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Consistency and Akrasia in Plato's Protagoras

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image of Phronesis

Relatively little attention has been paid to Socrates' argument against akrasia in Plato's Protagoras as an example of Socratic method. Yet seen from this perspective the argument has some rather unusual features: in particular, the presence of an impersonal interlocutor ("the many") and the absence of the crisp and explicit argumentation that is typical of Socratic elenchus. I want to suggest that these features are problematic, considerably more so than has sometimes been supposed, and to offer a reading of the argument that accounts for them. My reading revolves around the connections between Socratic method, consistency and akrasia. I argue that Socrates' discussion of akrasia aims at exposing the interlocutor's inconsistency, and to this extent is typical of Socratic inquiry; but it is also untypical, insofar as Socrates' chief concern here is with the inconsistency between an interlocutor's statements and his actions (what I call "word-deed inconsistency") rather than, as more usually, inconsistency among an interlocutor's various statements ("word-word inconsistency"). I use this reading to show how the akrasia argument, despite its untypical features, is not just a variant, but in an important way a paradigm, of Socratic method.


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