The Quarrel Between Sophistry and Philosophy

Dissertation, University of Copenhagen (2011)
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Abstract

This study presents a full-length interpretation of two Platonic dialogues, the Theaetetus and the Sophist. The reading pursues a dramatic motif which I believe runs through these dialogues, namely the confrontation of Socratic philosophy, as it is understood by Plato, with the practise of sophistry. I shall argue that a major point for Plato in these two dialogues is to examine and defend his own Socratic or dialectical understanding of philosophy against the sophistic claim that false opinions and statements are impossible, a claim which undermines the point of Socratic conversation. As this claim in PlatoÕs view rests on a certain understanding of Heraclitus and Parmenides, the confrontation with the sophists implies a confrontation with these two Presocratics as well. This defence of dialectical philosophy takes place, dramatically, at the crucial time when Socrates is publically accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth of Athens, the Theaetetus right before he first faces the accusation, the Sophist on the following day. I shall argue that this fact is important in understanding the argument of the two dialogues.

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