does not know the way to the marketplace, the courts, or the assembly. This description echoes AristophanesÂ’ caricature of Socrates in the Clouds When the philosopher is forced to discuss phenomena, his words are comedic to everyone who hears them. Because he keeps himself outside of society he is e ntirely unaware of the current gossip. He places no value in the landholding of citizens, or how noble a pedigree is Â– attributes which were important measures of a citizenÂ’s status in ancient Greece (and even today). The philosopher is characterized as someone removed from the social and political world. When the philosopher does have to engage with the c ommon man, he is socially inept and awkward Â– a great source of amusement to any ob server. The philosopher, too, is clumsy, in line with the anecdote about Thales fall ing into a well. The picture that Socrates initially paints for Theodorus is a mockin g distortion of a philosopher Â– the philosopher of the digression appears as the Oliver Hardy of Classical Greece. We know SocratesÂ’ character from this dialogue and the othe r dialogues and indeed, he is very familiar with all his neighbors, spends most of his time in public places, is curious about the latest gossip; in short, Socrates is only concerned with politics and ethics. The philosopher of the digression is not concerned with concrete instances of politics and ethics, he is only concerned with the abstract. Wh ile there is nothing in the dialogues to attest Socrates possessing physical gracefulness, S ocrates knows how to handle himself on a battlefield Â– as well as a courtroom. Even if we limit our evidence to the Theaetetus itself, we can see that when Theodorus introduces T heaetetus, Socrates does take an interest in TheaetetusÂ’ pedigree, calling him a Â“th orough-bred;Â” this provides some
140 evidence that Socrates is not describing the philosopher as Plato sees him, but the philosopher as seen from a satirical perspective (1 44b-d). Socrates describes a philosopher that seems at odds with his own behavior. When we study carefully, we see that the philosopher doe s not value things that are becoming things that change, things that grow and decay. Th ere are some similarities with Socrates, once the description of the imaginary phi losopher is generalized and abstracted. Neither the philosopher nor Socrates are concerned with obtaining and holding political power. They are interested in the intelligible, un iversal, and the abstract and their values are not Â‘in lineÂ’ with the values of the demos They concern themselves with inquiry into the essence of Â“human happiness and misery in gener al,Â” which is surely the purview of ethics (175c).279 Moreover, they are both concerned with Â“the prope r method by which the one [happiness] can be obtained and the other [ misery] avoidedÂ” (175d). Theaetetus, the Potential Guardian Theaetetus is forcefully depicted as a youthful So crates in all but name Â– for there is a younger Socrates present, but he is given none of the attributes ascribed to Theaetetus. Theodorus describes him as Â“snub-nosed with eyes that stick out,Â” although the features that have cursed Socrates to be ugly a re luckily not as pronounced in Theaetetus (143e). The physical resemblance betwee n the two speaks to a few things: it alludes to parentage, with Socrates as father obvio usly, it is also a curious take on the typical Greek view that beauty on the outside means beauty on the inside (though we 279 The task of philosophy is Â… Â“What is Man? What ac tions and passions properly belong to human nature and distinguish it from all other bein gs?Â” (174b)
141 know, and Plato shows us time and again, that this is not the case.280 Socrates has hitherto been the exception). The likeness between the two gives ri se to the question of how far that likeness stretches Â– can we use our pe rception of Theaetetus (via his appearance) to determine anything at all about him, but chiefly, if Theaetetus is virtuous? Here, it is very clear that virtue in this dialogue is not the moral virtues alone, but has just as much to do with intellectual faculties. If know ledge is virtue, as the Platonic dialogues imply, and the only thing our moral exemplar knows is his own ignorance, then this knowledge, his self-knowledge, is the condition for the possibility of virtue is selfknowledge, as is suggested in the Charmides and the Phaedrus .281 Though the dialogue ostensibly ends in aporia there are more dissimilarities than similarities between the Theaetetus and the aporetic (early) dialogues. From that bre ak in pattern, we may expect that TheaetetusÂ’ behavior sh ould be different from a Euthyphro or a Nicias. Theaetetus is special because he does no t follow the pattern of a typical interlocutor. First, Theaetetus claims no expertis e, so there is no assumption of knowledge that Socrates must try to move the interl ocutor past. Second, though the dialogue does deal with PlatoÂ’s typical compare and contrast between the knowledge and method of philosophy and the knowledge and method o f the sophists, Theaetetus does not manifest a sophistÂ’s traits, nor answer with a soph istÂ’s words Â– he is no Meno, speaking for Gorgias, or Nicias, speaking for Damon. 280 Theaetetus has a conversation about mathematics wi th young Socrates Â– Â“Prima facie, we should expect this homonymy to be significant. Gre ek culture attached great significance to verbal similarities, which were often presented as imaging a more profound resemblance (cf. eg. Thea. 194c9)Â” (Blondell 261-262). 281 See Griswold.
142 PlatoÂ’s concern with paideia can easily be seen as present in the other aporetic dialogues; that this dialogue is also aporetic begs the question of why Why, if scholars are in any way correct about the chronological comp osition, return to an earlier form of composition when Plato has been creating dialogues of a different nature?282 The Theaetetus has some of the elements of an aporetic dialogue: t he dialogue opens with SocratesÂ’ interest in young men, TheaetetusÂ’ first definition is an enumeration, the question put to the interlocutor is in a Â‘what is x ?Â’ format, and the dialogue ends in aporia Yet in content it is quite different from the ot her aporetic dialogues. Socrates has a worthy interlocutor that does not have a terrible future in front of him;283 SocratesÂ’ treatment of the interlocutor is quite mild in comp arison to the rough way he treats interlocutors in the other aporetic dialogues ; the topic under consideration is not technically a moral virtue (though it has close tie s to the moral virtues).284 The absence of the moral virtue as the topic of inquiry does no t dismiss the question of virtue from the dialogue; rather, it presupposes it. From the very beginning, TheaetetusÂ’ character is under scrutiny and at stake. Ruby Blondell suggests that Theaetetus may be seen as a guardian in training. At 146a, Socrates mentions a game where the winner wil l be King and make the others answer Â“any question he likesÂ” Â– which is perhaps a reference to the philosopher-kings of 282 David SedleyÂ’s response to this question is to lin k the Socratic philosophy of the early dialogues with the mature Platonic philosophy of th e middle and late dialogues. In this way, he belie ves that Plato assures his audience that he has not ent irely abandoned his Socratic roots. 283 History has not made us aware of, or recorded, any terrible fate for Theaetetus Â– though certainly, it is possible. Considering the pattern of other dialogues, where Plato has the characters acting in ways that we would expect, given their historical l ives, it seems safe to assume that the promising yo uth grows into a good man. 284 In other aporetic dialogues, Socrates is often iro nic to the point of abusive, or outright abusive.
143 the Republic In the Republic Socrates reminds his audience that the guardians ar e chosen based on Â“natural qualities conducive to thi s education;Â” that is, that they excel at learning, have a good memory, are persistent, and e njoy the effort Â– both mental and physical ( Rep. 535b-c). Moreover, Socrates adds to this list of q ualities that a guardian should be virtuous and interested in truth. When c ompared with the description of Theaetetus introduced by the Megarians and by Theod orus, the similarities between the two abound. The Megarians tell us that a wounded T heaetetus shows his devotion to Athens with his desire to return home (presumably t o die) even though the journey evidently will be painful; he has suffered grave in jury in battle for Athens and we are told that he distinguished himself in battle, so he poss esses the andreia that we learn in several dialogues that Socrates possessed; Theaetet us is skilled in mathematics and historically, we know that the Theaetetus developed that skill, so it is clear that he is intelligent and loves knowledge. Theodorus tells u s that the youth Theaetetus is quick, temperate, manly, generous, with an intellectual ca pability garnished with a good memory and presumably a maturity that belies his yo uth (144b). Throughout the dialogue, Theaetetus demonstrates both a desire for truth and persistence in inquiry. PlatoÂ’s audience would surely make the comparison a nd find Theaetetus the embodiment of a guardian. If all the above evidence is not en ough, Socrates labels Theaetetus the kind of person has a predisposition to philosophy: Â“For this is an experience characteristic of a philosopher, this wondering: th is is where philosophy begins and nowhere elseÂ” (155d). As is often the case in the dialogues, the focus of this dialogue, too, is paideia Â– specifically, the Theaetetus is about the education of one with a philosophic n ature, the
144 educational program for the philosopher. It seems that Socrates is testing Theaetetus; is he graduating from studying mathematics, geometry a nd astronomy with Theodorus to the study dialectic, with Socrates? Mathematics is the propaedeutic to philosophy, according to the Republic and Theaetetus has been studying mathematics. Th eaetetus seems to be a reflection of Socrates in many ways. Yet the defining characteristic of Socrates, in contrast to many of his interlocutors, is his recognition of his ignorance. In the Republic we find that it is not enough for a philosopher k ing to possess moral virtue. What is required is intellectual virtue as well as a natural disposition towards philosophy.285 Like the moral virtues, intellectual virtue is a skill.286 We see TheaetetusÂ’ intellectual virtue improve through the course of t he inquiry; by the end of the dialogue, he demonstrates eagerness rather than reluctance; h e is motivated by truth rather than any decaying phenomena, such as power, fame, winning, o r goods; and from the very beginning, Theaetetus was presented Â– and presents himself Â– as having a good character, the capacity for abstract thought, and the gift of persistence. The method of philosophy demonstrated in the Platon ic dialogues has a purpose that is traditionally brushed aside as irrelevant: to encourage the interlocutor to engage in critical self-reflection through recognition of a c ontradiction in her beliefs or values. Rational recognition of a contradiction forces a co nfrontation within the self and tests the character of the interlocutor. An epistemically vi rtuous person, for Plato, will let go of her irrational belief A once she has recognized the status of belief A This happens via the 285 Republic 487a and 490c-d. 286 See Julia Annas, Â“The Structure of Virtue,Â” Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology ed. Michael DePaul and Linda Zagzebski (Oxford: C larendon Press, 2003) 15-33. It is worth mentioning, but irrelevant to pursue further, that the intellectual virtues require a natural di sposition Â– whether they are considered cognitive faculties o r an exercise of cognitive faculties.
145 rational persuasion which is the purpose of Socrati c elenchus The interlocutor is rationally persuaded of a contradiction in her beli ef: the result of this persuasion is aporia Once she experiences aporia she has a choice to make: to continue inquiring (aiming for truth) or to ignore the contradiction. Thus, the inquiry itself becomes a virtuous act because it demonstrates a virtuous cha racter Â– one who has the andreia to continue the inquiry, the sophia to know that one does not know, and the sophrosune to subsume the potential emotions from entangling reas on and halting the inquiry. Neither poetry nor sophistry induces the kind of labor pain s involved in dialectic; neither practice forces a contradiction in a personÂ’s beliefs or val ues. It is the contradiction that is essential to the instruction philosophy gives its students. The success of the instruction hinges on the epistemic virtues of the interlocutor Â– what the interlocutor does once the contradiction a recognized. If self-knowledge is defined as knowledge of knowle dge ( episteme epistemes, as in the Charmides ), and we understand Plato to say that Socrates is his moral exemplar, then self-knowledge plays a strong role in establis hing a virtuous character. The Â‘onlyÂ’ thing that Socrates knows is that he does not know; Socratic ignorance is a major component of SocratesÂ’ character. The only manner by which one can know that one does not know is through inquiry. One can achieve knowledge (thus a Theaetetus) only by rooting out (and uprooting) beliefs. The logos comes into play when attempting to determine understanding ( episteme ). It is possible to have beliefs that one does no t understand ; therefore the sophists are quite dangerous. If o ne is persuaded into accepting a belief and there is no understanding, the belief may fade into the background of preconceptions Â– unexamined preconceptions. An epi stemically virtuous agent does not
146 express akrasia Â– in action, choice, or intention against oneÂ’s be st judgment.287 Mark Gifford observes that: On several occasions Plato announces that what Socr ates investigates through his surgical questioning is not simply the philosophica l acceptability of the prevailing ethical ideas of the day, but the actual lives of t he interlocutors. Socrates wants to learn the views his conversation partners hold abou t justice, courage, and so on, not merely in order to determine the abstract merit s of those ideas, but also so that he can examine the ethical standards by which these individuals are directing their actions and thereby assess the ethical worth and ov erall value of the lives so lived.288 Socrates is examining not just the ideas of the int erlocutor, but the interlocutor himself. He examines Charmides (and perhaps Critias) for sophrosne Laches and Nicias for andreia Glaucon and Adeimantus for justice Â– but he does not examine Theaetetus nor Theodorus for knowledge. He examines them for the conditions of knowledge: the intellectual virtues. When there is an interlocuto r with a natural disposition towards philosophy, the dialogue shows that interlocutor ga ining intellectual virtue through the very act of inquiring, as is the case in the Theaetetus. Theaetetus shows increasingly greater intellectual virtue as the dialogue progres ses. It would seem that if Theodorus is correct about th e likeness between Theaetetus and Socrates, then Theaetetus must demonstrate the quality of self-knowledge (the condition for the possibility of virtue). Griswold notes that Â“towards the start of the Phaedrus Socrates declares in extremely strong terms that h e cares only about knowing himself, every other pursuit being Â‘laughableÂ’ to h im so long as self-knowledge is lacking 287 Christopher Hookaway, Â“Epistemic Akrasia and Epistemic Virtue,Â” Virtue Epistemology: Essays on Epistemic Virtue and Responsibility, ed. Abrol Fairweather and Linda Zagzebski (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001) 179; Hookaway describes an akratic agent: Â“General ly we are motivated to act in accordance with our evaluations and to conform to o ur commitments unless we acquire good reason not to do so. The akratic appears to lack this motivation Â” (182). 288 Gifford 45. See Laches 188, Apology 29d, Protagoras 333c.
147 ( Phae. 229e4 ff.)Â”289 Socrates makes a similar claim in the Apology : Â“it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and thos e other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for th e unexamined life is not worth living for menÂ” ( Apol. 38a). To say the unexamined life is not worth livi ng is to make a strong normative claim that privileges examination; thus i t becomes a clearly laid out path to becoming good: to continue examining oneÂ’s self to discover oneÂ’s preconceptions (beliefs) and examine them to see if the one belief stands in contradiction to the rest of your beliefs, to see if it is logically consistent (true), to see if it is the kind of belief that will lead to the Good. This self-knowledge is expr essed and demonstrated through inquiry. What are the results? Knowledge, or self -knowledge, or towards what does Socratic inquiry aim? And we, the audience, witnes s this in the dialogue; as Blondell remarks, Â“Through Sokrates, Theaitetos, Theodoros, and their interactions, Plato explores yet again the conditions under which Socratic pedag ogy may successfully take place.Â”290 Does the Theaetetus show a successful inquiry? Did the interlocutors l earn anything? While I do not believe the dialogue is a Â‘failureÂ’, as scholars historically have deemed the aporetic dialogues, for failing to achieve a propos itional definition of a concept, I believe the majority of the educating, the learning, occurs with the external audience. Griswold believes that Â“Socrates wants to connect self-knowl edge with leading a morally right lifeÂ” and though Griswold is concerned solely with the Phaedrus I think this holds true for the Theaetetus as well.291 The very idea of ignorance of oneÂ’s ignorance is both shameful 289 Griswold 2. 290 Blondell 252. 291 Griswold 3.
148 and fearful to Socrates. Socrates claims that he i s Â“annoyed at his own stupidityÂ” for fear that someone might ask him about false judgment and Socrates would answer Â‘yesÂ’ (195c-d). Ignorance of oneÂ’s own ignorance is a st umbling block, or rather a wall, that must be eradicated before any true progress towards understanding can be achieved. Theaetetus, we learn, is a boy of both moral and in tellectual virtue, with the potential to be like Socrates. The audience does not yet know w hat is sufficient for knowledge, but they have an understanding of what is necessary, fr om the example they have listened to or read: dialectic and epistemic virtues.
149 Conclusion It is possible to interpret Plato in many ways, and of late, many scholars have preferred to "mine" the dialogues in an attempt to formulate Platonic "doctrines." These doctrines, in turn, are knitted together Â— to the e xtent that this is possible Â— to comprise a systematic philosophy that is identified as the p hilosophy of Plato. In the case of the Theaetetus as I have argued in chapter four, this Â“doctrinal Â” approach to Plato takes the form of identifying Plato's epistemology, where 'ep istemology', in keeping with contemporary practice, is divorced from ethical con siderations. I have argued against this approach to Plato on two grounds. First, Plato cho se to write philosophy in the form of dialogues, and it seems reasonable to assume that h e did so in order to accomplish some goals in line with his conception of dialectic. Th e choice of form is, I have found, a reflection of the progression of the tradition of o ral and written paideia the aim of which is to produce virtuous citizens. Paideia took place originally in the form of poetry. On the whole, poetry was orally performed before an au dience. Eventually writing became used in public institutions, first as a mnemonic de vice and a way of keeping records storage of valued public experience, or promulgatin g laws. Writing, in education, was an imitation of the traditional oral instruction. Tra ditional paideia presented the truth as the Muses enabled the poet to sing it, and while writin g enabled poets to develop new poetic forms, poetry was still performed. The rise of the polis brought another occasion and another means for paideia : public debate.
150 Debate became a vehicle for negotiating virtue Â— an d truth Â— in the polis But one could be effective in debate without being virt uous or even having any concept of virtue, and power resulted from the ability to spea k and debate regardless of one's character. The Sophists exploited the opportunitie s that writing afforded to employ those rhetorical devices that had been proven effective. The result was speeches, suitable for performances on all occasions, written in advance o f the occasion of their delivery, without knowledge of either the problem to be resol ved or the context in which public decisions had to be made. The measure of truth and virtue was the ability to prevail in argument. A sophos was a man who had the skill to prevail in argument or persuade others. There are certain current conceptions of philosophy that fail to recognize that Ancient philosophy is about a way of living Â– and t hat believing something true is a commitment to act and live in certain ways. Ancien t philosophical writing instructs its audience just as writing does in other ancient genr es such as poetry. This entails that the dialogues, just as other genres, are written for a specific audience, an audience that would appreciate and understand the insinuations and refe rences to historical events and persons. Plato's use of characters named for histo rical persons evokes the lives of those historical persons so that the audience members alr eady possess certain assumptions about the characters. As Mark Gifford remarks, anc ient tragedies rely on the knowledge of the external audience in order to relay their educational and political message. AeschylusÂ’ The Persians for instance, provides a lesson in hubris because the audience members are already familiar with the story. Thoug h Xerxes does not understand the reasons for his army's defeat, the audience knows o f his hubris Interpreting the
151 statements of these characters with only the knowle dge provided within the dialogue itself is to treat these characters as if they were simply 'A' and 'B'. There would seem to be little point to Plato's using historical figures in the dialogues if their historicity did not matter in understanding their presence in the dialo gues and interpreting their statements. The reason that Plato is invoking historical figure s, Mark Gifford contends, is that it is necessary for the use of a literary technique that draws on the external audience's common knowledge: irony. The dialogues are a form of mimsis a presenting or making manifest. With the poets, the singer re-presents events and characters from history and myth, creating a pleasurable experience for the audience. The dialo gues function as an occasion both for re-presenting a philosophical discussion that its a udience may continue after the dialogue is read, and as a dramatic illustration of what com es from living Â– or not living Â– a philosophical life. As mimsis a dialogue functions as an instance of the educat ion described in the Republic a way of making that method manifest by having the audience be included in the experience. The audiences' expe rience of the dialogue--both the internal and the external audiences Â– is a "mak ing manifest" that is appropriate for a world in which things happen and change, and are ma ny, and are seen: a world of becoming. In the Theaetetus we are given a discussion about the philosopher: his education and his way of life. The education of th e philosopher in the Republic points to Theaetetus' actual education; the young man is not only receiving instruction in mathematics, but he excels in the subject. Theaetetus is moving from mathematics to dialectic. Theaetetus begins with knowledge as aisthsis what we know by our senses and where we all begin Â– but we
152 must move beyond our senses. The difficulty of tha t move is reflected in the lengthy discussion of the second definition for knowledge. To make sense of aisthesis --and doxa --something more is required: intellectual virtue t hat arises from a passion for inquiry. That passion cannot be communicated by pr opositions or even described in the abstract curriculum of the Republic Â– it must be ignited by watching someone live this way.292 Aisthesis is not enough; participation, doing is required if one is to reach knowledge. One must inquire and do so virtuously. Knowledge is not an accumulation of statements, like those of the Sophists, divorced from knowing how to live a virtuous life. Knowledge is part and parcel of the good lif e, for open-ended inquiry is itself a way of living Â– the way a philosopher lives.293 292 If we accept the Seventh Letter as genuine, Plato provides an example of that sort of learning: To Â“living with the subject itself in frequent dial ogue suddenly, as a light kindled from a leaping fl ame, [knowledge] comes to be in the soulÂ” seems that to gain knowledge of the subject matter requires atten tion to the subject. See Appendix A. 293 John P. Anton suggests that the Theaetetus is necessary to the Platonic canon because while th e Republic describes a method of education for the philosopher it stops short at how it is one gets from aisthesis to philosophy. The Theaetetus shows Socrates explaining leading a pupil, Theaetet us, from aisthesis to episteme When one moves along the divided line from aisthesis, one reaches mathematics. The knowledge one obtains from sense experience is hopelessly corrupted by the unreliability of the se nses Â– if one is uncritical of the senses. The cognitio n one receives from sensation is doxa while logos is an opinion which stems from the exercise of the senses giving it reasons.
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166 Appendix A: The Authenticity of the Seventh Letter The Seventh Letter is of particular import to scholars of PlatoÂ’s phi losophy, as it contains a significant digression detailing a metho d that is concerned with metaphysical, epistemological and linguistic issues (340c-345c). If the letter were proven authentic, this digression would be the most straightforward w riting by Plato on those concerns and could settle several major debates regarding interp retation. Yet it is also this controversial section of the Letter that ostensibly provides evidence for the letterÂ’s inauthenticity. I argue that due to scholarsÂ’ inte rpretative strategies, the Seventh Letter is claimed to be inauthentic. Scholars for, or agains t, the authenticity of the Seventh Letter must eventually rely on the degree of consistency b etween their interpretation of the philosophical digression and PlatoÂ’s philosophy. I n many cases, those interpretations are based on the tenuous assumption that Plato has doct rines.294 The result of situating the Seventh Letter within a doctrinal interpretative strategy is unreliable. The content is forced to fit the scholarÂ’s assumptions about Plato Â’s Â“philosophical systemÂ” and, if it does not fit, the letter is thrown out as spurious. The persistent problem of certifying the authentici ty of the Seventh Letter stems from a lack of historical records regarding the let ter as well as the particularities of the history of imitative letter writing. According to Glen Morrow, the first reliable reference to PlatoÂ’s Letters occurs in Â“the canon of Platonic works drawn up by Aristophanes of 294 See Chapter Three.
167 Byzantium toward the end of the third century B.C., and also in the canon of Thrasyllus, dating from the first century after Christ.Â”295 We do not know which, or how many, letters were included in the list by Aristophanes. Even though authors such as Plutarch and Cicero refer to the letters as authentic, the e vidence along this line of certifying the authenticity of the letters remains circumstantial. There is also the difficulty of how the letters were kept and discovered; there is Â“no posi tive record of their existence prior to the flourishing of the great library at Alexandria. Â”296 In antiquity, it was common for students of the schools of rhetoric to compose lett ers in the styles of famous men such as Plato.297 Thus, the possibility of a forgery entering the l ibrary under the name of Plato is likely. That the letter is inauthentic is, of cour se, possible since we have no certain evidence that the letter was composed by Plato. There are three main ways with which to investigate the Seventh LetterÂ’s authenticity: to compare historical content, stylom etric analysis, and the consistency of content with the Â‘authenticÂ’ dialogues. Scrutiny o f the historical content confirms that the letter is genuine. Stylometry as a technique has v arying results, depending on the criteria used in analysis. The methodology of stylometry di ffers but generally, it involves analysis of grammatical structure or analysis of wo rds Â– that is, lexical techniques that examine, for example, word length, sentence length, or ubiquitous words such as (and). One stylometric analysis in particular is referred to as the standard: an analysis conducted in 1968 by Levinson, Morton and Winspear. Earlier, a study by Cox and Brandwood 295 Glen R. Morrow, PlatoÂ’s Epistles Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962. 5. 296 Sayre, Kenneth M. PlatoÂ’s Literary Garden: How to Read a Platonic Dia logue Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995. xx. 297 Morrow 3.
168 used stylometric analysis to formulate a chronologi cal sequence for all the works of Plato. Based on their study of the last syllables of sentences, they formulated a sequence indicating the order in which the dialogues were wr itten.298 This study placed the Seventh Letter between the Critias and the Statesman something that Levinson et. al. claim that most scholars find unacceptable.299 The Levinson groupÂ’s own stylometric analysis does not attempt to sequence PlatoÂ’s works ; rather, using different techniques, they compare the Seventh Letter to the Apology and determined that the results indicate the letter is not authentic. In 1965, Morton had argued that Â“the sentence lengt h distributions are constant for the works of an author unless these are separat ed by a large period of time allied with a considerable difference in literary form.Â”300 LevinsonÂ’s group used the principle developed by the sentence length distribution surve y conducted by Morton as their criteria: Â“the distribution of the conjunctive kai ,Â” and Â“distribution of the particle de as second or third word in sentences.Â” 301 The group agrees, to varying degrees, that the Seventh Letter is not entirely a work of PlatoÂ’s, and perhaps not written by him at all, but in all likelihood the philosophical digression is m ost certainly not authentic, and, they 298 Any attempt to order the dialogues is suspect; see Holger Thesleff, Studies For general problems with stylometric analysis, see Charles M. Young, Â“Plato and Computer Dating,Â” Oxford Studies in Philosophy 12 (1994): 227-250. 299 Levinson 312. See D. R. Cox and L. Brandwood, Â“On a Discriminatory Problem Concerned with the Works of Plato,Â” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 1959. 195. LevinsonÂ’s statement is of course based on the interpretive strategy of his ti me, which I later argue is a mistaken strategy. 300 Levinson 313. 301 Deane 113.
169 conclude, the letter was likely written or edited b y Speusippus, PlatoÂ’s nephew and successor at the Academy. There are serious concerns about the stylometric an alysis conducted by Levinson, Morton and Winspear. Philip Deane calls into quest ion the criteria used for the analysis and opens a space for the possibility that the lett er is authentic. The tests, by their own admission, fail a work of IsocratesÂ’ that is believ ed to be authentic. They account for the discrepancy by claiming that Isocrates was senile. Yet, they do not extend that same probabilistic reasoning to the Seventh Letter I submit that their study cannot be sufficiently objective, for their conclusion depend s on a sequencing of the dialogues which is still in question. The selection of dialo gues they chose for indicators in their study is suspect for it relies on the idea that the Apology is an Â‘earlyÂ’ dialogue and that the Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias and Laws are all Â‘lateÂ’ dialogues that were written close together. If sty lometric analyses are as debatable as the authenticity of the letter, arguments must, in the end, rely on the degree of consistency found between the content of the letter and the con tent of PlatoÂ’s dialogues.302 Having touched on some of the problems with the use of stylometric analysis to determine the LetterÂ’s authenticity, I will now discuss the interpretative strategies that are used in analyzing the philosophic content. The cho ice of interpretative strategy involved requires examination, in these instances, for the m ethodology of interpreting PlatoÂ’s 302 For instance, EdelsteinÂ’s rejection of the Seventh Letter is based on the inconsistencies he finds between the Seventh Letter and his interpretation of PlatoÂ’s dialogue. See Lu dwig Edelstein, PlatoÂ’s Seventh Letter (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966). As with many doctrin al analyses, EdelsteinÂ’s rejection is based on his limiting interpretative strategy. The effec t of placing a pre-formulated interpretative strate gy onto the Seventh Letter or any Platonic dialogue, is that the content is pre-judged rather than revealed. The content is forced to fit this pre-conceived interpr etation and, if it does not fit, is thrown out as s purious.
170 dialogues has been a point of disagreement among ph ilosophers since PlatoÂ’s death. The question of the most appropriate way to interpret t he dialogues has yet to be settled. Historically, interpretations of Plato fit into one of two categories. The first type of interpretative strategy is constructive; it assu mes that the dialogues are statements forming PlatoÂ’s doctrines, generally this occurs by first advancing a developmentalist position. Adopting a developmental thesis means th at the scholar constructs doctrines by stringing together pieces of the dialogues in accor dance with a chronology. The assumptions involved in this strategy are that 1) P lato does indeed have doctrines, 2) that these doctrines develop over time in accordance wit h the pre-established sequence and 3) the chronology the scholar subscribes to is accurat e. In the past three centuries, philosophers have approached PlatoÂ’s dialogues as i f approaching a modern philosopher, drawing conclusions about PlatoÂ’s philosophy via su ch a developmental thesis. It is unquestionable that theses regarding the developing thought of Leibniz or Kant have grounds for their claims Â– however, the distance in time and the lack of records, makes any certainty regarding the chronology of the dialogues impossib le and as such, any thesis dependent upon a particular ordering of dial ogues is dubious at best. It is also the case that scholars tend to anachronistically Â‘read inÂ’ questions that, while we take for granted are important, the Greeks would not have co nsidered, such as questioning the reality of the external world or the fixation with certainty that infuses philosophy following the Scholastic period. A subcategory of the Â‘constructiveÂ’ interpretation is the position that Plato had doctrines, but that they ar e unwritten. Instead, these interpretations say that Plato delivered the doctri nes orally to his students in the
171 Academy, in which case the only way to learn of his doctrines is through secondary sources. The second type of interpretative strategy is destr uctive, for it assumes the dialogues are chiefly about refuting the interlocut or(s).303 Scholars of this school of thought reduce the dialogues to their backbone of p ropositions and arguments, utterly ignoring the dialogue form with its dramatic and li terary elements and instead, read the dialogues as if they were treatises.304 But no one forced Plato to write dialogues; he could have just as easily written treatises instead With that in mind, it is reasonable to assume there is something important about the dialo gue form, something that makes it necessary for PlatoÂ’s philosophy. Revealing the sh ortcomings in these two general categories of interpretation speaks to the need for a third way of interpreting Plato. In the last thirty years a group of scholars has taken a h ermeneutic approach to PlatoÂ’s dialogues in order to avoid the problems of the first two str ategies. The hermeneutical strategy begins by seeing the dialogue form as necessary and involves examining the dialogue as a unity, taking into account the literary and dramati c details for, as mentioned above, it is reasonable to assume that the dialogue form is necessary to convey the content A hermeneutical strategy situates a text with regard to the authorÂ’s original audience. Attempting to situate the text in its original cont ext requires an examination of the assumptions made about the past. By addressing the fact of presuppositions, the interpretation is left open for future revision. T he result is a completely irreconcilable 303 Gonzalez, Third 1. 304 For an explanation of why these two interpretative strategies do not do justice to PlatoÂ’s dialogues as well as the historical lineage of the strategies, see Gonzalez Short.
172 position with both the aforementioned groups, becau se these scholars shun the notion of unwritten doctrines, and, in fact, call into questi on whether Plato had doctrines at all. Most notably, they point out that there is little e vidence in the dialogues for the traditionally accepted Â‘doctrine of FormsÂ’.305 Generally speaking, scholars have two primary probl ems with the philosophical digression of the Seventh Letter all of which are grounded in their interpretative strategy. (1) The digression claims that Plato never put his philosophy (specifically, the philosophy of first principles) in writing and (2) the digress ion makes mention of first principles without referring to the Forms. Morrow writes that Â“The chief difficulty in accepting this passage as genuinely Platonic arises from the state ment that Plato has never written about Â‘these mattersÂ’ that were the subject of DionysiusÂ’ book.Â”306 In fact, the author goes a step further and claims that Â‘these mattersÂ’ can not be expressed in words, like other disciplines. Â‘These mattersÂ’ are almost certainly first principles. When Â‘first principlesÂ’ are presumed to mean Forms then the letter is shown as inauthentic, for on a constructivist interpretation, there appear to be i n the dialogues clear discussions of the Forms as first principles. There is nothing strange or non-Platonic about the authorÂ’s critique of the written word; language, in both oral and written form, fails to capture certain kinds of knowledge. A simplistic example is color; it is im possible to explain color in general, or a specific color, without the coinciding experience One can know all there is to know about the color red, but there is something lacking in an understanding of the color if it 305 Gonzalez, Short 12. 306 Morrow 66.
173 does not include the actual experience of red. Exp erience is the kind of knowledge that cannot be expressed propositionally Â– not completel y, anyway. There is always something lacking in propositions about an experience Earlier, the author of the Seventh Letter claims that one may know any object in five ways, through names, images, and accounts, whi ch taken together form the fourth type, episteme (scientific understanding) and finally, nous intuitive apprehension taken directly into the soul. None of these results in a ctual knowledge of the object. The closest we can get, the author says, is the fifth t ype, nous The digression indicates that knowledge of true being is gained as an insight by means of a particular method, dialectic, that Â‘rubs togetherÂ’ (tests) names, imag es, and accounts (propositions). Language is defective in that it can only describe qualities of the thing itself, but even so, nous or insight, may be gained using it. The author w rites Â“Yet the process of dealing with all four, moving up and down to each one, bare ly gives birth to knowledge of the ideal nature in someone with an ideal nature.Â”307 Because the author carefully says Â‘barelyÂ’, we can not see this method as producing a n end to inquiry Â– a static, stable knowledge.308 The beginning of the letter stating the authorÂ’s di sappointment in the ethics of Athenian political leaders fits with the dialoguesÂ’ emphasis on virtue; however, a key element to the Platonic catchphrase Â“virtue is know ledgeÂ” is understanding what, exactly, Plato intends by Â‘knowledgeÂ’. Knowledge is gained when Â“living with the subject itself in frequent dialogue suddenly, as a light kindled f rom a leaping flame, [knowledge] 307 Gonzalez, Dialogue 250. 308 Gonzalez, Dialogue 267. The word that qualifies it is 0
174 comes to be in the soul.Â” To gain knowledge of the subject matter requires attention to the subject. It is by engaging the subject that kn owledge may be acquired. This is true for any practice. One cannot Â‘knowÂ’ how to build a chair until one builds the chair; once one knows how to build a chair one cannot pass on t hat knowledge using language. If virtue is construed as a practice then it makes perfect sense for the author to clai m that language fails to present knowledge of virtue becau se language is static. Writing, of course, is more static than speaking; in a discussi on, accounts can be revised to promote a better understanding, something that can not be don e with a text, particularly an ancient text, for classical Greek was written scripta continua on scrolls of papyrus. Revision was all but impossible without recreating the entire sc roll. What language can do is provide the starting point for understanding. Dialogue, a process, becomes a method by which one can gain knowledge. This is evident from every one of PlatoÂ’s dialogues. However, as Paul Friedlnder remarks: Â“I repeat Aug ust BoeckhÂ’s methodological principle that only forgery, not authenticity, can be proved conclusively Â– in the absence of external evidence, to be sure.Â”309 The evidence presented to reject the authenticity of the Seventh Letter may serve equally as well to promote its authentic ity. Since the arguments regarding content are almost entirely bas ed on the scholarÂ’s interpretation of PlatoÂ’s dialogues, it is possible that a new type o f interpretation will show consistency between the content of the Seventh Letter and the content of the dialogues Â– for example, the excursus ( Seventh Letter 340c-345c) is often seen as contrary to the philos ophical content of the dialogues.310 As Gilbert Ryle has noted, we should be concerned with the 309 Friedlnder, Plato III 236. 310 Sayre xxi-xxii.
175 accuracy of the content of the Seventh Letter which will stand or fall regardless if the letter is authentic. To understand the precise dif ficulties with ascertaining the authenticity of the Seventh Letter see W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy: The Later Plato and the Academy, vol. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1978) 401n, Shorey; Lon Robin, Platon (Paris: F. Alcan, 1935) Ronald Bartlett Levinson, In Defense of Plato (New York: Russell and Russell 1953). For argumen ts upholding the authenticity of the Seventh Letter see A. Brinckman, Â“Ein Brief Platons,Â” RhM, LXVI 1911: 226-30; Werner Jaeger, Aristoteles: Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung (Berlin: Weidmann, 1955) 111; Georges Meautis, Platon Vivant (Paris: Albin Michel, 1950); A. J. Festugiere, Contemplation et vie Contemplative Selon Platon (Paris: J. Vrin, 1936); Luc Brisson, Platon: Lettres (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1987).
176 Jennifer F. Ingle grew up in a small rural town in northern Indiana. She earned bachelor degrees in both Biology and English from P urdue University in 1996. With her degrees in hand and the bright-eyed innocence of th e recently graduated she entered the doctoral program in English at the University of So uth Florida. However, she soon realized that her passion lay in a different field but she had to take a job outside of the university. Spending her days working in the palli d glow of a computer and her nights struggling to read Kant, she was finally able to de vote her full attention to academia when offered an assistantship teaching philosophy. Afte r receiving her M.A. in philosophy at USF, Ms. Ingle was devastated by a series of stroke s. After re-learning to speak, write, and walk, she continued her pursuit of knowledge an d earned her doctorate.