Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues


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If, on the other hand, he himself believed it, but the masses do not agree, the extent to which those who do not think so exceed those who do, to that same extent it is not so more than it is so. On the basis of this, he would have to agree that his own view is false. On the other hand, the others do not agree that they are wrong, and Protagoras is bound to agree, on the basis of his own doctrine, that their belief is true.

In the famous digression a—c , which separates the second from the third argument against broad Protagoreanism, Socrates sets up a dichotomy between the judicial and the philosophical realm: those thought of as worldly experts in issues of justice are blind followers of legal practicalities, while the philosophical mind, being unrestricted by temporal or spatial limitations, is free to investigate the true essence of justice.


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Civic justice is concerned with the here-and-now and presupposes a mechanical absorption of rules and regulations, whereas philosophical examination leads to an understanding of justice as an absolute, non-relativistic value. This dichotomy between temporal and a-temporal justice rests on a more fundamental conceptual opposition between a civic morality and a godlike distancing from civic preoccupations.

Godlikeness, Socrates contends, requires a certain degree of withdrawal from earthly affairs and an attempt to emulate divine intelligence and morality. The otherworldliness of the digression has attracted the attention of, among others, Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics X 7, and Plotinus , who in Enneads I 2, offers an extended commentary of the text.

The reason for this, Socrates argues, is that the content of value-judgments is properly assessed by reference to how things will turn out in the future. Experts are thus people who have the capacity to foresee the future effects of present causes. One may be an infallible judge of whether one is hot now, but only the expert physician is able accurately to tell today whether one will be feverish tomorrow. Thus the predictive powers of expertise cast the last blow on the moral and epistemological dimensions of Protagorean Relativism. The question he now poses is: how radical does the Flux to which the Heracliteans are committed to must be in order for the definition of knowledge as perception to emerge as coherent and plausible?

As we saw earlier, the Secret Doctrine postulated two kinds of motion: the parents of the perceptual event undergo qualitative change, while its twin offspring undergoes locomotive change. To the question whether the Heracliteans will grant that everything undergoes both kinds of change, Socrates replies in the affirmative because, were that not the case, both change and stability would be observed in the Heraclitean world of Flux.

If then everything is characterized by all kinds of change at all times, what can we say about anything? The name of that activity is judging, and it is to this that the second part of the conversation now turns. Likewise, if one judges something, there must be something that one judges. This then cannot be a proper account of false judgment. False judgment then is not concerned with what-is-not, but with interchanging one of the things-which-are with some other of the things-which-are, for example beautiful with ugly, just with unjust, odd with even, and cow with horse. The next attempt at explaining false judgment invokes the mental acts of remembering and forgetting and the ways in which they are implicated in perceptual events.

Imagine the mind as a wax block, Socrates asks Theaetetus, on which we stamp what we perceive or conceive. Whatever is impressed upon the wax we remember and know, so long as the image remains in the wax; whatever is obliterated or cannot be impressed, we forget and do not know d-e. False judgment consists in matching the perception to the wrong imprint, e. Theaetetus accepts this model enthusiastically but Socrates dismisses it because it leaves open the possibility of confusing unperceived concepts, such as numbers.

Thus arithmetical errors call for the positing of a more comprehensive theoretical account of false judgment. What Aristotle later called a distinction between potentiality and actuality becomes the conceptual foundation of this model. Socrates invites us to think of the mind as an aviary full of birds of all sorts. The owner possesses them, in the sense that he has the ability to enter the aviary and catch them, but does not have them, unless he literally has them in his hands. The birds are pieces of knowledge, to hand them over to someone else is to teach, to stock the aviary is to learn, to catch a particular bird is to remember a thing once learned and thus potentially known.

The possibility of false judgment emerges when one enters the aviary in order to catch, say, a pigeon but instead catches, say, a ring-dove. To use an arithmetical example, one who has learned the numbers knows, in the sense that he possesses the knowledge of, both 11 and To go back to the arithmetical example mentioned earlier, Theaetetus suggests that the mistaking of 11 for 12 happens because the man making the judgment mistakes a piece of ignorance for a piece of knowledge but acts as if he has activated his capacity for knowing.

The problem is, as Socrates says, that we would need to posit another aviary to explain how the judgment-maker mistakes a piece of ignorance for a piece of knowledge. Socrates attributes their failure to explain false judgment to their attempting to do so before they have settled the question of the nature of knowledge. This argument shows that forming a true opinion about something by means of persuasion is different from knowing it by an appeal to the only method by means of which it can be known—in this case by seeing it—and thus knowledge and true judgment cannot be the same.

After the failure of this attempt, Socrates and Theaetetus proceed to their last attempt to define knowledge. Theaetetus remembers having heard that knowledge is true judgment accompanied by Logos account , adding that only that which has Logos can be known. Since Theaetetus remembers no more, Socrates decides to help by offering a relevant theory that he once heard. According to the Dream Theory db , the world is composed of complexes and their elements. Complexes have Logos , while elements have none, but can only be named. Elements cannot be accounted for or known, but are perceptible.

After Theaetetus concedes that this is the theory he has in mind, he and Socrates proceed to examine it. In that case, Socrates wonders, how can a complex of unknowable elements be itself knowable?

Socratic Dialogue (Argumentation)

The only reasonable thing to say then is that the elements are much more clearly known than the complexes. Now, turning to the fourth definition of knowledge as true judgment accompanied by Logos , Socrates wishes to examine the meaning of the term Logos , and comes up with three possible definitions. Secondly, to give an account of a thing is to enumerate all its elements a.

One tradition regarding the arrangement of Plato's texts is according to tetralogies. This scheme is ascribed by Diogenes Laertius to an ancient scholar and court astrologer to Tiberius named Thrasyllus. In the list below, works by Plato are marked 1 if there is no consensus among scholars as to whether Plato is the author, and 2 if scholars generally agree that Plato is not the author of the work. Unmarked works are assumed to have been written by Plato.

The remaining works were transmitted under Plato's name, most of them already considered spurious in antiquity, and so were not included by Thrasyllus in his tetralogical arrangement. These works are labelled as Notheuomenoi "spurious" or Apocrypha. The exact order in which Plato's dialogues were written is not known, nor is the extent to which some might have been later revised and rewritten. Lewis Campbell was the first [39] to make exhaustive use of stylometry to prove objectively that the Critias , Timaeus , Laws , Philebus , Sophist , and Statesman were all clustered together as a group, while the Parmenides , Phaedrus , Republic , and Theaetetus belong to a separate group, which must be earlier given Aristotle 's statement in his Politics [40] that the Laws was written after the Republic ; cf.

Diogenes Laertius Lives 3. What is remarkable about Campbell's conclusions is that, in spite of all the stylometric studies that have been conducted since his time, perhaps the only chronological fact about Plato's works that can now be said to be proven by stylometry is the fact that Critias , Timaeus , Laws , Philebus , Sophist , and Statesman are the latest of Plato's dialogues, the others earlier. Increasingly in the most recent Plato scholarship, writers are skeptical of the notion that the order of Plato's writings can be established with any precision, [42] though Plato's works are still often characterized as falling at least roughly into three groups.

Socrates figures in all of these, and they are considered the most faithful representations of the historical Socrates; hence they are also called the Socratic dialogues. Most of them consist of Socrates discussing a subject, often an ethical one friendship, piety with a friend or with someone presumed to be an expert on it. Through a series of questions he will show that apparently they do not understand it at all.

It is left to the reader to figure out if "he" really understands "it". This makes these dialogues "indirect" teachings. Late in the early dialogues Plato's Socrates actually begins supplying answers to some of the questions he asks, or putting forth positive doctrines. This is generally seen as the first appearance of Plato's own views. The first of these, that goodness is wisdom and that no one does evil willingly, was perhaps Socrates' own view.

What becomes most prominent in the middle dialogues is the idea that knowledge comes of grasping unchanging forms or essences, paired with the attempts to investigate such essences. The immortality of the soul, and specific doctrines about justice, truth, and beauty, begin appearing here. The Symposium and the Republic are considered the centrepieces of Plato's middle period. The Parmenides and Theaetetus are often considered to come late in this period and transitional to the next, as they seem to treat the Theory of Forms critically Parmenides or not at all Theaetetus.

The Parmenides presents a series of criticisms of the theory of Forms which are widely taken to indicate Plato's abandonment of the doctrine. Some recent publications e. In most of the remaining dialogues the theory is either absent or at least appears under a different guise in discussions about kinds or classes of things the Timaeus may be an important, and hence controversially placed, exception.

Socrates is either absent or a minor figure in the discussion. An apparently new method for doing dialectic known as "collection and division" is also featured, most notably in the Sophist and Statesman , explicitly for the first time in the Phaedrus , and possibly in the Philebus. A basic description of collection and division would go as follows: interlocutors attempt to discern the similarities and differences among things in order to get clear idea about what they in fact are.

One understanding, suggested in some passages of the Sophist , is that this is what philosophy is always in the business of doing, and is doing even in the early dialogues.

Christopher Rowe

The late dialogues are also an important place to look for Plato's mature thought on most of the issues dealt with in the earlier dialogues. There is much work still to be done by scholars on the working out of what these views are. The later works are agreed to be difficult and challenging pieces of philosophy. On the whole they are more sober and logical than earlier works, but may hold out the promise of steps towards a solution to problems which were systematically laid out in prior works. Plato never presents himself as a participant in any of the dialogues, and with the exception of the Apology , there is no suggestion that he heard any of the dialogues firsthand.

(Non)logocentric Logos in Plato's Timaeus: Extending Sallis and Derrida

Some dialogues have no narrator but have a pure "dramatic" form examples: Meno , Gorgias , Phaedrus , Crito , Euthyphro , some dialogues are narrated by Socrates, wherein he speaks in first person examples: Lysis , Charmides , Republic. One dialogue, Protagoras , begins in dramatic form but quickly proceeds to Socrates' narration of a conversation he had previously with the sophist for whom the dialogue is named; this narration continues uninterrupted till the dialogue's end.

The three dialogues, Phaedo , Symposium , and Theaetetus , also begin in dramatic form but then proceed to virtually uninterrupted narration by followers of Socrates, and all, apparently, based on their distant memory or secondhand reports. Phaedo , an account of Socrates' final conversation and hemlock drinking, is narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates in a foreign city many years after the execution took place.

The Symposium is narrated by Apollodorus, a Socratic disciple, apparently to Glaucon. Apollodorus assures his listener that he is recounting the story, which took place when he himself was an infant, not from his own memory, but as remembered by Aristodemus, who told him the story years ago. In the beginning of the Theaetetus cb , Euclides says that he compiled the conversation from notes he took based on what Socrates told him of his conversation with the title character.

The rest of the Theaetetus is presented as a "book" written in dramatic form and read by one of Euclides' slaves c. Some scholars take this as an indication that Plato had by this date wearied of the narrated form. Other dialogues, such as the Phaedo , Symposium , and Parmenides , do suggest that such conversations were faithfully recalled and transmitted by Socrates' followers. The trial of Socrates is the central, unifying event of the great Platonic dialogues.

Because of this, Plato's Apology is perhaps the most often read of the dialogues. In the Apology , Socrates tries to dismiss rumors that he is a sophist and defends himself against charges of disbelief in the gods and corruption of the young. Socrates insists that long-standing slander will be the real cause of his demise, and says the legal charges are essentially false. Socrates famously denies being wise, and explains how his life as a philosopher was launched by the Oracle at Delphi. He says that his quest to resolve the riddle of the oracle put him at odds with his fellow man, and that this is the reason he has been mistaken for a menace to the city-state of Athens.

If Plato's important dialogues do not refer to Socrates' execution explicitly, they allude to it, or use characters or themes that play a part in it. Five dialogues foreshadow the trial: In the Theaetetus d and the Euthyphro 2a—b Socrates tells people that he is about to face corruption charges. In the Meno 94e—95a , one of the men who brings legal charges against Socrates, Anytus , warns him about the trouble he may get into if he does not stop criticizing important people.

In the Gorgias , Socrates says that his trial will be like a doctor prosecuted by a cook who asks a jury of children to choose between the doctor's bitter medicine and the cook's tasty treats e—a. In the Republic 7. The Apology is Socrates' defense speech, and the Crito and Phaedo take place in prison after the conviction.

In the Protagoras , Socrates is a guest at the home of Callias , son of Hipponicus , a man whom Socrates disparages in the Apology as having wasted a great amount of money on sophists' fees. Two other important dialogues, the Symposium and the Phaedrus , are linked to the main storyline by characters. In the Apology 19b, c , Socrates says Aristophanes slandered him in a comic play, and blames him for causing his bad reputation, and ultimately, his death.

In the Symposium , the two of them are drinking together with other friends. The character Phaedrus is linked to the main story line by character Phaedrus is also a participant in the Symposium and the Protagoras and by theme the philosopher as divine emissary, etc. The Protagoras is also strongly linked to the Symposium by characters: all of the formal speakers at the Symposium with the exception of Aristophanes are present at the home of Callias in that dialogue.

Charmides and his guardian Critias are present for the discussion in the Protagoras. Examples of characters crossing between dialogues can be further multiplied. The Protagoras contains the largest gathering of Socratic associates. In the dialogues for which Plato is most celebrated and admired, Socrates is concerned with human and political virtue, has a distinctive personality, and friends and enemies who "travel" with him from dialogue to dialogue.

This is not to say that Socrates is consistent: a man who is his friend in one dialogue may be an adversary or subject of his mockery in another. For example, Socrates praises the wisdom of Euthyphro many times in the Cratylus , but makes him look like a fool in the Euthyphro. He disparages sophists generally, and Prodicus specifically in the Apology , yet tells Theaetetus in his namesake dialogue that he admires Prodicus and has directed many pupils to him. In Cratylus b-c , Socrates says that he studied with Cratylus, and took his one- drachma course because he could not afford the full fifty-drachma course.

Socrates' ideas are also not consistent within or between or among dialogues. Plato's thought is often compared with that of his most famous student, Aristotle , whose reputation during the Western Middle Ages so completely eclipsed that of Plato that the Scholastic philosophers referred to Aristotle as "the Philosopher". However, in the Byzantine Empire , the study of Plato continued. The Medieval scholastic philosophers did not have access to the works of Plato, nor the knowledge of Greek needed to read them.

Plato's original writings were essentially lost to Western civilization until they were brought from Constantinople in the century before its fall, by George Gemistos Plethon. These scholars not only translated the texts of the ancients, but expanded them by writing extensive commentaries and interpretations on Plato's and Aristotle 's works see Al-Farabi , Avicenna , Averroes.

Only in the Renaissance , with the general resurgence of interest in classical civilization, did knowledge of Plato's philosophy become widespread again in the West. Many of the greatest early modern scientists and artists who broke with Scholasticism and fostered the flowering of the Renaissance, with the support of the Plato-inspired Lorenzo de Medici , saw Plato's philosophy as the basis for progress in the arts and sciences.

By the 19th century, Plato's reputation was restored, and at least on par with Aristotle's. Notable Western philosophers have continued to draw upon Plato's work since that time. Plato's influence has been especially strong in mathematics and the sciences.

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He helped to distinguish between pure and applied mathematics by widening the gap between "arithmetic", now called Number Theory and "logistic", now called arithmetic. He regarded logistic as appropriate for business men and men of war who "must learn the art of numbers or he will not know how to array his troops," while arithmetic was appropriate for philosophers "because he has to arise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being.

Albert Einstein drew on Plato's understanding of an immutable reality that underlies the flux of appearances for his objections to the probabilistic picture of the physical universe propounded by Niels Bohr in his interpretation of quantum mechanics. Thus Friedrich Nietzsche attacked Plato's moral and political theories, Martin Heidegger argued against Plato's alleged obfuscation of Being , and Karl Popper argued in The Open Society and Its Enemies that Plato's alleged proposal for a government system in the Republic was prototypically totalitarian.

Leo Strauss is considered by some as the prime thinker involved in the recovery of Platonic thought in its more political, and less metaphysical, form. Deeply influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss nonetheless rejects their condemnation of Plato and looks to the dialogues for a solution to what all three thinkers acknowledge as 'the crisis of the West. Diogenes mentions as one of his sources the Universal History of Favorinus.

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According to Favorinus, Ariston, Plato's family, and his family were sent by Athens to settle as cleruchs colonists retaining their Athenian citizenship , on the island of Aegina, from which they were expelled by the Spartans after Plato's birth there. Sign In Don't have an account? Please help to improve this page yourself if you can.. Contents [ show ].

Plato: Theaetetus | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Minos 2 , The Laws , Epinomis 2 , Epistles 1. In the early dialogues, several characters discuss a topic by asking questions of one another. The nature of these dialogues changed a great deal over the course of Plato's life. It is generally agreed that Plato's earlier works are more closely based on Socrates' thought, whereas his later writing increasingly breaks away from the views of his former teacher. In the middle dialogues, Socrates becomes a mouthpiece for Plato's own philosophy, and the question-and-answer style is more pro forma: the main figure represents Plato and the minor characters have little to say except "yes", "of course" and "very true".

The late dialogues read more like treatises, and Socrates is often absent or quiet. It is assumed that while some of the early dialogues could be based on Socrates' actual conversations, the later dialogues were written entirely by Plato. The question of which, if any, of the dialogues are truly Socratic is known as the Socratic problem.

Michael Sugrue Plato Socrates and the Dialogues Part 01 Audiobook

The dialogue format also allows Plato to put unpopular opinions in the mouth of unsympathetic characters, such as Thrasymachus in The Republic. Platonism has traditionally been interpreted as a form of metaphysical dualism, sometimes referred to as Platonic or Exaggerated Realism.

According to this reading, Plato's metaphysics divides the world into two distinct aspects: the intelligible world of "forms", and the perceptual world we see around us. The perceptual world consists of imperfect copies of the intelligible forms or ideas. These forms are unchangeable and perfect, and are only comprehensible by the use of the intellect or understanding—i.

This division can also be found in Zoroastrian philosophy, in which the dichotomy is referenced as the Minu intelligence and Giti perceptual worlds. The Zoroastrian ideal city, Shahrivar, also exhibits certain similarities with Plato's Republic. The existence and direction of influence here is uncertain; while Zoroaster lived well before Plato, few of the earliest writings of Zoroastrianism survive unaltered.

In the Republic Books VI and VII, Plato uses a number of metaphors to explain his metaphysical views: the metaphor of the sun, the well-known allegory of the cave, and most explicitly, the divided line. Taken together, these metaphors convey a complex, and, in places, difficult theory: there is something called The Form of the Good often interpreted as Plato's God , which is the ultimate object of knowledge and which, as it were, sheds light on all the other forms i. The Form of the Good does this in somewhat the same way as the sun sheds light on, or makes visible and "generates" things, in the perceptual world.

See Plato's metaphor of the sun In the perceptual world, the particular objects we see around us bear only a dim resemblance to the more ultimately real forms of Plato's intelligible world; it is as if we are seeing shadows of cut-out shapes on the walls of a cave, which are mere representations of the reality outside the cave, illuminated by the sun. See Plato's allegory of the cave We can imagine everything in the universe represented on a line of increasing reality; it is divided once in the middle, and then once again in each of the resulting parts.

The first division represents that between the intelligible and the perceptual worlds. This is followed by a corresponding division in each of these worlds: the segment representing the perceptual world is divided into segments representing "real things" on the one hand, and shadows, reflections and representations on the other.

Similarly, the segment representing the intelligible world is divided into segments representing first principles and most general forms, on the one hand, and more derivative, "reflected" forms, on the other. See the divided line of Plato The form of government derived from this philosophy turns out to be one of a rigidly fixed hierarchy of hereditary social classes, in which the arts are mostly suppressed for the good of the state, the size of the city and its social classes is determined by mathematical formulae, and eugenic measures are applied secretly by rigging the lotteries in which the right to reproduce is allocated.

The exact relationship of such a government to the lofty philosophy presented in the book has been debated. Plato's metaphysics, and particularly its dualism between the intelligible and the perceptual, would inspire later Neoplatonic thinkers, such as Plotinus and Gnostics, and many other metaphysical realists. One reason being the Gnostic vilification of nature and Plato's Demiurge from Timaeus. Plato also influenced Saint Justin Martyr.

For more on Platonic realism in general, see Platonic realism and the Forms. Although this interpretation of Plato's writings particularly the Republic has enjoyed immense popularity throughout the long history of Western philosophy, it is also possible to interpret his suggestions more conservatively, favoring a more epistemological than metaphysical reading of such famous metaphors as the Cave and the Divided Line.

There are obvious parallels between the Cave allegory and the life of Plato's teacher Socrates who was killed in his attempt to "open the eyes" of the Athenians.


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  • This example reveals the dramatic complexity that often lies under the surface of Plato's writing remember that in the Republic, it is Socrates who relates the story. Plato's philosophical views had many societal implications, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government.

    Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues
    Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues
    Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues
    Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues
    Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues

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