Dialogue and Dialectic

Abstract
Plato wrote dialogues, and he praised dialectic, or conversation, as a suitable style for fruitful philosophical investigation. His works are great literature; and nodoubt this quality derives much from their form as dialogues. They also have definite philosophical content; and an important part of this content is their dialecticalepistemology. Dialectic is part of the content of Plato's philosophy. Can we reconcile this content with his literary style? I shall examine and sharpen the sense of this problem by referring to four passages from different works of Plato: Parmenides 132b-c, Protagoras 351-2, Sophist 248-9, Republic 592. In these passages we can distinguish a main position, which represents what it is natural to label Platonism, from a line of thought which diverges from that position and yet also seems authentically Platonic. I argue that the solution to this tension lies in the notion of dialectic as a tentative and exploratory method of philosophy. This view of dialectic is in some conflict with Plato's official account of the method as guaranteed to deliver fundamental truth; but that conflict presents one more version of the phenomenon which I am exploring. The theory of dialectic provides philosophical support for the method of dialogue. That is how philosophy and literature are linked in Plato's pursuit of truth.
Keywords Conference Proceedings  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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DOI 10.5840/wcp21200710114
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