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Plato and the Method of Analysis

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image of Phronesis

Late ancient Platonists and Aristotelians describe the method of reasoning to first principles as "analysis." This is a metaphor from geometrical practice. How far back were philosophers taking geometric analysis as a model for philosophy, and what work did they mean this model to do? After giving a logical description of analysis in geometry, and arguing that the standard (not entirely accurate) late ancient logical description of analysis was already familiar in the time of Plato and Aristotle, I argue that Plato, in the second geometrical passage of the Meno (86e4-87b2), is taking analysis as a model for one kind of philosophical reasoning, and I explore the advantages and limits of this model for philosophical discovery, and in particular for how first principles can be discovered, without circularity, by argument.


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