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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 21, Issue 2, Spring 2017

I-Kai Jeng
Pages 335-349
DOI: 10.5840/epoche201722779

Plato’s Sophist on the Goodness of Truth

“Late” Platonic dialogues are usually characterized as proposing a “scientific” understanding of philosophy, where “neutrality” is seen favorably, and being concerned with the honor of things and/or their utility for humans is considered an attitude that should be overcome through dialectical training. One dialogue that speaks strongly in favor of this reading is the Sophist, in which the stance of neutrality is explicitly endorsed in 227b-c. This paper will propose a reading of the Sophist showing that this common view of late Plato is misleading. It will argue for three things. First, 227b-c, when contextually understood, actually shows the limitation of being neutral. Second, that limitation compels the interlocutors in the rest of the conversation to pursue a non-neutral way of philosophizing about the sophist, contrary to the advice put forward in 227b-c. Finally, the non-neutral definition of the sophist that concludes the dialogue does not signal Plato’s preference for a non-neutral conception of philosophical knowledge either. A careful consideration of the dramatic ending suggests that he has reservations about it no less than he does about a neutral conception. The fact that both these conceptions had limitations perhaps explains why Plato, even in his late years, did not turn to the treatise format but remained within the dialogue: only in this form is it possible to retain both in philosophical logos.