In this new interpretation of Plato's Phaedo, Paul Stern considers the dialogue as an invaluable source for understanding the distinctive character of Socratic rationalism. First, he demonstrates, contrary to the charge of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Rorty, that Socrates' rationalism does not rest on the dogmatic presumption of the rationality of nature. Second, he shows that the distinctively Socratic mode of philosophizing is formulated precisely with a view to vindicating the philosophic life in the face of these uncertainties. And finally, he argues that this vindication results in a mode of inquiry that finds its ground in a clear understanding of the problematical but enduring human situation. Stern concludes that Socratic rationalism, aware as it is of the limits of reason, still provides a nondogmatic and nonarbitrary basis for human understanding.
Paul Stern is Assistant Professor of Politics at Ursinus College.