Plato's "Theaetetus": Measuring the Soul

Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University (1995)

Abstract
This dissertation is a study of the nature of philosophy as it is presented in Plato's Theaetetus. I read the dialogue as a self-consciously produced whole that must be understood in light of its arguments and its drama. Philosophy must be understood by contrast to the "arts" of the two human types of the dialogue: the sophist and the mathematician. ;I argue that sophistry and mathematics are inaccurate images of philosophy, for two reasons. First, sophistry and mathematics are both unable to account for the objects of knowledge as wholes-of-parts, and for the fundamental cognitive capacities coordinate to the whole-part structure of beings: the capacity to apprehend the unity of a whole , and the capacity to give an account of the structure of a whole. These capacities may be called seeing and speaking respectively. The sophist restricts seeing to the level of perception, and in such a way that the object is assimilated within the soul's perceptual activity. The mathematician restricts speaking to the enumeration of formal elements of a sum. In both cases, these capacities are not related to one another. Hence neither sophistry nor mathematics can account for knowledge and for the possibility of error, which depend on speaking about what we see. Second, both sophistry and mathematics lack knowledge of the human soul; they cannot provide self-knowledge. Only philosophy, by determining the soul's place within the Whole, can take the measure of the soul. The philosopher must somehow combine the capacity of the sophist to deal with human and political life with the capacity of the mathematician to deal with objectivity. This combination points towards the so-called Platonic Ideas and towards other dialogues, in which philosophy is presented in less mathematical terms and more political and erotic ones. I conclude that the sense of philosophy that emerges in the Theaetetus itself is Socrates' maieutic art
Keywords Plato
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