Structure and Aim in Socratic and Sophistic Method

In: History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
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  • 1 Department of English and Philosophy, College of Arts and Letters, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID, USA

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Abstract

I begin this paper with a puzzle: why is Plato’s Parmenides replete with references to Gorgias? While the Eleatic heritage and themes in the dialogue are clear, it is less clear what the point would be of alluding to a well-known sophist. I suggest that the answer has to do with the similarities in the underlying methods employed by both Plato and Gorgias. These similarities, as well as Plato’s recognition of them, suggest that he owes a more significant philosophical and methodological debt to sophists like Gorgias than is often assumed. Further evidence from Plato and Xenophon suggest that Socrates used this very same method, which I call ‘exploring both sides’. I distinguish this Socratic method and its sophistic counterpart in terms of structure, internal aim, and external aim. Doing so allows for a more nuanced understanding of their similarities and differences. It also challenges the outsized role that popular caricatures of philosophical and sophistic method have had on our understanding of their relationship.

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