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The Crane's Walk

Plato, Pluralism, and the Inconstancy of Truth

Jeremy Barris

Publication Year: 2009

In The Crane's Walk, Jeremy Barris seeks to show that we can conceive and live with a pluralism of standpoints with conflicting standards for truth--with the truth of each being entirely unaffected by the truth of the others. He argues that Plato's work expresses this kind of pluralism, and that this pluralism is important in its own right, whether or not we agree about what Plato's standpoint is.The longest tradition of Plato scholarship identifies crucial faults in Plato's theory of Ideas. Barris argues that Plato deliberately displayed those faults, because he wanted to demonstrate that basic kinds of error or illogic have dimensions that are crucial to the establishing of truth. These dimensions legitimate a paradoxical coordination of logically incompatible conceptions of truth. Connecting this idea with emerging currents of Plato scholarship, he emphasizes, in addition to the dialogues' arguments, the importance of their nonargumentative features, including drama, myths, fictions, anecdotes, and humor. These unanalyzed nonargumentative features function rigorously, as a lever with which to examine the enterprise of rational argument itself, without presupposing its standards or illegitimately assimilating any position to the standards of another.Today, communities are torn apart by conflicts within and between a host of different pluralist and absolutist commitments. The possibility developed in this book-a coordination of absolute and relative truth that allows an understanding of some relativist and some absolutist positions as being fully legitimate and as capable of existing in a relation to their opposites-may contribute to perspectives for resolving these conflicts.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

This is a book about establishing truth by a type of risk-taking, and the relation of that process to the nature of truth, to being one’s self, and to living responsibly in a pluralistic society. I say ‘‘establishing truth’’ and not ‘‘knowledge,’’ since I discuss truth not only as a property of knowledge but...


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pp. xi

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Introduction: Understandings of Plato and a Feature of Truth-Seeking Thought

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pp. 1-18

To try to understand the nature of truth might seem a very arrogant undertaking— and in an important sense, it is. But while not all of us try to understand the nature of truth, we all live as though we have already succeeded in understanding it...

Part I: Ideas of Truth and Knowledge

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pp. 19-114

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Introductory: Internal and External Connections

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pp. 21-25

A very good way to read Plato is, perhaps, the way Jacob Klein stunningly exemplifies.1 He reads each dialogue as it is presented to us by Plato, and pauses at each ambiguity to identify the different and often incompatible ways of understanding statements...

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Idea 1: Artificiality and Nature (Sometimes Being Is Something Else)

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pp. 26-36

For the presentation of this and the first few basic ideas, I must ask the reader’s indulgence. Aside from the already provisional nature of Part I with respect to Plato’s work, the initial discussion of the first few ideas must necessarily be incomplete...

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Idea 2: Knowledge as Intervention: Difficulties and Solutions

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pp. 37-52

The second idea I want to discuss as basic to Plato involves the relation between two properties or dimensions of knowledge. First, there is knowledge as true description, or an equivalent to true description, of what it is knowledge of. Second, there...

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Idea 3: A Philosophical Rhetoric

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pp. 53-57

The third general idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the nature of a philosophical rhetoric. All the ways of maintaining descriptive truth through interventive truth have to do with the presentation of truth or knowledge, including its presentation to oneself...

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Idea 4: Knowledge as Intervention: Advantages

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pp. 58-67

First, given that truth and having knowledge themselves have effects, knowledge has practical value even before its applications to specific activities. The most purely theoretical knowledge already is concretely effective just in being what it is...

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Idea 5: The Variegated Texture of Truth

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pp. 68-78

The fifth idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the nature of truth as a whole, truth considered in general. As I discussed in Idea 2 and Idea 3, if one takes into account the truth of truth itself, the self-incompatibility and self-externality of truth emerge...

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Idea 6: The Artificiality of Rigorous Thought and the Artificial Dimensions of Reality

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pp. 79-89

The sixth idea I want to discuss as basic to Plato is that the more rigorous thought is, the more artificial it is.1 That is, it is more redundant, adds less with respect to the truth of its subject matter, and to that degree is an unnecessary, artificial addition to what is naturally...

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Idea 7: The Risk of Rigorous Thought

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pp. 90-94

The seventh idea basic to Plato concerns the risk dimension of establishing truth. Because the initial thing to be explained gives the measure for the explaining principles and factors, as I discussed in Idea 6, one can find truth only after encountering the things...

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Idea 8: Mixture and Purity

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pp. 95-114

The eighth idea I believe is basic to Plato concerns the importance of the confused mixture of considerations, meanings, dimensions, characteristics, and viewpoints in which thinking (and acting) begins. In Idea 6 I argued that rigorous thought is artificial...

Part II: Truth and Love

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pp. 115

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1. What Plato Is About: An Overview

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pp. 117-145

I argued in Part I that what Plato’s works are about is not simply a content we can describe, but also involves an interventive dimension that we realize (in both senses of the word) by our own thinking, actions, and attitudes. And this interventive dimension will sometimes rightly falsify...

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2: Charmides: Lust, Love, and the Problem of Knowledge

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pp. 146-176

In this chapter I look at the whole of Plato’s Charmides. In the next chapter I explore some details of the overall structure of the argument of the Republic, and in Chapter 4, I look similarly at the trilogy of dialogues consisting of the...

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3. Republic: Justice, Knowledge, and the Problem of Love

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pp. 177-207

In this chapter, I discuss some details of the overall structure of the argument of the Republic. Like the Theaetetus, which I discuss in Chapter 4, this dialogue is widely regarded as written in Plato’s ‘‘middle’’ period. Together with the...

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4. Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman: The Tragicomedy of Knowledge, Reality, and Responsible Conduct

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pp. 208-235

In this chapter I explore some details of the general structure of the arguments presented in the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman.1 In doing so, I leave out a great deal that is both rich and relevant in these dialogues, but the more specific focus should...

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Conclusion: The Unevenly Even Consistency of Truth

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pp. 236-245

In his Posterior Analytics, Aristotle argues that knowledge is of universals, and therefore cannot be gained through sense perception: ‘‘Nor can one know [a thing] through sensation. . . . [S]ince demonstrations are universal, and since these...


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pp. 247-332


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pp. 333-347


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pp. 349-359

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246717
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823229130
Print-ISBN-10: 0823229130

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2009