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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 17, 2020

Complex Wisdom in the Euthydemus

  • Joshua I. Fox EMAIL logo
From the journal Apeiron


In the Euthydemus, Socrates is presented as an eager student of seemingly trivial arts, earning derision both for desiring to master the peculiar art of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus and for studying the harp in his old age. I explain Socrates’ interest in these apparently trivial arts by way of a novel reading of the first protreptic argument, suggesting that the wisdom Socrates praises is complex in nature, securing the happiness of its possessor only insofar as it is composed of both ordinary productive knowledge and ethically productive knowledge. This reading of the first protreptic makes sense of the otherwise perplexing second protreptic, explaining why Socrates is so keen to identify an art which makes what it uses. Wisdom acts as a reliable source of benefit only insofar as it is a complex composed of multiple different arts and types of knowledge. These arts, however, can only be acquired one at a time – if no single art is capable of combining the powers of both ordinary productive knowledge and ethically productive knowledge in the way that wisdom as a whole does, then the pursuit of wisdom will fail to offer reliable benefit despite the reliably beneficial nature of its possession. Thus, it is appropriate for the Euthydemus to conclude with Socrates telling Crito to take courage and pursue philosophy despite the seemingly harmful effects that its pursuit has had on others. Euthydemus and Dionysodorus represent the danger facing the aspiring philosopher, the possibility of being ruined by independent possession of the particular kind of ordinary productive knowledge on which philosophical activity depends – verbal mastery, the grasp of subtle conceptual distinctions needed both to argumentatively reveal reality and to argumentatively obscure it, to reliably equivocate and to reliably avoid equivocation.


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Published Online: 2020-09-17
Published in Print: 2020-09-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter Inc., Boston/Berlin

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