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In this paper I consider which formal characteristics, if any, occur in the investigations. In addition, I am interested in whether there is a transformation of formal characteristics among the dramas of definition.

Methodologically, the paper focuses on what I call the surface claims and arguments of the text. By that I mean the explicit claims and arguments Socrates and his interlocutors make about the identity of F. This aspect of the texts is distinguished from their literary or dramatic aspects as well as any indirect claims and arguments about F, however these might occur. The neglect of the literary and dramatic dimensions of the texts seems to me irresponsible as a general hermeneutic principle, but I do not see that it jeopardizes this particular project.

In addition, I make some reference to the inconspicuous discursive conditions of early fourth century Athens and the Greek world at large. Plato assumes much in his writings that would have been familiar to his intended audience of fourth century Greeks. Especially in considering αρετή-specificity in the dramas of definition, it is advisable to be sensitive to these discursive conditions.


David Wolfsdorf presented “The transformation of the investigation of F in Plato’s dramas of definition” to the Society at its meet with the American Philological Association in Dallas in 1999. A revised version was published as “Understanding the ‘what is f’ question” in Apeiron 36 (2003) 175-188.

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