Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self-Reflexivity in Plato's Theaetetus: Toward a Phenomenology of the Lifeworld

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Self-Reflexivity in Plato's Theaetetus: Toward a Phenomenology of the Lifeworld

Article excerpt

I

IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE I argued that Plato's Line of Knowledge in the middle of his Republic taught a "pedagogy of complete reflection."(1) What I intend to show in this article is that the general lines of that "complete reflection" indicated in the Republic are brought down to the everyday in the Theaetetus where we are invited, among other things, to reflect upon what is involved in the fact that we are reading the dialogue in our lifeworld.

In the Republic the proportional construction of the visible line drawn according to instructions invited reflection upon its instantiating a geometrical theorem involving the equality of its central segments. Further reflection situated the theorem in the wider field of levels of knowing by placing it on the third level of the same line taken differently, that is, metaphorically. Reflection upon the sameness and difference between a theorem and its visible instantiation and, correspondingly, between intellection and sensation introduced us to an otherwise empty fourth level of reflection upon the framework presupposed not only in mathematics but in every situation of human wakefulness. The initial aim of such increasingly wider levels of reflection was to introduce us to the notion of the Good as object of the philosophic quest. The Good is; proclaimed as "the principle of the whole" which grounds philosophic contemplation of "all time and all [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," grounds, that is, the consideration of the interplay of temporal individual (for example, a drawn line) and atemporal Form (the theorem represented by the line). The Good is thus [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("beyond [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]") because it is related to more than the level of Form, including in its domain the whole of the temporal as well. Complete reflection thus requires a return to the Cave of time and individuality where thought always takes place. The Line should thus be read as a segment of a circle which rises from fixation upon the concrete situation in which one finds oneself unreflectively in order to grasp reflectively the intelligible lines of the whole so that one can participate more reflectively and more comprehensively in the concrete world. That is why Plato is not only master of dialectic, but also master of the image.(2)

Theaetetus is the first of three works, followed in turn by the Sophist and the Statesman. The questions as to the nature of knowledge and of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] raised in the Theaetetus are linked to the question of the sameness and/or difference between the philosopher, the sophist, and the statesman. Since Plato expressly links them, what is said in each dialogue has to be seen in relation to what is going on in all of them. Our focus will be upon some of the central features of the Theaetetus, but we will also employ significant insights from the other two dialogues.

After the preface to the Theaetetus, the body of the dialogue is read to the original interlocutors by a slaveboy recounting the event, many years previous, of the introduction of Socrates to Theaetetus by Theodorus the geometer. Socrates proceeded to examine three theses advanced by Theaetetus as to the nature of knowledge: that it is [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or immediate sensation,(3) that it is [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or true opinion,(4) and that it is true opinion accompanied by a [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].(5) An examination of the meaning of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in turn involves three options: that it is clarification through "the stream that comes from the mouth,"(6) that it is reducible to elements, and that it is the providing of a difference. Each successive thesis presupposes the former as a reflective remark upon it. Thus the thesis itself that knowledge is sensation is presented sensorily in speech; it is an example of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which turns out to be false; and both theses are worked out by "giving an account. …

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