Category: Plato in 80 entries

Platonic Dialectic

"Dialectics" is a term introduced in philosophy by Plato. It derives form the verb "to dialogue" - that is, to converse with someone by adducing arguments.

During the second half of the 5th century, in the times of Socrates and the Sophists, a new method of approaching philosophical problems, through questions and answers, arose. The dogmatic way of conveying philosophical theses, so characteristic of the pre-Socratic period, gives way to the dialectical investigation into ethical and political matters.

Platonic dialectics can be divided in three stages:

A. In his early dialogues, Plato attempts to set apart the Socratic method of discussing from the sophistic rhetoric. Contrary to the various strategies (epideictic speeches, eristic, poetic metaphors) the sophists applied in order to maximize their persuasion, Socrates proposed a different method of inquiring ethics. His method consisted in the research on universal definitions, in questions and brief but honest answers, and in the "elenchus" (i.e., the refutation) of the opponent's position.

B. The negative character of Socratic dialectics is later left aside in favor of a co-operative, consensual dialogical exposition of the philosophical subjects. The apogee of this shift is reached in the central books of the Republic, where dialectics is identified with the understanding of the Forms: the process amounts to an intellectual advancement that synthesizes the mathematical sciences, and culminates in the understanding of the significance of the Form of Good.

C. In the late dialogues, dialectics is identified with the method of "collection and division", that is, an attempt to map out the mutual relations between the Forms.

The common denominator in Plato's approach towards dialectics is the conception of philosophy as a "lesson", as a dialogue carried out between a pundit and a learner. The aim of dialectical conversation is not merely knowledge, but the essential refinement of the philosopher's soul.

Author: Vassilis Kalfas
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