Plato's Use of Myth as a Pedagogical Device

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1982)
Studies of Plato's myths generally interpret them in two very divergent ways: some view myth as a departure from philosophic thought, as a vehicle which presents nonphilosophical or revealed truth; others see myth as a means of persuading the interlocutors to accept truths already established by dialectic. Currently several scholars, including this author, are attempting to discover the relationship of the myths to the philosophic search of the dialogues, a relationship increasingly seen to be a mutually interdependent one. The variety in interpretations of Plato's use of myth derives from the fact that he uses myth in many different ways. Understanding that Plato has one pedagogy for the unphilosophic and another for the philosophic enables us to discern these purposes more easily. Plato intends that myths, regulated by the philosophic, be a major part of the education of the unphilosophic. They are to work as charms, as a means to persuade the many of important truths. In his youth, the philosophic man is to have the same education but eventually he is to question the myths and to attempt to discover the truths of the myths for himself. Furthermore, myth plays a continuing role in his education: the strongest evidence for this is the presence of myth in the dialogues, which this author understands to be the portrayal of the philosophic search for truth "in progress". Myth helps this search in several ways: by using traditional imagery to make unfamiliar truths more familiar, by suggesting new hypotheses for examination, by expanding the horizons of the interlocutors as it introduces him to worlds beyond his immediate experience, and by capturing or synthesizing main themes in the dialogues in which it appears. This thesis seeks to note these functions of myth in action as it traces through the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws, Plato's use of myths and related images to teach his paradoxical views on the best kind of rule. By repeating, adjusting, or replacing myth and its related images, Plato clarifies the meaning of his doctrines and advances the understanding of his interlocutors
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