Saturday, March 11, 2017


The introductory scene of book five follows the same pattern as the introductory paragraphs of book one--the way that they're structured suggests that what we should be looking for is the way in which the interlocutors have changed since the first encounter. I brought this up in the last class, and was very happy with where the conversation went, but I don't think we actually explored it in depth before branching off.

So, have Glaucon/Adeimantus/Polemarchus/Thrasymachus changed since the first encounter? Or are the legal formulas/forceful language that they employ to goad Socrates still enforcing the same sporting attitude with which they began? Is the scene pessimistic or optimistic concerning Socrates' ability to educate the young Athenians? If they have changed, in what ways have they changed? If they haven't changed, what tactics might Socrates employ next to urge them on to their own conclusions?

I'll offer my own answer in the comments if they get off the ground.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Intellectual Hierarchy

At 413d-414a, as a reward for being "hard to bewitch and graceful in everything, a good guardian of himself and the music he was learning, proving himself to possess rhythm and harmony on all these occasions," Socrates makes the first reference to a guardian as being "appointed ruler of the city and guardian; he must be given honors, both while living and when dead, and must be allotted the greatest prizes in burial and the other memorials."

This is the first mention of state-appointed hierarchy in the city (as opposed to the obvious distinctions of class), although such distinctions have already been evident in Socrates' use of "we" (relieving himself of responsibility and appealing to the aristocratic nature of the youths around him, who would naturally envision themselves as the elite of the city).

Basically, does this political organization make sense? Socrates may have an ulterior motive in portraying the city in this way (which we attempted to tease out in class but did not quite capture). Up until this point the city has functioned well without any mention of a state bureaucracy, much less a king. Wouldn't a king be even more susceptible to the faults that the argument initially finds in the guardians themselves? The Republic is where Plato develops his concept of the philosopher-king, but I am more and more cynical that this position is desirable, even if it were practical.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Beginning Republic

The Republic is different from the rest of Plato's dialogues in a lot of ways, but the most immediate and obvious difference is its length. On Monday we will no doubt tackle the possibility that the first Book was originally a dialogue in its own right (the Thrasymachus) but it has other structural features that make it more challenging, such as the fact that Plato has separated it into different chapters in the first place. Although, no doubt, this was due to the technological limitations of writing in the fifth century BCE, it is still going to affect, to some degree, how we interpret and understand the whole work.

To that extent, how does it change the Republic's structure that the conversation transgresses the boundaries of each chapter? In what other ways is the structure of the Republic different from the other dialogues?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Early Meno Observations

1) The conversational style that emerges between Meno and Socrates is more intimate than most of his interlocutors--probably because they are alone (at first; apparently they are in the presence of slaves).

2) How are we to interpret Anytus' presence in the Meno? He represents Socrates' vision of one who many Athenians would believe to be virtuous (by the definition Meno cites early on, that he is powerful, capable of harming his enemies [Socrates!] and helping his friends), and he foreshadows the Apology in this capacity, but perhaps there's a further dimension to the character.

3) There's a lot to say about Socrates' interaction with the slave--but I want to have that discussion in class; let's think about it for Monday.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Crito and the Social Contract

We spent a good deal of time on Monday covering Socrates' argument in the Crito developing an early form of what later philosophers would call the "social contract." I think there are some holes in the argument, namely that the judgment of the Athenian court is profoundly unjust; Socrates, as one who pursues the nature of justice, must have recognized this, and perhaps felt quite strongly about it (whether or not he valued his own life as an individual). This is somewhat inconsistent with how Socrates argues in the Crito. To my way of thinking, a charitable reading resolves into two possibilities:

1) Socrates earnestly believes that, as one who benefits from the state, he must either persuade it as to the right course or satisfy its demands. Having failed to persuade it, and being unable to abandon it, his only course of action is to avoid wrongdoing by submitting to the state.

2) Socrates is offering his death as a means of protest, and avoids talk of the subject so as not to arouse Crito's indignation.

I find the second option to be more likely than the first. We should note that if Plato wrote the Crito with the latter option in mind, it was absolutely an effective form of protest: we're still reading about it today.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Force, Rhetoric, and the Apology

The Apology itself, though constructed as a sound argument and presented as a monologue, sees Socrates employing terms and linguistic tactics that are, effectively, a form of bullying (as Matt mentioned a few classes ago). Socrates is definitely not a bully--but he does take conversational detours away from strict logic, and that leads me to two questions: 

1) Though Socrates does not commit violence, he offers resistance to his charges that includes but extends in some places beyond reason; what (nuanced) place does rhetoric have in Socrates' philosophical arsenal?

2) In the Euthyphro, Socrates does genuinely seek knowledge but basically seems to know that he's going to be the one guiding Euthyphro along, for which he employs reason and logic but which seems to be less effective than the social cues and flattery he uses to guide Euthyphro. Does this amount to a form of rhetoric?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Apology

We've already addressed some of the concerns surrounding Plato's use of the dialogue as a literary form, and yet the Apology presents a unique challenge: it's not so much a dialogue as a monologue. Socrates does break his speech at a few points to address questions to his prosecutor, but the characters around him are notoriously silent. Why is this? The Euthyphro is exactly the opposite situation: a lively conversation between two interlocutors. But in the Apology Socrates asks a question and it just sort of echoes...

I'm going to puzzle this over the weekend. If you have any ideas, leave them below, and I'll be happy to respond.