Socratic Wisdom: The Model of Knowledge in Plato's Early Dialogues

Socratic Wisdom: The Model of Knowledge in Plato's Early Dialogues

Socratic Wisdom: The Model of Knowledge in Plato's Early Dialogues

Socratic Wisdom: The Model of Knowledge in Plato's Early Dialogues

Synopsis

While the early Platonic dialogues have often been explored and appreciated for their ethical content, the characteristc features of these dialogues are decidedly epistemological - Socrates' method of questions and answers, known as elenchos, Socrates' fascination with definition, Socrates' profession of ignorance, and Socrates' thesis that virtue is knowledge. Benson here attempts to uncover the epistemological view that underlies these previously neglected features of Socratic thought.

Excerpt

This book, I suspect like many others, grew out of one of Gregory Vlastos's National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) seminars on the philosophy of Socrates. Prior to attending his seminar in the summer of 1988 I had been working on critiques of Vlastos's account of the elenchos and Socrates' commitment to the priority of definition. Not long into the seminar, however, I began to appreciate the beauty and coherence of Vlastos's comprehensive interpretation of the early dialogues (indeed the dialogues as a whole), of which the two theses I had been criticizing were only a part. I realized immediately that if my critiques were to have any hope of success, they too would need to be part of a comprehensive interpretation of the dialogues. While the strength of the comprehensive interpretation would, of course, depend on the strength of the critiques, the strength of the critiques would in turn depend on the strength of the comprehensive interpretation. To a large extent they would stand or fall together. Since that summer, I have devoted myself to attempting to piece together such a comprehensive interpretation.

The interpretation I propose is to some extent unusual. For while most of the work devoted to the philosophy of Socrates in recent decades has focused on the ethical theory to be found in the early Platonic dialogues, I have focused instead on the epistemological theory in these dialogues. Indeed, I believe that the most distinctive features of the philosophy of these dialogues--Socrates' method of question and answer (known as the elenchos), Socrates' preoccupation with definition, and Socrates' professions of ignorance--are all decidedly epistemological in content. Over the past ten years in a variety of essays I have been attempting to uncover the model of knowledge that underlies these distinctive features. In this volume I attempt to pull together these individual projects into a comprehensive interpretation of a reasonably coherent and influential model of knowledge found in Plato's early dialogues. The volume as a whole falls primarily into three parts--an account of Socrates' method and its epistemological implications (chapters 2-4), an account of Socrates' preoccupation with definition and its epistemological implications (chapters 5-7), and an account of the model of knowledge resulting from these . . .

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