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A Metaphilosophical Reading of Plato’s Phaedo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Although many of Plato’s dialogues contain reflections on the correct method of philosophical argument, scholars have not paid sufficient attention to the Phaedo in this regard. This thesis explores Plato’s Phaedo from an overlooked perspective, namely its metaphilosophical component and its prescriptions on the correct philosophical practice. The findings presented in this thesis thus help to better understand Plato’s thoughts on philosophical argument and the possibility of human knowledge. In Chapter 1 and 2, I present a theoretical framework of the epistemic (or intellectual) norms governing the correct philosophical conversation and argument. I claim that metaphilosophy is a significant component of the Phaedo and the epistemic norms rely on the idea of philosophical humility. Chapter 3 examines Socrates’ so-called defence speech at the Phaedo 63-69. I argue that the content of the defence partially shapes the epistemic norms that are developed and put into practice in the Phaedo. I suggest that Socrates’ defence speech specifies the limits of human cognition and that the concept of philosophical humility should arise out of the recognition of these limits. In Chapter 4, I scrutinize the argument against misology presented at Phaedo 88-91. I argue that the misology argument is metaphilosophical in the sense that it stresses the danger of putting all our trust in arguments before possessing expertise in argument; hence the misology argument adds to the correct epistemic norms governing philosophical inquiry. Chapter 5 investigates Socrates’ autobiography portrayed in the Phaedo 96-101, with special emphasis on the meaning of second-sailing. I offer a novel interpretation of the second-sailing according to which the distinction is not simply between the best and the second-best method, but another contrast stems from the purpose-relative aspect of Socrates’ choice.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2018

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