The Pedagogy of Wisdom - An Interpretation of Plato's Theaetetus

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Kirk, Gregory
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
My dissertation is an interpretation of Plato's Theaetetus. The Theaetetus is typically taken as the first work of epistemology, in which Socrates and Theaetetus fail to find satisfactory any of the three proposed definitions of knowledge - that it is perception, that it is true opinion and that it is true opinion with an account. I argue that the discussion of these claims is in aid of demonstrating Socrates' pedagogy, and that the examination of his method of questioning Theaetetus causes to emerge a reading of the text placing primary emphasis on the presentation of his activity as a midwife of ideas, i.e. one who extracts from interlocutors un-reflected-upon presumptions about reality in order to examine them, with the result that the interlocutor has an improved understanding both of reality and of herself. Emphasis on Socrates' education of Theaetetus makes clear the fact that the failure of each definition to provide an adequate account of knowledge is a consequence of the abstraction of particular capacities (perception, opinion and speech) from the whole of the living human being, a whole that is finite, limited in perspective, and that accumulates ideas about reality prior to ever having developed the ability to ask questions. Further, one is given an implicit account of knowledge as emerging from the particular context of human life, as mediated by the interplay between apprehension and reflection, and as a relational phenomenon emergent from and transcending an assortment of limited capacities. Socrates' pedagogy shows that he is responsive to the way that understanding develops, and is thus responsive to human reality in educating in a way that the explicitly presented definitions of knowledge are not. I argue that Socrates is oriented to the cultivation of the ability to experience the world simultaneously as something that it is intrinsically desirable to strive to know, and as something about which the conclusions we reach always demand further questioning, i.e. to the cultivation of an erotic orientation towards the world, an orientation the realization of which is called wisdom.
360 pg.