When you first begin reading Plato’s dialogues, they seem like inscrutable word-problems. Complicated head-spinning exchanges that, by the time you reach the end, have you ready to face-plant onto your desk. But the more you dip into them, the more you realise how unbelievably subtle and sophisticated they are. And, when you start to master them, the beauty in the whole just becomes awe inspiring. Here’s a little nugget of poetic insight that only just occurred to me this week.
Why does Socrates spend so much effort defining and describing the soul in so much detail in the Phaedrus? He tells us outright, in the dialogue. It is because no man can gain true knowledge from a speech, if the orator does not himself know how his speech is going to guide the soul to its first memory of the unified reality of beauty, found in the divine realm. Dialectic is the way to wisdom, and dialectic can only be achieved through speech.