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Maynooth Philosophical Papers

Volume 6, 2011

Ivor Ludlam
Pages 18-44
DOI: 10.5840/mpp201164

Thrasymachus in Plato’s Politeia I

This is part of a forthcoming book analysing Plato’s Politeia as a philosophical drama, in which the participants turn out to be models of various types of psychic constitution, and nothing is said by them which may be considered to be an opinion of Plato himself (with all that that entails for Platonism). The debate in Book I between Socrates and Thrasymachus serves as a test case for the assumptions that the Socratic method involves searching for truth or examining the opinions of interlocutors and that Socrates is the mouthpiece of Plato. Socrates and Thrasymachus are usually assumed to be arguing about justice. In fact, they are going through the motions of an eristic debate, where the aim is not to discover the truth about the matter under discussion but to defeat the opponent by fair means or foul, but especially foul. The outrageous wordplay used by both men is not so obvious in translation, and in any case tends to be ignored or explained away by scholars who assume that Plato the philosopher was writing a philosophical treatise (an exposition of philosophical ideas) and not a philosophical drama (a presentation of philosophically interesting models, to be compared and contrasted by the reader).