Desire and Understanding in Plato's Philosophy of Education

Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin (1997)

Glenn Rawson
Rhode Island College
It is widely recognized that according to Plato the supreme object of knowledge and the supreme object of desire are the same: "the good." But the reason for this belief, and the roles of desire in Platonic education, are not adequately understood. My study of relatively neglected topics, such as Platonic inquiry $,$ intellectual "lacking" or "wanting" $,$ and knowledge of "the good" as a kind of self-knowledge, bring new light to the well-worn themes of Meno's Paradox, Socratic method and Platonic love. ;Each of the various models of education in Plato's middle period incorporates everything that is essential to the Socratic method of elenchus in his earlier dialogues. Each of these models maintains that the desire-component of any inquiry specifies beliefs about the object of inquiry that must be true if the inquiry admits of success; each model also maintains that true beliefs can become understanding $$ under conditions of Socratic scrutiny, which always seeks the explanation of the beliefs that define the inquiry. Throughout early and middle dialogues, Plato hopes that an allegedly universal desire of the good will make ethical understanding possible by enabling the identification of true beliefs about "the good." According to Plato, all genuine understanding must begin with the desire to learn, and all genuine understanding includes a kind of self-knowledge, which is the result of understanding one's own desires. ;These essential elements of Socratic and Platonic education promise partial resolutions of well-known epistemological difficulties in early and middle dialogues. They describe the conditions under which the Socratic elenchus of early dialogues can achieve positive results, rather than merely test for consistency among an individual's beliefs. They are part of Plato's complete response to Meno's Paradox, and describe the necessary conditions of success both in the geometry lesson, and in the inquiry about the nature of virtue. They are also a neglected element of the philosopher's "dialectical method" in Republic, and they help to explain why dialectic alone, according to Plato, can achieve understanding of "the good."
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