Institutt for filosofi og førstesemesterstudier


Kristian Larsen: Differentiating philosopher from sophist and statesman according to work and worth: on dialectical inquiry in Plato’s Sophist and Statesman

Høstens tredje instituttseminar er ved (Jens) Kristian Larsen (UiB). Åpent for alle interesserte.


"Plato’s Sophist and Statesman stand out from the rest of his dialogues by the fact that their main interlocutor is a visitor from Elea and by their extensive use of the so-called method of collection and division in the inquiry conducted in them. Critics disagree how we should estimate the philosophical merits of the method, however, and also how we should assess the philosophical acumen of the visitor. The predominant reading remains that the visitor is a mouthpiece for Plato who expresses Plato’s later ideal of dialectical inquiry, namely the use of collection and division for the purpose of arriving at definitions. But a number of critics have objected that the method is unsuited to the basic task of the two dialogues, to differentiate philosopher from sophist and statesman, both because it fails to consider the worth or value of philosopher, sophist, and statesman adequately, and because it fails to divide things in accordance with “natural joints”.

In this presentation I defend the method of the visitor without thereby identifying him as a mouthpiece for Plato. I argue that critics have misunderstood both the aim of the method and the attitude toward honor or value characteristic of it. The procedures of collection and division are not aimed at dividing reality at its joints for the purpose of providing us with a “map” of natural kinds, as is commonly maintained; they are rather used in question-based inquiries for the purpose of differentiating one particular kind from others that closely resemble it, for instance philosophy from sophistry and statesmanship. In other words, the collections and divisions performed by the visitor, while aimed at revealing the nature of what they inquire into, are relative to the question pursued in the dialogues.

Moreover, the visitor deliberately disregards ordinary estimations of worth and honor in his pursuit of the ti esti- or ‘what is it’-questions of the two dialogues because such estimations are unreliable guides in settling these questions; for people’s estimations of the relative worth of philosophy, sophistry and statesmanship differ radically. This implies that, if we are to reach a nonarbitrary estimation of their worth, we first have to decide what they are or, more precisely, what work or function they perform. Revealing this work in its relation to, and difference from, other types of work resembling it is, I argue, the primary aim of collection and division in the Sophist and the Statesman."