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When he tries to apply the same method to the question about knowledge, however, Theaetetus does not know how to proceed.
In a justly celebrated image, Socrates, like an intellectual midwife, undertakes to assist him in giving birth to his ideas and in judging whether or not they are legitimate children.
The definition of clay as “earth mixed with water,” which is also evoked by Aristotle in 127a, is representative of the type of definition needed here.
Theaetetus offers the following mathematical example to show that he understands Socrates’ definitional requirements: the geometrical equivalents of what are now called “surds” could be grouped in one class and given a single name (“powers”) by dint of their common characteristic of irrationality or incommensurability.
In addition, we learn about the dialogue’s recording method: Euclid had heard the entire conversation from Socrates, he then wrote down his memoirs of the conversation, while checking the details with Socrates on subsequent visits to Athens.
Euclid’s role did not consist simply in writing down Socrates’ memorized version of the actual dialogue; he also chose to cast it in direct dialogue, as opposed to narrative form, leaving out such connecting sentences as “and I said” and “he agreed.” Finally, Euclid’s product is read for him and for Terpsion by a slave.
This latter skill is not one that ordinary midwives seem to have, but Socrates insists that they are the most reliable matchmakers, and in order to prove his assertion he draws upon an agricultural analogy: just as the farmer not only tends and harvests the fruits of the earth, but also knows which kind of earth is best for planting various kinds of seed, so the midwife’s art should include a knowledge of both “sowing” and “harvesting.” But unlike common midwives, Socrates’ art deals with the soul and enables him to distinguish and embrace true beliefs rather than false beliefs.
Despite this lack of a positive definition, the has been the source of endless scholarly fascination.As Socrates correctly observes, Theaetetus’ answer provides a list of instances of things of which there is knowledge.Socrates states three complaints against this response: (a) what he is interested in is the onething common to all the various examples of knowledge, not a multiplicity of different kinds of knowledge; (b) Theaetetus’ response is circular, because even if one knows that, say, cobbling is “knowledge of how to make shoes,” one cannot know what cobbling is, unless one knows what knowledge is; (c) The youth’s answer is needlessly long-winded, a short formula is all that is required.This is the only Platonic dialogue which is being read by a slave. ,” Theaetetus responds by giving a list of examples of knowledge, namely geometry, astronomy, harmonics, and arithmetic, as well as the crafts or skills () of cobbling and so on (146c–d).These he calls “knowledges,” presumably thinking of them as the various branches of knowledge.