William Eckersley (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Socratic Wisdom in Plato’s Theaetetus 149a-151d

I propose conducting research into solving a puzzle that I believe exists in Plato’s Theaetetus. This puzzle consists in the fact that, on the one hand, the character of Socrates in the dialogue is seen to claim to be ‘barren of wisdom’ (Tht 150c4), and on the other, in possession of the necessary prerequisites to practice the ‘art’ of intellectual midwifery (Tht 149a1, a7, 150b6, c1). This puzzle arises, I believe, when one understands two things: one concerning the nature of Plato’s idea of an art or craft (techne) and another concerning Plato’s notion of wisdom (sophia). Regarding Plato’s concept of a craft or art, it should be noted that Plato often has Socrates claim that practitioners of such activities necessarily require knowledge in order to practice them. In connection with Plato’s notion of wisdom, it needs to be seen that in the Theaetetus, Socrates conceptually identifies knowledge and wisdom (Tht 145e). Once these two claims are noticed, the puzzle concerning Socrates’ midwifery can be seen to be a contradiction. For, if possessing the art of midwifery requires Socrates to possess knowledge, yet Socrates’ art involves his lacking wisdom (knowledge) then how is it that Socrates can be thought of, in the first instance, as possessing the ability to practice an ‘art’ or ‘craft’ of any kind?

I believe that the solution to the above puzzle can be found in reading Socrates’ disavowals of wisdom in the Theaetetus as disavowals of “wisdom” in a different sense to that which Plato is seen to have Socrates claim that knowledge is wisdom at Tht 145e. I would like to maintain this by adapting work done by Gregory Vlastos on similar puzzles surrounding Socratic disclamations of wisdom in the so-called early dialogues. The adoption of this solution would hence allow that Socrates has no wisdom (in line with Tht 150c4, c6, d1, d1-2) whilst still possessing his art of midwifery (in line with Tht 149a1, a7, 150b6, c1). I would not seek to claim, however, as Vlastos does, that the only knowledge the character of Socrates’ could be construed as possessing is “elenctic” knowledge. Rather, borrowing from recent work by Zina Giannopoulou, I would claim that the knowledge Socrates possesses is divine knowledge.

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