Method Of Argument And Theories Of Knowledge

Essay, Research Paper

Jordan Chasnoff

November 21, 2000

CORE 101

Socrates? Method of Argument and

Theories of Knowledge

The methods of argument used by Socrates in the works of Plato

focused on true knowledge. This method, known as the Socratic method is

unconventional in that it is not a means of argument through persuasion or

opinion, it is, rather, a means of argument through question and challenge.

The method is a consideration of knowledge as being inherent to the human

soul rather than a study of how things are. In this essay I will examine how

this unique method relates and operates with the unique style of text in

Plato?s work.

Socrates? method of teaching by asking questions, searched for

definitions. In his method of argument, he would challenge anyone with a

pretense to knowledge. Socrates argued his theories of how true knowledge

is attained through joining in a discussion with another person who thought

he knew what virtue or knowledge was. Under this questioning, it became

clear that neither Socrates nor the other person knew the meaning of such

terms. This is shown in Socrates? conversation with Meno in Plato?s Meno.

M: I do not [know what virtue is]; but, Socrates, do you

really not know what virtue is? Are we to report this to the folk

back home about you?

S: Not only that, my friend, but also that , as I believe, I

have never yet met anyone else who did know. Meno 4

Socrates then would cooperate with whomever he was talking to on a new

idea where Socrates would make interrogatory suggestions that were either

accepted or rejected by his friend.

Then Agathon said, ?It turns out, Socrates, I didn?t know what I

was talking about in that speech.?

?It was a beautiful speech, anyway, Agathon,? said

Socrates. ?Now take it a little further.? Symposium 43

The attempts to find a solution always failed, but they could continue to

search for one whenever possible.

For Socrates, knowledge was not merely accepting a second hand

opinion, but personal achievement gained through continuous questioning

and evaluation. Through Socrates? questioning of himself and of others, his

arguments on the attainment of true knowledge, involved not learning the

answers but searching for them. The search was more successful when done

by two friends, perhaps one (Socrates) being more experienced than the

other, but both in love with the goal of truth, knowledge and the willingness

to subject themselves honestly to the critical test of argument alone.

Socrates? greatest strength in his method of argument was his ability to

stimulate the thinking of others to aid him in his own hypothesis of true

knowledge. He opposed cross-examination in a set pattern. This is clearly

displayed in Meno, after Socrates questioned a boy with a geometrical figure.

S: You realize, Meno, what point he has reached in his

recollection. At first he did not know what the basic line of the

eight-foot square was: even now he does not yet know, but then

he thought he knew, and answered confidently as if he did

know, and he did not think himself at a loss, but now he does

think himself at a loss, and as he does not know, neither does

he think he knows. – That is true. Meno 17

Socrates uses this statement and the testing of the boy to prove that the boy

had no prior knowledge of the processes of mathematics. He was able to

answer the questions purely because he was able to use the knowledge

already imbedded in his soul. This excerpt from Meno is not about

mathematics. It is used by Plato to show the reader that Socrates?

arguments were not issue oriented, they were method oriented. This

concept is very important when analyzing the theories and methods of

Socrates? arguments with the shape and structure of the text.

Socrates? vague style of argument works very well in the dialogues we

have read. This is due to the unique shape and structure of the text. The

text in dialogues lacks traditional structure and warrants little or no direction

and/or climax to Socrates? arguments. The style of the text allows Socrates

to command the dialogues and arguments but restricts him from making a

persuasive or definitive point. He is never established as a clear winner. As

I have stated, Socrates? method of argument is not a persuasive method. It

is a method of argument through question and challenge. Thus, the

similarities of the style of Socrates? method of argument and the style of

dialogues we have read work well together.

Socrates? method of argument also works well with his theory of

knowledge. Both, the vague style of argument and the unspecific theories

are presented in the same manner, forming a distinct relationship. Socrates?

method of argument is used to deliver his theories of knowledge. He does

this in a dialogue with a subject who claims that he has knowledge of some

matter that is proven in a proposition that defines an ethical term. There is a

series of questions from Socrates that he picks out. Then he takes a number

of other propositions that, when put together, prove the difference of the

original definition. The argument is examined next to each individual to see

if there is false argument. At this point the establishment of theory, or more

importantly, the establishment of Socrates? specific theories of the acquisition

of knowledge, is not at stake. The question is not whether Socrates, through

his method of argument, has proven his theories of knowledge, but rather,

has Socrates disproved the subject?s false conceit

Socrates? method of argument of is vague and indirect. It is not a

means of argument though persuasion, but rather a means of argument

through questioning and refute. This method works very well with the vague

and indirect shape and structure of the dialogues we have read. The method

also works very well with Socrates? theories of knowledge. As his theories

are also very vague, and are concerned more with disproving the theories of

others rather than presenting Socrates? concrete theory or definition of



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