How to Do Things with Fictions by Joshua Landy

If the Symposium, Gorgias, and Protagoras are heavily laden with Platonic irony, and if that irony has nevertheless gone unnoticed by the vast majority of readers, should we not admit that the dramatic gulf between construction and reception bespeaks a marked deficiency on Plato's part? On the contrary. By allowing so many to miss the point of the dialogues in question, Platonic irony has not failed but rather fulfilled its primary function, that of audience partition. While every other text "rolls about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn't know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not," Plato's writings divide their recipients into three separate groups, driving some people away by giving the impression of irremediable incompetence, encouraging others to attend only to the words of Socrates, and offering the happy few, finally, an opportunity to go beyond the mere accumulation of knowledge. Fourth point: over and above teaching us, Plato's dialogues have the capacity to train us. If we have a predisposition for detecting and are interested in resolving conflicts within a position—if, that is, we instinctively posit logical consistency as a desideratum in life—then we stand to learn not only what to think, but also, and far more importantly, how to think.