Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 5, TT23)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

At Theaetetus 201d-202c, Socrates shares his famous Dream – a theory that aims to explain the definition ‘Knowledge is True Belief accompanied by Logos’ and claims that knowable compounds are made up of unknowable elements. The passage that follows (202d-206c) is often referred to as the Dream’s Refutation, where Socrates argues against the claim that elements cannot be known, and employs a Theoretical Argument and an Argument from Experience.


There is broad consensus amongst scholars that the Theoretical Argument is faulty because it assumes a wrong mereological premise: either a whole is equal to the sum of its (elementary) parts, or it is itself an element. The option that a whole may be a unified sum of its parts but not equal to them is not considered. Some scholars further claim that the Argument from Experience assumes the same faulty premise.  


I support the view that the Theoretical Argument is not faulty; it is an ad hominem attack against the Dream, which allows only for the two mentioned options. Further, I claim that the Argument from Experience introduces the missing component that would allow for the third option: it mentions an element's position (thesis), thus introducing structure to the compound. Under this reading, we can understand 202d-206c as an Amendment of the Dream, not a Refutation, and this solves some unanswered questions in secondary literature.  

Chair: Andrea Buongiorno

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Alexander Bown