15. Socrates: Seeker or Preacher?
The first thing that is likely to come to mind when one considers the nature of Socratic moral inquiry in Plato's dialogues is the seemingly ubiquitous “What is x? ” question. Aristotle, in the Metaphysics , affirms the centrality of this question for Socrates: “Socrates made the moral virtues his business ( tas ēthikas aretas pragmateuomenou ), and was the first to seek to define them [each] as a whole ( katholou ) … he reasonably sought what it is ( to ti esti )” ( Metaphysics XIII.iv.1078b17–30). Socrates typically proposes that the “What is x? ” question be investigated together by him and his interlocutor and even asks, not infrequently, that the interlocutor enlighten him with respect to it. It is indeed this question in its various permutations that launches the conversation in many of the dialogues: “What is holiness?” in the Euthyphro ; “What is temperance?” in the Charmides ; “What is friendship?” in the Lysis ; “What is courage?” in the Laches ; “What is rhetoric?” in the Gorgias ; “What is virtue?” in the Meno ; “What is beauty?” in the Greater Hippias ; “What is justice?” in Republic I. Moreover, the question's weight and importance are amplified by the frequently expressed Socratic insistence that one cannot know anything about the x in question (or in some cases that one cannot recognize instances of the x in question) until one has an adequate ... log in or subscribe to read full text
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