Saturday, November 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.2 (Plato)

Early Socratic Dialogues
Early Socratic Dialogues

Once again I am uncertain where or even when I acquired this book. Probably in college. It has a kind college textbook feel to it, as if I had to buy this collection in order to read one dialogue not collected elsewhere. I seem to recall at some point being required to read Ion, so perhaps that is the case.

I have a memory of a break in my Platonic knowledge that occurred sometime during my undergraduate studies. My early memories of studying Plato involve a direct encounter with the arguments put forward in the dialogues, usually from the standpoint of ethics, as in the first book of the Republic, where the argument concerns the meaning of the term "justice."

Each interlocutor puts forward his definition of the term. They range from "to give to each what is owed" to "the will of the strong." Socrates deconstructs the definitions, revealing the contradictions inherent in each. Of course, he never puts forward his own, he simply forces everyone to question their own assumptions. This, we learned, is known as "The Socratic Method."

At some point in my studies the discussion changed. Professors began to talk about Plato in a more abstract, historicized manner. The jolt this gave me had to do with the fact that suddenly the professors were talking about things like "forms" as if there were a conversation going on that we, the students, had been a party to. I felt as if I had missed the party.

In graduate school another term was introduced: "aporia." I think Derrida popularized the term in academic circles. For a time it seemed as if every text we studied was in some way "aporetic."At the further reaches of these discussions we discovered that all texts were aporetic and we eternal Socrates', ferreting out the fundamental contradictions at the heart of our understanding of the world.

Or as Woody Allen so eloquently put it:

Socrates is a man.
All men are mortal.
Therefore, all men are Socrates.

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