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Does Socrates Have a Method?

Rethinking the Elenchus in Plato's Dialogues and Beyond

Edited by Gary Alan Scott


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Does Socrates Have a Method?

Rethinking the Elenchus in Plato's Dialogues and Beyond

Edited by Gary Alan Scott

“This book puts philosophers and classicists who disagree over methodology in Platonic scholarship in direct ‘conversation’ with one another in a single volume. That makes this collection of essays attractive to a broad range of scholars, regardless of where they might place themselves on the issue. It has the further virtue of focusing on a single issue.”


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Although "the Socratic method" is commonly understood as a style of pedagogy involving cross-questioning between teacher and student, there has long been debate among scholars of ancient philosophy about how this method as attributed to Socrates should be defined or, indeed, whether Socrates can be said to have used any single, uniform method at all distinctive to his way of philosophizing. This volume brings together essays by classicists and philosophers examining this controversy anew.

The point of departure for many of those engaged in the debate has been the identification of Socratic method with "the elenchus" as a technique of logical argumentation aimed at refuting an interlocutor, which Gregory Vlastos highlighted in an influential article in 1983. The essays in this volume look again at many of the issues to which Vlastos drew attention but also seek to broaden the discussion well beyond the limits of his formulation.

Some contributors question the suitability of the elenchus as a general description of how Socrates engages his interlocutors; others trace the historical origins of the kinds of argumentation Socrates employs; others explore methods in addition to the elenchus that Socrates uses; several propose new ways of thinking about Socratic practices. Eight essays focus on specific dialogues, each examining why Plato has Socrates use the particular methods he does in the context defined by the dialogue. Overall, representing a wide range of approaches in Platonic scholarship, the volume aims to enliven and reorient the debate over Socratic method so as to set a new agenda for future research.

Contributors are Hayden W. Ausland, Hugh H. Benson, Thomas C. Brickhouse, Michelle Carpenter, John M. Carvalho, Lloyd P. Gerson, Francisco J. Gonzalez, James H. Lesher, Mark McPherran, Ronald M. Polansky, Gerald A. Press, François Renaud, and W. Thomas Schmid, Nicholas D. Smith, P. Christopher Smith, Harold Tarrant, Joanne B. Waugh, and Charles M. Young.

“This book puts philosophers and classicists who disagree over methodology in Platonic scholarship in direct ‘conversation’ with one another in a single volume. That makes this collection of essays attractive to a broad range of scholars, regardless of where they might place themselves on the issue. It has the further virtue of focusing on a single issue.”
“Although Gregory Vlastos seemed to have framed the terms for all discussions of Socrates, this volume by Gary Alan Scott shows how many questions remain unanswered. It recuperates the initial power of Socratic questioning, endlessly rebellious to all scholarship.”
“Scott’s anthology recognizes both the critical attention that Vlastos’s interpretation received and his powerful impact on how certain issues of Socratic method have been discussed, and continue to be discussed, by Plato scholars. . . . As Scott notes, there is a deliberate effort by most contributors to break with the tradition, and rethink old assumptions about the Socratic method associated with Vlastos’s model. The current lack of consensus between scholars seems to be a desirable effect because it expands and stimulates discussion, especially about what terms one ought to use in talking about Socratic method.”
“Despite their variations in topic and approach, the essays are uniformly excellent.”
“The fact that each interpreter is able to lend insight into one or another dimension of Platonic thinking without ever establishing anything like a definitive account of the Socratic method speaks well of both the genius of Plato and the construction of this collection of essays.”
“The result is a refreshing change of focus that challenges commonly held assumptions about Socrates’ method of question and answer. . . . The authors of the collected essays have succeeded admirably in reexamining a notion that most Platonic (and non-Platonic) scholars blithely employ and in emphasizing some hitherto unexplored aspects of the Socratic elenchos, thereby deepening our understanding of its nature and function.”

Gary Alan Scott is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland.

Nowadays people know very well what “the Socratic method” is. “Socratic method” has come to mean any pedagogy conducted through question and answer, as distinguished from pedagogy conducted in lecture form. What is usually signified is thus loosely and generally understood to be virtually any educational strategy involving cross-questioning between teacher and student. Our knowledge of such a question-and-answer method as deriving from an ancient Greek philosopher named Socrates—who is also famous for not having written anything himself—comes primarily from the portrayal of a character called Socrates in the philosophical dramas written by Plato, and to a lesser extent from Xenophon’s Socratic conversations, the comedy of Aristophanes, and the writings of Aristotle. All of the other, numerous examples of the ancient genre known as Socratic conversations, or discourses (logoi sokratikoi), have been lost to us. Yet despite frequent reference to an activity called “the Socratic method” in the field of education, and notwithstanding the confidence with which the phrase is used in general discourse, it is an understatement to say that interpreters of Plato fail to agree on a definition of “the Socratic method.” Indeed, scholars disagree even about whether Plato’s Socrates has a method, that is, whether he can be said even to possess a single, unified procedure for interrogating and arguing, much less one that is proprietary to him or of which he is the originator. There is further disagreement, among those who believe that Plato’s Socrates does have some kind of method, about precisely what best characterizes what it is that he does. Beyond that, one must again ask: What about this method is distinctively Socratic, having originated with, or been appropriated in some particular way by, Socrates, such that it should have come to be known as “the Socratic method”?

The controversy surrounding the question whether Socrates in Plato’s dialogues employs any special method or set of methods, and, if he does, just what makes this method or set of methods Socratic, persists no matter how one defines “Socratic method.” Whether it is meant to cover Socrates’ entire way of philosophizing, his whole approach to testing, cross-examining, and refuting the people he meets, or is meant only to capture some one narrow form of argument, disagreement ensues over whether Socrates really does have such a method in Plato’s dialogues. Put otherwise, to most readers of Plato there seems to be something special about what Socrates does in the conversations Plato dramatizes, and something distinctive about the way he does it, but scholars have been frustrated in their attempts to reduce its essential and unique elements to any simple formula.

Whether, or to what extent, Plato’s Socrates appears conscious of having a special method, by which is meant some special technique or some unique form of argument, is also disputed. Various terms are used in the dialogues in connection with Socrates’ manner of inquiring and interrogating, but none of them is used consistently by Plato in any precise or technical way that would legitimize it as Plato’s label for the philosopher’s approach. A few have attempted to enumerate the multifaceted rhetorical techniques with which Plato equips his Socrates, many of which have been appropriated from conventional rhetorical practices, especially forensic oratory, from the poetic tradition, and from the tradition of “serial review” (of the available ways

of thinking) inaugurated by the thinkers that we now call pre-Socratics. But no one has succeeded in advancing any thesis about the method used by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues without that assertion coming under serious challenge from others.

Still, in the last thirty or forty years, it has become rather standard for commentators to use the term “Socratic elenchus” as a label for Socrates’ way of philosophizing in the dialogues. The secondary literature has re¬flected concern for something called “the elenchus” ever since Richard Rob¬inson and Gregory Vlastos began talking and writing about it in the 1950s, and especially since the publication of Vlastos’s influential paper “The Socratic Elenchus” in the early 1980s.1 Vlastos thought that “the problem of the elenchus” consisted in the question why Socrates and his interlocutor abandon the original hypothesis put forth in answer to one of Socrates’ patented “What is X?” questions and embrace its negation, when the original hypothesis has not really been refuted but only shown to be inconsistent with other premises held (or put forth) by the interlocutor (38).

In a 1995 essay entitled “The Dissolution of the Problem of the Elen¬chus,” Hugh Benson claimed to have dissolved this “problem” by showing that Socrates neither claims nor believes that he has proved anything other than the mere inconsistency of the interlocutor’s beliefs, and thus that Vlastos’s “problem” never truly arises.2 In “Professor Vlastos’s Analysis of Socratic Elenchus,” Ronald Polansky criticized Vlastos on another issue, one that is reiterated by Joanne Waugh in Chapter 16 of the present volume. He wrote: “We might well wonder why these interlocutors so rarely renounce their prior admissions when they discover the problems they cause them. This is an important question and one that we might expect Vlastos to consider. But in fact it does not occupy him at all.”3

Central to this debate over Vlastos’s account of “the elenchus” has been the question why the search for definitions of the virtues plays such a key role in Socrates’ method of cross-examination and refutation, since the method Vlastos called “the elenchus” never seems adequate to the task of formulating a definition of any of the virtues or even of securing agreement about what would make a definition adequate. Perhaps more important, Ben¬son and others criticized Vlastos for assigning a label to Socrates’ method that neither Socrates nor Plato gives to it.

In his “Dissolution” essay, Benson criticized Vlastos for failing to limit his general conclusions to the one dialogue in which he seems to find this “problem”: the Gorgias. In his “Afterthoughts,” in response to Richard Kraut’s commentary on his “Socratic Elenchus” paper, Vlastos acknowledged that he may have been drawing general conclusions from the Gorgias; but in the revised version of the original paper that appears in Socratic Studies, edited by Myles Burnyeat, Vlastos does not restrict his claims to the Gorgias, but again bases his general view of “the elenchus” on what he finds there.4 But these are not the only difficulties with the notion of “the elenchus.”

It is fundamentally unclear whether “the elenchus” is supposed to refer

to a process (in which case it could mean “to cross-examine,” “to put to

the test,” “to put to the proof,” or “to indicate”) or a result (in which case it could mean “to shame,” “to refute,” or “to prove”). In short, there is no general agreement about “the elenchus,” and therefore no consensus either about its employment in the dialogues. Does an “elenchus” occur only when a form of the word elenchos (or one of its cognate verbs) is used? Does an “elenchus” occur only in those cases in which Socrates brings an interlocutor to an explicit admission of ignorance or perplexity (aporia)? Or does “elenchus” occur any time an inconsistency in an interlocutor’s beliefs or opinions is exhibited, whether or not the interlocutor acknowledges or even appears aware of it?

Or should “elenchus” be construed to mean any form of Socratic interrogation that “puts to the test” the character or beliefs of someone? Or does “elenchus” mean rather some kind of refutation? And if so, can a Socratic refutation be accomplished through means other than argument—for example, by means of a myth or story? Can the meaning of “elenchus” be stretched so widely that it includes any question-and-answer style of conversation at all? Finally, we might wonder—as Vlastos did—why Plato did not “baptize,” or christen, Socrates’ way of philosophizing with this label if he thought it best described what Socrates does in the dialogues?5 And if “the elenchus” is neither unique to Socrates nor the best term for describing Socratic argumentation in general, we might still wonder what Plato seems to think is most distinctive about Socrates’ approach as he portrays it in the dialogues.

For the most part, Vlastos, his followers, and many of his critics have focused upon the logical features of arguments in which cross-examination is used and in which refutation occurs, attempting to determine whether Socrates uses only one form of argument6 or more than one,7 whether the premises in “an elenchus” are self-evident, are taken from received opinion (endoxa), or are adduced in some other way, and whether Socrates truly believes he has refuted the interlocutor’s initial statement of belief (the refutand). Whether he is justified in using the refutand as a premise in a follow-up or counter-argument has also been a matter of controversy. Perhaps this focus on the logic of an argument is simply too narrow to encapsulate or characterize all of Socrates’ tactics in Plato’s dialogues. Perhaps the more one pays attention to Socrates’ larger objectives with the characters he encounters, the less uniform and generic his method appears to be in the various “case studies” Plato has dramatized for posterity.

Despite the lack of consensus regarding the meaning of “elenchus,” commentators after Vlastos began referring to “the Socratic elenchus” as a label for the equally ambiguous “Socratic method,” without really being able to show that this method is some kind of technique (or techne¯) and without really being able to say precisely what kind of skill it requires. Although it has been construed in a variety of ways, the widespread assumption after Vlastos has been that a narrowly specialized form of argument called “the Socratic elenchus” furnishes the name for the unique procedure or aim of Socratic interrogation and argumentation. The essays in this volume carry out an extended dialogue with many of the issues to which Vlastos’s formula-

tion has drawn attention. The various authors each owe a debt to Vlastos’s work, whether the author pursues Vlastos’s own concerns or takes issue with his approach or with his findings. The attention his paper attracted con¬firms that Vlastos put his finger on an important issue in Platonic scholarship. But we hope that by rethinking Socratic method this collection will serve to reorient the discussion of the multifarious strategies and tactics employed by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues and to spawn new scholarly research into previously neglected aspects of the topic. Many of the essays included here take the first steps toward a thorough reconsideration of what Socrates does in Plato’s dialogues and of Plato’s method of presenting his own written philosophy.

Readers will quickly notice that the authors included here approach the question of Socratic method in very different ways. Several of the essays question the suitability of elenchos for characterizing the most important aspect of what Socrates does with most interlocutors, and a few of the es-

says investigate in detail other tactics that Socrates uses with the people he encounters. Other authors propose new ways of thinking about Socratic method. The essays by James Lesher, Harold Tarrant, P. Christopher Smith, and to some extent W. Thomas Schmid suggest other terms for Socrates’ method of inquiry or for his manner of argumentation. Lesher and Hayden Ausland trace the similarities between Socrates’ methods and those common to other practices prevalent at the time, showing that elenchos is not entirely or especially Socratic.

Nearly all of the essays in this volume attempt to turn our attention to problems respecting Socrates’ method other than those to which Vlastos called at tention, although half of the essays carry out extended discussions concerning “the elenchus” in specific dialogues. Each of these eight essays devoted to specific dialogues in some way raises the question why Plato has Socrates use the particular tactics he does with specific characters and in the specific contexts in which he uses them. More than one essay—at least those by Michelle Carpenter and Ronald Polansky and the commentary by Thomas Brickhouse and Nicholas Smith—raises the specter that Socrates has no method at all by which he argues and inquires.

The range of perspectives brought to bear here on this fascinating topic attests to the diversity in scholarly approach to the questions and issues surrounding Socratic method, specifically, and the interpretation of the dialogues, in general. Plato scholars have attempted in vastly different ways to characterize the philosopher’s methods of interrogating and refuting others, investigating philosophical topics, and constructing arguments for various positions on these matters. Most of the major approaches, or schools of interpretation, are represented in this collection. The aim in doing this is to place in dialogue with one another philosophers who share an interest in Plato and in the Socrates he depicts but who disagree fundamentally on issues of methodology and hence about how to regard either Plato’s or Soc¬rates’ method of philosophizing.

Each of the book’s four sections features three essays followed by a response written by someone from a different interpretive approach. The result is a lively conversation that should offer something of interest to all readers of Plato and students of Socrates. It should be noted that the authors of the first three chapters in each section are not afforded the opportunity to respond to their commentators, and this permits the critics to have the last word. But I believe that readers will be able to judge for themselves how appropriate and how damaging the criticisms in each case are, and in this way readers are also left to make up their own minds concerning the fairness of criticisms raised in the response chapters. By presenting various interpretive approaches in dialogue with one another, this volume allows readers to see how different schools of interpretation treat a common issue. That there is internal disagreement between and among the authors of these sixteen essays seems like a fittingly Platonic strategy, since such internal disagreements and debates are characteristic of Plato’s dialogues themselves.

The essays in Part One and Part Two reexamine, in various ways, the key terms that have been used to describe Socrates’ method of argument: elenchos (and its cognates), epago¯ge¯, dokimasia, and exetasis. Indeed, some even dispute whether the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues has a method in anything close to what we understand or intend by the term today. The first two ¬essays show the extent to which forms of philosophical argumentation employed by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues derive from conventions already established in other discursive traditions: poetry, forensic oratory, and “serial review,” a tradition inaugurated by Parmenides. James Lesher shows how widely

the meaning of elenchos words could range in the writings of Plato’s predecessors, and Hayden Ausland illustrates how much the manner in which Socrates argues in the dialogues (both of Plato and Xenophon) owes its structure and purpose to the conventions of forensic practice. Both essays examine the textual bases for historically situating and evaluating Plato’s employment of these terms.

Lesher’s “Parmenidean Elenchos” traces the meaning of elenchos from Homer to Plato, arguing that “it is difficult to accept Furley’s disjunction

of ‘shame’ or ‘refutation’ as a satisfactory account of the meaning of elenchos from Homer to Socrates” (21). He shows how the meaning of elenchos words shifts from “shame” to “contest” or “put to the test,” to “show” or “indicate,” to “cross-examine,” to “prove” or “put to the proof,” to “refute.” “This multiplicity of meanings for elenchos in the fifth century,” he writes, “would thus represent a process of bifurcation that can be observed elsewhere in Greek and Latin” (27). Lacking a definitive etymology for elenchos (and elencho¯), and in virtue of the different etymological lines extending from the to elenchos of Homer and Hesiod and the ho elenchos of Pindar, it is impossible to know, Lesher concludes, whether the connotation of shame was added by Homer or whether this amounts to a narrowing of earlier connotations. In addition to illustrating how widely the meaning of elenchos words could vary in the classical period, he argues that Parmenides’ use of elenchos in Fr. 7 of his poem cannot mean refutation, the focal meaning it is often taken to have in Plato’s dialogues, but must rather mean “testing of a person to determine his or her truthfulness or innocence” (25). He concludes that the sense of “examining” or “putting someone or something to the test” is still very much present in the elenchos of the Platonic Socrates.

Hayden Ausland’s “Forensic Characteristics of Socratic Argumentation” carefully traces the similarities in form and purpose between Socratic argumentation and conventional forensic argumentation in the fifth and fourth centuries. Through this detailed comparison, Ausland establishes the many ways in which Socrates’ disputational mode of argument is firmly rooted within, and heavily indebted to, the practices and procedures of forensic discourse. He shows that the differences between the two have more to do with Socrates’ friendly demeanor and his concern for his interlocutors than with any distinctive form of argument. Hence Ausland’s essay, like Lesher’s, is bound to provoke readers to wonder: What is so Socratic about “the Socratic elenchus”? Although Ausland admits that Socrates transforms some of what he inherits, such that it will never be the same after him, he questions whether Socrates is accurately and fairly credited as the father of modern logic, or even as the one who invents the inductive method. He shows that many devices that have previously been taken as elements of “the Socratic method” are, as he puts it, “literary applications of relatively unspecialized principles, or even specialized techniques properly at home in a nonphilosophical discipline” (38). Ausland concludes that it is the poetic, rhetorical tradition and the intensely competitive climate of political life at the time,

far more than concern over “ambient theoretical controversies,” that would have shaped Socrates’ manner of speaking in Plato’s dialogues.

Harold Tarrant investigates the occurrences of elenchos and its cognates in the dialogues Vlastos regarded as having been composed by Plato prior to Republic, in order to show that these terms just do not occur that frequently as a description of Socrates or his method of interrogation. Tarrant argues that, outside of the Gorgias, Euthydemus, and Hippias Major—dialogues in which the occupations of Socrates’ interlocutors may account for the relative frequency of elenchos words—these terms are not used very often in the dialogues Vlastos considers “early,” and never really to describe something unique about Socrates’ method. Tarrant’s question for Vlastos seems to be: Since elenchos words occur frequently enough in the dialogues to confirm that Plato could have used them explicitly to describe Socrates’ method of ¬interrogation if he had wanted his audience to construe this as the essential element making Socrates’ approach unique, then why does he not do so? Tarrant endeavors to show, moreover, that elenchos words describe encounters between rivals hostile to one another and that they, therefore, cannot be justifiably extended as a general description of Socrates’ method. Through an examination of Socrates’ own reflections upon his manner of interrogation in Apology, Tarrant proposes that exetasis may be a more appropri-

ate term for the philosopher’s interrogation of friendly interlocutors than what he sees as the highly competitive contexts in which elenchos words are ¬employed.

In his perspicuous response to Chapters 1–3, Charles Young offers some penetrating—and sometimes critical—insight that serves to underscore the strengths and weaknesses of each author’s argument. Regarding Lesher’s paper, for example, he points out that as rich as Parmenides’ methodological legacy is, none of his successors simply takes over the method of serial review without adapting it and altering it for his own purposes. He notes also that in none of the passages that Lesher cites from Plato to illustrate the procedure’s similarity to the Parmenidean elenchos does Plato himself use a form of the word elenchos to describe the entire procedure.

Young calls Ausland’s paper “a useful corrective to the occasional tendency of philosophical analysts to read Plato’s dialogues more or less in isolation” (81). Young sees Ausland’s study as pointing out the need for, and the benefits to be derived from, further research into the similarities and differences between Socratic argumentation and forms of argument in forensic practice. Young is less laudatory of Tarrant’s paper, primarily because he is suspicious in principle of computer counts and of the very notion of a “stylistic feature,” but also because he is not convinced that elenchos only describes a confrontational exchange while exetasis only describes a friendly, cooperative one.

The essays in Part Two attempt to shift our attention from Vlastos’s problem to various other problems with Socratic method. In Chapter 5, Michelle Carpenter and Ronald Polansky argue that scholarly understanding of Soc¬rates’ method of cross-examination should be expanded beyond the narrow “view of the logic of elenctic refutation” (90). Their essay shows that Soc¬rates’ methods do not fit a single form and do not serve only one general purpose. They present several examples of refutation that have previously been overlooked, and they argue that Socrates’ refutations are much more frequent and more varied in form, object, and purpose than has usually been appreciated. The essay’s survey of examples of refutation shows that Soc¬rates does reflect on method, pace Vlastos (see note 5), but that his reflections are quite local and context-specific. The authors also provide evidence that Socrates’ refutations cannot be conceived as directed solely toward opinions or beliefs, since sometimes they commence before any opinion or belief has been put forward. Socrates’ methodology, they maintain, is always tailored for a particular interlocutor in concrete circumstances, so it is not really appropriate to speak of him as having one, single, constant method.

Hugh Benson’s “Problems with Socratic Method” also endeavors to turn scholarly attention away from the logical form of the elenchos because, in his judgment, Vlastos’s thesis that Socrates proves the apparent refutand false simply does not hold up. According to Benson, Socrates can only be construed as proving the inconsistency of the interlocutor’s beliefs, unless we attribute implausible views to him. Whether Vlastos’s problem is dissolved or insoluble, in this essay Benson wishes to direct scholarly attention toward “two other problems with the Socratic method that Socrates explicitly discusses in the early dialogues” (101). More fundamental than “the problem of the elenchus” to Socrates’ philosophical activity, he argues, is the problem of recognizing the expert or the one who knows without being knowledgeable oneself, which Benson calls the Charmides problem, and the problem of coming to know what one does not know, which he calls the Meno problem. Benson concludes that the real challenge to Socrates, as Plato portrays him, has nothing to do with the employment of any particular method but rather concerns the fundamental question: How does one search for the knowledge one lacks?

Mark McPherran’s “Elenctic Interpretation and the Delphic Oracle” examines the origins of Socrates’ vocation on behalf of the god Apollo, arguing that the philosopher believes himself to have a categorical duty to philosophize. From the Delphic oracle’s few words reported to him, Socrates derives his pious obligation to examine those fellow citizens who believe that they are wise. McPherran argues that Socrates comes to recognize the great benefit the process of examination by elenchos provides for its practitioner as an antidote to hubris, and so the philosopher turns the oracle’s descriptive pronouncement into a prescriptive command. The essay suggests that the chief lesson of this story from Plato’s Apology of Socrates is the way Soc¬rates here “fuses rational examination to the religious ‘revelation’ of an oracle” (115). In McPherran’s view, Socrates is obliged repeatedly to attempt to disconfirm his wisdom, and he uses elenchos to remind himself constantly

of his ignorance, while coming increasingly both to know what he does not know and to gather inductive evidence for certain core beliefs he already holds.8

The basic position maintained by Thomas Brickhouse and Nicholas Smith in their chapter commenting on the previous three essays is announced by the question mark that they place at the end of their title: “The Socratic Elenchos?” They hold that there “is no such thing as ‘the Socratic elenchos’” (147). Using disagreements among the arguments of Benson, Mc¬Pherran, and Carpenter and Polansky to underscore the lack of consensus among interpreters, they contend that, although it is highly tempting to group all of Socrates’ arguments under a single heading, “the elenchos,” there is “nothing in Plato’s texts” that compels such a grouping. In fact, they conclude that the attention to the “problem of the elenchus” generated by Vlastos’s paper “has distracted us from the Socratic mission, which is what made Socrates what he was” (156). That mission, they say, is to live the examined life, a life available to everyone, without prior training in some specialized skill, a life devoted to all forms of reasoned argument aimed at discharging ignorance and seeking wisdom.

The essays in Part Three examine Socratic argumentation in specific dialogues, from both within and without the rubric of the elenchos. Chapters 9–12 are devoted to Clitophon, Euthydemus, Lysis, and Philebus, and the essays in Chapters 13–16 examine the Charmides from four different perspectives. Francisco Gonzalez argues in Chapter 9 that Clitophon’s powerful critique of Socrates’ method raises an inescapable question, which his essay puts to Plato: namely, Is Socrates’ method of philosophizing, as it is portrayed in the dialogues, able only to exhort people to the pursuit of philosophy, without being able to provide direction toward further goals or even to set out the specific path one should follow toward the attainment of virtue? Then, using Socrates’ discussion with the brothers Dionysodorus and Euthydemus in the Euthydemus, Gonzalez argues that for Socrates to suggest any goal beyond philosophical activity would be to reduce philosophy to a merely instrumental good, when it is, for him, a good in itself. He concludes that many, if not all, of Plato’s dialogues are protreptic, but it is important to see that the exhortation the dialogues do provide is not empty or useless, according to Gonzalez, because “in turning us toward the pursuit of virtue and wisdom,” the dialogues are “already providing them.” He continues: “Philosophy is not something completely distinct from what it pursues” (179–80). Philosophy, for Socrates, is an activity that, as Aristotle would later put it, has its end in itself.

In Chapter 10 François Renaud attempts to show how Socrates uses elenchos to humble or chasten his interlocutors as a way of purging them of their false conceits and turning them toward philosophy. Through a close examination of Socrates’ approach to Lysis in the dialogue of the same name, Renaud shows how attention to dramatic form and context are integral to discovering the dialogue’s ethical dimension, because the ethical dimension of the elenchus and the dramatic form of the dialogue are, he says, inseparably linked. Renaud argues against Vlastos that the process of elenchos and the process of maieutics are also interconnected. He shows how Socrates puts to the test and refutes both Lysis and Menexenus, but maintains that the form each elenchos takes is customized, or tailored, for its particular object.

Christopher Smith examines the argumentation of the Philebus with a view to showing that this dialogue, like Phaedo and Phaedrus, is not really about its express topic, which in this case is pleasure, but rather is concerned to show “how one might secure against sophistical refutation one’s own arguments on any subject matter” (200). Smith argues that the movement of the Philebus is more expository than refutational. According to his interpretation, Philebus is, at bottom, a dialogue about three distinct methods of argument: sophistical disputation, philosophical dialectic, and Plato’s manner of presenting these two, which Smith says is most appropriately construed as dialegesthai, or “talking through.” According to Smith, Plato employs this method of argument because “talking something through” leaves matters ultimately indeterminate or inconclusive and requires that the talking be unending. Smith argues that Plato is showing how the “irrefutable arguments” constructed to overcome the sophistical strategies directed at what he calls the ambiguity of word names and the logical categories they must superimpose on reality will collapse of themselves because destruction is inevitable in all such systems of classification (215).

Lloyd Gerson’s commentary on Chapters 9–11 levies several severe criticisms against unacknowledged assumptions that he believes underwrite all three essays (although some of his criticisms may be aimed at commentators beyond the present volume). Gerson devotes the first part of his essay to an extended discussion of several problems hotly debated among interpreters of Plato today. He goes on to examine the differences between doctrinal interpretations and nondogmatic approaches to the dialogues. He distinguishes interpreters who have what he calls “strong” theories of the way a dialogue’s drama bears upon its philosophical teachings from those who view the dramatic and literary features as relevant only in a “weak” sense. Gerson goes on to make the case for the theory that has come to be known as “developmentalism” as the most satisfying way to explain differences among the dialogues, and this is a theory central to Vlastos’s account of “the elenchus.” Gerson chastises “nondogmatists” for paying so much attention to dramatic detail, when they do not purport to believe that any positive views are discoverable in them, and for relying on terms such as “early” and “aporetic” (as a trope for “early”), when they claim to disavow the belief in a theory of Plato’s development.

The four essays on the Charmides represent recent work on a dialogue that has previously received insufficient attention in the secondary literature, as Gerald Press points out in his chapter. Readers should profit from having the dialogue examined from four different perspectives side by side. And because the Charmides is a dialogue that does not seem to fit well into the developmentalists’ chronology, which divides the dialogues into “early,” “middle,” and “late” periods, it again raises the issue of Plato’s development and the theory of developmentalism defended by Gerson. Not only does the search for the definition of so¯phrosune¯ in the Charmides end aporetically, but, as Press points out, the dialogue’s second half consists of a kind of abstract “theoretical” discussion not usually found in the dialogues believed to be “early” (253).

In Chapter 13 Tom Schmid focuses on dialectical argument in the Char¬mides to show that “standard accounts of the dialectic do not sufficiently explain Socrates’ typical failure to engage his interlocutor, as measured by the standard set forth at Sophist 230a–d” (235). Schmid argues that since the Charmides focuses on the psychotherapeutic aspects of the elenchos, this dialogue discloses much about the way Socrates uses dialectic to further his educational goals. In both the drama and the arguments, according to Schmid, the Charmides illustrates four ways in which Socratic dialectic intends “to draw the interlocutor into philosophical self-expression and turn him toward a philosophical life and membership in the philosophical commu-

nity” (235). This effort is shown by Schmid to yield both positive and negative ¬results.

Gerald Press, in Chapter 14, attempts to clarify the exact steps taken in the long elenchos with Critias from Charmides 162 to 175 and to explicate the critical factors that shaped Plato’s decision to construct this argument

in the way he does. Press shows how literary, dramatic, and historical factors influence the course the argument takes in this particular case: the character of Critias, historical and political events, Socrates’ need to expose both Critias’s ignorance and his lack of so¯phrosune¯, and Plato’s aim of exhibit-

ing the pitfalls of the kind of epistemic utopia of which Critias dreams. According to Press, these factors all influence the form and substance of the argumentation in this dialogue. The essay concludes by proposing that such analyses are necessary and worthwhile when analyzing any argument in the dialogues.

In Chapter 15, John Carvalho explores the effects of the practice of elenchos on its practitioner, focusing on its employment in the search for self-knowledge. In his view, the Charmides seems to show that cross-examination and refutation are designed to produce consistency, not certainty, in Socrates, and that this consistency of all of his beliefs and premises, rather than any specific set of beliefs or premises, is what makes Socrates unique among his peers. Carvalho takes seriously the idea that “the formation of

[a] virtuous character, not the formation of a positive moral doctrine, is the constructive effect of the Socratic method” (267). Carvalho differs with the positions taken by Schmid and Press in that he holds that Socrates sets out to refute an interlocutor only when the interlocutor’s beliefs are inconsis-

tent. The essay uses the Charmides to show how Socratic cross-examination

and refutation have the power to shape human character through sustained ¬practice.

In the volume’s concluding chapter, Joanne Waugh highlights the common thread in the three essays on the Charmides by Schmid, Carvalho, and Press: namely, that all three authors see “that the elenchus has the potential to reform the character of those exposed to it, a potential that many who ¬discuss the elenchus seem to miss” (286). She regards Carvalho’s thesis as a valuable corrective to those who would regard Socrates (anachronistically) as “positively ‘Christian’” (286). In her own analysis, she acknowledges that cross-examination and refutation could indeed be tools for shaping and testing the characters of those who engage in it, but Waugh notes that these bene¬fits are lost on most of Socrates’ interlocutors in Plato’s dialogues.

Certainly Critias and Charmides do not benefit from the Socratic elen¬chus, as their disgraceful behavior as part of the Thirty makes clear, behavior that would have been well known to Plato’s early audiences. Waugh suggests that Plato’s relatives fail to benefit from this exchange with Socrates because they—like so many of their contemporaries—do not possess a clear idea of the soul or self. On her analysis, the Charmides undertakes the work that is a prerequisite for the therapeutic use of the elenchus noted by Schmid, Carvalho, and Press: to show the audience—both in and of the dialogue—that they are badly confused about the self, about knowledge of the self, and about so¯phrosune¯. Until or unless they clear up this confusion, they will not be able to give answers to Socrates’ questions or be able to defend conventional beliefs, or unconventional ones for that matter. More important, they will not be ready, willing, or able to grasp the idea of the psuche¯ that has come to be identified with Socrates.

Like Gerson’s commentary in Chapter 12, Waugh’s response to these three chapters is prefaced by an extended discussion of issues in Plato interpretation. Her essay articulates some of the problems with the approach advanced by Gerson and defends a contrary way of reading Plato’s dialogues. The essay argues that the contemporary discipline of philosophy, interested only in philosophical arguments and not in literature, conceives of “philosophy” as a set of problems to be addressed, and this is certainly not phi¬loso¬phia in Plato. Quite to the contrary, in Plato’s world, philosophia arises out of ordinary conversation, and the dialogues’ more speculative flights into metaphysics always seem to return to the highly practical question: How should one live one’s life? For Waugh, as for many other authors in this volume, Plato does not simply present his audiences with a set of problems or a set of doctrines he wants them merely to accept as true; rather, he presents his audiences with dramas evocative of an entire kosmos, a kosmos enlivened by conversation and by philosophia. Yet even in this world in which many different perspectives are heard, these dialogues, no matter what the topic, appear to show their audiences far more than they ever tell them.

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