Is Socrates Free? The Theaetetus as Case Study

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5 Scopus citations


Most scholars agree that Plato’s concept of freedom, to the extent he has one, is ‘intellectualist’: true freedom is submission to the rule of reason through philosophical knowledge of rational order. Surprisingly, though, there are few explicit linkages of philosophy and freedom in Plato. Socrates is called many things in the dialogues, but not ‘free’. I aim to understand why by studying the Theaetetus, heretofore ignored in discussions of Platonic freedom. By examining the Digression (172c-177c) and Socrates’ ‘dream’ about wholes and parts (201c-206c), I show that describing freedom as ‘rule of reason’ simplifies what, for Plato, is a more tangled skein. In the Digression, philosophers are free in occupying a comprehensive standpoint transcending all limited and partial perspectives. Socrates’ dream, however, shows that logos cannot completely account for the knowledge of complex wholes or for itself as such a whole. Philosophical freedom cannot mean comprehensive discursive knowledge, then, since reason lacks a comprehensive grasp of itself. Socrates dreams of the rational whole, but is aware of why it remains only a dream, rather than wakeful knowledge. This awareness constitutes a freedom attained, not in total liberation from the confines of the partial human perspective, but within those confines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-641
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 4 Jul 2017


  • Digression
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Theaetetus
  • freedom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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