Resolving inconsistencies in Plato : the problem of Socratic wisdom in the 'Apology' and the 'Charmides'
In the Apology Plato ascribes to Socrates a kind of knowledge that distinguishes him from others, viz., the knowledge that in truth he is worthless in respect of knowledge. Furthermore, the cultivation of this ‘Socratic wisdom’ is presented by Plato as necessary for anyone wishing to pursue the examined life, the only life worth living for a human being, and therefore as something that we all should seek to acquire. In the Charmides, however, Socrates argues at length to the conclusion that such knowledge is neither possible nor, even if it were possible, of any use. This apparent contradiction in Platonic doctrine is the problem of Socratic wisdom in the Apology and the Charmides. The thesis first constructs the problem of Socratic wisdom from the text of the two dialogues. It then considers various strategies in the long tradition of Platonic scholarship by which proposals have been made to resolve this and other inconsistencies in Plato. These strategies are assessed and reasons are given for preferring a recent approach called the ‘double dialogue’ reading of Plato, which treats his works not primarily as vehicles for publishing his doctrines, but as philosophical challenges for the reader. The thesis then conducts a double dialogue reading of the second half of the Charmides and demonstrates how this way of reading Plato provides a resolution to the problem of Socratic wisdom. The resolution lies in showing how, in the Charmides, Plato issues a challenge to the reader to address the inadequacies of the model of knowledge that underlies the apparent success of the dialogue’s refutation of Socratic wisdom. Thus, not only is the problem of Socratic wisdom resolved, but the double dialogue strategy of reading Plato is validated for further employment in resolving other inconsistencies in Plato.