McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Error, Historical Characters, Plato, Time, Virtue
Plato presents Socrates as an ethical example and a political warning. Other characters serve other philosophical functions. Alcibiades--the worst man in the democracy--and Critias--the worst in the oligarchy--are the most notorious characters.. This dissertation argues that Plato uses these characters in order to open a diachronic dimension in the synchronic accounts of the dialogues. This dimension turns historical characters into paradigmatic characters and allows the reader to evaluate the accounts people give in terms of the lives that they lead. In order to make a case for philosophy, Plato needs to make it clear that bad accounts have negative ethical effects, particularly over a period of time. The use of paradigmatic characters like Alcibiades and Critias allows him to make this case in the strongest possible way, while also allowing him to explore the relationship between time and virtue. I show that the connection between time and virtue explains not only individual decline, but also the historical decline described in Republic VIII.
I offer close readings of the Protagoras, the Alcibiades I, the Symposium, the Timaeus-Critias, the Charmides and the Republic in order to show Plato's creation and use of the diachronic dimension surrounding paradigmatic characters in order to show the effects of time on virtue. In so doing, I substantially contribute to our understanding of (1) Plato's use of historical characters; (2) his understanding of the human experience of time; and (3) the nature of Socratic intellectualism and its relationship to error. I show that Socrates uses elenctic questioning in order to avoid the self-forgetfulness in the face of time that allowed both Alcibiades and Critias to become so vicious, even while intending to do the good.
Woods, J. (2004). Plato's Villains: The Ethical Implications of Plato's Portrayal of Alcibiades and Critias (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1381