The Ethical Aspects of Self-knowledge in Plato’s Dialogues

dr. Jakub Jirsa


This course will deal with an interpretation of self-knowledge in Plato’s dialogues. It focuses on its ethical aspects and shows that ethics is an inseparable part of Plato’s conception of self-knowledge. The methodological part of the course explains several possible readings and interpretations of the dialogues. We will focus on the so-called dramatic or the presupposed pedagogical ordering of Plato’s works. First, Plato shows the problems connected with a purely cognitive conception of self-knowledge (Charmides). Then he gives a basic explanation for what the self is and what the basic principles of self-knowledge are (Alcibiades I). The dramatic reading of the Alcibiades I with the Symposium shows that Plato presupposes a complex structure of motivation, which is fully exposed in the Republic. The complexity of the soul is understood as a result of soul embodiment (Timaeus); and the soul-body relation in the relevant works (Alcibiades I, Gorgias, Phaedo, Timaeus) is discussed in order to show the role of the body in Plato’s ethics. At the final meetings we will discuss how self-knowledge relates to the maxim of “likeness to god”.


· course participation 30%
· presentation(s) 30%
· term essay 40%

Schedule Fall term 2006:

3.10. Introductory meeting (presentation schedule etc.)

10.10. Reading the dialogues (methods of reading and ordering)reading(s):·


17.10 On ordering the dialogues



24.10 The Charmides

read the dialogue


31.10 The Charmides



7.11. The Alcibiades I

read the dialogue


14.11. The Alcibiades I



21.11. Alcibiades and Socrates (Symposium and Alcibiades I)



28.11. Soul division in the Republic IV


5.12. Soul division in the Republic IV



12.12. Republic X 611a10-612a6


Basic literature for the course:

Plato’s dialogues

For those with basic knowledge of ancient Greek I recommend the Loeb Classical Library editions (Greek-English), though the translation is not always the best one.

Introductory works