Plato, the Eristics, and the Principle of Non-Contradiction

Apeiron 54 (4):571-614 (2021)
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This paper considers the use that Plato makes of the Principle of Non-Contradiction in his engagements with eristic refutations. By examining Plato’s use of the principle in his most detailed engagements with eristic—in the Sophist, the discussion of “agonistic” argumentation in the Theaetetus, and especially the Euthydemus—I aim to show that the pressure exerted on Plato by eristic refutations played a crucial role in his development of the PNC, and that the principle provided him with a much more sophisticated means of demarcating philosophical argumentation from eristic than he is generally thought to have. In particular, I argue that Plato’s qualified formulation of the PNC restricts the class of genuine contradictions in such a way that reveals the contradictions that eristics produce through their refutations to be merely apparent and that Plato consistently appeals to his qualified conception of genuine contradiction in his encounters with eristics in order to demonstrate that their refutations are merely apparent. The paper concludes by suggesting that the conception of genuine contradiction afforded by the PNC did not just provide Plato with a way of demarcating genuine from eristic refutations, but also with an answer to substantive philosophical challenges that eristics raised through their refutations.



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Ian J. Campbell
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

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Fallacies.C. L. Hamblin - 1970 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 160:492-492.
The socratic elenchus.Gregory Vlastos - 1982 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (11):711-714.
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The Socratic Elenchus.Gregory Vlastos - 1999 - In Gail Fine (ed.), Plato 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology. Oxford University Press.

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