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Question of Socrates

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    Posted: 17 Mar 2015 at 04:36
In Classical studies, there is what is known as "the Question of Socrates."
It goes like this, Socrates, the most famous philosopher in the world, wrote nothing, and so therefore
we don't know him from his own works, we know him from the works of others.
These Socrateses are, to some degree, different from each other, furthermore, they 
are known in general from literary works, not historical or biographical works.

So, the question arises, which is the true Socrates?  Furthermore, are _any_ of them
the true Socrates.  Or are we just stuck with looking at Socrates as several literary
characters? Literary characters vaguely related to a man named Socrates 
who played a prominent role in the intellectual life of Classical Athens, 
and eventually had to take to take poison because he pissed too many people off.

The major candidates for who is presenting the true Socrates are:

Aristophanes the comedian.
Plato the philosopher
Xenophon the aristocrat

Minor sources are:
Attic Orators
Aristotle
Diogenes Laertius 
Athenaeus
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Mar 2015 at 02:30
Plato's version of Socrates
Socrates is a character in almost all of Plato's dialogues, but in the mid and later dialogues, it is generally agreed that Socrates is really just a mouthpiece for Plato's own views.  However, the early dialogues of Plato, such as the Euthyphro, Crito, Apology and Phaedo, are generally considered by modern philosophers to be a fair presentation of the historic Socrates.  
One problem with this view is that Plato is a very good writer, in fact he is so good of a writer that the philosopher, modern or otherwise, really _wants_ to believe in Plato's Socrates.  Socrates, as the image of the philosopher, in Plato's works is perfect.  Again, one wants to believe in that Socrates, but believing in that Socrates and having that version of Socrates be the true actual historical Socrates is two different things.  In other words, Plato's Socrates might just be too good to be true.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Mar 2015 at 17:31
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

Plato's version of Socrates
Socrates is a character in almost all of Plato's dialogues, but in the mid and later dialogues, it is generally agreed that Socrates is really just a mouthpiece for Plato's own views.  However, the early dialogues of Plato, such as the Euthyphro, Crito, Apology and Phaedo, are generally considered by modern philosophers to be a fair presentation of the historic Socrates.  
One problem with this view is that Plato is a very good writer, in fact he is so good of a writer that the philosopher, modern or otherwise, really _wants_ to believe in Plato's Socrates.  Socrates, as the image of the philosopher, in Plato's works is perfect.  Again, one wants to believe in that Socrates, but believing in that Socrates and having that version of Socrates be the true actual historical Socrates is two different things.  In other words, Plato's Socrates might just be too good to be true.

   
hello franciscosan,

In your opinion is the idea of the Meno an authentic Socratic philosophy?

Does the idea of the Meno transcend an individual?

Can the idea be found throughout the world from 6BCE to the population of the New World?

Are not Socrates and Plato standing on the shoulders of giants?

Socrates says that being virtuous is more important than being perceived as virtuous, even if the ends are undesirable.

Diogenes talks about the people of Athens regretting the death of Socrates. It seems that the man is the idea, even after protecting the corruptible youth Athens knows it has lost a good deal in return. Socrates is too good to be one man, I thinks.

The root of all desires is the one desire: to come home, to be at peace. -Jean Klein
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Mar 2015 at 23:10
After Socrates' death, Socratic dialogues were a cottage industry for awhile in Athens, with 6, 7 maybe 8 different followers of Socrates writing dialogues, of which Plato and Xenophon were two.  Some of these were much closer to the authentic Socrates, but conceptually were probably less interesting than Plato.  They only survive through fragments, and some titles.
The Meno refers somewhat implicitly to the theory of the forms, which is a Platonic idea. and thus probably not found in genuine Socratic philosophy, however, one can argue for it, since what is Socratic and what is Platonic is somewhat confused together.  But yes, recollection in the Meno transcends the individual and allows the individual though, (recollecting through, and _beyond_), pastlifes to get in touch with the forms, by which we know things.
This is related to transmigration of the souls, but is something a little different.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Mar 2015 at 01:42
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said Socrates was not the greatest philosopher, but was the purest philosopher because he wrote nothing, but just put himself in the stream of Being and spoke.
In your mind, if you can, separate Socrates and Plato, Socrates was the gadfly, going around, talking to anyone and everyone, creating definitions and putting people on the spot.  
Plato is the young aristocrat, who is too young to know Socrates that well, and definitely too young to personally report many of the scenes that occur in his dialogues.  He may have heard of them from his older siblings, but he probably wasn't himself there for many of the scenes.  He has an agenda, both to show what kind of mistake the Athenians made, but also to make the world safe for philosophy. 
Socrates was not the first philosopher to get persecuted.  But Socrates, ended coming off looking like the loyal citizen of Athens who would under all circumstances obey Athens laws, including if they sentenced him to death.  In other words, Plato's Socrates was the loyal Athenian and his opponents were disloyal.
Eventually, those who persecuted Socrates were themselves persecuted, and sentenced to death.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Mar 2015 at 23:27
It is not that Socrates and Plato were standing on the shoulders of giants.  
After all, do giants let people stand on their shoulders?
At the time of Socrates and Plato, there is a fundamental shift in knowledge, 
away from an oral/aural, poetic form of knowledge, 
towards a written, visual, prosaic form of knowledge.
Ancient Athens became a literate society contemporary with Plato.
This source for this is Eric Havelock, a contemporary of Marshall McLuhan, also out of the U of Toronto.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Mar 2015 at 12:46
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

It is not that Socrates and Plato were standing on the shoulders of giants.  
After all, do giants let people stand on their shoulders?
At the time of Socrates and Plato, there is a fundamental shift in knowledge, 
away from an oral/aural, poetic form of knowledge, 
towards a written, visual, prosaic form of knowledge.
Ancient Athens became a literate society contemporary with Plato.
This source for this is Eric Havelock, a contemporary of Marshall McLuhan, also out of the U of Toronto.


Sure I agree giants usually won't let you near them. Socrates wasn't created in a bubble tho, he is a product of everything that came before him. Isn't that so? It's easy to see in children now when they can write code at a younger and younger age. Some are teaching their infants to read. Even special needs children adapt very well to use of the machine.

Edited by Vanuatu - 12 May 2015 at 17:26
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Mar 2015 at 00:22
Question of Socrates.
1st) about Plato, there is a saying, good artists borrow, great artists steal.  Plato was a great artist, and so it is not necessarily clear where his ideas came from, he had people in his intellectual background, but none of that can explain what he did.  It's like looking at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, and trying to explain him by looking at Giotto.  Giotto great, but Michelangelo is on a whole new level (I mean, besides being on the ceiling;) ).  So yes, one can try to figure out where Plato's (or Socrates') ideas came from, but it is not necessarily that useful in explaining what he did.
2) Like the Blues Brothers, Plato was on a mission from God, before Socrates, there were lots of persecutions of philosophers, the Pythagoreans, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Damon, Zeno, et cetera.  Aristotle, at the death of Alexander, fled Athens, "lest Athens sin against philosophy twice."  Socrates was not so much the exception but more like the rule.  Plato wanted to show that the persecution of Socrates was, on Athens part, a mistake and furthermore, he wanted to secure philosophy as a way of life.  He and others did so.  But in doing so, they changed it, made it into a different creature.  That meant that Plato had to write with an agenda, from a particular slant, so to speak.
3.  There was a German Jewish Refugee scholar, associated mainly with the U. of Chicago, named Leo Strauss.  Strauss takes an odd approach to answering the Question of Socrates.  Instead of advocating Plato as the best model for Socrates, he advocates Xenophon and Aristophanes.  Plato is a philosopher and so many scholars argue that Plato is the best choice for understanding Socrates, another philosopher.  But again, Plato, has an agenda, whereas Xenophon is an aristocrat who has no particular agenda in portraying Socrates, he is just showing a depiction of his friend.  And that is why, Strauss argues, Xenophon may be more true to Socrates than Plato's wonderful depictions.
4. Aristophanes, particularly in his play, _the_Clouds_ is interesting because he is showing a Socrates who is the student of Archelaus, who in turn is the student of Anaxagoras.  This depiction of Socrates is an early Socrates, before he switched over to political/ethical questions such as 'what is justice/courage/piety/etc.  Plato refers to this early period in the _Phaedo_, but in Aristophanes, here we see a more full portrayal of the earlier Socrates.  Leo Strauss also explores this version of Socrates in a book.
So that is the Question of Socrates, in a nutshell, which ancient sources are the best in portraying the character of Socrates.  One might say the default position is of Plato's early dialogues.  But a better understanding can be reached by adding other perspectives, particularly Xenophon and Aristophanes.  If anyone sees anything I neglected, I would love it if they let me know.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 May 2015 at 23:32
While most people who are familiar with the legend of Socrates, are familiar with Plato's Socrates, there are two beautiful quotes of Xenophon's Socrates, that everyone should know.

1st of 2 Xenophon "Socrates' quotes"

"As for myself, Antiphon, I take as much pleasure in good friends as other people take in a good horse or dog or bird- in fact, I take more; and if I have anything good to teach them, I teach it, and I introduce them to any others from whom I think they will get help in the quest for goodness.  And in company with my friends, I open and read from beginning to end the books in which the wise men of past times have written down and bequeathed to us their treasures; and when we see anything good, we take it for ourselves; and we regard our mutual friendship as great gain."
"When I heard him say this, it certainly seemed to me that he was a fortunate man himself, and that he was leading his audience towards true goodness."
Memoirs of Socrates, 1.6.12, Xenophon, tr. by Hugh Tredennick, revised by Robin Waterfield (Penguin Books, London, 1980), pp. 97-8.

For an online Library of this and other ancient texts, see Perseus.tufts.edu
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 May 2015 at 00:24
This is the second Socrates quote from Xenophon's writings, that everyone who knows anything about Socrates should be familiar with.  It is as beautiful as the last quote, but much more humorous.

I've been neglecting adding this quote, because of its length, but I think it worth it to give the whole thing.  It should be understood that to say Socrates was butt-ugly is an insult to butts.  A physiognomist (someone who is an expert on character, based on appearances) once ran into him on the street and was horrified, Socrates replied, "friend! you know me!"  Socrates had an ugly appearance, but a "beautiful soul."

[At the dinner party, (Xenophon's symposium)]
"'Critobulus,' said Callias, 'are you holding back from a beauty contest with Socrates?'
'Of course he is,"said Socrates.  'I expect he can see that the pimp is in favour with the judges.'
'In spite of that.' said Critobulus, 'I'm not backing out.  If you've got some subtle argument, explain to me how you are more beautiful than I am.  Only,' he added, 'I want the lamp brought up.'
'Well now,' said Socrates, 'I summon you first to a preliminary investigation of the case.  Answer my questions.'
'Ask away.'
'Do you think that beauty is found only in a man, or in other things as well?'
'I certainly believe that it's found in horses and cattle and in many inanimate objects.  At any rate, I know that a shield is beautiful, and sword, and a spear.'
'Why, how can all these things be beautiful, when they are nothing like on another?'
'Surely.' said Critobulus, 'anything that is well constructed for the particular function for which we posses it, or well adapted by nature to meet our needs, is also beautiful.'
'Well, what do we have eyes for?'
'Obviously to see with.'
'Then in that case it would follow directly that my eyes are more beautiful than yours.'
'Why?'
'Because yours only see straight in front, but mine see sideways too, because they project.'
'Do you mean that a crab has better eyes than any other creature?'
'In every way, surely, since it is also naturally endowed with outstandingly strong eyes.'
'All right,' said Critobulus, 'which of our noses is more beautiful- yours or mine?'
'I think mine is,' said Socrates, 'that is, if the gods have created our noses for the purpose of spelling.  Your nostrils look down at the ground, but mine are opened right up so as to admit smells from every direction. 
'Come, though: how can snubness in a nose be more beautiful than straightness?'
'Because it doesn't set up a barrier, but lets the eyes have a direct view of whatever they like.  A high-bridged nose looks haughty and forms a dividing wall between them.'
'As for the mouth,' said Critobulus 'I give you that: if its made for biting, you can take a much bigger bite than I can.  And the thickness of your lips makes your kiss softer, don't you think?'
'By your description, I seem to have an uglier mouth than a donkey's  But don't you think the following is evidence that I'm more beautiful than you are- that the Naiads, who are goddesses, are mothers of the Sileni, who resemble me more than you?'
'I can't argue against you any more,' said Critobulus.'  'Let them record their votes, so that I may know as quickly as possible what penalty or fine I've got to pay.  Only,' he added, 'let it be a secret ballot, because I'm afraid of your and Antisthenes' wealth dominating me.
So the girl and the boy recorded their votes in secret.  Meanwhile, Socrates made two arrangements: to have the lamp brought up in front of Critobulus, so that the judges might not be misled, and to fix as the token of victory given by the judges to the winner not garlands but kisses.  When the votes were turned out of the urn and all [2] were for Critobulus, Socrates said, 'Tut, tut, Critobulus, your money doesn't seem to be like Callias.  His makes people better, but yours, like most other money, is capable of corrupting both judges and juries.' [yeah, I don't get that last part either, but it is referring to something earlier in the dialogue, but we have to stop somewhere.]
Xenophon "The Dinner-party," translated by Hugh Tredennick, revised by Robin Waterfield, Penguin Classics Conversations of Socrates, p. 252-4

Xenophon's Socrates had a sense of humor, something that Plato misses.


Edited by franciscosan - 23 May 2015 at 00:26
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