Where is Socrates going? : The philosophy of conversion in Plato's Euthydemus.
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Whittington, Richard T., 1977-
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This work examines the aim of Socratic philosophy in Plato's Euthydemus. To understand the conflict that occurs in the dialogue between Socrates and his sophistic rivals, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, one must evaluate Socrates' overarching goal and its divergence from sophistry. The author argues, however, that a sound analysis of this dialogue must go further and understand Socrates' quarrel with Euthydemus and Dionysodorus as part of a larger quarrel between philosophy and the competitive values of Greek society. The two sophists in this dialogue hardly merit serious, sustained attention. They make no serious arguments and do not seem clever enough to conceal the speciousness of their method. They practice eristic controversy for only one purpose: to refute their interlocutor and move quickly to the next refutation before anyone has time to scrutinize the soundness of their frequently absurd arguments. Indeed, one might wonder why Plato spends his energy trying to discredit this absurdly clownish pair. The author argues that the brothers do not seem terribly threatening or important, but Plato's critique does not stop with them. Rather, he uses them as a caricature of Greek culture and its cult of victory and violence. In opposition to the culture's celebration of competitive values, he articulates a model of philosophical cooperation or (put differently) protreptic dialogue. Instead of aiming to win a dispute, he uses dialogue to convert his interlocutor to philosophy, a goal that diverges radically from sophistry. In this way, Socrates engages his interlocutor an intimate way, leading him patiently toward philosophy. At the same time, Socrates does not speak only to his interlocutor; he offers protreptic dialogue as a public model of discourse and an implicit critique of the city's obsession with competition and victory. Finally, the author contends that one cannot understand Socrates' philosophical goal (namely, exhorting his interlocutor to love wisdom) without understanding his sense of divine mission. In the Euthydemus Socrates begins with the divine sign, which sustains his sense of mission and purpose even when his protreptic dialogues terminate in aporia.