Date of Submission
Weierter, S. (2010). Platonic prophecy and the possibility of philosophy (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4226/66/5a96082ec6841
In this thesis I explore the question of the possibility of philosophy. Initially I frame this question in response to Aristophanes' portrayal of Socrates in his Clouds. According to Aristophanes, Socrates' philosophical way of life is comedic, in so far as he is unable to distinguish the serious from the trivial. It is also dangerous, because in placing the serious and the trivial on the same foundation, Socrates liberates what was bound by way of traditional practice. Philosophy, according to Aristophanes' accusation, is ignorant of everyday life, for it is concerned with the theoretical and insubstantial. The question of the possibility of philosophy is, I argue, central to how Plato might be understood. If philosophy is nothing more than culture and history, if it is really nothing, then Plato's dialogues might only be read as historical fiction. I will argue that to read Plato with this assumption is to anachronistically limit what can be known by way of philosophical practice. Consequently, I argue that we must approach Plato in the spirit in which he writes, in so doing giving up on those assumptions which might preclude us from understanding philosophy as a way of life. Having thus outlined my interpretive credo, and opened up the debate around traditional practice and philosophical theory, I move on to examine the foundation of the religious tradition - divine wisdom. Bringing divine wisdom back from the past into the present is the religious prophet who, along with the philosopher, seeks to live not just according to tradition, but according to truth. An examination of the religious prophet is also, therefore, an examination of the limits of philosophy. With an interpretation of Plato's Euthyphro I show that the foundational speech of the religious prophet - Euthyphro - is rooted in his distorted philosophical desire; a desire sated in eternity only with the perversion of history.;In all, Plato shows that it is a lack of self?knowledge, brought about a pious devotion to history, which separates the prophet from the philosopher. Turning to Plato's Phaedo I explore Plato's understanding of the possibility of philosophy. In this dialogue Socrates, on the day he is to be put to death, tells his friends that philosophy is a practice for dying. He fears not his own death, he says, for the soul is immortal. Philosophy, it would seem, is founded on prophecy. In the Phaedo we come to see the nature of this prophetic insight. In the first half of the dialogue Socrates introduces death as in a cycle with life and argues, from this position, of the ongoing existence of the soul. Yet, as I will show, in making the soul immortal Socrates denies death and thereby calls into question the practice of philosophy. After disagreements from his friends he approaches the question of the soul's immortality from within the circumference of his own life. From here, death does have significance. Death, we come to see, both defines our temporality and is the path through which we approach eternity. Philosophy is possible, according to my interpretation of Plato, because our soul attains itself through the intelligibility of the lifeless things?in?themselves, such intelligibility itself providing the foundation to our own existence - a foundation inaccessible to philosophical analysis.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Theology and Philosophy