Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How convincing, Socrates

Though it is not clear by the end of Book I what justice means or how to uphold it, Socrates' position is far more solid than that of Thrasymachus. In his Speech Act Theory, J.L. Austin defines the use of language specifically for the purpose of performing an action as performative speech, which both Socrates and Thrasymachus use to different ends. Socrates, claiming he knows nothing of justice, wishes to perform the action of gaining knowledge. Whether Socrates agrees with or doubts what Thrasymachus says in response to his questioning, he makes clear what he thinks in return. That is to say, Socrates' performative force is simple and mostly explicit. As Austin notes, "certain performatives are only effective if uttered by authorized people" (EP p.13) and "for the performative to count, it must be uttered conventionally, completely, correctly, and sincerely [...]" (EP p.14). If Socrates knew the true definition of justice, his endless questioning would neither be effective nor fair. For his purpose of learning, Socrates' speech performs what it is intended for, at least in avoiding being misled into gaining false knowledge.

Overhearing the debate, Thrasymachus impatiently wishes to join in largely because "he thought that he had an excellent answer, and would distinguish himself" (TR p.12). Thraysmachus' intentions for joining the conversation (and therefore his speech), however, fall victim to the phenomenon of perlocution, in which he mistakes Socrates' ignorance as arrogance. Although his words are designed to perform the actions of discrediting and informing Socrates, Thrasymachus lacks the true authority to speak on the subject of justice (as shown by Socrates), which undermines the basic effectiveness of his persuasion.

True, Socrates has not successfully performed the action of gaining knowledge of justice, but he has, in a sense, gained knowledge of that which justice is not. On the other hand, Thrasymachus has neither illuminated the true meaning of justice nor can he uphold the beliefs he previously held. If there were a debate scorecard, it would read Socrates 0, Thrasymachus -1, with no real winner so far, but a clear loser.


Blogger RyanG said...

The fact that you state Socrates knows nothing is interesting. What he does and what most philosophizers do is claim to know nothing to define a question, comment, or an idea. If not this then at least the basic principal that every man has an opinon about a given subject A man without an opinon shouldn't speak in debate becasue then he doesn't really know. This is just my interpretation though of man.

11:39 AM  

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