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Dialectic, Desire & Discipline: The Formation of the Philosopher on the Scene of the Platonic Dialogue


The argument explores the relationship between epistemology and ethics in the Platonic dialogues. Focusing on the drama that takes place on the scene of the dialogues, I trace Socrates' struggle to impose rules on the conversation. What I show is that though Socrates' question invites a response from his interlocutor (and so, is commonly celebrated as open-ended), the questions he asks and the rules he imposes, restricts contribution that his interlocutor can make to the dialogue. I argue that this discursive practice, the dialectic, not only imports a specific epistemology--a specific image of knowledge--but this episteme is used to interpret what Socrates' interlocutor values and desires; so the discourse brings with it a certain understanding of the form that desire should take. The epistemological assumptions, then, also assume (and endeavor to produce) a particular type of subject. A careful examination of the discursive practice by which Plato distinguishes Socrates and philosophy from other figures and practices reveals that Plato's epistemological and ethical ends are more circumscribed than is usually acknowledged. By developing a sensitivity to the struggle that takes place over method, I argue, one not only becomes sensitive to the exclusions on which philosophy is founded (e.g., the considerations deemed irrelevant to the conversation) but one also develops a sensitivity to the power dynamic that structures the relationship between interlocutors. More broadly, this raises the problem of how certain discursive practices support particular distributions of power and different ethical possibilities while suppressing others.

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