n Akroterion - Dialectical swordplay in Plato’s Laches

Volume 63 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0303-1896
  • E-ISSN: 2079-2883
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Scholarly attempts to understand Plato’s distinction between philosophy and sophistry typically concentrate on explicit thematic discussions or on dialogues in which primary characters are well known sophists or rhetoricians. By contrast, this paper elucidates the nature of sophistical speech by means of an interpretation of Laches, a Socratic dialogue with two Athenian generals about courage. Textual argument is provided to show that one of the two primary interlocutors, Nicias, attempts to avoid refutation by means of certain dialectical defence mechanisms. The nature of these defence mechanisms is analysed and shown to imply a form of discursive self-alienation, that is, an unwillingness to say what one really thinks about virtue. Socrates’ elenchus is then interpreted as an attempt to penetrate Nicias’s dialectical defences in order to reconnect him to a pre-theoretical self-understanding from which philosophy must take root.

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