Philosophy as dialogue : Plato and the history of dialectic (with special reference to the sophist)
The connecting thread of this thesis is the idea that philosophy is essentially dialectical or a matter of conversation. Plato's idea of philosophy plays a pivotal role insofar as one of his main preoccupations throughout his work is to define the essence of philosophy. For him philosophy and dialectic are interchangeable terms. Plato's idea of dialectic is that of a philosophical conversation. This is not a judgement that is accepted by many other philosophers; I consider objections that Aristotle, Descartes and Husserl address to this idea of the nature of philosophy. In the first main part I discuss the etymology and origins of the word dialectic and its possible literary antecedents in Greek epic, lyric and tragedy. I then offer, in the second part, a historical approach to the philosophical roots of dialectic with the aim of grasping its genesis and evolution. I deal with the different ancient ideas of dialectic as represented by the figures of Plato, Aristotle, Zeno (and some Sophists), and the Stoics, then moving on to the medieval understanding of dialectic. Finally I describe its modem versions through representative figures such as Kant, Hegel, Marx and Engels. Finally, in the third part, I turn to the Socratic-Platonic understanding of dialectic. In this part I discuss the nature of the Socratic-Platonic method and some different perspectives on Platonic dialectic. As a test case, and especially with the aim of showing how dialectic operates in Plato, and how he contrasts the figures of the Philosopher and the Sophist I focus on the Sophist.