A Note on Temporality in the Theaetetus

Without drawing too much from Heidegger, let us consider the pacing and timing of the Theaetetus. The dialogue is bookended by two very different temporal situations. The first words of the dialogue are: “Just now, Terpsion, or a long time ago…”. We encounter Euclides and Terpsion mid-discussion in the agora in Megara. Terpsion responds that he was looking for Euclides but Euclides had gone to the harbor “fairly long” ago to see Theaetetus who was passing through from Corinth onto Athens to die (mainly from his wounds and from dysentery). Neither have any pressing obligations, nor time constraints -note when Terpsion asks “..what prevents us from going through it now?” He needs a “rest” having come up from the country.

This opening sequence highlighting the malaise and excessive leisure of the philosopher is cleverly paired with the end of the dialogue in which Socrates is forced to excuse himself due to time constraints. He must meet the political deadline imposed upon him by the lawyers for his accusation for his trial. The philosophic life requires leisure -like Socrates, Theaetetus, and Theodorus all sitting together for the afternoon closely examining the nature of things, or Euclides and Terpsion ‘resting’ while their slave boy reads the text. Timeless contemplation, or the contemplative life as praised by Aristotle, is juxtaposed by political urgency.

The political life is dependent upon the calendar -the lawyer’s water clock. However, the philosophic life is strangely tied to the political in that the philosopher’s horizon exists within the realm of the city, though he may transcend its bounds in courage. The fear of death is what guides the masses of men in their moral decisions, as Socrates would call them, the “uninitiated” people in the marketplace. However, philosophic leisure is unending. It is also worth noting that the final sentence of the dialogue reads: ‘But at dawn let’s come back here to meet.’

For this reading I used Seth Bernardete’s translation of Plato’s Theaetetus.

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