The Rational Enterprise: Logos in Plato's Theaetetus

By Rosemary Desjardins | Go to book overview

ONE
AMBIGUITY

The ostensible subject of the Theaetetus is introduced by what must surely be one of the most lightheartedly ironic of all Plato's understatements: "I am puzzled about one small matter... this is what I am perplexed about and cannot fully grasp by my own efforts: what knowledge is" (145d6-e9). To all appearances, the question is never answered. In reality, so this study will argue, we are provided with a carefully worked-out answer—an answer recognized as explicit, however, only if the dialogue is taken self-referentially. The project of this study is therefore relatively straightforward. It consists, quite simply, of an effort to read the Theaetetus as a whole, in the hope (and promise) that if we do so, the parts—especially the conclusion of the dialogue— will fall into place. 1


AMBIGUITY OF THEAETETUS' LOGOS

By the time Theaetetus comes through with the first effort at real definition, several points have already been established—both as to the content of the inquiry, and as to its form.

In the first place, the nature of the inquiry has been defined—on the one hand, as being a quest after that peculiar kind of knowledge ( epistēmē) which is properly identified as wisdom (145d11-e7), and on the other, as seeking to grasp what essentially defines that knowledge: "what epistēmē really is" (146e9-10). A notion of the denotative range of epistēmē has also been provided, indicating dimensions both theoretic and practical: "Geometry and all the things you spoke of just now [i.e., astronomy, arithmetic, and music: 145a7-8], and also cobblery and the other craftsmen's arts; each and all of these are nothing else but knowledge" (146c8-d2). In the second place, the nature of logos, as definition, has been clarified, for although on the one hand Plato has made a point of having Theaetetus first enumerate a multiplicity of instances (146c7-d2), on the other he has Socrates go on to demand an account that will justify that enumeration in terms of the essentially differentiating characteristics of epistēmē (146d3-e10). Moreover, an

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