Playful Philosophy and Serious Sophistry: Reversals in Plato's Euthydemus

Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi, Georgia, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Clay, Jenny, Department of Classics, University of Virginia

This dissertation aims to provide an interpretation of Plato's Euthydemus as a unified piece of literature, taking into account both its dramatic and its philosophical aspects. It argues that the Socratic arguments are fraught with fallacies, and so the serious philosopher can occasionally employ play. Further, it argues that, unbeknownst to them, the sophists, accused of playfulness by Socrates, often raise rather serious questions. Moreover, there are multiple explicit references to play and seriousness in the dialogue, which develop into a motif, itself connected with the motif of laughter. The final occurrence of laughter has morbid undertones, clearly reminiscent of the 'last laugh' of the suitors in the Homeric Odyssey. While one kind of laughter and play is endorsed by Socrates, another is tied together with death at an intellectual level. As the dialogue progresses, Socratics and sophists seem to exchange roles: while it is originally the followers of Socrates who are laughed at and reduced to silence by the sophists, in the final scene the sophists are laughed at and reduced to silence by the Socratics, themselves now imitating eristic practices. These reversals at the dramatic level are coupled with similar reversals illustrated by the arguments: the sophists in the final scene make claims reminiscent of Recollection and the Theory of Forms, while Socrates temporarily employs the eristic method of argumentation. The Euthydemus points not only at the differences between Socrates and the sophists, but also at the actual or alleged similarities resulting from the employment of fallacy, common to both parties, and from sophistic distortions of Platonic views. The framing scenes comment precisely on this aspect of the internal dialogue, with Crito lumping together philosophy and eristic.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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