The wooden Horse: the Cyrenaics in the Theaetetus

In G. Boys-Stones, C. Gill & D. El-Murr (eds.), The Platonic Art of philosophy. Cambridge University Press (2013)
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In this contribution, I aim to show how locating the Platonic dialogues in the intellectual context of their own time can illuminate their philosophical content. I seek to show, with reference to a specific dialogue (the Theaetetus), how Plato responds to other thinkers of his time, and also to bring out how, by reconstructing Plato’s response, we can gain deeper insight into the way that Plato shapes the structure and form of his argument in the dialogue. In particular, I argue that the subtler thinkers (hoi kompsoteroi) discussed by Plato’s Socrates at Tht. 156a3 are Aristippus and the early Cyrenaics. (Recent scholars, such as Giannantoni and Tsouna, have rejected this identification, which was earlier defended by Schleiermacher, Grote, Zeller and Mondolfo.) Further, I claim that, once we recognise that the subtler thinkers are most likely to be the early Cyrenaics, we can make better sense of the scope and content of the arguments Plato puts forward at Tht. 156a - 160e (especially 156a - 157c). Also, I suggest that this identification helps us to understand a crucial part of Tht. 184b - 186e. Here Plato, in exploring the account of perception offered at 156a - 157c, uses the metaphor of the Wooden Horse to illustrate the conception of perception that he attributes to thinkers such as Protagoras and, in my view, the early Cyrenaics, who maintain that knowledge is a form of perception
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