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Encyclopedia > Theaetetus (dialogue)
This article is part of the series:
The Dialogues of Plato
Early dialogues:
Apology - Charmides - Crito
Euthyphro - First Alcibiades
Hippias Major - Hippias Minor
Ion - Laches - Lysis
Transitional & middle dialogues:
Cratylus - Euthydemus - Gorgias
Menexenus - Meno - Phaedo
Protagoras - Symposium
Later middle dialogues:
The Republic - Phaedrus
Parmenides - Theaetetus
Late dialogues:
Timaeus - Critias
The SophistThe Statesman
Philebus - Laws
Of doubtful authenticity:
ClitophonEpinomis
Epistles - Hipparchus
Minos - Rival Lovers
Second Alcibiades - Theages

The Theætetus (Θεαίτητος) is one of Plato's dialogues concerning the nature of knowledge. The framing of the dialogue begins when Euclides tells his friend Terpsion that he wrote a book many years ago based on what Socrates told him of a conversation he had with Theaetetus when he was quite a young man. The occasion for the telling is that Euclides has seen Theaetetus being carried off the battlefield with a case of dysentary and a minor war wound. Euclides says that Socrates correctly prophesied that Theaetetus would become a notable man if he lived long enough. The dialogue is read aloud to the two men by a slave boy in the employ of Euclides. Image File history File links Information_icon. ... Image File history File links Plato-raphael. ... (The) Apology (of Socrates) is Platos version of the speech given by Socrates as he defends himself against the charges of being a man who corrupted the young, did not believe in the gods, and created new deities. Apology here has its earlier meaning (now usually expressed by the... The Charmides (Greek: ) is a dialogue of Plato, discussing the nature and utility of temperance. ... The Crito (IPA [kriːtɔːn]; in English usually [ˈkɹiːtɘʊː]) is a short but important dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. ... Euthyphro is one of Platos known early dialogues. ... The First Alcibiades or Alcibiades I is a dialogue featuring Alcibiades in conversation with Socrates, ascribed to Plato, but his authorship is doubtful, though probably written by someone within a century or two of Platos other works. ... Hippias Major (or What is Beauty) is one of the dialogues of Plato. ... Hippias Minor (or On Lying) is one of Platos early dialogues, written while the author was still young, although the exact date has not been established. ... Platos Ion aims to give an account of poetry in dialogue form. ... Laches, also known as Courage, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato, and concerns the topic of courage. ... Lysis is one of the socratic dialogues written by Plato and discusses the nature of friendship. ... Cratylus (Κρατυλος) is the name of a dialogue by Plato, written in approximately 360 BC. In the dialogue, Socrates is asked by two men, Cratylus and Hermogenes, to advise them whether names are conventional or natural, that is, whether language is a system of arbitrary signs or whether words have an... Euthydemus (Euthydemos), written 380 BCE, is dialogue by Plato which satirizes the logical fallacies of the Sophists. ... Gorgias refers to the last dialogue that Plato wrote before leaving Athens. ... The Menexenus is a Socratic dialogue of Plato, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. ... Meno is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. ... It has been suggested that Phaidon be merged into this article or section. ... Protagoras is the title of one of Platos dialogues. ... The Symposium is a dialogue by Plato, written soon after 385 BCE. It is a philosophical discussion on the nature of love, taking the form of a series of speeches, both satirical and serious, given by a group of men at a symposion or drinking party at the house of... The Republic (Greek: ) is an influential work of philosophy and political theory by the Greek philosopher Plato, written in approximately 360 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue. ... Platos Phaedrus is a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus. ... Parmenides is one of the dialogues of Plato. ... Timaeus is a theoretical treatise of Plato in the form of a Socratic dialogue, written circa 360 BC The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world. ... Critias, a dialogue of Platos, speaks about a variety of subjects. ... The Sophist (Greek: Σοφιστής) is one of the late Dialogues of Plato, which was written much more lately than the Parmenides and the Theaetetus, probably in 360 BC.After he criticized his own Theory of Forms in the Parmenides, Plato proceeds in the Sophist with a new conception of the Forms... The Statesman, or Politikos in Greek and Politicus in Latin, is a four part dialogue contained within the work of Plato. ... Philebus is among the last of the late Socratic dialogues of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. ... The Laws is Platos last and longest dialogue. ... The Clitophon, a dialogue generally ascribed to Plato, is significant for focusing on Socrates role as an exhorter of other people to engage in philosophic inquiry. ... The Epinomis is a dialogue in the style of Plato, but today considered spurious by most scholars. ... The Epistles of Plato are a series of thirteen letters traditionally included in the Platonic corpus. ... The Hipparchus is a dialogue attributed to the classical Greek philosopher and writer Plato. ... Minos is one of the dialogues of Plato, featuring Socrates and a Companion. ... Rival Lovers (Greek: ) is a Socratic dialogue included in the traditional corpus of Platos works, though its authenticity has been doubted. ... The Second Alcibiades or Alcibiades II is a dialogue ascribed to Plato, featring Alcibiades conversing with Socrates, but there is a general consensus amongst scholars that this text is spurious, though again probably written by someone within a century or two of Platos other works. ... Theages is one of the dialogues of Plato, featuring Demodocus, Socrates and Theages. ... For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... These are Platos known dialogues. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Euclid of Megara, a Greek Socratic philosopher who lived around 400 BC, was the follower of Socrates. ... Socrates (Greek: , invariably anglicized as , SÇ’cratÄ“s; circa 470–399 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy. ... Theaetetus ( 417 B.C. – 369 B.C.) was a Greek mathematician of Geometry. ...


In this dialogue, Socrates and Theaetetus discuss three definitions of knowledge; that knowledge is nothing but perception, that knowledge is true judgment and finally that knowledge is a true judgment with an account. Each of these definitions are shown to be unsatisfactory. The conversation ends with Socrates' announcement that he has to go to court to answer to the charges that he has been corrupting the young and failing to worship Athenian Gods. Personification of knowledge (Greek Επιστημη, Episteme) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey. ... In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. ...

Contents

Midwife to knowledge

Socrates asks Theodorus if he knows of any geometry students who show particular promise, and Theodorus assures him that he does. He tells Socrates he does not want to over-praise the boy, lest anyone suspect he is in love with him. He says that Theaetetus is a young Socrates look-alike, rather homely, with a snub-nose and protruding eyes. The two older men spot the boy rubbing himself down with oil, and Theodorus reviews the facts about him, that he is intelligent, virile, and an orphan whose inheritance has been squandered by trustees. Theodorus of Cyrene was an Greek mathematician of the 5th century BC who was admired by Plato, who mentions him in several sources. ... Table of Geometry, from the 1728 Cyclopaedia. ... Orphans, by Thomas Kennington An orphan (from the Greek ορφανός) is a person (or animal), who has lost one or both parents often through death. ...


Socrates tells Theaetetus that he cannot make out what knowledge is, and is looking for a simple formula for it. Theaetetus says he really has no idea how to answer the question, and Socrates tells him that he is there to help. Socrates says he has modelled his career after his midwife mother. She delivered babies and for his part, Socrates can tell when a young man is in the throes of trying to give birth to a thought. Socrates says his work is especially difficult because he himself is barren, and as it turns out, all the bastard notions he has helped deliver had to be killed (152b,c). Theaetetus ventures that "knowledge is nothing but sense perception". // Midwifery is the term traditionally used to describe the art of assisting a woman through childbirth. ...


Philosophical labor

Socrates thinks that this idea must be identical in meaning, if not in actual words, to Protagoras' famous maxim "Man is the measure of all things." Socrates wrestles to conflate the two ideas, and stirs in for good measure a claim about Homer being the captain of a team of flux theorists. Socrates dictates a complete textbook of logical fallacies to the bewildered Theaetetus. When Socrates tells the child that he (Socrates) will be taller in a year's time without gaining an inch because Theaetetus will have grown relative to him, the child complains of dizziness (155c). In an oft quoted line, Socrates says with delight that "wonder (thaumazein) belongs to the philosopher". He admonishes the boy to be patient and bear with his questions, so that his hidden beliefs may be yanked out into the bright light of day. Protagoras (in Greek Πρωταγόρας) was born around 481 BC in Abdera, Thrace in Ancient Greece. ... Homer (Greek: , Hómēros) was a legendary early Greek poet and aoidos (singer) traditionally credited with the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. ...


Examining the offspring

When Socrates sums up what they have agreed on so far, that knowledge is indeed perception, and that this idea is co-incidental with the doctrine of Homer and Heraclitus and all their tribe, and is the same thing, too, as the doctrine of Protagoras (160d), he asks Theaetetus if this is not his own child. Theaetetus agrees that this was his idea, and agrees to let Socrates check to see if it is too stupid to be allowed to live ("a lifeless phantom not worth rearing"). Socrates then proceeds to torture the maxim of Protagoras into beastly and divine applications. Socrates admits that it is unfortunate that Protagoras is dead and cannot defend his idea against people such as himself. He says that the two of them are "trampling on his orphan". (164e) Heraclitus of Ephesus (Ancient Greek - Herákleitos ho Ephésios (Herakleitos the Ephesian)) (about 535 - 475 BC), known as The Obscure (Ancient Greek - ho Skoteinós), was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of Ephesus on the coast of Asia Minor. ...


Abusing the "orphan" of Protagoras

Since Protagoras is absent from the debate and is in any case deceased, Socrates puts himself in the sophist's shoes and tries to do him the favor of defending his idea (166a-168c). Socrates continues to find more ways to misinterpret and misrepresent him - "mistreat his orphan". Putting words in the dead sophist's mouth, Socrates declares that Protagoras asserts with his maxim that all things are in motion and whatever seems to be the case, is the case for the perceiver, whether the individual or the state. Sophism (gr. ... Look up motion in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... As commonly used, individual refers to a person or to any specific object in a collection. ... A state is a set of institutions that possess the authority to make the rules that govern the people in one or more societies, having internal and external sovereignty over a definite territory. ...


At the end of his speech, Socrates admits to Theodorus that if Protagoras were alive to defend his idea, he would have done a far better job than Socrates has just done. Theodorus tells Socrates that he must be kidding, that he has come to the task with boyish vigor. Theodorus does not claim to be a disciple of Protagoras, but never contradicts Socrates repeated assertions that he is a friend of Protagoras. Socrates admits he has used the child's timidity to aid him in his argument against the doctrine of Protagoras (168d).


Socrates not at all certain that he has not misrepresented Protagoras in making each man the measure of his own wisdom. He presses Theodorus on the question of whether any follower of Protagoras (himself included) would contend that nobody thinks anyone else is wrong (170c). Theodorus proves to be helpless against Socrates confusions. He agrees that Protagoras concedes that those who disagree with him are correct (171a). In making Protagoras a complete epistemological relativist, where every person's individual perceptions are his reality and his truth, both Socrates and Theodorus paint Protagoras as maintaining an absurd position. Socrates says that if Protagoras could pop his head up through the ground as far as his neck, he would expose Socrates as a speaker of nonsense and sink out of sight and take to his heels (171d) Personification of wisdom (Greek Σοφια) in Celsus Library in Ephesos, Turkey Detail from the Allegory of Wisdom and Strength by Paulo Veronese (c. ... Compare Moral relativism, Aesthetic relativism, Social constructionism and Cultural relativism. ...


The absent-minded philosopher

Socrates then proceeds to explain why philosophers seem clumsy and stupid to the common lot of humanity. Socrates explains that philosophers are open to mockery because they are not concerned about what interests most people: they could not care less about the scandals in their neighbors house, the tracing of one's ancestry to Heracles, and so on. It is here that Socrates draws the classic portrait of the absent-minded intellectual who cannot make his bed, cook a meal, or drape his cloak like a gentleman (175e). Socrates adds a big bifurcation to this speech, saying that there are only two kinds of lives to be lived: a divinely happy one, lived by righteous philosophers or a godless, miserable one, such as most people live (176-177). Socrates admits this was a digression that threatens to drown his original project, which was to define knowledge. Theodorus, the old geometer, tells Socrates that he finds this sort of thing easier to follow than his earlier arguments. Socrates (Greek: , invariably anglicized as , Sǒcratēs; circa 470–399 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy. ... For other uses, see Philosophy (disambiguation). ... Hercules, a Roman bronze (Louvre Museum) For other uses, see Heracles (disambiguation). ... An intellectual is a person who uses his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate on, or ask and answer questions with regard to a variety of different ideas. ...


The men of flux

Socrates says that the men of flux, like Homer and Heraclitus, are really hard to talk to because you can't pin them down. When you ask them a question, he says, they pluck from their quiver a little aphorism to let fly at you, and as you try to figure that one out, they wing another one at you. They leave nothing settled either in discourse, or in their own minds. Socrates adds that the opposite school of thought, that teaches of the "immovable whole" is just as hard to talk to (181a,b). Socrates says he met the father of the idea, Parmenides, when he was quite young but does not want to get into another digression over it. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Parmenides of Elea (Greek: , early 5th century BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Hellenic city on the southern coast of Italy. ...


The mind as a bird cage

Perhaps the most delightful talk in the dialogue comes near the end, when Socrates compares the human mind to a birdcage. He says it is one thing to possess knowledge and another to have it about one, on hand, as it were (199a). Socrates says that as a man goes hunting about in his brain for knowledge of something, he might grab hold of the wrong thing. He says that mistaking eleven for twelve is like going in for a pigeon and coming up with a dove (199b). Theaetetus joins in the game, and says that to complete the picture, you need to envision pieces of ignorance flying around in there with the birds. Socrates concludes the dialogue by announcing that all the two have produced is mere "wind-eggs" and that he must be getting on now to the courthouse. For other uses, see Mind (disambiguation). ... A cage designed for medium-large parrots, with a playtop. ... Hunter and Huntress redirect here. ... For more specific information about the human brain, see its main article at human brain A sketch of the human brain by artist Priyan Weerappuli, imposed upon his sketch of the profile of Michaelangelos David In animals, the brain, or encephalon (Greek for in the head), is the control... 11 (eleven) is the natural number following 10 and preceding 12. ... Look up twelve in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Binomial name Columba livia Gmelin, 1789 The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), is a member of the bird family Columbidae, doves and pigeons. ... Subfamilies see article text Feral Rock Pigeon beside Weiming Lake, Peking University Pigeons (which are also known as rock doves) and doves comprise the family Columbidae within the order Columbiformes, including some 300 species of near passerine birds. ... This article may contain original research or unverified claims. ... Aves redirects here. ... In most counties in the United States the local trial courts conduct their business in a centrally located courthouse which may also house the offices of the county treasurer, clerk and recorder and assessor. ...


Rhetorical structure

Plato uses a parallel analogy in the dialogue to make the point that Socrates is a confused thinker who imposes his confusion on his disciples. The title character, Theaetetus, is an orphan child who has no father to protect him, and whose inheritance has been squandered. Similarly, Theodorus functions as a reluctant/ indifferent/incapable guardian of the intellectual legacy of Protagoras. He allows that he is a friend of late sophist, and yet permits Socrates to trample on his famous maxim, "Man is the measure of all things." Socrates is aware that he is misinterpreting the idea of Protagoras, but seems incapable of doing it justice. In the dialogue Protagoras, Socrates has a lengthy conversation with the famed sophist, and it is therefore all the more puzzling that Socrates cannot make heads or tails of his philosophy. For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... Socrates (Greek: , invariably anglicized as , Sǒcratēs; circa 470–399 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy. ... Sophism (gr. ... Protagoras (in Greek Πρωταγόρας) was born around 481 BC in Abdera, Thrace in Ancient Greece. ... Protagoras is the title of one of Platos dialogues. ...


Significant references in the dialogue

In this dialogue, Socrates refers to Epicharmus of Kos as "the prince of Comedy" and Homer as "the prince of Tragedy", and both as "great masters of either kind of poetry".1 This is significant because it is one of the very few extant references in greater antiquity (Fourth century BC) to Epicharmus and his work. Another reference is in Plato's Gorgias dialogue. Epicharmus (c540–c450 BCE), also called Epicharmus of Kos, was a Greek dramatist and philosopher often credited with being one of the first comic writers, having originated the Doric or Sicilian comedic form. ... Homer (Greek: , HómÄ“ros) was a legendary early Greek poet and aoidos (singer) traditionally credited with the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. ... Gorgias refers to the last dialogue that Plato wrote before leaving Athens. ...


Footnotes

  • 1 "Summon the great masters of either kind of poetry- Epicharmus, the prince of Comedy, and Homer of Tragedy", Theaetetus, by Plato, section §152e. [1] (translation by Benjamin Jowett [2]). There is some variability in translation of the passage. Words like "king", "chief", "leader", "master" are used in the place of "prince" in different translations. The basic Greek word in Plato is "akroi" from "akros" meaning topmost or high up. In this context it means "of a degree highest of its kind" or "consummate" (cf. Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon). [3]

Benjamin Jowett (April 15, 1817 – October 1, 1893) was an English scholar and theologian, Master of Balliol College, Oxford. ...

Selected secondary literature

  • Benardete, S., Commentary to Plato's Theaetetus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • Burnyeat, M.F., The Theaetetus of Plato (with a translation by Jane Levett). Hackett, 1990.
  • Campbell, L., The Theaetetus of Plato. Oxford University Press, 1883.
  • Heidegger, M., The Essence of Truth. Continuum, 2002.

External links

  • Does Plato's Theatetus Offer a Comprehensive Refutation of Relativism
  • Theaetetus Bibliography

 
 

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