Plato's Theaetetus and the problem of knowledge




Rabinowitz, Laura

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In keeping with Socrates’ advice that it is “a better thing to accomplish a little well than a lot inadequately” (Theaetetus, 187d), this master’s report provides a detailed study of a few relatively short sections of Plato’s Theaetetus. After an analysis of the beginning of the work and its opening themes, I examine the Protagorean thesis as it is first revealed in Theaetetus’ second endeavor to say what knowledge is. Rather than follow the entire course of Socrates’ account of Protagoras’ position, I bring out a few of the essential features of this initial presentation and attempt to gain some clarity as to the possible meaning and purpose behind Protagoras’ enigmatic declaration that man is the measure of all things. The final section of my paper entails a close analysis of the dialogue’s last definition of knowledge: true opinion with speech. Although this account does not answer all of the questions posed by the Protagorean thesis, we find within it the most promising approach to answering the question of the dialogue: “What is knowledge?” While the Theaetetus comes to a close with this final attempt and ultimate failure to answer the question with which it began, I show that Socrates’ spurious arguments often serve more as pointers toward the truth than as refutations of the “truths” proposed.




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