Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato

Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato

Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato

Plato's Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist of Plato

Excerpt

Since the commentary aims at furnishing the reader with information as the need arises, it will be enough, by way of introduction, to indicate the place of the Theaetetus and the Sophist in the series of Plato's dialogues, and to define briefly the position from which the inquiry starts.

Our two dialogues belong to a group consisting of the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist, and the Statesman. As M. Diès has observed, Plato leaves no doubt that the dialogues are meant to be read in this order. The Parmenides describes a meeting imagined as taking place about 450 b.c. between Socrates, who would then be about twenty, and the Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and Zeno. To suppose that anything remotely resembling the conversation in this dialogue could have occurred at that date would make nonsense of the whole history of philosophy in the fifth and fourth centuries; and I believe, with M. Diès, that the meeting itself is a literary fiction, not a fact in the biography of Socrates. No ancient historian of philosophy mistook it for the record of an actual event, which, had it occurred, would have been a very important landmark. The Theaetetus (183e, p. 101) alludes to this meeting, and it is once more recalled in the Sophist (217c, p. 166) in terms that can only refer to the Parmenides. The Theaetetus, again, ends with an appointment which is kept at the beginning of the Sophist; and the Sophist itself is openly referred to in the Statesman

As for the order of composition, no one doubts that the Sophist and the Statesman, which contain one continuous conversation, are later than the Theaetetus. In the Theaetetus many critics have noticed that the style changes towards the end in the direction of Plato's later manner. If that is so, stylometric results based on the dialogue as a whole will be misleading. The latter part of the Theaetetus, as we have it, may have been finished years after the beginning, and the Parmenides may have been composed in the interval. On the other hand, we need not suppose any very long gap between the completion of the Theaetetus and the composition of the Sophist and the Statesman.

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