Before Theory and Practice: Implication of Desire and Knowledge in Plato's Dialogues

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (2002)

Colin Anderson
Hiram College
In this dissertation, I re-examine the relationship between knowledge and virtue in Plato's dialogues. I argue that "knowledge" in the dialogues is not defined in opposition to "desire" but rather involves "desire" as a constitutive component and that "knowledge" has affective and "erotic" aspects. As a point of reference, I examine Aristotle's brief arguments against the Socratic identification of episteme and arete . I argue that they rest on epistemological and psychological assumptions that Socrates need not accept: viz., a differentiation between "theoretical" and "practical" knowledge, and a differentiation between the faculty of thought and of desire. If these presuppositions are rejected, then "knowledge" in the Platonic dialogues is "prior" to a distinction between "theory" and "practice." In the third chapter, I defend this view through an examination of knowledge in the Socratic dialogues as a determinate disposition which has both discursive and non-discursive manifestations. I first show that this is true for common examples of tekhne, and second that there is no evidence that it does not equally hold for moral "knowledge." This requires, however, a re-interpretation of the place of the elenkhos in the Socratic practice of philosophia. We must not be misled by the centrality of definitions in the elenkhos, to conclude that "knowledge" is adequately described as propositional knowledge. Instead, the object of "knowledge" is a being, and hence "knowledge" is "non-propositional." The second part of this dissertation contains some preliminary attempts to develop this analysis of "knowledge" and to forestall some possible objections. In the fourth chapter I examine the three passages in which Socrates differentiates between a "maker's" and a "user's" knowledge and I show that the "knowledge" which Socrates identifies with "wisdom" unifies theoretical and practical comportments. The fifth chapter contains an examination of the dependence of knowledge on the education of our desires in the Republic. In the final chapter I show how this conception of "knowledge" understood as the telos of philosophia determines philosophical practice through an examination of the relationship between desire and dialectic in the Phaedo.
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