The Method of Bifurcatory Division in Plato’s Sophist

Elenchos: Rivista di Studi Sul Pensiero Antico 42 (2):229-260 (2021)
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The strange and challenging stretch of dialectic with which Plato’s Sophist begins and ends has confused and frustrated readers for generations, and despite receiving a fair amount of attention, there is no consensus regarding even basic issues concerning this method. Here I offer a new account of bifurcatory division as neither joke nor naïve method, but instead a valuable, propaedeutic method that Plato offers to us readers as a means of embarking upon the kind of mental gymnastics that will stretch us properly in preparation for further, more challenging dialectical work. Considering several interpretive issues, I argue that bifurcatory division is a process of collective inquiry into the common through which an account, both definitional and taxonomical, is discovered. Depending on the level of understanding exhibited by the inquirers, this account may or may not allow for noetic understanding of the object in the deepest sense.



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Colin C. Smith
Ohio State University

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Plato: Complete Works.J. Cooper & D. S. Hutchinson - 1998 - Phronesis 43 (2):197-206.
Platonic studies.Gregory Vlastos - 1973 - [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton University Press.
Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker.Harold Cherniss & Hermann Diels - 1939 - American Journal of Philology 60 (2):248.
Plato, the Man and his Work.A. Taylor - 1926 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 35 (4):12-13.

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