Notes on what I'm reading

Saturday, March 30, 2013

HoPwaG: Plato I (Charmides, Euthydemus)

The Charmides and ethics:
  • named for one of its main characters, Charmides, legendarily handsome (both Critias and Charmides among the Thirty Tyrants--their controversial history relevant to the dialogue's meaning);
  • reference to curing headache via curing whole body--and soul;
  • so led to question of whether Charmides has sophrosyne (moderation or temperance);
  • so need definition of sophrosyne;
  • irony here: when Socrates asks whether Charmides as beautiful in soul as in body, we're supposed to think of Charmides' chequered future as among the Thirty Tyrants;
  • the implied question: not necessarily what is temperance, but how can we know if someone (or ourselves) temperate?
  • Charmides proposal: sophrosyne is "doing one's own business"
  • Critias (originator of the proposal) clarifies this as "doing what one should", i.e. "doing what is good"
  • In response to Socrates' question about whether temperance is knowingly or unknowingly doing good;
  • Critias modifies proposal to temperance as self-knowledge;
  • Socrates now wants to know what self-knowledge is knowledge of (as medicine is knowledge of health, etc.);
  • Critias' surprising proposal is that self-knowledge is "knowledge of knowledge"
  • But this is odd: there's no "vision seeing vision", etc.;
  • Now we're at nature and usefulness of knowledge, i.e. moved from ethics to epistemology.
The Charmides and epistemology:
  • It does seem that knowing p entails knowing that I know p (indeed, this seems necessary condition, and hence test, of knowledge);
  • But then, knowing, e.g. 2+2=4 seems to be all that's required for knowledge: there doesn't seem to be a case in which I also know that I know 2+2=4;
  • So knowledge of knowledge seems both necessary and superfluous for knowledge--a paradox;
  • Charmides ends without ethical conclusion about sophroysne or epistemological conclusion about self-knowledge;
So what's been achieved in Charmides?
  • does look like there's agreement that sophrosyne and other virtues are kinds of knowledge;
  • but if virtue is knowledge, then the discussion hasn't really strayed; however odd it looks to us, discussion of epistemology, on the FSA, is discussion of ethics.
The Euthydemus:
  • Socrates in conversation with Crito (again, Crito later involved in persuading Socrates to flee after trial--may be relevant to the dialogue's intended meaning);
  • same motif as Charmides of Socrates struggling to exert influence over young (Clinias) in face of competing influences (Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are Sophists);
  • the set-up: the Sophists are supposed to give a demonstration of their trade by convincing Clinias to seek virtue;
  • their argument style: making Clinias contradict himself whatever he says;
  • Socrates replaces this eristic argument style with Socratic questioning of Clinias, the idea being that anything that appears good only good when conjoined with knowledge;
  • followed by more bad argument from the Sophists: knowing anything |= knowing everything, etc.;
  • part of what Plato's up to: displaying fallacious arguments;
  • but that's not all: some of the Sophists' arguments are more subtle, e.g. that it's impossible for two people to contradict each other. Example: you say there is a black horse, and I say there is a white horse. We are talking about two different things. But if we are talking about two different things and you're right, then I'm not talking about any thing, so I'm talking about nothing, so I'm not saying anything, and if I contradict you I must be saying something; so, we can't contradict each other.
  • note how Parmenidean this is: impossible to think or speak of what does not exist;
  • other questions from Euthydemus return in other dialogues at greater length: e.g. the question of whether wise or ignorant learn turns up in Meno as Meno's paradox.

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