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Dialectic is the teaching method Socrates uses throughout Plato’s dialogues. It’s used throughout much of Phaedrus, as Socrates asks Phaedrus questions about the nature of various subjects like love, speech, and writing. The goal of dialectic is not to impart knowledge, but to create wisdom in the soul of both participants by asking questions, recognizing what one doesn’t know, and drawing conclusions about the nature of reality. When Phaedrus and Socrates discuss rhetoric, Socrates argues that dialectic is inherent to good speaking, because it’s concerned with defining and breaking down concepts in order to clearly understand their nature. He also argues that dialectic is superior to written speeches or books, because it’s tailored to specific souls—that is, it is a living conversation instead of a speechless document.

Dialectic Quotes in Phaedrus

The Phaedrus quotes below are all either spoken by Dialectic or refer to Dialectic. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Soul’s Struggle for Wisdom Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Phaedrus published in 2005.
257c-274a Quotes

Now I am myself, Phaedrus, a lover of these divisions and collections, so that I may be able both to speak and to think; and if I find anyone else who I think has the natural capacity to look to one and to many, I pursue him ‘in his footsteps, behind him, as if he were a god’. And the name I give those who can do this - whether it’s the right one or not, god knows, but at any rate up till now I have called them ‘experts in dialectic’.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Phaedrus (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
274b-279c Quotes

Yes, Phaedrus, because I think writing has this strange feature, which makes it truly like painting. The offspring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them something, they preserve a quite solemn silence. Similarly with written words: you might think that they spoke as if they had some thought in their heads, but if you ever ask them about any of the things they say out of a desire to learn, they point to just one thing, the same each time. And then once it is written, every composition trundles about everywhere in the same way, in the presence both of those who know about the subject and of those who have nothing at all to do with it, and it does not know how to address those it should address and not those it should not. When it is ill-treated and unjustly abused, it always needs its father to help it; for it is incapable of either defending or helping itself.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Phaedrus
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

But I think it is far finer if one is in earnest about those subjects: when one makes use of the science of dialectic and, taking a fitting soul, plants and sows in it words accompanied by knowledge, which are sufficient to help themselves and the one who planted them, and are not without fruit but contain a seed from which others grow in other soils, capable of rendering that seed forever immortal, and making the one who has it as happy as it is possible for a man to be.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Phaedrus
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dialectic Term Timeline in Phaedrus

The timeline below shows where the term Dialectic appears in Phaedrus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Love and Madness Theme Icon
Rhetoric and Philosophy Theme Icon
...the speaker’s argument. Socrates explains that he calls this ability to collect and divide properly “dialectic.” (full context)
The Soul’s Struggle for Wisdom Theme Icon
The Limits of Writing Theme Icon
Socrates compares the science of dialectic to farming—it takes “a fitting soul, plants and sows in it words accompanied by knowledge,... (full context)