Socratic philosophy and the aporia of virtue
The Platonic Socrates is renowned both for his disavowals of knowledge and for his irony, and it is often the case that both interlocutors and readers believe his disavowals to be ironic. Such a belief frequently underlies interpretations of Plato’s Meno, which take Socrates’ claim not to know at all what virtue is to be either partially or entirely untrue; either Socrates knows what virtue is or he at least knows in some respect even if he does not know its essential being, its ousia. This dissertation argues that Socrates is being honest in his claim in the Meno not to know at all what virtue is, and this means he is not able to recognize some one thing called “virtue.” This serves as a starting point for a new interpretation that examines the arguments and the drama of the dialogue as an illumination of Socrates’ perplexing disavowal of knowledge. Socrates’ claim not to know at all what virtue is shown to indicate an aporia he confronts with respect to his understanding of virtue. And this aporia, it is argued, concerns, not what virtue is but that it is. The dissertation argues further that Socrates’ aporia with respect to virtue is fundamentally woven into his uncertainty about whether knowledge is possible at all. The fundamental character of Socratic philosophy, which is practiced by investigating with others into the virtues, is thus shown to involve an investigation into the very foundation of philosophy itself.