D B Futter


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.


Plato; Socrates; Laches, Nicias, Sophistry, Elenchus

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/63-0-992


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