For Plato the quarrel between philosophy and poetry is ultimately a culture war, a competition for the moral leadership of Greek society.
This correlation between a form of cognition and a definite content or subject matter appears frequently in other dialogues for example Gorgias b, Charmides a. In the Republic this principle is invoked to show that knowledge and opinion must have different ontological objects V, a ; in the Timaeus a similar principle is implied as premise in an argument for positing Forms 51d. Problematic in its particular applications, this principle reflects Plato's fundamental realism in epistemology. Truth in cognition reflects reality in the object known: "What is completely is completely knowable; what is not in any respect is unknowable in every respect" Rep.
On a traditional view, these four dialogues provide something like a philosophical portrait of the historical Socrates: pursuing the topic of moral virtue, seeking definitions of the virtues courage in Laches , temperance in Charmides , piety in Euthyphro , identifying virtue as a kind of knowledge, and denying the reality of akrasia.
Most descriptions of the philosophy of Socrates are based upon the evidence of these dialogues, as supported by Aristotle's account. But if Aristotle's account of Socrates is derived from his own reading of these dialogues, his testimony is of no independent historical value. In at least one case Aristotle's report can be seen to be directly dependent on a Platonic dialogue, since for the Socratic denial of akrasia he quotes the Protagoras verbatim N.
On the fictional view of the dialogues proposed above, what we have in the Protagoras and the dialogues of definition is not documentary evidence for the historical Socrates but rather Plato pursuing Socratic themes in his own way, and with his own philosophical goals in view. Thus the Laches and the Euthyphro offer a subtle lesson in the logic of definition, which will be completed in the Meno. And in the Protagoras we find something entirely new and problematic: a hedonistic anticipation of rational choice theory that is unparalleled in other dialogues.
Whatever Socrates' own concern with definition may have been and there is no trace of this either in the Apology or the Crito , nor in the Ion and Hippias Minor , the treatment of definition in the Laches-Charmides-Euthyphro-Meno has a systematic quality and an epistemic orientation that is distinctly Platonic. Unlike the more straightforward search for a definition of rhetoric in the Gorgias , which does not raise epistemological issues but leads instead to a formula acceptable to all parties, the attempt to define virtues in these four dialogues of definition is formally aporetic and regularly unsuccessful.
Although the search for a definition always fails, in two cases it points incidentally to an account of virtue as the knowledge of good and bad Laches c — e, Charmides b — e.
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In the Protagoras as also in Meno and Euthydemus virtue is again identified with some kind of knowledge. The teachability of virtue is a topic debated at length in the Protagoras and Meno , and raised also in the Laches for the special case of courage. The claim of teachability seems to stand or fall with the conception of virtue as knowledge. The Meno makes explicit the principle implied at the end of the Protagoras : Virtue is teachable if and only if virtue is a kind of knowledge Meno 87b.
This question is briefly discussed at the beginning of the Protagoras : The young Hippocrates wants to study with Protagoras not for professional reasons, in order to become a sophist, but for liberal education, the training appropriate for a free man and citizen ab. This leaves open the question of what such training should consist in. We must wait for the Republic to get a definite answer to the question of the teachability of virtue. The Protagoras and Meno present arguments for both sides of the question see below. The dialogues of definition direct us to the theory of knowledge by two routes: first, by the suggestion that virtue, the target of definition, is itself a kind of knowledge.
And second, by the claim that knowledge as such depends on knowledge of essences. Thus in the Laches , where the two generals Laches and Nicias are being consulted as experts on training in virtue, the request for a definition is proposed as a test of their expertise: "if we know what virtue is , we should be able to say what it is " c. For if we did not know at all what virtue is, how could we advise anyone how to acquire it? Similarly, if Charmides is temperate, he should have some notion of what temperance is Charmides a.
In the Meno this type of question is justified by the general principle of priority of definition: One cannot know anything whatsoever about X unless one knows what X is Meno 71b.
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We will return to this principle below, in discussing the Meno. It is in the Euthyphro that the notion of essence or whatness, what X is, is most fully articulated as the object to be captured in a definition. To define piety one must specify something quite general, for the pious is "the same as itself in every action … similar to itself and having some one character idea " Euthyphro 5d. The definiens must be not only coextensive with the definiendum but explanatory of it; necessary and sufficient conditions are not enough for a Platonic definition. Socrates wants to find "the very feature auto to eidos by which all pious things are pious.
The definition offered by Euthyphro "piety is what is loved by the gods" turns out to fail this test; it is a proprium, an attribute uniquely true of piety, but not an explanatory essence. Socrates complains to Euthyphro: "When you were asked what the pious is , you were not willing to reveal to me its essence ousia , literally its being or is-ness , but you gave me instead an attribute pathos , saying that it belongs to the pious to be loved by all the gods" 11a.
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The distinction between an essence and an accidental attribute, so fundamental for Aristotle's philosophy, is here sharply delineated for the first time, but without clear metaphysical implications. In the dialogues of definition, including the Meno , essences are presented as logical or epistemological concepts, as items corresponding to a definition, an item true of all the cases, and hence able to serve as a criterion for the use of a term, but without any definite ontological interpretation.
Despite the terminology of eidos and idea , which in later dialogues will serve to designate the Forms of classical Platonic theory, the essences of the Euthyphro and Meno are not articulated as structures in the nature of things, neither as immanent nor as transcendent forms. In this situation the reader is free to assume either that the author of these dialogues has not yet decided on an ontological interpretation for his definienda, or that he has chosen to reserve this task for other dialogues, such as the Symposium and the Phaedo. These three dialogues present or allude to typical Platonic themes in epistemology and metaphysics, but without any definite formulation of what will be the standard theory of the Phaedo and Republic.
Hence they are sometimes described as "transitional. Lysis and Euthydemus form with Charmides a literary group of dialogues with similar introductory episodes, presenting a charming school scene in which Socrates converses with handsome boys or adolescents. The setting of the Laches is comparable, but in that dialogue Socrates converses only with the fathers and not with the boys.
The question of education is implicitly raised by the setting in each case, and discussed at length in the Euthydemus and Meno. Aside from the literary setting and the general theme of education, in other respects these three "transitional" dialogues are very different from one another. The Lysis is concerned with the topic of friendship and love, a topic discussed below in connection with the Symposium and Phaedrus.
There are a number of parallels between the Lysis and Symposium , the most striking of which is the concept of a final object of love for the sake of which everything else is loved. Since the form of the argument resembles Aristotle's thesis in N. But there is nothing in the text to justify this interpretation. On the contrary, the formula "for the sake of which" refers to the good in passages cited above from the Gorgias and Republic section IV. Furthermore, the context in the Lysis identifies the "dear" philon as the good and the beautiful c 6 — d2.
This anticipation of the technical language for Forms, together with the generally quite abstract form of the arguments about friendship, sets the Lysis apart from more typical "early Socratic" dialogues such as the Laches or the Euthyphro. The Euthydemus is equally non-standard for other reasons. Plato presents an entertaining satire on two elderly sophists, the brothers Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, who claim to teach virtue by a shortcut method, and who display their art by confounding the student with a rapid series of fallacious arguments. Their art of unscrupulous refutation, or eristic, is designed to provide the sharpest possible contrast with the genuine Socratic elenchus, represented here not by the usual refutation but by a constructive protreptic in which Socrates argues that wisdom is the only good, ignorance the only evil, and hence that in order to enjoy happiness and a good life eu prattein one must pursue wisdom and knowledge.
Both Socrates' protreptic and several of the Sophists' refutations contain enigmatic allusions to Platonic doctrines presented in other dialogues. In the most surprising of these allusive passages, the young Clinias compares mathematicians to hunters because they must turn over their findings to someone else.
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Just as hunters turn over their catch to cooks, who know how to make good use of it, mathematicians, if they are wise, will turn over their discoveries about reality ta onta to dialecticians hoi dialektikoi to make use of Euthydemus c. But this is not the only case where the Euthydemus anticipates doctrines to be developed in later dialogues, including an allusion to recollection d 1 and a hint that the relativism of Protagoras may be self-refuting. There is also a rough version of the principle of non-contradiction b 8 — d 1 , and a kind of caricature of the problem of the presence of "the beautiful itself" in the many beautiful things e — a.
The Euthydemus is thus one of the most comical and also one of the most puzzling of all the dialogues. The Meno introduces the doctrine of recollection, which plays an important role in two later dialogues, the Phaedo and Phaedrus. Like the sixteenth-century theory of innate ideas which it inspired, Plato's doctrine of recollection is an antecedent both for the Kantian notion of a priori knowledge and for contemporary theories of innatism in psychology.
The fundamental thesis of the Platonic doctrine is that there is something in the nature of the human mind that predisposes it to grasp the nature of reality: "the truth of beings ta onta is forever in our psyche" Meno 86b 1. The supernatural form this doctrine takes in Plato is determined by its association with the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration, which implies a previous existence for the human soul. The Phaedrus give a mythical account of prenatal experience, in which human souls travel with the gods outside the heavens, to a vision of ultimate reality described in terms of the Platonic theory of Forms.
It is our recollection of this prenatal vision of transcendent Beauty that explains the phenomenon of falling in love. In the Phaedo as well recollection takes as its object the eternal Forms, illustrated in this dialogue by the Equal itself, as distinct from sensible equals. This choice of the Form of Equality in the Phaedo connects recollection with mathematics, as in the Meno , where recollection is illustrated by the geometry lesson to an uneducated slave boy. The boy is led by a series of questions to see, first, that he is unable to double a square by numerical additions to the side, and then to recognize the solution when Socrates draws the diagonal.
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But it is not only mathematical concepts but conceptual thought generally that is involved in recollection. As the Phaedrus insists, a human soul must be able "to understand what is said according to a form eidos , passing from many sense perceptions to a unity gathered together by rational thought. And this is recollection of what our soul once saw when it traveled together with a god and looked beyond what we now call reality and was able to rise up into the really Real" Phaedrus bc.
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The myth of the Phaedrus thus represents Plato's most brilliant expression of the classical Greek view that reason nous , the cognitive capacity to understand the world, constitutes the immortal, godlike element in the human psyche. The Meno presents a simpler version of the doctrine, without any explicit reference to the theory of Forms. Recollection is introduced in response to Meno's paradox about learning something new, or seeking for something you do not know. Meno in turn is responding to the principle of "Priority of Definition," which claims that you cannot know anything about X unless you know "what X is.
Recollection answers that what we learn is not new; we only need to be reminded. In the fuller doctrine formulated in the Phaedo and Phaedrus , it is not Socratic questioning but sense perception that serves to trigger a conceptual understanding of equality, beauty, and the like that is provided by the mind from its innate resources. The "transitional" status of the Meno is indicated not only by the fact that it presents the simplest version of recollection, but also by tentative statements of other themes that are more fully developed in the Phaedo and Republic : the distinction between knowledge and opinion, the method of hypothesis, and two levels of virtue, one dependent on right opinion and the other on knowledge Meno 99a — a.
Love is a central topic in three Platonic dialogues Lysis, Symposium, Phaedrus ; it also plays an important role in the moral psychology of the Phaedo and Republic. The fundamental idea is expressed symbolically in Plato's etymological reading of philo-sophia as love of wisdom or passion for knowledge Phaedo 66e2, 68a. In the psychological theory of the Republic , all three parts of the soul are characterized as distinct forms of love: desire for learning to philomathes , desire for honor, desire for pleasure and wealth.
Thus for the rational part the object of desire is "to know the truth" b. Plato anticipates the Freudian notion of sublimation in his account of the channeling of desire d ; the notion of unconscious Oedipal desires is recognized in his description of criminal dreams c — d.
There is also a superficial analogy between Plato's tripartite psychology and the Freudian trio of ego, superego, and id, but the second principle is in fact quite different in each case. Plato's thumos or "spirit" is a principle of anger, pride, and self-assertion, in contrast to the guilt-producing and self-punishing aspects of the Freudian superego.