chapter  5
11 Pages

Gadamer and the game of dialectic in Plato’s Gorgias


In this chapter I will examine Plato’s method of dialectic (understood as the method of using dialogue) as it is presented in his Gorgias. What I hope to explore are some of the rules of dialectic which I believe are offered to us by Plato through the verbal perambulations of his protagonist, Socrates. Plato is indelibly associated with the method of dialectic he espoused, yet despite the celebrated role of this methodology certain ambiguities arise as to its workings and, indeed, boundaries. For example, are all dialogues of philosophical worth? What is it that distinguishes a dialogue from an argument? What must a discussant bring to a dialogue in order for the discussion to progress, and what is the educative (and philosophical) value of such discussions? I believe that Plato’s Gorgias addresses these questions and sets the boundaries of dialectic like no other work. Yet I also believe that these boundaries are set in the same way as those of a game. I do not mean that dialectic is similar to any particular game that currently exists (or that existed), but rather that it operates in a common way to games. Of course, the notion of game-playing, when taken in general and used in this way as a form of comparison, might appear as being rather vague, somewhat broad, and even rather randomly chosen. As a way of countering these issues and providing a more solid frame to this chapter, I will sew my argument with the threads of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s conceptual framework of play.1 I do this as a way of identifying play’s most fundamental features, and showing how these features are in fact shared by Platonic dialectic, thereby giving us a better understanding of Plato’s method.