Skip to main content

Distinguishing Socrates from Plato: Invoking a Third Figure

Image result for triangle instrument

Henry brought up a good point in the comment section of a post a couple of weeks ago. What do we know about the historical Socrates? Should he even be included on "greatest philosophers" lists independent of Plato?

As I said in a responsive comment at the time, we know there WAS a historical Socrates, that he wasn't simply a figment of Plato's imagination serving as mouthpiece. The other sources include: Xenophon, another of Socrates' students, who wrote his own account of Socrates' trial and condemnation;  Aristophanes, the playwright who wrote a comedy with Socrates as its comic butt; and Aristotle, who referenced Socrates in ways that suggest that he was writing for an audience that still remembered the guy.

From all of this, scholars have tried to tease out what was S., what was merely the mouthpiece for P. of the same name. 

The case of the Aristophanes/Socrates/Plato triangle fascinates me. If one reads THE CLOUDS, one gets a vivid picture of what Socrates looked like to those in the Athens of the day who adhered to traditional religious views and social mores. This combines nicely with Plato (and Xenophon) as one feels one is seeing the same historical figure, the center of a movement, from two sides, from both inside and outside that movement. 


Make that THREE sides! A gives us Socrates from the outside. X gives us Socrates from an unimaginative admirer. P gives us the Socrates of a very imaginative admirer, who began his adult life within the movement but is going his own way. 


One gets from this a sense of something Plato inherited from Socrates: the willingness to set aside customs and presumed divine commands and to ask about right and wrong, good and bad, as they reveal themselves (or fail to reveal themselves) to human reason. Philosophy until Socrates was an impersonal enterprise: what is the world made of? Water? Atoms-and-the-void?Numbers? Something else? Are time and motion realities or illusions? Socrates said: philosophy can be about ... us. The decisions we have to make, and the social context in which we make them. 


Another point: why didn't Plato despise Aristophanes? The man's play may have stirred up the sentiments that led to the execution of his beloved master. What would you expect the former to think of the latter? Well, me too ... but.


But we have the SYMPOSIUM. This is Plato's great examination of the question of "love" in philosophy. The character "Aristophanes" (who seems straightforwardly drawn from life) plays a big part in this dialog and in fact many readers come away from it inclined to accept the view of love Plato attributes to Aristophanes rather than that he gives to Socrates. Plato would seem to respect Aristophanes. If he was giving us an account of actual views on love that were in fact congruent with Aristophanes' thinking, then he was also phrasing them moire-than-fairly, eloquently and persuasively.


One gets a sense here of three geniuses in a complicated triangular relationship. Hence the triangle above. 

As for such questions as: did Socrates have a theory of abstract Form, and did he see that theory as a vindication of the possibility of knowledge? Would he have agreed with his semi-fictional alter ego that he was trying to encourage humanity to tear itself away from shadows on the cave wall so they can contemplate realities, both behind them within the cave and outside the cave altogether? I must leave such questions open. There isn't even a beginning of scholarly consensus on them. But I can see that many philosophers, committed to various views of Socrates' role, would naturally want him on such a list in his own right.

Comments

  1. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you must watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Have your ex CRAWLING back to you...?

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

https://sites.google.com/site/francescoorsi1/

https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/3

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …