A Few Quotes on the Issue of Questions

Here are some supplementary quotes related to my last post on the Phenomenon of Questioning for you to chew on:

The Cleitophon is the shortest of the Platonic dialogues and is often assumed to be spurious due to its defects, that it is not worthy of the pen of Plato. I disagree. I think the defects are just the “cracks to let the light in” (Leonard Cohen). The dialogue suggests that it is an antechamber to the Grand Mansion of the Republic. Cleitophon is a young student of Socrates who has just left his master to become the student of Thrasymachus. (Both obviously make appearances in the Republic itself.) The reason for his frustration with Socrates is stated in the following question:

I ask you, my very good Sirs, in what sense do we now accept the exhortation to virtue which Socrates has given us. Are we to regard it as all there is, and suppose it to be impossible to pursue the object [e.g. virtue] further and grasp it fully? And is this to be our lifelong task, just to exhort those who have not as yet been exhorted, and that they in turn should exhort others? What is the next step?”  (Cleitophon 408d1-e2; cf. Slings 1999, 302)

In other words, is there anything in Socratic teaching other than the desire to search for virtue. Is it just the searching for an ever retreating target that’s the thing, or should we expect something more, like perhaps, to know virtue itself? Any serious student of Plato must grapple with this question in some form. However, Socrates remains surprisingly mute to it; the dialogue ends with the question, but includes no answer — hence the charge that the dialogue is defective. (Perhaps the answer given in the Republic itself…)


I mentioned parenthetically Meno’s Paradox in my Question post. Although Socrates seems to dismiss the question as a debater’s trick (as it surely is for Meno), I think the question has an interesting philosophical depth:

Meno: “How will you look for it [e.g. virtue], Socrates, when you do not know what it is? How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing that you did not know?”
Socrates: “I know what you want to say, Meno. Do you realize what a debater’s argument you are bringing up, that a man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know? He cannot search for what he knows–since he knows it, there is no need to search–nor for what he does not know, for he does not know what to look for.” (Meno, Grube/Cooper translation, 80d-e)


“It is not in the nature of human beings to let things that interest us go unthought about. ‘What is it?’ and ‘Why?’ are not just modes of speaking and thinking; they are living ways of standing in and toward the world. In the face of our most powerful experiences, those questions may not get fully answered, but it is intolerable for them to go entirely unanswered either, and impossible for them to go unasked. For good or ill, to be greatly and noticeably affected by anything, and not to seek its cause, is no part of life as we live it. If that were not so, if we refrained from all reflection, important things could happen to us without becoming part of our experience at all. Life would pass through us without being lived by us.” — Joe Sachs, in the introduction to his translation of Aristotle: Poetics, Focus Philosophical Press, 2006, p. 1.


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