The Structure of Socratic Dialogue: An Aristotelian Analysis

Dissertation, The Ohio State University (1998)

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This dissertation advances a solution to a problem intrinsic to understanding the dialogues of Plato. How are we to understand Plato's thought when he never speaks in his own name in any of his dialogues? Many writers assume that Plato's characters speak for him. With this assumption, they study the thought articulated by Plato's characters as if it were his own, and elaborate a so-called "doctrinal" interpretation. A variety of subjective readings follows, since what Socrates and other characters say in the dialogues is often inconsistent or contradictory. To resolve these problems the dissertation constructs a method for interpreting Socratic dialogue which is true to the genre. Extending the work of Bakhtin, Clay, and Kahn, it develops a metalanguage for specifying the structure, plot, aim , and effect of a dialogue as well as the thought , character , and pathos of its participants, by applying concepts in Plato's dialogues and in Aristotle's Poetics, Ethics, Politics, Metaphysics, Physics, and other works. The dissertation shows that the Republic represents Glaucon as subject to erotic desire and desires for luxury and honor, and that the aim of Socrates' discourse is to induce a catharsis in Glaucon in order to change these states of character. ;To support this interpretation, the dissertation shows: Aristotle does not apply a doctrinal reading to Plato's dialogues; he does not attribute the remarks of the character Socrates to Plato. Irwin's claims in "Plato's Ethics" are not supported by the texts of Aristotle which he cites. Aristotle's treatment of the Republic in Politics II is consistent with a mimetic interpretation of the dialogue. His treatment of the Republic is peirastic: he refutes Socrates' proposals with premisses and arguments that Socrates himself expresses in the dialogue. The dissertation discusses Aristotle's treatment of Socrates' proposals for unity in the city of the guardians, the sharing of women and children, gender, sacrilegious acts and incest, property, and the minimum necessary elements for a city. Aristotle's concept of catharsis can be derived from Sophist 230 and Republic X
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