The Rational Enterprise: Logos in Plato's Theaetetus

By Rosemary Desjardins | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

OVERVIEW OF THE THEAETETUS

Plato sometimes talks of philosophical inquiry as the challenge to battle the waves and currents of the sea as, like Odysseus, we strive for the distant shore and rocky crags of truth. 1 Throughout the mainstream of Western philosophy, there have flowed two persistent currents of concern which, despite (or perhaps because of) new twists and turns, challenge us today no less than they did our philosophical forebears. The sometimes subtle, sometimes seething, intersection of both currents in Plato's Theaetetus makes it not only one of the more difficult, but also one of the most intriguingly contemporary of Plato's dialogues.

The first turbulence, catching us between the extremes of a Cartesian approach on the one hand and a postmodernist and feminist critique on the other, eddies around the very notion of reason and rationality. The second (epistemological when viewed from one angle, ontological when viewed from another) snags us on the question of a "given"—whether such "givenness" be interpreted in terms of the specific objects of an external world, of discrete impressions or sense data of perceptual experience, or of our conceptual categories themselves. The myth of a sheer objective "given" tends to evoke in turn a counterstress on a subjective "taken"—variations on which lie at the heart of a number of current debates, not only in philosophy, but also in anthropology, linguistics, cognitive psychology, the philosophy of science, and the sociology of knowledge. In the best of the tradition there occurs a skillful maneuvering between the Scylla of an unqualified "given" and the Charybdis of an unqualified "taken". The present study will explore one classical experiment in mediation between "given" and "taken," for in the reciprocity of its discursive and dramatic dimensions, Plato's Theaetetus simultaneously exhibits, and reflects on, a peculiarly fruitful "taking" of a "given." Ironically, the inquiry thus leads him into the thick of our own current debate about reason and rationality, 2 since, on the proposed interpretation, it is this activity of "taking" that characterizes nous as creative intelligence, ultimately defines what it is to be rational, and in its most comprehensive and self-conscious realization constitutes the exercise of philosophic wisdom.

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