Junior Fellow: October 2016–March 2017
Research Project: Plato and the Art of Academic Scepticism
Charles E. Snyder’s project explains why both doctrinal and anti-doctrinal interpretations of Plato fail to identify the art of Plato’s sceptical philosophy. His project recovers and enlarges a third paradigm of interpreting Plato that conforms to the way the sceptical Academy received his dialogues. Snyder argues that the doctrinal interpretation fails to explain why Plato cast philosophical arguments and beliefs in the form of dramatic dialogues, not treatises; the anti-doctrinal paradigm, on the other hand, cannot discern the practical knowledge, or the non-doctrinal know-how, exhibited by Socrates in the activity of philosophical inquiry. For Snyder, the many difficulties that emerge from the demand for definitions (e.g. virtue in the Meno, knowledge in the Theaetetus, temperance in the Charmides, courage in the Laches) find a positive solution in the art of Socrates’ dialectic. In the give and take of argument, Socrates exhibits the practical knowledge that virtue and knowledge are irreducible to propositions, definitions, and demonstrations. Arcesilaus the sceptic is primarily a practitioner of this art, emulating Socrates in challenging the conceited dogmatism of other philosophers. This means, for Snyder’s project, that Arcesilaus exhibits non-propositional knowledge by showing that virtue and knowledge cannot be defined or proven. Part three of the project argues that the modern tradition of interpreting Academic scepticism according to a narrow scheme of pure epistemology is fundamentally flawed, distorting the character and virtue of scepticism in antiquity.
Charles Synder earned a PhD in philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 2015–16, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center, and a teaching fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative in New York.