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Introduction to Socrates and Plato

Socrates' influence on the Western world makes him a likely epic hero. This presentation introduces Socrates and Plato through the Monomyth

Amy Antoninka

on 26 January 2014

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Transcript of Introduction to Socrates and Plato

Socrates, Plato and the Emergence of Western Philosophy
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979]
(ca. 469 BCE–399 BCE)
(ca. 428 BCE-348 BCE)
(384 BCE–322 BCE)
Alexander the Great
(356 BCE–323 BCE)
Socrates' sidekick
Socrates crosses a border
(a symbolic border)
More adventures and tests
Socrates' call to adventure
Socrates' big gloom?
Defeat seems certain
Socrates encounters tests
The boon is PLATO
(and Philosophy)
not Play-Doh
Innermost cave
Socrates' return (through Plato)
with a boon for society
As I say, the lovers of learning know that philosophy gets hold of their soul when it is in that state, then gently encourages it and tries to free it...

Phaedo 83a-b
A soul in this state makes its way to the invisible, which is like itself, the divine and immortal and wise, and arriving there it can be happy, having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear, violent desires, and the other human ills…
Phaedo 83c
Strepsiades. Tell it, then, to me without fear; for I here am come as a disciple to the thinking-shop.

Disciple. I will tell you; but you must regard these as mysteries. Socrates lately asked Chaerephon about a flea, how many of its own feet it jumped; for after having bit the eyebrow of Chaerephon, it leaped away onto the head of Socrates.

Strepsiades. How then did he measure this?

Disciple. Most cleverly. He melted some wax; and then took the flea and dipped its feet in the wax; and then a pair of Persian slippers stuck to it when cooled. Having gently loosened these, he measured back the distance.

Strepsiades. O King Jupiter! What subtlety of thought!
Aristophanes, The Clouds
[Socrates] Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them....

Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and ...a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. ...

[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
Republic 514a-515b
The moment he starts to speak, I am beside myself…I have heard Pericles and many other great orators, and I have admired their speeches. But nothing like this has ever happened to me: they never upset me so deeply that my very own soul started protesting that my life – my life – was no better than the most miserable slave’s…

He always traps me, you see, and he makes me admit that my political career is a waste of time, while all that matters is just what I most neglect: my personal shortcomings…

So I refuse to listen to him; I stop my ears and tear myself away from him, for, like the Sirens, he could make me stay by his side till I die.
Symposium 215e-216b
I have a divine or spiritual sign…

This began when I was a child. It is a voice, and whenever it speaks it turns me away from something I am about to do, but it never encourages me to do anything.

This is what prevented me from taking part in public affairs, and I think it was quite right to prevent me.
Apology 31d
Socrates: Good heavens, Euthyphro! and is your knowledge of religion and of things pious and impious so very exact, that, supposing the circumstances to be as you state them, you are not afraid lest you too may be doing an impious thing in bringing an action against your father?

Euthyphro: The best of Euthyphro, and that which distinguishes him, Socrates, from other men, is his exact knowledge of all such matters. What should I be good for without it?

Socrates: Rare friend! I think that I cannot do better than be your disciple.
Euthyphro 4e-5b
I shall call upon the god at Delphi as witness to the existence and nature of my wisdom, if it be such…

[Chaerephon] went to Delphi at one time and ventured to ask the oracle… if any man was wiser than I, and the Pythian replied that no one was wiser…

When I heard this reply I asked myself: “Whatever does the god mean? What is his riddle?”
Apology 21a-b
…With actions just and unjust, shameful and beautiful, good and bad…should we follow the opinion of the many and fear it, or that of the one, if there is one who has knowledge of these things and before whom we feel fear and shame more than before all others.
Crito 47d
Call to adventure
Just a normal guy. Remarkable perhaps for his looks.
Crosses a boundry
Epic Hero
Gets a sidekick
Encounters Tests
Innermost Cave
The Big Gloom
Defeat Seems Certain
Returns with a Boon
Socrates' student
Writes dialogues
Develops his own views
Founds the Academy
Called on for diplomacy
Teacher of Aristotle
Discusses the philosophical problems that still occupy philosophers (and people) today
What is piety (Euthyphro)?
What is courage (Laches)?
What is moderation (Charmides)?
What is friendship (Lysis)?
What is beauty (Hippias Major)?
What is virtue (Meno)?
What is justice (Republic)?
What is knowledge (Theaetetus)?

Definitions give us criteria for applying terms truly.
"Always let your conscience be your guide."
-Jiminy Cricket
dialectic - a method of inquiry that is intended to lead to truth
aporia - puzzlement, suspension, an impasse
Always let your daemon be your guide?
"I feel that I am being made fun of by friends at a great party."
“Socrates, Plato, two giants of the west. Their names evoke the adventures of the mind, the flight into wisdom. All of western philosophy owes a debt to them.

Alfred North Whitehead proclaims that all western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Thousands of volumes of philosophy have been written since Plato wrote. His questions, his ideas, his wisdom reaches us today. It reaches us in our views of politics, religion, and ethics.

Socrates, a soldier, a stone cutter, a gadfly to society, a mid-wife of ideas, a lover of wisdom developed a method of questioning, the dialectic method. He taught Plato who carried on and expanded this philosophy.

Plato, Socrates’ student, wrote down what he learned from Socrates, he built a school (The Academy), developed his own philosophy and taught Aristotle.

Aristotle was instrumental in developing the system of education we know today. He systematized rhetoric and logic, wrote treatises on natural sciences, developed metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. And Alexander took philosophy to the known Western world.

We have inherited that world. We are the heirs of Socrates, of Plato, of Aristotle and Alexander.
We stand on the shoulders of giants; we stand on the shoulders of Socrates, Epic Hero.”

Socrates, Epic Hero
Socrates is a strange sort of hero. He’s not part divine, he’s not in a position of power, he’s(perhaps more like David than Gilgamesh or Rama) an unlikely hero.

His parents were a stone mason and midwife respectively – commoners, the hoi polloi – the many, the uncouth masses. Not an auspicious beginning for an Ancient, where being born well was important.

But he’s able to distinguish himself, creating controversy and admiration among the nobles.

Though he’s the main character in all of Plato’s dialogues, in a comic play by Aristophanes, of Xenophon’s history, and he’s in Diogenes Laertius’ biographies. He’s not the subject of a singular work, an epic poem.

He does go on a journey, a quest, but it’s a different kind of journey.

Call to adventure
Like an epic hero, however, Soc does have a call to adventure that will lead him on the journey of the mind, a quest to understand the riddle o the Oracle:

Now, imagine you’ve made it to the top o the fortune 500 list, or you’ve been given the cover of People’s most beautiful issue. Or you’ve been awarded the Noble prize for intelligence. How would you react?

Socrates doesn’t write an acceptance speech, or express how humble he feels to be so honored. Instead, he views it as a riddle. A riddle he intends to get to the bottom of. “Whatever could the god mean?”

There’s more than a little irony here. Socrates never claims to be wise. He never claims to be a teacher. Instead, he assumes that others are wiser than he – after all the leading teachers of his day are called sophists - Gorgias, Protagoras, Prodicus, and Hippias, taught the skills of composing, delivering, and analyzing a speech....These individuals acquired the name "wise man" or "teacher" (sophistes), for they claimed to teach a kind of wisdom (sophia) or arête. Their task was political: they were teaching methods for making one's point and winning arguments, that is, for participating in the democratic city-state....

Socrates' however was on a quest for truth, not victory over clever arguers. Socrates’ only claim to wisdom is that he knows that he doesn’t know – a riddle in itself.

Crosses a (symbolic) boundary
His pursuit of truth puts him at odds with the commonplaces of Athens. He doesn’t take part in political life (something Athenian men were expected to do). He refuses on the grounds that he doesn’t know how to rule or to guide civic life without knowing first what virtue is, and how the people in charge might encourage virtue in people.

He crosses the boundaries of tradition and expectation. And instead of accepting the common understanding of virtue as that which is portrayed in Homer, Soc questions virtue itself.

In plato’s dialogues, one question dominates.
What is piety (Euthyphro)?
What is courage (Laches)?
What is moderation (Charmides)?
What is friendship (Lysis)?
What is beauty (Hippias Major)?
What is virtue (Meno)?
What is justice (Republic)?
What is knowledge (Theaetetus)?

Definitions give us criteria for applying terms truly. But these questions show an antagonistic relation with society. These questions indirectly suggest that the “wise” and the powerful people in society might not understand what they’re doing, and they may not be virtuous.

Gets a sidekick
It’s not just his persistent questions that get him notoriety. Socrates seems a bit bizarre in some other ways. He walks around barefoot, he has a group of followers – from the highest and lowest parts of society, he doesn’t seem to have a job, he drinks an awful lot but never gets drunk, he has many amorous admirers but never has affairs, and

He has a constant companion – his daemon. Socrates says that his daemon has been with him since he was little, a constant companion. And there are some reports that he would speak with his daemon while he was in public places.

Basically, he and his deamon were close. They were as close as Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as close as Sherlock Holmes and Watson, as close as Lucy and Ricky, as close as Schroder and his piano, as close as Linus and his Blanket, as close as Dr, Hanks and h…..

PHYLLIS (as the voice of god): Amy, do not make a joke about Tom and his hat. That would be disrespectful).

AMY: Oooh, yes, an excellent call, I would not want to be impious by disrespecting my elders.

PHYLLIS: I would never let you do something so wrong.

AMY: Thank you, daemon. Now could you tell me please, since you’ve never steered me wrong, should I finish grading papers tonight, or go to the Chagall exhibit?

PHYLLIS: I can’t tell you what to do. You must choose wisely, do what is reasonable, and be virtuous. But I cannot tell you how to do that, I can only tell you what not to do.

AMY: Thank you again. It is always good to be reminded that you are there to keep me from doing wrong.

Do any of you have a similar companion? What would you call the inner voice that keeps you from doing the wrong thing? (conscience) (Jiminy Cricket)

Encounters Tests
One person of special note, might have done well to listen more to his conscience. Alcibiades, was an aristocrat, raised by Pericles. He and Socrates have some interesting encounters. These encounters seem to be part of why the city starts to turn against him.
Alcibiades and Socrates served as soldiers together – A’s quite a bit younger. During a battle Soc saved A’s life, but A got a medal for it. (Soc had no need of medals anyway), but years later A returned the favor.

Even more interesting, A was known as a “free spirit” - you might say he loved a good time. But he also loved Soc. He was Soc’s pupil, but he couldn’t give up pleasure or politics. Alcibades was a powerful general. But though his spiritedness might serve him well in battle, it gets him in some trouble at home.
(Read end of quote)

Still Alc is a popular public figure. A is accused of destroying the Hermes (religious statues placed in front of the home), and then when he betrays Athens for Sparta, people look to blame someone. And Soc makes a likely target. It looks to those who might have reason to dislike Soc, that the Ac scandal demonstrates that he has corrupted the youth.

More tests
The profligate Ac isn’t enough to turn the city against Soc. There’s a bit more to it. Socrates mission leads him to question the people who say they do know something about truth, virtue, justice. Socrates method, the dialectic, is a method of questioning, that demonstrates why an idea, a definition might not work.

The dialogue you read for today is an excellent example of Soc’s method of questioning. A topic is put forward (piety), and initial definition given, soc interrogates the def., it’s revised, more interrogation, more revision, the dialogue ends in aporia – the conversation is suspended without resolving the problem.

Amy: The main question of the Euthyphro is what is piety. Piety means rightness and righteousness. Socrates is accused of impiety: corrupting the youth and not worshipping the gods of the city. For Socrates, answering the definition question means that he might be able to defend himself against the charges. Maybe we can try to figure this out too. What is piety?

Jason (as Socrates) gentle and wise: I’ve been searching for an answer to that myself – for 2400 years. I’ve been asking “what is piety” because I want to know how to act, to know how to be moral and good, to know my place in society, and with respect toward the gods.

Bracy (as Euthyphro) in a parody of a Southern Evangelical preacher/used car salesperson throughout the drama: Weeeelleh, it eeez good that you have come at this time, Socrates. For I, Euthyphro, am doing something of interest to you. I am prosecuting my father for murder, so I know what piety is. I tell you the truth, Socrates, I am pious, and I know the way to piety.

Jason: It’s indeed good I’ve found you, by Zeus. For most might say that prosecuting your father is impious – after all it doesn’t show your elderly father much respect or veneration. For you to prosecute him for such a serious offence, you must know what piety is. So please tell me, what is piety?

Bracy: Well, yes, you’ve had quite a stroke of fortune, finding me. If you weren’t being prosecuted yourself, I’d say you were a lucky man.

Jason: Well, perhaps my “luck” is about to turn. What is piety, Euthyphro?

Bracy: Peity is something of which I know a great deal. I’m not any ordinary priest. I’ve found the truth. I have been bathed in piety, purified by piety, saved by piety, saturated in piety. Why, piety is my middle name!

Jason: Well, by the dog, I am fortunate indeed. Tell me then, Euthyphro, what is piety?

Bracy: An important question indeed. No subject could be more important to an Athenian than piety. Now, I’ve been privy to some impiety. There is corruption and degradation in this fair polis, Socrates.

Jason: Yes, yes, I’ve heard that. Now, What is piety?

Bracy: Piety is a dear subject to me. I have dedicated myself to righteousness. I am versed in the right way to act.

Jason: You are a marvel, my dear man. Kindly share your knowledge of piety with me. What is piety, Euthyphro?

Bracy: My dear Socrates, have you, a man of considerable intelligence, still not figured it out. Piety is nothing other than what I am doing now.

Jason: That’s fine Euthyphro. Now, by the dog, I hope you’ll be able to make it clear to me. Tell me then what this form itself is, so that I may look upon it and, using it as a model, say that any action of yours or mine is pious or not.

Bracy: I should be of no use, Socrates, and Euthyphro would not be superior to the majority of men, if I did not have accurate knowledge of such things.

Jason: I shall be your pupil. You will save me from prosecution, and take the credit (or the blame) if I am found innocent (or guilty).

Bracy: Please, count on me, Socrates. For even if they find you guilty, I’ll be able to find their weak spots, I’ll turn the accusation to your prosecutors. Have no fear.

Jason: I have great confidence, by Zeus. Now, is the pious the opposite of the impious? Does what appears pious always prove pious?

Bracy: Indeed, Socrates. A good question. I shall be able to direct you.

Jason: Now please, since you understand so well, share your knowledge with me. You could have no pupil more eager than I.

Bracy: You are right, the great majority have no knowledge of such things. I, however, have knowledge of piety because I have knowledge of the gods.

Jason: Please share.

Bracy: Well, I’ll tell you. Look at what they say about Zeus. They say Zeus is the most just of the gods because he didn’t hesitate to chastise his father. Yet, look at the contradiction. They accuse me of impiety, when I have acted no differently than Zeus.

Jason: I see. But, tell me, aren’t the gods prone to conflict with one another. Don’t they also disagree?

Bracy: Indeed. They fight and bicker, and have wars among themselves, and much worse things.

Jason: Perhaps some other occasion, when we both have more time, we might discuss these things. But now please tell me why what you are doing is pious.

Bracy: It is pious because it is dear to the gods, just as I am dear to them.

Jason: So, something is pious because the gods love it. Now recall, dear man, that you’ve just told me that the gods fight and bicker, and disagree. Can the gods agree on what is dear to them?

Amy: Euthyphro, Socrates, we seem to be running short of time. Thanks for coming by to give us an example of the dialectic.
Now, what did you make of Euth? Socrates?
If this is how a most of Soc’s conversations go, you might imagine he made some powerful enemies, they might not have enjoyed the public demonstration of their ignorance.

Innermost cave
But for Soc. The condition of everyone was the same. Most of us assume we know things we really don’t. We’re all in the dark about somethings. One of Socrates most important contributions is showing us just that – that what we take to be the truth might in fact be deception. (You’ll explore this more in small group)

The Big Gloom
In addition to making enemies on his own, his friends didn’t always help him out. Aristophane’s Clouds portrayed soc as the worst kind of sophist. Of the play Socrates is reported to have said,
"I feel that I am being made fun of by friends at a great party"

Not everyone might have been in on the joke. Some people might have assumed that this was how soc. Taught. Making absurd calculations about fleas’ legs, studying the thunder as if it were an unmentionable bodily function, teaching how to make the weak argument the stronger, but it wasn’t.

Defeat seems certain.
Regardless of Socrates’ image, his journey comes to certain peril. Socrates in fact becomes the first philosophical martyr. But, he faces his death as bravely as he faces his life.

For Socrates, his life of philosophical inquiry is preparation. Philosophy is preparation for dying. Philosophy is a process of purification, of removal of errors, of movement of the soul toward the Good. For Socrates philosophy isn’t only a way to live, it’s an elevation of the soul a turning toward the True, the Pious, the Just, the Beautiful.

Socrates might not have had a beautiful face but there is no doubt that his soul was beautiful. There is no doubt that he has provided us with a boon, a boon better than riches, a boon that we too can enjoy.

Plato is that boon. Plato’s dialogues contain the most important questions humans ask. They are as relevant to us today as they were thousands of years ago.

The boon
The boon is Plato, not play-doh
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