Graph of Socratic Elenchos


From my ongoing "Metalogical Plato" project. The aim of the diagram is to make reasonably intuitive how the Socratic elenchos (the logic of refutation applied to candidate formulations of virtues or ruling knowledges) looks and works as a whole structure. This is my starting point in the project, in part because of its great familiarity and arguable claim to being the inauguration of western philosophy; getting this point less wrong would have broad and deep consequences, including for philosophy’s self-understanding. (i.) is the first pass at elenchos in which the Socratic interlocutor does not reflect on knowledge being the crux of the problem. (ii.) is the second, rarer, reflective pass in which they are, making the investigation explicitly about knowledge. Its centrality in the Charmides makes that neglected dialogue of superlative importance. This structure is also the gateway through which the discussion/dialectic crosses into the Agathology (discussion of the form of the good) at Republic 505. The problem of elenchos, then, grasped as a whole structure, is that it seems that knowledge can neither satisfactorily be included in nor excluded from its own scope. The development of the ti esti (“what is ---?”) question leads to the introduction of knowledge into its own scope (i. implicitly, as goodness contrasted with blind rule-following ii. explicitly qua knowledge) while the development of the dual peri tinos (“----about what?) question leads to K’s elimination from its own scope. The introductions are motivated to avoid contradiction, but produce regress; the eliminations are motivated to avoid regress, but produce contradiction. In scholarship, and in the history of philosophy, the ti esti question is universally recognized, to the point of being identified with philosophy’s origin and essence; the peri tinos question is neglected textually and never recognized as the equal dual to the ti esti. This, I claim, has blocked the development of a nontrivial logical appreciation of what Plato's Socrates is up to. (One rather disastrous effect of this neglect is taking Aristotle as the beginning of the development of logic, rather than, correctly, for the beginning of logic’s fatal separation from mathematics and dialectic.) Further, because of this monopticism of the ti esti, the function of consistency in the elenchos has not been understood, even with respect to the ti esti. The ti esti is actually in search of completeness, given a norm of consistency; the peri tinos is in search of consistency, given a norm of completeness. Only appreciating the two questions as dual allows space in the structure to clarify these different orientations relative to consistency. (And, dually, to completeness, whose function in the elenchos is generally entirely missed by scholars and relegated to discussions of eros; it's not out of place there, of course, but its significance is secured here.) Recognizing the duality of the ti esti and peri tinos questions is thus the royal road, in the Socratic-Platonic context, to catching sight of what we post-Cantorians can recognize as the metalogical duality of consistency and completeness. (The salutary disruptive effects of this Plato-Cantor proximity have, of course, been traced in complementary ways by Badiou.) Note that the diagram is supposed to provide a relatively accessible orientation, not to stand on its own, and certainly not to be the last word on any subject. An important qualification (telegraphed in the previous paragraph) is that what elenchos shows is not finally circular or paradoxical, though the problem first presents as such (stubbornly, obdurately, as "difficult" Plato's Socrates always says with characteristic understatement). What is depicted here is meant, at a first pass, to be the shape of that first presentation, the form of the problem of elenchos, rather than of its solution. It's not an accident that this problem strongly resembles "Russell's paradox" (not Russell's not a paradox.) Problem is to solution as RP is to the diagonal theorems.

Author's Profile

John Bova
University of New Mexico


Added to PP

399 (#47,866)

6 months
138 (#31,729)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?