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1 This is not mysticism or secret doctrine. It is, in fact, the avoidance of dogmatism. but that is not all. Plato could not be expected to insert a treatise on dialectical method here, or risk an absolute definition which would only expose him to misinterpretation. The principles and methods of such reasoning, and the ultimate metaphysical conclusions to which they may lead, cannot be expounded in a page or a chapter. They can only be suggested to the intelligent, whose own experience will help them to understand. As the Republic and Laws entire explain Plato's idea of social good, so all the arguments in the dialogues illustrate his conception of fair and unfair argument. Cf. What Plato Said,Index s.v.Dialectics, and note f below.
3 On Plato's freedom from the dogmatism often attributed to him Cf. What Plato Said, p. 515 on Meno 86 B.
4 On Plato's freedom from the dogmatism often attributed to him Cf. What Plato Said, p. 515 on Meno 86 B.
5 The mystical implications of φήνειεν are not to be pressed. It is followed, as usual in Plato, by a matter-of-fact statement of the essential practical conclusion (γοῦν)that no man can be trusted to think straight in large matters who has not been educated to reason and argue straight.
6 Plato anticipates the criticism that he neglects experience.
7 i.e. dispute our statement and maintain. The meaning is plain. It is a case of what I have called illogical idiom. Cf. T.A.P.A. vol. xlvii. pp. 205-234. The meaning is that of Philebus 58 E, 59 A. Other “science” may be more interesting or useful, but sound dialectics alone fosters the disinterested pursuit of truth for its own sake. Cf. Soph. 295 C, Phaedr. 265-266. Aristotle, Topics i. 2. 6, practically comes back to the Platonic conception of dialectics. The full meaning of dialectics in Plato would demand a treatise. It is almost the opposite of what Hegelians call by that name, which is represented in Plato by the second part of the Parmenides. The characteristic Platonic dialectic is the checking of the stream of thought by the necessity of securing the understanding and assent of an intelligent interlocutor at every step, and the habit of noting all relevant distinctions, divisions, and ambiguities, in ideas and terms. When the interlocutor is used merely to relieve the strain on the leader's voice or the reader's attention, as in some of the later dialogues, dialectic becomes merely a literary form.
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