Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Eric Sanday


Protreptic is a form of rhetoric, textual and oral in form, which exhorts its recipients to reorient their lives both morally and intellectually. Plato frequently portrays Socrates' use of this rhetoric with interlocutors who are enticed by the moral and political views of figures from Athens' intellectual culture. During these conversations Socrates attempts to persuade his interlocutors to reorient their lives in a way that conforms more closely to his own moral and intellectual practice of philosophy. Plato's depiction of protreptic, however, also exerts a protreptic effect on readers of his dialogues. Plato's writing thus performs a dual function, simultaneously depicting instances of protreptic at work and attempting to exert a protreptic effect on readers.

In this dissertation I argue that understanding this dual function of Plato's writing is inseparable from understanding his conception of philosophy. I analyze the structure of protreptic in Plato's writing by identifying four aspects essential to an interpretive method that takes full stock of the protreptic function of Plato's dialogues. These aspects are (1) the proper recipient of protreptic; (2) the persuasive means available to protreptic; (3) the immediate target of persuasion; (4) the ultimate philosophical aim toward which protreptic advances the recipient. While some of these aspects must be determined with respect to particular dialogues, those that concern the form of Plato's writing—such as the means of persuasion and ultimate philosophical goals—can inform a general approach to Plato's dialogues. The means that Socrates uses to persuade his interlocutors are sometimes affective, influencing their emotions, and other times intellectual, appealing to them exclusively with logical argument. I argue that a combination of these means into a form I call “provocative-aporetic” better accounts for the means that Plato uses to exert a protreptic effect on readers. Aporia is a simultaneously intellectual and affective experience, and the way that readers choose to respond to aporia has a greater protreptic effect than either affective or intellectual means alone.

The Republic is a crucial dialogue for studying protreptic because it addresses the ultimate moral and intellectual ends toward which Plato hopes to reorient readers, and puts the various protreptic means at Socrates' and Plato's disposal on full display. The dialogue offers both an argument for a life committed to virtue, and an outline of the theoretical insights—mathematical and dialectical—that philosophers may hope to gain from more serious study. It also portrays Socrates in conversation with characters of a variety sufficient to show his rhetorical and argumentative repertoire. In this dissertation I carry out a reading of the Republic according to the four aspects of the structure of protreptic discussed above. More specifically, I identify moments at which Glaucon and Adeimantus answer Socrates' questions in such a way that they concede to Socrates the truth of premises that contradict their defense of the unjust life. These moments reveal that the central point of dispute in the Republic concerns the nature of moral agency— particularly the functions of reason, desire, and habituation for moral agents. Accordingly, I identify two models of agency—a Technē Model and a Virtue Model— that ground their respective defenses of justice and injustice, and hold their own assumptions about reason, desire, and habituation within their respective moral psychologies. Glaucon and Adeimantus' moments of capitulation, function as moments of aporia for readers, who are then provoked to overcome the aporia by explaining why the capitulation is reasonable. In doing so, we gain an account how Glaucon and Adeimantus are coaxed to abandon their original views about justice, injustice, and moral agency and to accept those of Socrates. This account in turn yields insight into protreptic by depicting how Socrates brings about a reorientation toward philosophy from within a non-philosophical perspective.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)