previous next
[533c] are, as we see, dreaming1 about being, but the clear waking vision2 of it is impossible for them as long as they leave the assumptions which they employ undisturbed and cannot give any account3 of them. For where the starting-point is something that the reasoner does not know, and the conclusion and all that intervenes is a tissue of things not really known,4 what possibility is there that assent5 in such cases can ever be converted into true knowledge or science?” “None,” said he.

“Then,” said I, “is not dialectics the only process of inquiry that advances in this manner, doing away with hypotheses, up to the first principle itself in order to find confirmation there? And it is literally true that when the eye of the soul6 is sunk

1 The interpreters of Plato must allow for his Emersonian habit of hitting each nail in turn as hard as he can. There is no real contradiction between praising mathematics in comparison with mere loose popular thinking, and disparaging it in comparison with dialectics. There is no evidence and no probability that Plato is here proposing a reform of mathematics in the direction of modern mathematical logic, as has been suggested. Cf. on 527 A. It is the nature of mathematics to fall short of dialectics.

2 Cf. Phileb. 20 B and on 520 C, p. 143, note g.

3 Cf. on 531 E.

4 The touch of humor is the expression may be illustrated by Lucian, Hermotimus 74, where it is used to justify Lucian's skepticism even of mathematics, and by Hazlitt's remark on Coleridge, “Excellent talker if you allow him to start from no premises and come to no conclusion.”

5 Or “admission.” Plato thinks of even geometrical reasoning as a Socratic dialogue. Cf. the exaggeration of this idea by the Epicureans in Cic.De fin. i. 21 “quae et a falsis initiis profecta, vera esse non possunt: et si essent vera nihil afferunt quo iucundius, id est, quo melius viveremus.” Dialectic proceeds διὰ συγχωρήσεων, the admission of the interlocutor. Cf. Laws 957 D, Phaedr. 237 C-D, Gorg. 487 E, Lysis 219 C, Prot. 350 E, Phileb. 12 A, Theaet. 162 A, 169 D-E, I 64 C, Rep. 340 B. But such admissions are not valid unless when challenged they are carried back to something satisfactory—ἱκανόν—(not necessarily in any given case to the idea of good). But the mathematician as such peremptorily demands the admission of his postulates and definitions. Cf. 510 B-D, 511 B.

6 Cf. on 519 B, p. 138, note a.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Notes (James Adam)
load focus Greek (1903)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: