Sunday, June 29, 2008

Socrates and Relativism

This is the first paper I ever wrote about Plato in college, almost ten years ago. The first thing you'll notice is how bad my writing was. But the second, and far more interesting, is how obvious the modern tools I was using. People don't naturally think in the jargon philosophers use, so it takes years for a student to shrug off the terms the subject (whether it's a class on particular philosopher like Plato or a topic like free will) is being taught in. Like the first few years of French, an undergraduate philosopher is basically just trying to repeat back in as interesting fashion as possible what they were just being taught. The fact that I was using terms like a posteriori and a priori in discussing Plato (another sign of my youth, that I keep saying Socrates) is a testament to who my professor was, how I was being taught ancient philosophy. Clearly I was being taught with modern problems in mind, because my third paragraph is a pure Cartesian problem, hardly Greek at all. (The dialogue in question that I never mention? The Meno. Meno is the correct answer.)

Relativism, as espoused by Protagoras, is a theory about the relativity of knowledge and sense perception. It is the position that truth does not exist independently of a perceiver and perceiver’s assertion that something is true. To exemplify this stance, Protagoras said that, “Man is the measure of all things.” What this means is that reality is only knowable, interpreted, through a medium: ourselves. And so Man determines what all things are. And because everybody is different, the medium through which we interpret the world is different and therefore reality will be different for each person.

Relativism says that all knowledge is a posteriori. It says that anything known is only gained empirically. But empirical knowledge can sometimes be proven incorrect over time if suddenly contradictory knowledge is gained. For instance, if Bob told Greg his mother’s name was Hilga, Greg would assume Greg’s mother’s name was Hilga. Twenty years later Bob finally meets Greg’s mom and greets her using the name Hilga. Greg’s mom tells Bob that her name is not Hilga, but Gertrude. This shows that the truth (Greg’s mom’s name is Hilga) can be, at some later point, proven wrong. Even if Greg’s mom had responded and said her name is Hilga, it is still possible that she is lying.

What this means is that we are sometimes mistaken in our empirical knowledge. If we are sometimes mistaken in our empirical knowledge, then it is logically possible that we are always mistaken in our empirical knowledge. If it is logically possible that we are always mistaken, then we never know if any of our empirical knowledge is true.

Socrates agreed with the sophists insofar as that empirical knowledge is flawed and relative. But for Socrates true knowledge was gained through the use of reason. He believed that all true knowledge was actually a priori knowledge merely forgotten when the soul entered the mortal body. Therefore true knowledge, gained through reason, was really gained through a process he called anamnesis. Socrates said that through reason you were just “remembering” the truth. He said that this was true knowledge and that everything not gained through reason was merely true opinion.

To prove his point, Socrates used the example of teaching a young slave boy rudimentary geometry. He could guide the boy step by step through geometrical proofs and the boy could understand them, even though he had no prior understanding of geometry, because, through reason, he was merely recollecting geometrical truths. Socrates also used many other mathematical tools to prove his point. The square root of four is logically always two, no matter who is doing the math. It is through this process of finding logical truths that Socrates finds universal Truth.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dialectic and Democracy

This a paper I wrote in 2001 for a political theory class. It doesn't seem to matter what context I was in, with single-minded determination I would go after Plato's dialectic. Some call it a narrowness that produces blind-spots. I call it specialization. I find the paper now a little clumsy with the issues, but if there is any lasting value in the paper, it may be that it attempts to show how Plato's conception of dialectic reverberates out over the other pieces of his philosophy. It is an illustration of how pigeon-holes like "epistemology" and "political philosophy" are more permeable then sometimes allowed for.


In Book 6 of Plato’s Republic, Plato uses the metaphor of a ship at sea to describe why philosophers are not the most important men in a state. This metaphor also marks the beginning of Plato’s critique of democracy, which continues in Book 8. This critique rests on two points: 1) rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is bad and dialectic, the discourse of knowledge, is good and 2) the assumptions that people are endowed with one good merit and that the general populace is not terribly bright. We will find that Plato’s critique of democracy has lost some of its force because 1) the line between knowledge and opinion has been redrawn, 2) the role of dialectic has been redefined, and 3) assuming that people have only one merit and are generally unintelligent are not good assumptions.

The ship of state metaphor in Book 6 is characterized by its three participants: the captain, the crew, and the navigators. Plato describes the captain as “larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and similarly limited in seamanship.” (488a-b) The crew spends all of its time “milling round the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm.” (488c) The true navigators, on the other hand, spend all of their time studying the weather and the stars. For this they are laughed at and reviled by the other crew. The metaphor is simple: the captain is the voting populace, the crew represents the people running for office, and the true navigators are the philosophers. Where the philosophers actually know how to run a state, the crew is merely intent upon being put in charge to run the state. To do so they concentrate on trying to convince the captain to let them.

Democracy, then, is characterized by a gullible populace, a persuasive group of people who don’t know how to rule, and an unpersuasive group of people who do know how to rule. This characterization of democracy doesn’t quite look right because it doesn’t seem to follow that, just because you’re good at persuasion, you don’t know how to rule, or vice versa for those that do know how to rule. This characterization occurs because of Plato’s dislike of rhetoric. Democracy is bad because its rulers are skilled in the art of rhetoric.

Why is rhetoric bad? Rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is bad because it is based on opinions (doxa), as opposed to knowledge (epistēmē). For Plato, and the rest of the Greeks at this time, there is a tight line cut between knowledge and opinion. Knowledge is that which is absolutely certain. Anything less than absolute certainty is mere opinion. This line between knowledge and opinion began to move during the Skeptical Crisis of the 16th century.

To understand what happened in the 16th century, it is convenient to break certainty into three kinds: logical, moral, and psychological.[1] Logical certainty is strict, absolute necessity; it couldn’t be any other way. Moral certainty is at such a high probability that we can live our lives believing it to be true. Psychological certainty is personal intuition, a gut feeling. The ancients, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, believed that true knowledge had to have absolute, logical certainty. If it fell short, it was opinion and therefore pretty useless.

Beginning in the 16th century, many scholars began to loose confidence that humans would ever be able to reach true knowledge, partly because Plato and Aristotle both thought they had it. Looking back, therefore, Plato seems to use opinion in a way to characterize things that we would now call knowledge. For instance, we cannot be logically sure that the sun will rise tomorrow, but the probability is so high that to think that it wouldn’t would be considered insane. In this way, the force of Plato’s argument is partially undercut. If rhetoric is based on opinion and opinion now includes things that we might consider knowledge, then rhetoric may be safe to rule a state.

Plato would come back and say, “Even if my version of opinion now includes some kinds of knowledge, it still doesn’t include the best kind of knowledge: absolutely certain knowledge. Therefore, rhetoric is still a suspect way of selecting leaders.” There are two attacks on this line of argument, neither exclusive to the other: 1) a simple attack on dialectic as absolutely certain knowledge and 2) questioning why dialectic cannot be taught in place of rhetoric.

The simple attack on dialectic is this: the empirical tradition of philosophy in the last several centuries has attacked the assumption that dialectic and the definitions of words (upon which the dialectic plays off of) have any metaphysical weight. The empiricists hold that the dialectic doesn’t say anything about reality, only about the relations between words.[2] They would say that our definitions of reality do not have any meaningful thing to say about reality, they merely reflect the way in which we refer to objects in reality. Essentially, the empirical tradition would say that absolute, logical certainty of the world does not exist. The best we can hope for is moral certainty, the likes of which are gained through the sciences.

This doesn’t completely destroy dialectic’s credibility, though. It merely changes its position. Whereas before, dialectic ascertained reality, now it is a powerful tool of persuasion. Of course, this permutation would absolutely abhor Plato. Dialectic, for Plato, wasn’t just logical argumentation, or rational give and take. It was the process by which to discern reality. (531e-532b) But take away the discernment and you are left with a process of logical argumentation. And no one would dispute the fact that Socrates was probably the most persuasive man in all of Athens. He was the most persuasive because he was the most able user of dialectic.

If we lay aside this line of argumentation, for the moment, and assume that dialectic discerns the true reality, we can entertain the second line of argument: questioning why dialectic cannot be taught in place of rhetoric. If rhetoric is so bad, why not teach dialectic to people? The reason for Plato essentially is that his definition of justice forbids it.

Plato defines justice as, “minding your own business and not interfering with other people.” (433b) Couple this with Plato’s vision of a meritocracy (“And so if we want to pick the best guardians, we must pick those who have the greatest skill in watching over the community.” (412c)) and he now has a society that capitalizes on only one skill per person. Plato’s reason for not teaching dialectic to everyone is because dialectic is for dialecticians, just as farming is for farmers and bricklaying is for bricklayers. Each person, effectively, only has one good skill.

But this just seems to be Plato condemning democracy to badness. Democracy has no way to function according to Plato’s hard and fast definitions. Plato seems to be playing it safe by limiting everyone to one skill, but why can’t people be apt at more than one thing? It seems a more reasonable description of a meritocracy is not “do the one thing you are good at,” but “do what you are good at.” This means if you are good at more than one thing, then, by all means, do more than one thing. Plato wants to say that dialecticians should stick to dialectic and not farming and vice versa. This is why the farmer should mind his own business and restrict his thinking to his craft and not dialectic. A dialectician doesn’t walk onto the farm and start telling the farmer what to do.

The point seems valid, but only if the farmer and the dialectician knew nothing of the other’s craft. If the dialectician was also a skilled farmer, he might have a few pointers for the farmer. The two should stay out of each other’s hair only if they have no experience or skill in the other’s trade. And if education is available for various positions, why should people be limited to one type of education? If we are dreaming up ideal ways of governing, why not dream up a situation where people are educated in various skills and are then able to pick from a broader set of skills what they do as a career? One of the skills could be dialectic.

This brings Plato’s last assumption: the dialectic is either very, very hard or the general populace is fairly unintelligent. It’s probably fair to say that it is a mix of both. Plato would say that the dialectic is a full-time job and, though all people technically have access to the Realm of Forms, not all people will be skilled enough to reach them through the dialectic. It is here that I would bring back the redefined status of dialectic. If dialectic is simply rational argumentation, then why can’t everyone be taught it? They don’t have to wield it with Socrates’ or Plato’s effectiveness, just effectively enough to weed out crew members who wish to usurp control of the ship.

Here we see fully the deflated balloon of Plato’s argument. If we have a populace that is gullible, then the obvious solution is to make the populace not gullible. Plato’s high standards for knowledge have been knocked down and made more accessible to more people. No longer is the true reality only discernible through a method that only a few can or may master. If we have a captain that is somewhat adept at seamanship, then he will be able to choose a worthy helmsman. The goal of an ideal democracy, which is now given greater credence, should be to maximize the education of the many to weed out the poor rulership of a few.

[1] This splicing of certainty was made by Professor Lindberg during his History of Western Science lectures.

[2] This tradition in the philosophy of language was started by John Locke and has been continued by the so-called Analytic tradition of philosophy.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rhetoric and Dialectic in Plato

This was a paper I wrote in 2002. It is a fairly typical discussion of Plato's Republic in relation to the rhetoric/dialectic controversy and nothing very interesting happens in it. However, for all it's typicality, it is still more or less right, just boring. So in this respect, it might be a useful rehearsal for those who aren't familiar with Platonic scholarship (some of which is in a lot of ways assumed in many of my other writings).

In the Republic, Socrates (as Plato’s mouthpiece) is attempting to define what justice is when he begins to describe a city. His hope is that if he can find justice writ-large in the city, he can then find what justice between individuals is. In this section of the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, Socrates uses an interesting rhetorical device: description/re-description. Socrates takes a description by Glaucon and re-describes it in his own terms. This simple rhetorical stratagem becomes interesting and problematic in light of Plato’s apparent relation to rhetoric in the Republic and elsewhere. We find that Plato continually disparages rhetoric and, in particular, its teachers, the Sophists. If we place Plato’s rhetorical device of description/re-description within a larger context of the nature of rhetoric and dialectic, we will find that Plato has an inherent tension between his espousal of dialectic and his use of rhetoric for which he never accounts. This tension produces two different definitions of dialectic: one as universal dialectic, the other as contingent dialectic. Plato espouses the first, but is continually in use of the second.

After Socrates and the others decide to find justice in the city, Socrates begins his “origin of cities” argument. He begins by saying that, “Society originates … because the individual is not self-sufficient, but has many needs which he can’t supply himself.”[1] (369b) Thus, the city or community is created out of necessity. People cannot survive on their own, so they form small communities to aid each other in survival. But then Socrates introduces the division of labor, the notion that people should specialize in that which they are best suited. “Quantity and quality are therefore more easily produced when a man specializes appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted, and neglects all others.”[2] (370c) This inflates the population of Socrates’ formally small city of five into a community of many. This is Socrates’ healthy city or, in Solon’s sequence, the city of wealth or olbos.

Glaucon, however, interrupts and identifies this city as the city of pigs. (372d) The sequence of events that occur here is important. Socrates paints the picture of the city, Glaucon identifies it as the city of pigs, and Socrates then re-describes it as his healthy city. Glaucon then describes his luxurious city as having citizens who “recline in comfort on couches and eat off tables, and have the sort of food we have today.” (372d) Then, Socrates re-describes this city (“it will want couches and tables” (372e)) as a city with a fever, the city of koros. Socrates even quips, “With our new luxuries we shall need doctors too, far more than we did before.” (373d)

The struggle in this section is over who gets to identify the current description. If Glaucon had his way, Socrates’ healthy city would be a city fit for animals. Glaucon, clearly, is portrayed as an anti-primitivist. A tolerable, livable, civilized life begins with luxury. Socrates, on the other hand, is here portrayed as a primitivist, preferring a small, simple community and life. But this is simply one stage in a much larger argument for justice. Due to his superior dialectical agility and acumen, Socrates, as always, wins and moves on with his argument.

The rhetorical device used in this struggle proves interesting when sat side by side with Plato’s apparent distaste for rhetoric. In Book 6, Plato uses the allegory of a ship at sea to describe why philosophers are not the most important men in a state, in particular a democracy. The ship of state allegory is characterized by its three participants: the captain, the crew, and the navigators. Plato describes the captain as “larger and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short-sighted, and similarly limited in seamanship.” (488a-b) The crew spends all of its time “milling round the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm.” (488c) The true navigators, on the other hand, spend all of their time studying the weather and the stars. For this they are laughed at and reviled by the other crew. The allegory is simple: the captain is the voting populace, the crew represents the people running for office, and the true navigators are the philosophers. Where the philosophers actually know how to run a state, the crew is merely intent upon being put in charge to run the state. To do so they concentrate on trying to convince the captain to let them.

The moral of the story is that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, is bad because it allows ignorant people to sound like they are not ignorant. The crew can convince the captain to let them navigate, not because they know how to navigate, but because they portray themselves as knowing how to navigate. The ship of state allegory does not stop there, though. The crew are masters of rhetoric and the true navigators are masters of dialectic (as philosophers modeled after Plato). The implication of the allegory is that rhetoric is bad because it supersedes the dialectic.

The tension between Plato’s distaste of rhetoric and his use of it becomes all the stronger as we find that Plato uses rhetorical methods all the time. In fact, a fortiori, Plato’s most famous pieces of philosophy are rhetorical in nature. The dialectic is the rigorous method of reasoning upon which one can find the true definitions of things, thereby discovering its Form. For Plato, it was the sole method by which truth was attained. But here we have Plato consistently using analogies, allegories, metaphors, and narrative themes to great effect.

The purpose of the Republic is to find the Form of Justice. As has already been pointed out, Plato hopes to,

“find justice on a larger scale in the larger entity [the community], and so easier to recognize. I accordingly propose that we start our inquiry with the community, and then proceed to the individual and see if we can find in the conformation of the smaller entity anything similar to what we have found in the larger.” (368e-369a)

Plato wants to find something similar in community-justice to individual-justice. The entire argument of the Republic is cast in the form of an analogy between the two kinds of justice. An analogy is not a form of rigorous argumentation. An analogy is a pictorial or metaphorical mode of thinking.

Plato also uses allegories everywhere. There’s the allegory of the cave and ship of state in the Republic[3], the allegory of the charioteer in the Phaedrus[4], and, its been argued, the entire Phaedrus as a whole.[5] Allegories are clearly not included in the dialectic. Allegories are stories or narratives that carry a second metaphorical meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words. Plato also uses simpler metaphors as in the origin of cities argument. The “city of pigs” is not literally a city filled with pigs. Though this metaphor is introduced by Glaucon, Plato re-describes the metaphor in terms of the sickness or health of a city and ends with the metaphorical doctor of the city, in the form of the philosopher-king.

Finally, and most ambiguously, is Plato’s relation to writing. Christopher Norris, in Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, points out that in the Phaedrus writing is,

“the dangerous ‘supplement’ which lures language away from its authentic origins in speech and self-presence. To commit one’s thoughts to writing is to yield them up to the public domain, to risk being misconstrued by all the promiscuous wiles of interpretation. Writing is the ‘death’ that lies in wait for living thought, the subtle agent of corruption whose workings infect the very sources of truth. Plato’s case against rhetoric is therefore of a piece with his attitude to writing. Both are seen as the rebellious servant to a master (truth or dialectic) whose authority they flout by setting themselves up as alternative paths to wisdom.”[6]

But here we have Plato’s vast body of writing. And not only did Plato commit his own thoughts to writing, he committed the thoughts of his beloved master, Socrates. The strength of this ambiguity between Plato’s professed distaste for writing and the existence of his own writing takes on new proportions when we consider the fact that Plato is no slouch when it comes to writing. Plato is considered an unexcelled Greek writer. The Republic is not only a series of metaphors and allegories within an overarching analogy, the entire narrative of the Republic is framed in a katebasis motif. As Voegelin says, “The first chapter of the Republic sets the dialogue into motion. Its opening passage … assembles symbols that recur in its course. And the first word, kateben (I went down), sounds the great theme that runs through it to its end.”[7] The theme suggests that saving knowledge is attained in another world and that one must go there to receive it. In the Republic, Socrates goes down to the harbor and engages in the argument for true knowledge of justice and so then returns with his friends back up to Athens.[8] This theme is even mirrored in the allegory of the cave.[9]

All of this suggests that Plato and Socrates were both distrustful of rhetoric and concurrently quite good at it. Many scholars have pointed out that Socrates is actually quite closer to his professed enemies, the Sophists, practitioners and teachers of rhetoric, then Plato would have liked. W. T. Jones says, in The Classical Mind, “[Socrates] must have seemed to his fellow citizens more like a Sophist than anything else.”[10] In the Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, Eduard Zeller says,

“Socrates had much in common with the Sophists; first a critical attitude towards everything that seemed to be founded merely on tradition; further the chief object of his thought—man as knowing, active, social being; thirdly, that in his philosophic reflections he always started from experience.”[11]

But as Paul R. Helsel says, “Socrates was born among the Sophists, he was educated by the Sophists, he used the method of the Sophists, but Socrates was not a sophist.”[12] The difference is that the Sophists did not believe in an ultimate truth, but Socrates (or, at least Plato’s Socrates) did.

The interesting inconsistency of Plato’s distaste for rhetoric and his use of it becomes even more problematic in light of this last statement: “he used the method of the Sophists.” This seems to obscure the line between dialectic and rhetoric, the method of Socrates and the method of the Sophists. The line blurs even further when we take into account Golden, Berquist, and Coleman’s rendering of Plato’s Gorgias and Phaedrus in The Rhetoric of Western Thought. They characterize the Gorgias as a study of false rhetoric. “Rhetoric … was a pseudo-art of appearances rather than a vehicle for conveying truth.”[13] In the Phaedrus, on the other hand, Plato articulates “true rhetoric.”

“The second or ‘true rhetoric’ he himself exemplified. The rhetoric he embraced was truthful, self-effacing, and real. Plato’s noble lover [true rhetorician] was part philosopher, part logician, part psychologist. He must know the truth. He must be a master of dialectic, the Platonic instrument for the discovery and dissemination of the truth.”[14]

The problem with this description of “true rhetoric” is that it sounds exactly like the dialectic. In a systematic diagram of Plato’s true rhetoric, Golden, Berquist, and Coleman define rhetoric as “the art of winning the Soul by discourse” and that “it’s one and the same for every type of speaking.”[15] If that is not Plato’s definition of dialectic, then classicists have been translating dialektikē wrong for a long time.[16] Alongside this seeming equivocation of rhetoric and dialectic come the claims of Socrates and Plato being rhetoricians themselves.[17] So what exactly is going on here? The difficulty in placing Socrates and Plato as rhetoricians or not exists because of equivocations in defining dialectic. There are, in effect, two definitions co-existing at the same time: Sophistic dialectic and Platonic dialectic.

Sophistic dialectic is closely aligned to the original translation of the word dialektikē: the art of conversation or discourse. Following Protagoras’ famous saying, “Man is the measure of all things,” Sophistic dialectic depends on who the conversers are. Because of this, it is also contingent upon the conversers’ cultural background and place in history. Two Greek men from 440 BCE are going to have a much different dialectic then two American men from 2002 CE. Sophistic dialectic is a contingent, historicized dialectic. Definitions produced by the dialectic are stipulative, nominal definitions. Dialectic, in this light, is usually thought of as a branch of rhetoric.[18] Platonic dialectic, on the other hand, is the sole method towards universal truth. It’s “one and the same for every type of speaking.” It’s “the only procedure which proceeds by the destruction of assumptions to the very first principle, so as to give itself a firm base.” (533c-d) Platonic dialectic is a universal, eternal dialectic and is properly thought of as a branch of logic (or vice versa).

With these two concepts we can see two things happening in the Platonic dialogues. When a Sophist enters into an argument with Socrates, he is arguing contingently. He uses all of his rhetorical skills and abilities to win and, if he were to win, the position that won wouldn’t be ultimate “Truth”, but rather simply “true” of this particular moment. When Socrates enters into an argument, he also uses all of his rhetorical skills and abilities to win. However, the position Socrates is ultimately arguing for is the enshrinement of the Truth. Socrates is entering into a contingent dialectic to enshrine universal dialectic. Along the way, Socrates began to distinguish between good rhetoric and bad rhetoric, good dialectic and bad dialectic. Good rhetoric became simply dialectic and bad rhetoric became rhetoric. And because Socrates was so good at the branch of rhetoric known as dialectic, he won. At the very least, this is bad faith on the part of Socrates.

It is in this light, in the context of a battle over the definition of rhetoric and dialectic, a battle of competing descriptions of rhetoric and dialectic, that we should view his use of the rhetorical device of description/re-description. For, if viewed in this light, we can see Socrates using the same rhetorical tricks and gambits as that of his enemy, the Sophists, all the while denying its use and instead placing the success of his victories on the mantle of dialectic. As Norris says of Nietzsche:

“The dialectical method of eliciting ‘truth’ from a carefully contrived encounter of wisdom and ignorance was – according to Nietzsche – no more than a rhetorical ploy. Its persuasiveness, however, was such as to monopolize for itself all claims to reason, dignity and truth. … Behind all the big guns of reason and morality is a fundamental will to persuade which craftily disguises its workings by imputing them always to the adversary camp. … If anything, the sophist comes closer to wisdom by implicitly acknowledging what Socrates has to deny: that thinking is always and inseparably bound to the rhetorical devices that support it.”[19]

In this sense, dialectic is a tool of repression in the rhetorical game of persuasion. Dialectic forces people down one path of argumentation. Socrates’ game is to get his opponent to accept the opening points of his argument, force his opponent through a labyrinth of logic, and any objection he re-describes to either discredit it or force his opponent back into the labyrinth, thus fueling Socrates’ own argument. Norris describes a scene where

“Socrates is shown running circles of argument round one of their [sophists’] number in Plato’s dialogue The Gorgias. Here dialectic wins out, as always, by placing its questions with strategic skill and forcing the opponent into a position of weakness on Socrates’ terms.”[20]

This isn’t to say that the Sophists aren’t engaged in the same program. They also enter into the dialectic in the hopes of winning. However, their ultimate goal is not the enshrinement of some universal truth. Their goal is contingent upon the moment, as per their understanding of rhetoric and dialectic.

If we interpret dialectic the way Plato would want us to, as the logic of universals, the path to the Forms, then conflict occurs with other pieces of Platonic argumentation. However, if we interpret dialectic in Plato as a branch of rhetoric, as simply the historically contingent discourse of a particular time and place, then the problems with Platonic allegory and metaphor disappear, but we are left without universal Forms, which are instrumental to Plato’s systematic philosophy. Thus we have two descriptions of dialectic. If we take dialectic as the universal method towards truth, we must reject Plato as a practicioner because of his continued aberrations into rhetoric. However, if we take dialectic as a branch of rhetoric, contingent upon its every use, a description that Plato seems to, in some sense, have understood in his equivocation of rhetoric and dialectic in the Phaedrus, we will see how Plato was attempting to enshrine a method of truth by any means at his disposal. The use of description/re-description in the opening sections of the Republic is just one of many examples.

[1] All quotations of the Republic are from the Desmond Lee translation.

[2] It should be noted that this is the first appearance of Plato’s conception of justice. Compare “… a man specializes appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted, and neglects all others.” (370c) with Plato’s ultimate construction “… justice consists in minding your own business and not interfering with other people.” (433b) The common principle to both is that a person should mind their own business and do their own thing. Plato seems to want us to believe that this justice is then naturally emergent, but, argumentatively speaking, it is not good policy to use what you are trying to prove in the proof, i.e. from a dialectical standpoint, Plato is begging the question. This becomes apparent at 374a when Glaucon asks if the people could not fight for themselves if attacked by another state. Socrates replies, “Not if the principle, on which we all, yourself included, agreed when we started constructing our state, is sound. And that was, if you remember, that one man could not do more than one job or profession well.” (374a) It is quite clear, at this point, that Plato is constructing a dialectical argument for justice. And since Plato’s professed method towards truth, in general, is the dialectic, this provision in the “origin of cities” argument becomes suspect. He is supposed to be proving his principle, not assuming it. However, as a rhetorical description of the origin of society, it proves effective or, at the least, relatively inoffensive.

[3] Book 7 and 6 respectively.

[4] 246a-247b

[5] James L. Golden, Goodwin F. Berquist, and William E. Coleman, The Rhetoric of Western Thought, (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1976), 20

[6] Christopher Norris, Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, (New York: Routledge, 1982), 63

[7] Eric Voegelin, “The Way Up and the Way Down”, in History-208 Course Packet, (Spring 2002), 139 (originally in the third volume of Voegelin’s Order and History)

[8] ibid.

[9] In the allegory of the cave, the katebasis theme is reversed so that the prisoner breaks free and travels up out of the cave, receives knowledge, and then travels back down to the cave, rather than down to the harbor for knowledge and up to Athens to spread it.

[10] W. T. Jones, The Classical Mind, (New York: Harcourt, 1952), 110

[11] Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, (New York: Meridian Books, 1955), 118

[12] Paul R. Helsel, “Early Greek Moralists,” in History of Philosophical Systems, ed. Vergilius Ferm, (Paterson: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1961), 89

[13] Golden, Berquist, and Coleman, 20

[14] ibid., 25

[15] ibid., 26

[16] “Dialectic, in fact, is the only procedure which proceeds by the destruction of assumptions to the very first principle, so as to give itself a firm base.” (533c-d) The main thing to stress here is that dialectic is “the only procedure” and the first principle spoken of is the Form of the Good which orients the Soul.

[17] This includes Nietzsche’s attack, being “not to deny the potential aberrations of rhetoric but to argue, on the contrary, that Socrates himself is a wily rhetorician who scores his points by sheer tactical cunning.” (Norris, 61)

[18] Take for example, dialectic’s submersion under rhetoric in The Aims of Argument: A Brief Rhetoric: “The ancient Greeks called argument as inquiry dialectic; today we might think of it as dialogue, or serious conversation.” As a branch of rhetoric, dialectic becomes one of many avenues of inquiry, though for Plato, dialectic was the only avenue towards truth.

[19] Norris, 60-1

[20] ibid., 60