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Irony and Opinion

Plato’s Theaetetus and the Absent Philosopher

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
Author: Alex Priou1
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This paper considers the unity of Socrates’ twin apparitions of sophist and statesman, alluded to in the Sophist. Examining how these apparitions are at work in the Theaetetus, I argue that the difficulty is that of combining the nurturing or educative role of the statesman with the sophist’s practice of refutation. Beginning from Socrates’ shift in appearance early in the dialogue, I argue that the cause of this shift is Theaetetus’ character, that this forces the general problem Socrates has in mind into a particular form, and that Theaetetus never fully grasps this fundamental, intractable problem. Consequently, the problem’s intractability shows why Socratic education is always refutative, and so combines the statesman and sophist’s respective arts. And because Theaetetus is the cause of Socrates’ shift, the philosopher’s appearance is always an ironic reflection of his interlocutor’s opinions: the dialogue the Philosopher would have to be named the Theaetetus.

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