Bitter Knowledge

Learning Socratic Lessons of Disillusion and Renewal

Thomas D. Eisele

Thomas Eisele explores the premise that the Socratic method of inquiry need not teach only negative lessons (showing us what we do not know, but not what we do know). Instead, Eisele contends, the Socratic method is cyclical: we start negatively by recognizing our illusions, but end positively through a process of recollection performed in response to our disillusionment, which ultimately leads to renewal. Thus, a positive lesson about our resources as philosophical investigators, as students and teachers, becomes available to participants in Socrates’ robust conversational inquiry.

Bitter Knowledge includes Eisele’s detailed readings of Socrates’ teaching techniques in three fundamental Platonic dialogues— Protagoras, Meno, and Theaetetus —as well as his engagement with contemporary authorities such as Gregory Vlastos, Martha Nussbaum, and Stanley Cavell. Written in a highly engaging and accessible style, this book will appeal to students and scholars in philosophy, classics, law, rhetoric, and education.

THOMAS D. EISELE is professor of law at the University of Cincinnati, College of Law.

ADVANCE PRAISE: “Original, powerful, and full of life, Thomas Eisele’s Bitter Knowledge shows real learning and great intellectual care. This is a very fine book indeed.” — James Boyd White, University of Michigan


“Eisele has a gift for telling stories. In this book, he spins a narrative of disillusion and renewal around a figure of Socrates familiar to those who have read Plato’s dialogues and studied the literature launched by Gregory Vlastos and elevated by Alexander Nehamas, Myles Burnyeat, and others. Informed as his book is by philosophers specializing in ancient Greek philosophy, Eisele’s real inspiration is the ordinary language philosophy of Stanley Cavell and the refrain ‘must we mean what we say.’” — Choice

“Thomas Eisele’s captivating book, Bitter Knowledge, raises the debate over the law school model of Socratic teaching to an unprecedented level of philosophical sophistication. . . . Eisele conducts a careful analysis of four key dialogues of Plato that together offer a vivid literary portrait of the character of Socrates and his philosophical method. The result is a work at once rich in philosophic insight and provocative in its investigation of the method of American law teaching and its relationship with Socrates, the philosopher.” — Journal of Legal Education