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Descent of Socrates

Self-Knowledge and Cryptic Nature in the Platonic Dialogues

Peter Warnek

Publication Year: 2005

Since the appearance of Plato's Dialogues, philosophers have been preoccupied with the identity of Socrates and have maintained that successful interpretation of the work hinges upon a clear understanding of what thoughts and ideas can be attributed to him. In Descent of Socrates, Peter Warnek offers a new interpretation of Plato by considering the appearance of Socrates within Plato's work as a philosophical question. Warnek reads the Dialogues as an inquiry into the nature of Socrates and in doing so opens up the relationship between humankind and the natural world. Here, Socrates appears as a demonic and tragic figure whose obsession with the task of self-knowledge transforms the history of philosophy. In this uncompromising work, Warnek reveals the importance of the concept of nature in the Platonic Dialogues in light of Socratic practice and the Ancient ideas that inspire contemporary philosophy.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Studies in Continental Thought

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pp. xi-xviii

...not directly, what the measure of this life would be, how this whole of life might receive its measure. But the statement does suggest that to give oneself over to these speeches, to be devoted to receiving them and what is at issue in them, is a task that takes over one’s life as a whole. It is already to allow one’s life to receive a certain measure, and to let it be determined thereby as a whole...

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p. xix-xix

Although this book was written only with the encouragement and support of numerous friends, colleagues, and students, I wish to make known the exceptional gratitude I feel toward a few individuals. I wish to thank my colleagues in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oregon for supporting my research and affirming its importance. I also wish...


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p. 1-1

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1. Reading Plato with a Difference: Socrates, Beautiful and New

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pp. 3-27

There is no disputing that Socrates marks a decisive turning point in Greek philosophy, and thus in Western philosophy as a whole. But is it not then all the more remarkable that this Socratic event continues to provoke our questioning, that it is still able to challenge and even subvert the most established interpretations of it? That the question of Socrates continues to...

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2. Socrates and the Retreat of Nature: Suffering a Simple Teacher of Ethics

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pp. 28-46

I began this discussion taking up the way in which historical understanding finds itself at a loss before the event of Socrates. There is a way in which the entire philosophical tradition remains caught up in the descensional appearance of Socrates, even as that history produces its image of Socrates.Yet Socrates is not just subjected to this operation, not merely an effect of...


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p. 47-47

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3. The Purest Thinker of the West and the Older Accusations in the Apology

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pp. 49-66

“He wrote nothing,” Heidegger states confidently. One might well wonder, however, where Heidegger believes himself to have met this Socrates. Is this not a good phenomenological question, the question, namely, of access? How does the phenomenon appear? How does it show itself? Does Heidegger refer here to the so-called historical Socrates, a Socrates who would wish also to remain outside all texts? And should...

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4. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Nature, Rhetoric, and Refutation in the Gorgias

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pp. 67-86

Before I proceed along these lines any further, I would like to interrupt this reading of the Apology long enough to insert a discussion of the Gorgias, and in particular the accusation made by Callicles against Socrates as it is issued near the very center of that dialogue, namely that in his refutative encounters with Polus and Gorgias, Socrates exploits and yet covers...

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5. Silenic Wisdom in the Apology and Phaedo

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pp. 87-115

We saw in chapter 3 that the deep-seated prejudices against Socrates can be traced back to the way in which his refutative practice is taken by many as a claim to wisdom (Apol. 23a). Socrates, in “making the weaker speech stronger,” appears to many as arrogant and hubristic. We have just seen how the Gorgias offers an exemplary demonstration of this movement of...


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p. 116-116

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6. Teiresias in Athens: Socrates as Educator in the Meno

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pp. 119-140

In this chapter I shall restrict my discussion primarily to a reading of one dialogue with a view toward opening up how the doubling of nature, as it opens up the “kinship” of all things, also imposes upon human life the task of self-knowledge. Because the Meno does not seem to provide conclusive answers to the questions it raises thematically, it is often taken to be an...

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7. Typhonic Eros and the Place of the Phaedrus

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pp. 141-169

The Phaedrus will always offer one of the indispensable starting points for taking up the way Socratic philosophical practice situates human life within nature, both in its relation to nature and also as it shows itself to belong to nature, showing itself to be of nature. Such a relation and such belonging can be said to be revealed, however, through a tragic rupturing of...

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8. Truth and Friendship

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pp. 170-193

To be able to question along with Socrates, to be exposed to the dialogical questioning that is enacted with him, presupposes that one can rely upon a Platonic transmission, that one then will be able to experience the text also as a form of response, as the reception and repetition of an originally Socratic movement. The very belonging together of Plato and Socrates...

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An Ending

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pp. 194-196

This book began by asking how the sense of the friendship between Socrates and Plato, as the tradition they establish, can be transformed by attending to the strangeness and singularity of Socrates as he appears in Plato’s text, a strangeness that reveals their way of belonging together in a difference or doubling. It has ended with an account of Socratic friendship as an ecstatic...


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pp. 197-220


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pp. 221-228


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pp. 229-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111517
E-ISBN-10: 025311151X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346773

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Studies in Continental Thought