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Bitter Knowledge

Learning Socratic Lessons of Disillusion and Renewal

Thomas D. Eisele

Publication Year: 2009

Thomas Eisele explores the premise that the Socratic method of inquiry need not teach only negative lessons (showing us what we do not know, but not what we do know). Instead, Eisele contends, the Socratic method is cyclical: we start negatively by recognizing our illusions, but end positively through a process of recollection performed in response to our disillusionment, which ultimately leads to renewal. Thus, a positive lesson about our resources as philosophical investigators, as students and teachers, becomes available to participants in Socrates’ robust conversational inquiry. Bitter Knowledge includes Eisele’s detailed readings of Socrates’ teaching techniques in three fundamental Platonic dialogues, Protagoras, Meno, and Theaetetus, as well as his engagement with contemporary authorities such as Gregory Vlastos, Martha Nussbaum, and Stanley Cavell. Written in a highly engaging and accessible style, this book will appeal to students and scholars in philosophy, classics, law, rhetoric, and education.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. vii

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pp. xiii-xvii

Every teacher knows the trepidation felt prior to entering the classroom; not simply the knot in one’s stomach, but also the gnawing doubts about the lesson plan for the day, or anxieties about how one will connect—or fail to connect—with that particular group of students. Similarly, students know the fears and concerns that an approaching class can evoke. ...

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-32

When, as an undergraduate philosophy major, I first read some of Plato’s dialogues, I did not find them fascinating, nor was I captivated by the figure of Socrates. The dialogues were assigned texts; I was a diligent student, so I did the assigned reading. At the time, my main concern was to try to understand the dialogues as vehicles for Plato’s thoughts about what my teachers had told me were some of Plato’s central...

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2: Who Can Teach Us? And What Can They Teach Us?

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pp. 33-82

We can begin to explore how a typical Socratic conversation is conducted by examining the Protagoras, which presents us with a set of such conversations. Most commentators on the Protagoras rate the dialogue very high as to its level of dramatic mastery and philosophical accomplishment.3 Myles Burnyeat, in a “Foreword” to the Hubbard and...

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3: The Poverty of Socratic Questioning

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pp. 83-128

Many people have noted the philosophical richness of the Meno, with its compressed treatment of a host of interesting topics. For example, in the Library of Liberal Arts edition, 2 Fulton Anderson begins his introduction to the dialogue with words of praise: “The Meno is described by Walter Pater as the ‘most characteristic dialogue of Plato.’ John Stuart Mill calls it a ‘gem’ among Platonic works, and most aptly...

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4: The Labor of Socratic Inquiry

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pp. 129-194

When we examined the Protagoras, I began by noting that Socrates found something surprising in his experience—namely, his fascination with Protagoras and his consequent neglect of Alcibiades, something that it was worthwhile for him to relate to his conversational companion. And it was from this point of interest that the dialogue began...

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5: Learning to Find Ourselves at a Loss

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pp. 195-236

If Stanley Cavell is correct in thinking that “philosophical ideas reveal their good only in stages,” then I might trace the developing stages in my idea of Socratic conversational inquiry as follows: In the Protagoras, we see Socrates argue for treating conversation as the preferred way to care philosophically for our soul, or our self. Food for the soul—which...

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pp. 237-260

Readers of this book might ask, in relation to my discussion of Socrates and his method of conversational inquiry, “How much of this material do you manage to use in your law school classes?” I use all of it, when the occasion and the materials being studied call for it. Knowing when Socratic conversational inquiry is called for, and when not, is a part of...


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pp. 261-326


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pp. 327-336


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pp. 337-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780268078638
E-ISBN-10: 0268078637
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268027742
Print-ISBN-10: 0268027749

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2009