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The Origins of Dialectic in Ordinary Discourse (Meno 71b9–75a8)

In: History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
Author: Lee Franklin
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The opening discussion of the Meno features a halting conversation in which Meno struggles at length to answer Socrates’ question, “What is Virtue?” Whereas Socrates demands a unitary account, presenting Virtue as one, Meno repeatedly speaks of Virtue in plurality. Through the opposing sides of this conflict, Plato highlights impediments that appear to prevent ordinary speakers from inquiring into nature. These include the fallibility of ordinary beliefs and statements, and the inability of ordinary speakers to countenance properties as entities in their own right. In an argument often overlooked by interpreters, Plato reveals commitments implicit in ordinary discourse by which these impediments are overcome. As this argument shows, ordinary speakers such as Meno take their own terms to speak univocally and truly about a plurality of items. This is sufficient basis to proceed in dialectic, and to inquire into nature, through language.

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