Plato’s dialogically extended cognition

Cognitive transformation as elenctic catharsis

Authored by: Laura Candiotto

The Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138913523
eBook ISBN: 9781315691398
Adobe ISBN:


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Assuming the conceptual tools and the explanatory power of the distributed cognition approach (Hutchins 1995) and the third wave of the extended mind hypothesis (Kirchhoff 2012; Gallagher 2013) regarding group knowledge, the chapter analyzes Socratic elenchus as a case of dialogically extended cognition. The hypothesis is that social interaction is a necessary component for the manifestation of some specific mental states – such as the aporetic ones, and that the Socratic elenchus is a good case study for proving it. In fact, Socrates, the interlocutors and the public are members of the epistemic group that uses elenctic inquiry as a tool for acquiring knowledge. It is not that an individual cannot think on her own. It is only that she needs someone to test out if what she conceives is consistent. Therefore, the thesis is that the elenchus is a dialogically distributed cognitively motivational state of the interlocutors and the public that leads to purification of reasoning through cross-examination. Consequently, the elenchus will appear as a cognitive therapy that aims at the intellectual and moral enhancement of the interlocutors and the public. Thus, catharsis will be depicted in its active stance as the cognitive transformation from errors to truth.

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