DIALECTICAL SWORDPLAY IN PLATO’S LACHES
AbstractScholarly attempts to understand Plato’s distinction betweenphilosophy and sophistry typically concentrate on explicit thematicdiscussions or on dialogues in which primary characters are wellknown sophists or rhetoricians. By contrast, this paper elucidatesthe nature of sophistical speech by means of an interpretationof Laches, a Socratic dialogue with two Athenian generals aboutcourage. Textual argument is provided to show that one of thetwo primary interlocutors, Nicias, attempts to avoid refutation bymeans of certain dialectical defence mechanisms. The nature of thesedefence mechanisms is analysed and shown to imply a form ofdiscursive self-alienation, that is, an unwillingness to say what onereally thinks about virtue. Socrates’ elenchus is then interpreted as anattempt to penetrate Nicias’s dialectical defences in order toreconnect him to a pre-theoretical self-understanding from whichphilosophy must take root.
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