Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Theaetetus and the Eleatic Dialogues

Are the Theaetetus and the Eleatic dialogues of Plato (the Sophist and the Statesman) dramatically connected?

The usual answer is yes - they are clearly connected. After all, the conversation depicted in the Sophist takes place the day after the conversation depicted in the Theaetetus (Soph. 216a), with the same characters (except for the addition of the Eleatic Stranger). Yet at the end of the Theaetetus Socrates simply says “let us meet tomorrow here again” (210d4). The book from which Eukleides’ slave has read the dialogue (143c8) apparently does not record Theodorus’ answer. In other words, we only learn that Theodorus has accepted Socrates’ invitation once we “step out” of the framing dialogue; the conversation we are about to hear was not vouchsafed to Eukleides by Socrates (142c5-143a5), for unknown reasons.

This seems to suggest that the Sophist was not intended by Plato to be too closely tied to the Theaetetus. On these grounds Lane (1998, p. 7), argues for a looser connection between the Theaetetus and the other dialogues of the “trilogy;” and Klein (1977, p. 75), is led by this difficulty, in my view wrongly, to rely on dubious ancient reports of a different prologue to the dialogue and so discards the prologue that has come down to us for the sake of preserving the tight connection between the dialogues.

But it seems to me that Friedl√§nder (1964, p. III.224), has it right when he argues that regardless of when exactly Plato wrote the Theaetetus and the Sophist, and whether he thought he would write a sequel to the Theaetetus when he wrote it, he chose to place it in obvious connection with the problematic of the Theaetetus, and thus with the problematic of knowledge discussed there. The three dialogues are indeed tightly connected, despite their methodological differences (pace Annas and Waterfield 1995, p. 1, note 1). Without assuming a tight connection between the Theaetetus and the two “Eleatic” dialogues the presence of a silent young Socrates in the Theaetetus (cf. toutoi 147d1-2 implying actual presence) makes little sense, since the character could have been absent from the Theaetetus without prejudice to the argument and introduced, along with the Stranger, in the Sophist.

If we assume that the Theaetetus and the Sophist are indeed tightly connected, then we must look at the latter (and at the Statesman) as in part centrally concerned with the question of knowledge.

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