Clitophon’s Challenge
Dialectic in Plato's Meno, Phaedo, and Republic

by Hugh H. Benson

The end of Plato’s Clitophon can be seen to raise something like the following challenge: How is one to acquire (learn) the knowledge Socrates has so persuasively shown to be essential to virtue and apparently absent from us all.Clitophon’s Challenge explores Plato’s response to this challenge from the Apology, Laches, Euthyphro, and Protagoras through the Meno, Phaedo, and Republic. Two general approaches are continually mentioned: learning from those who already have the knowledge one seeks and seeking to discover the knowledge on one’s own or de novo inquiry. In dialogues from the Apology to the Meno, Socrates appears to recommend the former approach while at the same time raising significant difficulties for its success. Beginning in the Meno, the second approach comes to the fore in the form of the method of hypothesis. Through a careful examination of the nature of this method, its purpose, and its structure, as it is described and depicted in the Meno, Phaedo, and Republic, the book defends the controversial thesis that the method of hypothesis so understood and when practiced correctly is Plato’s recommended method of learning at least for embodied souls. As such the method of hypothesis is Plato’s dialectical method and his considered response to Clitophon’s challenge.

Oxford University Press (May, 2015) 328 Pages