ABSTRACT: Plato’s Socrates exemplies the progress of the dialectical method of inquiry. Such a method is capable of actualizing an interlocutor’s latent potential for philosophizing dialectically. The dianoetic practice of Plato’s Socrates is a mixture of dialectical assertions and questions arising out of his ethical concern for the interlocutor. The Dialogues act as educational models exhibiting how one inquires and learns as well as how one must teach in order that others learn to be participants in (or practitioners of) the dialectic. This is the maieutic art of Plato’s Socrates with which he draws his interlocutors into stating and reflecting upon the implications of their uncritically held opinions. We could say that the real subject-matter of many of the Dialogues is at least as much education in the dialectical process while still respecting the literary form of the Dialogues as exhibitive construction. The lack of philosophical closure that often characterizes many of the Dialogues lends additional credence to this position. The subject-matter of many of the dialogues is, therefore, reflexive: it is about itself in the sense that the tacit lesson (practicing the dialectic) will be remembered after its ostensible subject (some philosophical problem) has ceased to be debated. Dialectic is, then, renewable and replicable as an educational method, using "psychagogy"—an instrument of maieutic—to determine first each student’s individual needs for guiding him toward understanding.

The Dialogues As Educational Models

Plato's Dialogues are intellectual, noetic experiences; as dramatizations of communicative interactions, they bring into exhibition claims and arguments in active confrontation with each other. The dramatized encounters hold in suspension the question of the validity or invalidity of the counter-claims and arguments, while yet allowing the reader-auditor to feel their force. As such the Dialogues instruct us, the reader, and the perceptive interlocutors of Plato's Socrates that philosophy, for Plato and his Socrates, is not necessarily just a body of true or false doctrines, of sound or unsound arguments. Nor does philosophy appear as only the power, rhetorical or logical, to win arguments (logomachy) or to make the weaker case appear the stronger (philonikia), which it was for the Sophists Zeno and Protagoras. Neither is assertion or dogma the proper concern of philosophy, if what Plato is doing in the Dialogues is to be termed philosophy. For Plato's Socrates, dialectic is hypothetical.(1) And it is arguable that Plato uses his Socrates to exemplify the progress of the dialectical method of inquiry, a method capable at given turns of becoming maieutic, of actualizing an interlocutor's latent potential for philosophizing dialectically.

The intellectual—or, better—dianoetic practice of Plato's Socrates is a mixture of dialectical assertions and questions arising out of his ethical concern for the interlocutor, whereas other speakers in the Dialogues speak and act out of their own concerns. The Dialogues act are educational models exhibiting how one inquires and learns, and therefore also, how one must teach for others to learn to be themselves participants in, or practitioners of, dialectic. This is the maieutic art of Plato's Socrates with which he draws his interlocutors into stating and reflecting upon the implications of their uncritically held opinions (doksai).

But the Dialogues are not lecture notes (hypomnêmata), as Aristotle's extant works seem to have been. Rather, they are staged interactions in which readers and listeners—like the dialogical participants themselves—become immersed, and absorbed in the scene. It is a tribute to the effectiveness of Plato's dramatic craftiness (poietikós) with the dialogue-form that, engulfed in it as we become, we can actually forget that the speakers exhibited are under observation by us, not talking to us. It is Plato's making us privy to the sayings, doings and makings(2) of his Socrates that situates us so squarely within a dialogue. The reader of the Dialogues can hardly refrain from taking sides, from assenting to this or that assertion seemingly advanced in earnest and believed by this or that speaker. But it is because Plato's art is so transparent that most readers fail to perceive his works as the literary and rhetorical constructions which they are. That so much of the subject-matter of the conversations within them is conceptual makes them philosophical, but it does not make them treatises.

While yet respecting the literary form of the Dialogues as exhibitive construction, we could say that the real subject-matter of most of the dialogues is at least as much education in the dialectical process as it is inquiry into specific philosophical problems. From the very lack of philosophical closure that characterizes many of the Dialogues, we may again observe that instruction in the dialectical method may often be their primary purpose. That subject-matter is, therefore, reflexive. A dialogue is about itself in the sense that the tacit lesson (practicing the dialectic) will be remembered after its ostensible subject (some philosophical problem) has ceased to be debated. Dialectic is, then, renewable and replicable as an educational method. And while the dialectical method is perhaps communicable non-dialogically—in the form (say) of a report, a series of propositional assertions or set speech—still, maieutical instruction in the art of the dialectical method is the more apposite pedagogical approach, since it is itself an object-lesson, a living, easily appropriated model, or exemplum, of the very dialectical method which it seeks to teach.

The dialogue-form, then, has great communicative power for teaching the dialectical art as a practice, since it is the generic of its type. The inherent dynamism of dialogue allows it to embrace all three modes of human judgment: doing, making, and saying. And by virtue of this dynamism, liveliness, progressiveness, openness, and revisionary nature, dialogue is a canny literary and philosophical form for capturing—but not arresting—the inherent movement of the dialectical method and of the human interactions framing it. The philosophical project of the Dialogues is the search for foundations of those human actions and interactions. As such, whatever "theory" is presented in the interactions can be said to be "pragmatistic"; it is "knowledge [that]...we can act on or something that clarifies human action."(3) And, while dialogue is the means by which dialectical activity is put on exhibit, the maieutic method-"drawing out" assertions to essay their consequences dialectically—is a means of inspiring renewed self-discovery. Whatever their ostensible subect-matter, each of Plato's literary-philosophical creations is about the functioning of his Socrates, whose business and life's work it was to stand as the prototype of the deliberate ethicist—a phenomenon we shall identify as Lebensphilosophie, after the fashion of Nietzsche.(4)

Literature, Philosophy, and Education

The fictional Socrates of Plato's Dialogues presents a marked contrast with the Sophists, the Pythagoreans, and the new enlightenment of his day in both method and demeanor. Yet the ordinary citizen of Athens, undiscriminating, conservative, and wary of all intellectualism, likely thought monolithically—and harshly—of all these groups. It therefore would have been one of Plato's primary problems as philosopher and artist to present his Socrates in a way that would enable his careful reader, or auditor, to distinguish him from the other groups. The Sophists had clearly demonstrated the popular appeal of their "knack" (empeiriâ) with eristics, particularly among the youth of Athens.

In reviewing the course of Greek philosophy, Aristotle had already turned his attention to dialectical reasoning in the Topics before he discovered and explored the deductive syllogism in the Analytics or the strict logical reasoning in the Prior Analytics. At first, dialectics was subsumed under the general category of "reasoning." So it was only later that "we seem to have a contrast in Aristotle between 'dialectics' and 'analytics,' in which dialectics (the art of persuasive reasoning to produce conviction) is not limited to, but is wider than, logical or strictly syllogistic demonstration."(5) Thus, dialectic had previously been thought of as being a larger, more inclusive category than either pure logic or syllogistic reasoning. It was reasoning of a different kind, with less certainty, to be sure, but still, as Tejera has said, "only a part of the 'organon' or instrumentation of the search for knowledge, [though] not knowledge itself."(PDOBO 86)

Before Aristotle's categorization of the forms of deductive reasoning, however, dialectic was already widely in use for purposes besides proofs. The Sophists used it for disputation "for the sake of victory by refutation or anastrophe (turning the other's argument around)...."(PDOBO 262) In this application, dialectic was the handmaiden of eristic showmanship, or logomachy: contentious logic bouts.(PDOBO 257; 261ff.) This was Zeno's method: the destruction of all arguments. The "two-fold argument," or dissòs lógos, as employed by the Protagorians, was another dialectical development designed for refutation. In both cases, the results of inquiry were coerced, in the sense of having been stipulated a priori.

So in his Dialogues, Plato needed to demonstrate that his Socrates could be a ponderous counterpoise to this garish attraction. Therefore, Socratic-Platonic dialectic was non-disputatious and opposed Sophistic eristics with protrepticós—an exhortation to philosophy.(PDOBO 257) The protrepticós of the ethical dialectician was an exhortation to an interlocutor "to devote himself to knowledge (sophia) and human excellence (aretê)...This is the name that ever since has been given to exhortations to philosophy."(PDOBO 257) To support this process, it was antecedently necessary to neutralize the disputatiousness of competing forces. The form of the Platonic dialogue enabled Plato to accomplish this. The effectiveness of this literary form derives from Plato's ability to render any or all assertions ironical or paradoxical, thus conveying meanings other than the literal.(6)

The dialectical process of inquiry exhibited by Plato's Socrates began, we have said, from that totally individualized intellectual point at which he probingly finds each of his interlocutor's developmental ability and experience. The activity of the Lebensphilosoph— the "philosopher-doer," the "man of knowledge"(PDOBO 28), the educator—is the attempt to "understand about people's souls and the kind of speaking to which they will respond...."(PDOBO 28) For "the material upon which art [here read: "dialectic"] is to take effect is the whole human being."(PDOBO 28) Not limited to "knowledge" or even "cognitive gain" exclusively, this dialectical method neither employs assertive judgments solely nor seeks to prescribe any. Instead, the Lebensphilosoph's active judgments-his actions—seek to stimulate in his pupils imitation of his own philosophical activity; in this case it is the process of engaging fruitfully in dialectical inquiry. He is the voice of exhortation that philosophy/knowledge begins in wonder.

Therefore, Plato had not only philosophic concerns to address, but also literary and heuristic ones, in exhibiting his Socrates' luring students away from the Sophists. Beyond needing to select young men who would be "worthwhile" (spoudaios) students of the dialectical method, there was the necessity to exhibit Socrates' tending to their psychological and intellectual needs as they traded the immediate gratification of fiery Sophistical eristics for the deferred but long-term benefits of learning the dialectical method. The Dialogues give indication of the slow "weaning" of Socrates' interlocutors from the frivolities of the all-consuming, passionate absorption in disputatiousness. In this way, there was time enough for the conceptual seeds within them to be maieutically nurtured until they had reached full term, and then delivered by the midwife's son, Socrates, who often spoke as metaphoric heir to his mother's literal midwifery. Thus, Plato's Socrates often employed the metaphor of birthing an idea whose development would prove to be either a thing of enduring life, not a "mere wind egg."(Theaetetus 151E7)

The distinctions between Sophistical eristic and Socratic dialectic are many, but none so significant as their ethical intentions. Socratic dialectic is used to determine and to pursue human excellence. Sophistic eristic is used for purely self-seeking, agonisitc purposes. These distinctions, as we have said, are better demonstrated dramatically; for, within the clamorous jumble that was Athenian political and philosophical life, another mere assertion would not have educed the distinctions. Plato was able to do this through his fictional Socrates' active and assertive judgments—his doing, as well as his saying. Assertion was the weapon of Socrates' rivals and so would have fostered in the auditor-reader only the naive impression of a "sameness" among all competing factions. But even more significantly, it is a generic trait of drama that it is mimetic of a process of an activity, and not simply of the statements found therein. The communicative interactions of the Dialogues are greater than the sum of the assertions they comprise. That is, whatever else Plato learned from the historical Socrates, the preeminent lessons Plato sought to teach were in the process of dialectic, of its maieutic education, and of the necessity of its dialogical instruction.

So Plato's literary-exhibitive judgments were inextricably bound to the consideration of any philosophical problems the Dialogues probed. The reasons for his literary method become even clearer within the cultural context. Somehow, he had to overcome the many, diverse sources of prejudice against Socrates while still having him appear demure and unprepossessing, yet powerfully—even subversively-attractive.(7) Socratic dialectic was not as glitsy as Sophistical eristic. Therefore, as with all weaker, minority movements, Plato's Socrates' expressions of resistance and opposition to the prevailing system needed to be uttered on an undercurrent of irony or meiosis; this is quite the opposite of the Sophists' hyperbolic, audacious bravado. Irony is, then, an integral part of teaching dialectic.(8)

The ironic pose motivated and directed mimetic responses. Often, the dialogical interlocutor desired to identify with Socrates by doing as he did (his active judgments), since it had become exhibitively apparent that he indeed wielded power from the heart of his humble-seeming pose. This is a characteristic of the philosopher-doer's (Lebenphilosoph's) teaching-through-action. He teaches a process by using that process to teach. He does not teach a prescribed content, meaning, or signification. Rather, he teaches the dialectic process that can be pragmatically adapted to all occasions of inquiry, while still striving after human Good (agathõn) and human Excellence (aretê). This had never been a Sophistical concern. In fact, the Socrates of Plato's Dialogues is chided and derided by Sophists there for not taking his own best advantage. But he produces a more valuable and durable student in the long run, though, since his successful students will be able to carry over the process of open inquiry after human Good and Excellence beyond the immediate occasion of any particular dialogue, or ostensible philosophical problem.

But for all the enduring benefit such an educational process provided, Plato needed to show his Socrates ministering, assuaging, and appeasing the perplexities and discomfiture of students new to dialectical inquiry. For the enduring rewards of the dialectical process are deferred until such time as it may take one to master the process; dialectic had not the same immediate gratification as eristic. So we often see the worthy student in the Dialogues being comforted, inspired and encouraged, as he is guided, and as his pained ignorance is assuaged by a paternally warm, gentle, and often humorous Socrates. Also to this end, Plato demonstrated that Socrates was a good listener, a characteristic essential to the practice of dialectic and maieutic instruction. Otherwise, he could not have individualized his instruction to each of his student's own intellectual stage of development. Pedagogy, on the other hand, seeks to inform by a predetermined, "deaf," or moribund, content. But "psychagogy"—an instrument of maieutic—required the teacher to determine first each student's individual needs and level of achievement for guiding him toward understanding. Psychagogy is, therefore, a vital, pragmatic process.

But the real target audience for Plato's Socrates—and so the target of his psychagogic dialectic—were neither the "muddleheaded" nor the unabashedly ruthless who pursued their own interests at any cost. The "muddleheaded," it must be assumed, were beyond educating in the dialectical method. Inveterate pythagorizing Sophists, devoted to blurring ethical standards for their own and their paying pupils' benefits, also would have been, in another sense, beyond educating. No amount of point-by-point speechifying, argument, or other form of pedagogy would have proved successful for making converts among either of those two groups: the "muddleheaded" would not have comprehended(9); the other group had already antecedently developed a logic-chopping eristic that might parry any undesirable reductio upon which the dialectic relied.

Psychagogy and Maieutic

Plato's Socrates begins the dialectical method from his interlocutors' own predispositions. These prejudices must be the first to fall for the Dialogues to sustain the dialectical suspension of opinion. This was the methodology recorded by Plato and (reputedly) used by the historical Socrates for its "psychagogical" effect. The etymology is from psûchê, "mind," and agogôs, "leader," or agogê, "abduction," "transport"; it is a "leading," "education," "discipline," or "manner of life."(10) As an adjective, "psychagogic," from psuchagôgikos, refers to that which is "attractive to the mind," or "winning of the mind." As a near cognate, psûchagogeô refers to the function of Hermes "to lead souls to the nether world" or "to lead, win, or entertain souls."(PGD 417) This was the Socratic method, the dialectic, maieutic (maieûtikos) method: to lead the mind, by attractiveness, to self-discovery. It was a clear alternative to "filling" the mind, as the badgering elenchoi of the Sophists did.

It is revealing that a usage of psuchagôgikos also signified "restorative medicine," which has "the power to arouse or restore consciousness or mental activity."(11) Such a "restorative" effect, we might perhaps resolve, was intended by Plato in the characterization of his Socrates and the reason why he is referred to as ho pharmakôs, or ho pharmakeûs: the "sorcerer," having the power "to heal," or "to cure." Not insignificantly is this yet another association adduced by Plato between Socrates and Hermes, the leader-of-souls after death to the underworld and conjurer with the power pharmakeuô, "to enchant," "to bewitch," to use drugs, charms, and poisons. It is, perhaps, the epitome of all Platonic ironies that Socrates ultimately has need of his own services as ho pharmakôs to take part in his own execution. But another irony is that the Socrates of the Dialogues lampoons the use of "healing charms." Nonetheless, in the Charmides, for example, he is introduced to that headache-afflicted, eponymous young man as a healer of headaches by his "charms." It is easy to see how the concept of a "charm" can thus be taken both literally, in the substantive sense (say) of amulet and talisman, as well as figuratively. The latter is the adjectival sense of alluring, flirtatious, seductive, coquettish, and other like terms connoting sexual magnetism. Psuchagôgikos, figuratively signifying "the power to arouse or restore consciousness or mental activity," can also comprise the literal, physical sense of "the power to arouse or restore" physical activity. After all, we know that Socrates can be physically aroused, by Charmides, for instance, as much as he can be arousing to others, as he is to Alcibiades in the Symposium.

Psychagogy is a maieutic activity. That is, as the maieûtikos—midwife—conducts a leading of the body to deliver a new life, so the psuchagôgikos is a conduit by his leading the mind to deliver a new idea. Ironically, then, Socrates and his mother comprise both the literal and figurative senses of maieûtikos, the first having been a philosopher, educator, and figurative midwife, while the second had been a literal midwife.

So Plato's dialogical method and his Socrates' psychagogically taught dialectical method were maieutic in that, as communicative media, they mimed and put on display the Socratic method. Plato modeled a dialectical process of coming-to-know that seeks afresh, for each inquiry-occasion, what actions might be apposite ("right"). The Socratic method is creative insofar as it produced cognitive gain or a changed perspective. It guides us anew each time to just and right human responses. It provides the guidance for initiatory responses demanded by each uniquely evolving occasion one faces. The "novelties" devised by Socratic dialectic and Platonic dialogical art are representations of the creative, artistic aspect of philosophy. They characterize and imbue intellectual experience with an excitement, a kind of intellectual "fun," that shows itself through the avid reader-responses the Dialogues still command.

But if teaching by art and dialectical maieutic is to be successful, then the artist or philosopher-teacher has to model for the interlocutor the process of learning in the exhibitive or active mode of judgment(12), respectively. Practically speaking, this allows the student to go on with the process of discovery beyond the instructor's presence; it is, therefore, an education in a way of life (agôgê) for the student, and not only in acquiring specific knowledge. In this sense, Plato's Socrates was something of a "magician," or "conjurer," of which Nietzsche spoke.(13) For he is depicted as achieving almost magical results that bewilder his audience at times. The trick is that he needed to be depicted paradoxically as one simultaneously engaging in and being aloof from an activity, as one who claims not to know but seems to. Thus, when we say that both the Dialogues and the activities they depict are designed to instruct, we must not think they do so pedagogically, which would be directly, but only epagogically and psychagogically. That is, they lead, but at the same time allow for the pupil's internalization, self-discovery, and imitation of the process of uncoerced inquiry, once the process has been assimilated. Once the process has been made habitual, what had been theoretical could be impressed into the service of the practical human need to make deliberate choices with regard to behavior (prãxis), which is the logotype of the Lebensphilosoph, or ethical dialectician.

We can find an adroit description of the language and manner of such a philosopher-teacher in Ernesto Grassi and Julián Mariás, in their depiction of philosophy as a form of rhetoric and as drama, respectively. Of "the true rhetorical speech," Grassi says: "The original [archê] speech is that of the wise man, of the sophos, who is not only epistetai ["master," "commander," "overseer"] but who with insight leads, guides, and attracts."(14) We cannot help but be struck by the similarity of this description of the sophos with language we have attributed to Plato's Socrates. This is the technique of Socrates who teaches through dialectic and active judgments; used by Plato's Socrates it was a form of instruction that accounted for a unique strength of conviction. As we have indicated, Plato has his Socrates begin the dialectical examinations from the level of "knowledge" at which he finds his worthy interlocutors, because when "original philosophical thought confronted traditional and prevailing beliefs...the removal of these was its own first step. Philosophical ignorance is not merely lack of knowledge, but not knowing what to be guided by among things that are insufficiently known. Thus, the Socrates of the Platonic dialogues is not a judge of opinions; he is not going to decide which among them is the true one, but to reveal the insufficiency of them all-including his own if he has one-in the interest of acquiring a superior knowledge. The Socratic dialogue consists in the destruction of opinions as such."(15) For "movement through (diá) the utterances (lógoi) is the dialogue, which is...a technique of bringing out into the light, of illumination, of clarification, a maieutics."(PADT 42) The effectiveness and character of the Socratic maieutic in the acquisition of knowledge is, perhaps, best estimated in much the same way Aristotle categorized types of anagnorisis, Discovery, in the Poetics. This seems like an organic, apposite analogy, since maieutic functions educationally in bringing one from ignorance to knowledge as anagnorisis does dramatically: through memory (dià mnémes), inference (sullogismoû), and "false inference" (paralogismoû). Platonic-Socratic philosophizing shows the traditional dichotomy of rhetoric (form) and philosophy (content) to be largely specious, given that humans are both passionate and rational. And as a result, speech can affect the human mind most deeply as a union of logos and pathos.(RAP, 26f.) Attempting to instruct, Plato's Socrates exhibits repetitively, without tending to the whole student, reduces that instruction's potential of creating a "showing through" or "patency" of truth: "As a passionate, and not exclusively rational, being, man is in need of the emotive word."(RAP 26) The union of the two in Socratic education forms a synergy that better assures a lasting, well-examined knowledge.


(1) Aristotle, Topics, Bk.I.

(2) Here I am following Justus Buchler's philosophy of the "human process," in which he distinguishes the three modes of human judgment or production, namely of stating new determinacies in reality: these are the assertive, the exhibitive and the active mode of judgment. Assertive judgments are sayings or truth-claims, exhibitive judgments are makings or contrivances, and active judgments are doings. See especially, Toward a General Theory of Human Judgment. (New York: Dover repr. 1979), and Nature and Judgment . (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955). Hereafter TGT and NJ.

(3) V. Tejera, "Dialogue and Dialectic," in Philosophy and the Civilizing Arts. ed. Craig Walton and John Anton, 57.

(4) Nietzsche passim. See also David Fortunoff. "Philosophy As Art and Act: Nietzsche's Double Socrates," in The Philosophy of Socrates, Elenchus, Ethics and Truth, vol. II. ed. K.J. Boudouris., 65-73.

(5) V. Tejera. Plato's Dialogues One By One. A Structural Interpretation, 85. Hereafter PDOBO.

(6) Essay presented to the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Greek Philosophy, October, 1992, Columbia University. David Fortunoff. "Plato's Liberating Ironies: The Rhetoric of Affirmation Through Negation."

(7) David Fortunoff. "Plato's Dialogues As Subversive Activity," in Plato's Dialogues, New Studies and Interpretations. ed. Gerald Press.

(8) Irony is thus an integral part of dialectic, as well as "true rhetoric"—the type Socrates teaches Phaedrus by example. "But the most important point is that the foundation of the true rhetoric is psychology, the science of the mind (soul), as already hinted in the definition here accepted by Plato (yuxagwgia dia logwn [psukagogia diá lógon], 'winning men's minds by words,' as contrasted by the vague peiqous dvmiourgos [peithous demiourgós])."(AR, Intro. xxv) When true rhetoric, therefore, is allied with the dialectical method, the ethical dialectician Socrates not only teaches the method by example but also knows how to individualize the instruction by "psychological or ethical proofs, based a knowledge of the human emotions and their causes, and of the different types of characters."(AR, Intro. xxv)

This last form of knowledge is, perhaps, what Professor Tejera writes of as "attitude- fitting"(PDOBO 19, 47) as a method on the part of Plato's Socrates. Thus, we find Socrates beginning the instruction of his interlocutor from the place—emotionally and intellectually—at which he finds him, primarily by adapting his demeanor to his students'. Regarding any one of these discreet and individualized adaptations, Socrates can often be found to be presented by Plato in literal or ironic terms, vis-à-vis the perspectives of his interlocutors, any other auditors within the dialogues, or readers of the dialogues. These perspectival shifts, which are constitutive of the tonal qualities of the dialogues, often occur any number of times within the same dialogue, due to a change in his interlocutor's thinking, or in Socrates' attitude to him.

But what is most significant to observe is that the ironies resulting from these changes of course remain inseparable from the dialogues' overall meanings. This is because of the revisionary nature of the discourse, due to the progress of the interlocutors' knowledge. For that is what irony of any type is; that is, it results from differences in knowledge—either between Socrates and his interlocutor, or between him and an auditor present but silent mis en scene, or any combination that results from factoring the perspectival complexities of reader and interlocutor. To describe these differences, we can speak of an ironic gap.

Bergman's assessment is apposite in this, for he says: "If truth is not theoretic but that which a person must verify through his life and the way he lives it, how can one person be another's teacher? A person cannot transmit his philosophy the way an object is given and received. This kind of transmission is impossible in relation to existential truth. The teacher's reality can only open the possibility for the student to live his own truth, to actualize it through his way of life. Therefore, the teacher must not go beyond the limitations of this possibility. We must prevent the birth of a direct relation in which the student passively receives the doctrine of the teacher. The teacher must convey his ideas in the form of possibility, which the student can actualize if he wishes. The transformation of reality into possibility is done through irony. Irony binds neither the teacher nor the student. It can lead the student to discover him self; it can also lead him astray in order to make him fail and to lead him through failure toward understanding. Irony is the guise behind which an inner transformation in the listener takes place; it is the very transformation exacted by inwardness. Irony therefore has to be basic and essential. An author does not become ironic by expressing himself ironically here and there. Irony is a comprehensive outlook that does not focus on one phenomenon or another; the totality of being is seen from the viewpoint of irony just as Spinoza constructed the world from the 'viewpoint of eternity'" [specie aeternitatis].(DP 41)

(9) Aristotle recognized that not all people are equally tractable, nor will they keep an open mind while pursuing the dialectical method. In that case, Socrates'—and Plato's—irony is far more thinly veiled than with more legitimate forms of irony. That is because the latter occasions are intended to be constructive, in the sense that their goal is to enhance an interlocutor's knowledge by demonstrating that his original concept was naive and misinformed. Some discussants remain intractable for all the skill of the master rhetor or dialectician: "in dealing with certain persons, even if we possessed the most accurate scientific knowledge, we should not find it easy to persuade them by the employment of such knowledge. For scientific discourse is concerned with instruction, but in the case of such persons instruction is impossible; our proofs and arguments must rest on generally accepted principles, as we said in the Topics, when speaking of converse with the multitude."(AR I.i.12)

This, we recognize, is just the difficulty Socrates encounters in the Meno with Meletus, who is dense as well as constitutionally unwilling to be a student of Socrates'; in the same dialogue, too, Plato refers to Meletus' son, who we are led to believe, is in the same intellectual position as his father, only more so! This all comes back to haunt Socrates in the Apology, as we remember.

(10) Langenscheidt. Pocket Greek Dictionary, 5. Hereafter PGD.

(11) Oxford English Dictionary, 1549. Hereafter OED.

(12) See n.2 above.

(13) Nietzsche passim.

(14) Ernesto Grassi. Rhetoric As Philosophy, The Humanist Tradition., 32. Hereafter RAP.

(15) Julián Marías. Philosophy As Dramatic Theory. tr. James Parsons., 42. Hereafter PADT.


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—. "Plato's Liberating Ironies: The Rhetoric of Affirmation Through Negation." Essay presented to the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Greek Philosophy, October, 1992, Columbia University.

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