The Priority of Definition Continuum Companion to Socrates

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Given this preoccupation one is immediately led to wonder what Socrates would count as. adequate answers to such questions An immediate response is that Socrates is searching for. definitions Indeed this preoccupation is often characterized as a search for definitions. following Aristotle But appealing to definitions here is problematic for at least two reasons. First pointing out that in asking these sorts of questions Socrates is looking for definitions of the. relevant F nesses piety courage temperance etc only pushes the question back One wants to. know what features are required for definitions of the relevant F nesses 6 Second talk of. definitions is potentially misleading since it is likely to carry with it anachronistic connotations. concerning the nature of definition Indeed it is noteworthy that Plato never uses Aristotle s. favored term for definition and rarely at least in the Socratic dialogues uses. Aristotle s other technical terms and in the sense of definition 7 Nevertheless. Socrates s concern to raise questions of the form What is F ness is clear whether or not. providing an answer to such questions amounts to providing a definition. I propose to leave the question concerning what amounts to adequate answers to Socrates. What is F ness questions to one side to the extent that I can 8 Instead I will focus on another. related question concerning Socrates preoccupation with What is F ness questions what. motivates this preoccupation What that is is so valuable about the answers to these quesions. that Socrates is so devoted to asking them I suspect that a number of considerations motivate. his preoccupation but a fairly traditional answer and one with which I am in general agreement. is that Socrates takes such answers to have a special epistemic status 9 Knowledge of these. answers is in some way epistemically prior to other sorts of knowledge and given Socrates. It is at this point that the debate concerning whether Socrates is pursuing nominal or real definitions arises see for. example Locke Essay III 3 13 17 Vlastos 1965 156 n 26 Penner 1992 141 144 Fine 1992 202 Irwin. 1995 25 26 Fine 2004 54 n 36 62 n 58 and Forster 2006b 25 33. See Dancy 2004 23 24 who points out that only one of the six occurrences of Republic I 331d2 3 and. only two of the 15 occurrences of Charmides 173a9 and Laches 194c8 in the Socratic dialogues are best. translated as definition In Benson forthcoming I mistakenly claimed that Socrates does sometimes use. in the Socratric dialogues To the best of my knowledge he does not. For important discussions see for example Nehamas 1975 Vlastos 1981 Woodruff 1982 ch 4 Benson. 1990a Wolfsdorf 2003 Forster 2006b Charles 2006 and Fine 2010. See for example Ross 1951 16 See Forster 2006b 35 39 for a different but related motivation. commitment to knowledge it is natural for and incumbent upon him to pursue what is. epistemically prior It is the task of this essay to examine more closely this alleged motivation. for Socrates preoccupation with What is F ness questions. I begin with a sketch of the nature of this alleged motivation The motivation depends on. Socrates endorsement of an epistemic priority principle which I will call henceforth the priority. of definition principle keeping in mind the flaws of using the word definition 10 I will then. run through the primary evidence for and against attributing such a principle to the Socrates of. Plato s Socratic dialogues We will see that the evidence appears to cut both ways I then. conclude the essay by rehearsing the various ways in which scholars have attempted to resolve. this interpretive tension In the end I hope the reader will see that anything like a confident. stance with respect to Socrates endorsement of the priority of definition principle will depend on. one s interpretation of many more features of Socratic philosophy than we can consider here. The Principle, Let us begin by stating the principle in its most general form. PD If A fails to know what F ness is then A fails to know anything about F ness. So stated the principle requires a variety of qualifications and comments. First I will simply stipulate that for Socrates to know what F ness is is to know the. answer to his What is F ness question Of course what it is to know the answer to the What. is F ness question cannot be fixed in light of my earlier decision to leave unexplored the. adequacy conditions of a successful answer to the What is F ness question But suffice it to. say that to know the answer to a What is F ness question is at least to be able to survive a. Socratic examination or elenchos Again what precisely is required in order to survive a. Socratic elenchos is a long and controversial story 11 but suffice it to say that surviving a Socratic. The principle has gone by a number of names perhaps most famously by the Socratic fallacy Dancy 2004 35. 64 calls it the Intellectualist Assumption AI See Nehamas 1987 275 277 who takes Socrates alleged. commitment to this principle as a component of the Socratic intellectualism I prefer the priority of definitional. knowedge but I will not ride my hobby horse here, See chapter 3 above and esp Vlastos 1983 Kraut 1983 Brickhouse and Smith 1984a Polansky 1985. Benson 1987 Brickhouse and Smith 1994 ch 1 Benson 1995 Adams 1998 the essays in Scott 2002. Forster 2006a Young 2006 White 2008 and Benson forthcoming. elenchos at least requires the ability to state an answer to the What is F ness question that. coheres with one s other F ness related12 beliefs Consequently we need to distinguish the. priority of definition principle from two related but distinct principles concerning the nature of. knowledge of what F ness is viz the verbalization requirement and the coherence requirement. V If A fails to be able to state an answer to the What is F ness question then A. fails to know what F ness is 13, C If A s F ness related beliefs fail to cohere then A fails to know what F ness is. When these two principles are conjoined to PD we get the result that being unable to. coherently answer a What is F ness question entails that one lacks any knowledge of F ness. Such a result may or may not receive Socratic endorsement but its Socratic endorsement is. distinct from the Socratic endorsement of PD It is PD that is the focus of this essay. Second as the preceding discussion indicates PD is a principle regarding the priority of. knowledge PD requires definitional knowledge of F ness whatever that amounts to for any. other knowledge regarding F ness It should not be confused with the view that stating an answer. to the What is F ness question is prior to knowledge of anything else about F ness that is the. conjunction of PD and V Nor should it be confused with the view that knowledge of what F. ness is is prior to the ability to state or assert that something is F or that F ness has some property. or other To arrive at that sort of view from PD requires commitment to something like the. following assertability requirement, A If A asserts something about F ness then A knows what A has asserted. Again such a principle may or may not receive Socratic endorsement but whether it does is not. the focus of this essay Our focus is on PD the claim that knowledge of what F ness is is prior. to any other knowledge regarding F ness, Third PD is a conjunction of two principles which have often been discussed separately.
in the literature The first maintains that knowledge of what F ness is is prior to knowledge that. For the notion of F ness related beliefs see my brief remarks concerning appropriate related beliefs at Benson. 2000 161 162 For the notion of doxastic coherence as opposed to consistent beliefs see Benson forthcoming. See for example Irwin 1995 27 and Dancy 2004 37 38 for this requirement. anything is F For example one cannot know that Socrates is virtuous if one fails to know what. virtue is The second maintains that knowledge of what F ness is is prior to knowledge of any of. the properties of F ness For example one cannot know that virtue is beneficial if one fails to. know what virtue is Put only a bit more formally PD is the conjunction of. P If A fails to know what F ness is then A fails to know for any x that x is F and. D If A fails to know what F ness is then A fails to know for any G that F ness is G. Finally PD should not be confused with what might be called the sufficiency of. definition principle As the name implies the sufficiency principle maintains that knowledge of. what F ness is sufficient for knowing anything about F ness For example if one knows what. virtue is then one knows that Socrates is virtuous Again whether Socrates would endorse such. a principle or more plausible versions of it 14 this principle is distinct from PD PD. maintains that knowledge of what F ness is is necessary for any other knowledge involving F. ness while the sufficiency principle maintains that such definitional knowledge is sufficient. In conclusion the priority of definition principle PD is the conjunction of two. principles P and D each asserting the necessity of knowledge of what F ness is for knowledge. of other things about F ness According to P knowledge of what F ness is is necessary for. knowledge of which things are F and according to D knowledge of what F ness is is necessary. for knowledge of which properties F ness has It is important to note that PD on its own only. asserts the necessity of knowledge of what F ness is for knowledge of other things about F ness. It is silent about whether such knowledge is necessary for belief assertion action or anything. else It is also important to note that PD as here discussed is fully general According to PD. knowledge of what any F ness is is necessary for anyone to know anything else about that F. ness Certainly if Socrates does endorse PD in the Socratic dialogues we can understand why. he is so preoccupied with trying to acquire knowledge of the answers to his What is F ness. questions The question of course is does he endorse such a principle. See Benson 2000 142 160 for a defense of a Socratic endorsement of a more plausible version of the sufficiency. Socrates Endorsement of PD, Given this sketch of the priority of definition principle both what it is and what it is not. we need to examine the evidence concerning Socrates endorsement of this principle I will. begin by looking at the evidence which appears to support Socrates endorsement first by. looking at the evidence for P and then the evidence for D Then I will turn to the evidence. which appears to argue against this endorsement, Evidence That Socrates Endorses PD The strongest evidence for Socrates. endorsement of P the principle that if one fails to know what F ness is then one fails to know. for any x that x is F comes from two passages in Plato s Hippias Major 15 Early on in the. dialogue Socrates relates an imagined exchange he had with someone16 concerning his critique of. various parts of speeches he had heard, a Not long ago someone caused me to be at a loss when I was finding fault with things. in some speeches as being foul and praising others as being fine he questioned me in the. following very rude way b How do you know what sort of things are fine and foul. Come now can you say what the fine is c I was at a loss because of my worthlessness. and was not able to answer appropriately Going away from the gathering I was angry at. myself and reproached myself and resolved that the first time I met one of you wise men. I would listen and learn and study and then go back to the questioner and fight the. argument again Hippias Major 286c5 d7 17, And again at the conclusion of the dialogue Socrates reverts to the same theme saying. a He asks me if I am not ashamed daring to talk about fine practices when I have. clearly been refuted concerning the fine to the effect that I do not know what the thing. itself is b And yet he will say how do you know whether someone has spoken. finely or not or done any other thing whatsoever when you do not know the fine c. Being in such a state do you think it is better for you to be alive than dead Hippias. Major 304d5 e3, Between these two passages Socrates professes to want to learn from Hippias the knowledge of.
what fineness is Hippias Major 286d7 e2 which Hippias professes to have Hippias Major. 286e5 6 Hippias proposes seven different answers to the What is fineness question all of. which are found wanting by Socrates in much the same way presumably as Socrates own. Concerning the Plato s authorship of the Hippias Major see Woodruff 1982 and Kahn 1985 Its relative. compositional date will be an issue below, By the end of the dialogue it has become fairly clear that this is Socrates alter ego. All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. attempt to answer this question was found wanting by his imagined interlocutor The key for our. purposes is noticing that the b portion of both passages contains a nearly identical question that. has led many commentators to take Socrates to be committed to the view that Socrates or. anyone else cannot know which speeches are fine if he fails to know what fineness is But such. a commitment is simply a substitution instance of the more general principle P with fineness. substituted for F ness and individual unnamed speeches substituted for x. Of course some commentators have focused on the fact that the b portions contain. questions not assertions and have suggested that these questions are not meant to be rhetorical. The Priority of Definition Continuum Companion to Socrates Edd Bussanich and Smith Hugh H Benson Introduction One thing we seem to know about Socrates 1 is that he was preocuppied with questions of the form What is F ness 2 Aristotle famously tells us that Socrates busied himself concerning the ethical virtues and was the first to seek to define

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