Scholarship on Plato's dialogues persistently divides its focus between the dramatic or literary and the philosophical or argumentative dimensions of the texts. But this hermeneutic division of labor is naïve, for Plato's arguments are embedded in dramatic dialogues and developed through complex, largely informal exchanges between literary characters. Consequently, it is questionable how readers can even attribute arguments and theses to the author himself. The answer to this question lies in transcending the scholarly divide and integrating the literary and philosophical dimensions of the texts. This is the task of Trials of Reason.The study focuses on a set of fourteen so-called early dialogues, beginning with a methodological framework that explains how to integrate the argumentation and the drama in these texts. Unlike most canonical philosophical works, the early dialogues do not merely express the results of the practice of philosophy. Rather, they dramatize philosophy as a kind of motivation, the desire for knowledge of goodness. They dramatize philosophy as a discursive practice, motivated by this desire and ideally governed by reason. And they dramatize the trials to which desire and reason are subject, that is, the difficulties of realizing philosophy as a form of motivation, a practice, and an epistemic achievement. In short, Trials of Reason argues that Plato's early dialogues are as much works of meta-philosophy as philosophy itself.
Oxford University Press; January 2008
- ISBN 9780198043836
- Read online, or download in secure PDF format
- Title: Trials of Reason
- Author: David Wolfsdorf
Imprint: Oxford University Press
In The Press
Trials of Reason is an impressive book, from which a great deal may be learned." --Ancient Philosophy
"A fine book for both specialists and those with a more general interest in ancient philosophy. Wolfsdorf is careful to appreciate the dramaturgical elements of the dialogues as well as the culture in which they were authored. A seminal introduction to the early dialogues." --Philosophy in Review
"Wolfsdorf's central contribution is a new method to resolve inconsistancies between statements made by Socrates within a single dialogue or within several early dialogues. The resolution of such inconsistancies is one of the greatest problems we face in unraveling the philosophy of the early dialogues, and Wolfsdorf's solution to the problem is clearly and forcefully presented." --Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"In Trials of Reason there is much excellent material worthy of mention that space here does not permit. The balance Wolfsdorf strikes in his writing between elementary explanation and detailed cognizance of the scholarly literature will indeed ensure that his book reaches a 'broad audience' and that his readers will come away having addressed, with close reading of the texts, the full spectrum of debate that has focused upon these fourteen dialogues."--Will Rasmussen, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
About The Author
David Wolfsdorf received a doctorate in Classics from the University of Chicago in 1997. He currently teaches in the Philosophy Department at Temple University where he specializes in Ancient Greek philosophy.