Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
J. Clerk Shaw
Nicholas Baima, E.J. Coffman, Justin Arft
In this dissertation, I ask and answer the question “What is a belief ‘worth risking’ in Plato?” This question arises in light of some peculiar passages in the dialogues, particularly in the Meno and the Phaedo, in which Plato’s Socrates appears to advocate for adopting certain beliefs specifically in virtue of their goodness rather than their likelihood of being true. I claim that the reason for this is that Socrates regards the meaningful possibility of successful inquiry as being uncertain given certain challenges: namely, Meno’s paradox (which threatens the possibility of inquiry as such) and the formidable threat of hopelessness on the part of the would-be inquirer, given the difficulty of actually arriving at knowledge of how to live well—at least during this lifetime. I argue that, because Socrates regards inquiry as the first moral imperative for one who wants to live well but lacks knowledge of how to do so—i.e. knowledge of virtue—he accepts certain “grounding” beliefs that are necessary for getting such inquiry “off the ground.” These beliefs—specifically, in the anamnesis myth as it appears in Meno and in a happy afterlife for philosophers as presented in the myths of the Gorgias and Phaedo, are “worth risking” because of what they will do for believers; because they can’t be proved by logical demonstration, they must be posited as a matter of faith—because they must be true if we are to be unwavering in the search for the good life, and the alternative to this is intolerable for one who is committed to living well rather than badly.
Carden, Clayton Willis, "On Beliefs "Worth Risking" in Plato. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2023.