Volume 27, Issue 1, Fall 2022
Dylan S. Bailey
Midwifery and Epistemic Virtue in the Theaetetus
The Theaetetus’s midwife metaphor contains a puzzling feature, often referred to as the “midwife paradox”: the physical midwives must have first given birth to their own children in order to have the necessary experience to practice their art. Socrates, however, seems to disavow having any children of his own and thus appears to be unqualified to practice philosophical midwifery. In this paper, I aim to dissolve the midwife paradox by arguing that it rests on problematic assumptions, namely, that Socrates never gave birth to a child at all or the child of wisdom in particular, and that he is primarily an intellectual midwife. I offer a new interpretation of Socratic midwifery, arguing that what Socrates may have birthed in the past which qualifies him for midwifery is his virtuous recognition of his ignorance, and that this “epistemic virtue” is also the proximate goal of Socratic midwifery.