The Liar Paradox in Plato

Abstract

Although most scholars trace the Liar Paradox to Plato’s contemporary, Eubulides, the paper argues that Plato builds something very like the Liar Paradox into the very structure of his dialogues with significant consequences for understanding his views. After a preliminary exposition of the liar paradox it is argued that Plato builds this paradox into the formulation of many of his central doctrines, including the “Divided Line” and the “Allegory of the Cave” (both in the Republic) and the “Ladder of Love” (in the Symposium). Thus, Plato may have been the first to formulate the view that Graham Priest calls dialetheism, roughly, the view that some contradictions are, in an illuminating way, inescapable and true. The paper argues that Plato builds this Liar paradox into the formulation of his signature views because he holds that the attempt by finite human beings to theorize about transcendent realities results in the simultaneous necessity, and impossibility, of transgressing the limits of language—leading to the paradoxes (contradictions). Finally, it is argued that the existence of these paradoxes in these Platonic doctrines is the direct result of an intrinsic hermeneutical circle in Plato’s aforementioned signature views.

Keywords: Plato, liar paradox, Kierkegaard, Dilthey, Wittgenstein, dialetheism


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