Euthyphro Apology Crito Meno and Phaedo
The Elenchus in Plato’s Five Dialogues
The Socratic method of investigation, the elenchus, is explained by example in Plato’s Five Dialogues. In Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, Plato’s character of Socrates employs the elenchus as a way to challenge interlocutors. If an Athenian claims to be knowledgeable about a subject, Socrates sets out to prove that this knowledge is unfounded. With the elenchus, Socrates analyzes the incongruities of widespread beliefs. By doing so, he achieves his goal of rendering his interlocutors incapable of making unyielding conclusions about their wisdom, which frustrates and embarrasses them. However, Socrates does not aim only to publicly shame the interlocutor, but more importantly to scrutinize unexamined beliefs and to prove that these beliefs are often platitudinous. What ultimately comes of the elenchus is not a revised definition of unexamined beliefs, but rather an understanding that humans are ignorant beings, and cannot provide concrete knowledge on every subject. Through his depiction of Socrates, Plato bestows upon us an erudite ignorance. Once we understand that we lack knowledge, we no longer must live according to hollow, contradictory beliefs. Instead, we can start questioning beliefs for ourselves; we can live more meaningful, valuable, and happy lives.We first encounter an exposition of the elenchus when Socrates meets Euthyphro at the courthouse in the dialogue Euthyphro. While discussing his indictment with Socrates, Euthyphro claims to “have accurate knowledge” of the divine (5a). This is an example of an empty knowledge claim that Socrates will not let go unquestioned. In order to engage Euthyphro in the elenchus, Socrates asks him to explain “what is the pious, and what the impious” (5d). It is found within the following discussion, during which Socrates questions the contradictions within each of Euthyphro’s definitions, that part of the nature of the elenchus is to attempt to identify ambiguous concepts using “one form” (5d). Socrates wants Euthyphro to encompass the nature of piety into one form that can be applied to all situations to determine whether or not something is pious. The result is that Euthyphro becomes frustrated, as he says to Socrates, “whatever proposition we put forward goes around and around, and refuses to stay put where we establish it” (11b). This is an aim of the Socratic method of investigation; it brings the interlocutor to a realization that his or her knowledge claim is in fact flawed and unsound, so as to expose the interlocutor to aporia, or divine confusion.In Apology, Socrates stands before the court and defends his method of imparting his wisdom on Athenians by illuminating its origins and intentions. He first refers to “the god at Delphi as witness to the existence and nature of [his] wisdom,” who apparently said that no man was wiser than Socrates (21a). Socrates is thought to be wise because “he understands that his wisdom is worthless” (23b). This means that Socrates knows that humans are not capable of fully understanding the world; wisdom of morals, values, and the divine is beyond our reach. Since humans only have concrete knowledge of what is fleeting, human knowledge is not of great use. Socrates grasps this concept, and he attempts to pass it along to other Athenians by engaging them in the elenchus. Even though his intent is to help bring this realization to the citizens of Athens, Socrates’ method of questioning their beliefs ultimately turns the citizens against him. They are humiliated when Socrates uses the elenchus to make them look unintelligent in public and they are not willing to accept that their beliefs are so easily questioned. As a result, Socrates is brought to trial and sentenced to death.Crito attempts to persuade Socrates to escape this death sentence in the dialogue Crito. Here, Socrates uses the elenchus again, this time with a good friend. Socrates has already made up his mind about how a person should behave when sentenced by the state, and he is determined to adhere to these convictions, not letting vanity persuade him to change his mind because he finds himself in a compromised position. This is an application of the “form” idea that he first mentioned in Euthyphro. Socrates believes that all people, including him, should carry out their sentences, because all citizens are subject to the laws of the state to which they belong. Since Socrates believes that a tacit social agreement between citizen and state always exists, and that just agreements should be fulfilled, he must fulfill his sentence for the sake of his character and posterity. He uses the elenchus, again involving very complicated and multilayered rationalization, to prove to Crito that he must honor this principle, even when his own life is at stake. By synthesizing these examples, we can identify the mechanics of the elenchus. In an ideal investigation, Socrates begins by having the interlocutor assert his “knowledge” on some sort of moral conundrum. Then, using reason and a series of irrefutable questions, Socrates has the interlocutor assert a contradictory statement. When both statements are juxtaposed, the inconsistencies of the belief are uncovered, causing the interlocutor to be led to aporia. It is traditionally problematic to be confused, but to reach aporia or to possess Socratic wisdom is a different kind of confusion; it can be of great benefit to the soul. In Apology, Socrates is said to have thought that “it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day… for the unexamined life is not worth living for men” (38a). To examine life is to be completely truthful with yourself and to fortify your integrity, which provides you with a better, more fulfilling life. By questioning supposedly intractable beliefs using the elenchus, Socrates enlightens people, and does them a great service; he teaches people that, because they are ignorant, they should question and examine their beliefs more often so that they do not continue to believe fallacies. Even though it does not always provide a distinctive definition to concepts, the elenchus at least proves that the conventional definitions of these concepts are erroneously crafted and should no longer be considered truths. Furthermore, learning the depths of your own ignorance by spending time examining your beliefs is not only important because it exposes the fallacies behind them, but it also gives you insight as to why you actually believe them. For example, why do so many people believe that some higher being decides which action is right and which is wrong? Instead, could actions be inherently right or wrong, independent of a higher being? If yes, then why do we hold this being’s opinion on the matter in such high regard? It is examination questions like these that lead people to have a truer understanding of their beliefs, and a truer understanding of themselves. Seeking this identity will lead to happiness and success, and therefore, the Socratic method is not a waste of time, but an invaluable, fruitful use of it.In order to reap the benefits of examining life, a person must allow him- or herself to be vulnerable to embarrassment and confusion. If a person is willing to appear unwise at first to later understand and appreciate the good life, then he or she should apply the Socratic method to his or her beliefs whenever possible. In doing so, even if it takes time and stirs up confusion, the person will take a step towards becoming happy and fulfilled, which is worth the challenge in all respects. In his Five Dialogues, Plato helps us understand how Socrates used his method of investigation by providing examples of the elenchus in application. From them, we can extract that the elenchus confronts interlocutors’ knowledge claims to prove that they are inconsistent and fallacious. The nature of the elenchus in name is that it seeks to redefine ambiguous, abstract concepts in terms of a form that can be applied to any situation. However, in practice, the elenchus does not aim to actually offer an intractable definition. Instead, it offers a new perspective on what we thought was certain.The fact that the interlocutors’ beliefs are proven incongruent and that they are publicly embarrassed makes them react with hostility toward Socrates. However, they should instead be grateful that the elenchus delivers them to the valuable realization that they cannot possess wisdom regarding vague, intangible, conceptual things. Using the Socratic method to examine life is worth the time and effort, because it helps us appreciate our ignorance. Once we have examined our beliefs, we can then approach the world in a new way, which ultimately leads to a better understanding of ourselves and a more meaningful life.
Philosophical Parallels in Plato’s Meno and the 1855 Leaves of Grass
There are several parallels between the ideas presented in the Socratic dialogue Meno by Plato and the ideas suggested by Walt Whitman’s poetry in the first edition of his work Leaves of Grass. Though the Meno is presented as a work of philosophy, and the 1855 edition Leaves of Grass (Leaves) is a work of poetry, the ideas presented within each have certain commonalities with the other. Gay Wilson Allen has characterized Leaves as a “program poem” (Allen 120), meaning that the poet had a set of ideas to communicate. Though Allen quotes Whitman as saying that the poems were written out of “unconscious or mostly unconscious intentions” , the poet was also not aiming at “art or aestheticism” (120) either, so the ideas presented within the poems may be analyzed in a light not only poetic, but philosophical.In the Socratic dialogues, a central thought that Plato puts forth is rather abstract, called in Greek anamnesis (Silverman, bibliography). It is the recollection of knowledge from some source other than what can be learned in this life. It is, essentially, an assertion that earthly knowledge has an unearthly, other-worldly, or, at least, immaterial source. Plato recounts that Socrates first and most cogently explains this in the dialogue called Meno, named for the prominent Thessalian to whom Socrates addresses most of his arguments. The topic of this dialogue was originally virtue, but through the process of elimination the speakers have agreed that virtue is a kind of knowledge or wisdom. The question which remains, however, is how that knowledge or wisdom can be obtained. Socrates and his companions agree that “virtue will be acquired neither by nature nor by teaching. Whoever has it gets it by divine dispensation without taking thought,” (Hamilton, Cairns, 383). Another question is how is this divine dispensation obtained? This leads to a central philosophical thought that Plato and Whitman share; namely reincarnation. Socrates has stated his belief in reincarnation earlier in the Meno, referring to a slave boy who has happened upon some principles of geometry, not by being taught it, but has been led to it by careful questioning by Socrates. “Either then he has at some time acquired the knowledge which he now has, or he has always possessed it. If he always possessed it, he must always have known; if on the other hand he acquired it at some previous time, it cannot have been in this life,” (370)This idea recurs throughout the 1855 Leaves of Grass. Whitman refers to reincarnation more or less obliquely several times, but he states it bluntly in the “Song of Myself” section. “And as to you, life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,/No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before”(The Library of America 86). At the very end of “Song of Myself”, the poet proclaims “If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles” (88). At the end of “The Sleepers”, when the poet has flown all through the night and the day, using the day and the night as metaphors for death and for life, he says “I will duly pass the day O my mother and duly return to you;/Not you will yield forth the dawn again more surely than you will yield forth me again,/ Not the womb yields the babe in its time more surely than I shall be yielded from you in my time” (117). But how does this link up with the idea of Socrates that, during death (or, by the same token, before birth) the soul of the human being has communion with all true knowledge, and therefore needs only to “recollect” it during his or her lifetime?The answer lies in how Whitman believed somewhat in Transcendentalism. Allen explains, “… the message he is trying to convey by the arrangement of his poems and his group titles is that all physical life rests on an unseen but strongly felt spiritual world (a major doctrine of the American Transcendentalists),” (69). Since there is reincarnation of souls, and a “strongly felt” and influential spiritual world, could not all knowledge, or at least some knowledge and intuition, be gained in that passage between life and death?Whitman talks of transcendental experiences in life, where he accesses some special knowledge or wisdom. This is a Platonic idea, that wisdom is “elicited by experience, although not directly derived from experience” (Russell 136) This is the wisdom or knowledge that Whitman is gaining by having experiences with the transcendent, not necessarily with the interaction with the world itself. It may be prompted by the world, but Whitman shows that the world is what draws him into this transcendent experience, not that what he learns is from the actual material world.While Whitman is definitely in love with experiences of the material world, he appears to suggest that these experiences and the reasoning of the world are not what wisdom is. Rather, they are the clues of wisdom, something Plato would call it “recollection” (Hamilton, Cairns 370). Through a kind of memory of the crucifixion of Christ (though he does not state Jesus’ name) Whitman shows that not only will he be reincarnated in the future, but that he has been others in the past. “That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning!I remember….I resume the overstaid fraction,The grave of rock multiplies what has been confided to it … or to any graves,The corpses rise….the gashes heal….the fastenings roll away.I troop forward with replenished power, one of an average unending procession” (71)Whitman has started this saying that he had been “stunned” (70). This experience, or flashback, to a previous life, has left him with “replenished power”. We are to assume that this is some kind of a transcendental or mystical experience, in which Whitman remembers a past life, or perhaps someone else’s past life. Is this the same as Socrates assertion that true knowledge or wisdom is gained outside of life, and only remembered in it? It’s not as clear in Whitman, but he does suggest transcendent wisdom prompted by sensory experience “Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is true what I guessed at; What I guessed when I loafed on the grass, What I guessed while I lay alone in my bed….and again as I walked the beach under the paling stars of the morning.” (59)This problem of the source of knowledge Whitman addresses near the end of “Song of Myself”. “It is time to explain myself…let us stand up./ What is known I strip away….I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown./The clock indicates the moment…but what does eternity indicate?” (79), but then he addresses the question of knowledge gained in the after- or pre-life more directly.Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, the vapor from the nostrils of death,I know I was even there….I waited unseen and always,And slept while God carried me through the lethargic mist,And took my time….and took no hurt from the foetid carbon.Long I was hugged close….long and longImmense have been the preparations for me,Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me (80)Here, Whitman is describing the time before his birth, perhaps after his previous life’s death. He is describing a time when he “slept” and “All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me” (80). This is similar to the slaves at auction sequence (123-124), when the poet maintains that the “globe lay preparing” for quintillions of years to create this man or this woman. His idea of the universe having a will does not include the universe imparting that knowledge to him, either during this life or between lives, however. The most Whitman will say is “Pleasantly and well suited I walk,/Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,/The whole universe indicates that it is good.” (106). Whitman does not, it appears, at least in the 1855 Leaves of Grass, agree with Plato that all knowledge is gained in the state between life and death, and remembered during life. The most Whitman will commit to is the possession of a kind of transcendent knowledge, gained from the universe, and obtained by being prompted by the material world into a state where that knowledge can be gained. This is an important distinction between the two belief systems. Whitman may claim to possess “the origin of all poems” (28), implying that he has some universal and important knowledge, but he does not tell us from where this knowledge came. Nor will he explain how it is derived exactly, simply that Nature is the vehicle for the knowledge. The most he will say is that “You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself” (28)In fact, in an interesting parallel between the Meno and Leaves of Grass, both Socrates and Whitman address children and discuss the nature of knowledge. The parable of the slave boy is presented as proof of Socrates’ argument of anamnesis, by the slave’s new understanding of geometric truths through being questioned, rather than by being taught (described above). The child and the grass sequence in Whitman’s poem, (“A child said, What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands;/ How could I answer the child?….I do not know what it is any more than he.” (31)) shows Whitman’s unwillingness to pin knowledge down, and illustrates a main difference between Plato and Whitman. Both share the idea of an important spiritual world and recurrence of multiple lives for each soul. Plato and Whitman might have had similar cosmic worldviews, but epistemologically they were very different. Though Plato and Whitman agree that the “soul must be immortal” (Hamilton, Cairns 371) and “Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? As everyone is immortal” (The Library of America 141), they do not agree on what happens during the time between life and death. Neither do they agree on how, or if, knowledge is gained or lost during that time.There are several other, less central ideas that recur in both the Meno and in Leaves of Grass. One is the interesting verbal recurrence of “virtue” and “manly”. “Manly” occurs six times in the 1855 Leaves of Grass, including the preface. It is usually, interestingly, in conjunction with a description of something good or virtuous. The root of the word virtue is the Latin vir, meaning “man” (Skeat 546). The word came into the English language specifically describing “manly” things, which was an accepted explanation of virtue at the time. To adhere to the qualities of manliness was to have vir-tue, and be virtuous. (Note, however, in the text of Plato, the Greek word for virtue is of a completely different origin.)The whole of the Meno is concerned with defining virtue. Socrates even goes so far to explain that different types of virtue are better in men rather than women. “…the virtue of a man consists in managing the city’s affairs capably, and so that he will help his friends and injure his foes while taking care to come to no harm himself. Or if you want a woman’s virtue, that is easily described. She must be a good housewife, careful with her stores and obedient to her husband” (Hamilton, Cairns, 355). How does Whitman address the different types of male and female virtues? Whitman does take the time, like Socrates, to describe the differences in virtue between men and women. In “I Sing the Body Electric” Whitman mentions several times different things he admires in men and women.The male is not less the soul, nor more . . . . he too is in his place, He too is all qualities . . . . he is action and power . . . . the flush of the known universe is in him, Scorn becomes him well and appetite and defiance become him well, The fiercest largest passions . . bliss that is utmost and sorrow that is utmost become him well . . . . pride is for him, The fullspread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul; Knowledge becomes him . . . . he likes it always . . . . he brings everything to the test of himself, (122)The active, powerful, and aggressive virtues are becoming to the male. Even “scorn”, a usually negative word, is considered a virtue. Contrast this with the female who also contains “all qualities” but “tempers them” (121). The adjectives he uses to describe the female are in direct opposition to those of the male. Socrates and Whitman agree, largely, on the difference in virtues desirable in male and female.When Whitman first uses the word “virtuous” in Leaves, it is in describing a young man, whom he loves, but who is not virtuous in the traditional sense of the word. The boy I love, the same becomes a man not through derived power but in his own right, Wicked, rather than virtuous out of conformity or fear,Fond of his sweetheart, relishing well his steak,Unrequited love or a slight cutting him worse than a wound cuts,First rate to ride, to fight, to hit the bull’s eye, to sail a skiff, to sing a song or play on the banjo (The Library of America 83)If this passage is analyzed and compared to Socrates’ comparison of sex-specific virtues above, some of the same manly virtues of Socrates are mentioned within the description of this boy, also. Whitman’s boy-man is somewhat bellicose, as Socrates describes his virtuous man, and both men have the ability and propensity to protect themselves from the “slights” of other men. This defense against other men seems to be an important part of masculinity for both Socrates and Whitman. In addition, self-determination, or self-reliance, appears as a virtue for both Socrates and Whitman. Whitman’s boy “becomes a man not though derived power but in his own right”. Socrates’ virtuous man manages city affairs, and, importantly, helps friends and injures foes and defends himself. Self sufficiency is an agreed-upon masculine virtue for both Plato and Whitman.The next time Whitman uses “virtuous”, however, he is using a poetic conceit. In “A Song for Occupations” (89) he is comparing the efficacy of the message of his poetry to the works of a “head teacher or charitable proprietor”. “Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you, would that satisfy you?/ The learned and virtuous and benevolent, and the usual terms;/A man like me, and never the usual terms.” He is asking his readers what they are trying to get out of him. He is not asking for the readers to gain “educations practical and ornamental”, but rather to take him as they find him. He is telling his readers that he will be “even” with them. He is contrasting himself with the “virtuous” here. He is just a man, and not the usual kind, making his poetry for people to read. He is not holding himself up as “virtuous”, as a schoolteacher coming to a new town might hope to be described. In both instances in the 1855 Leaves Whitman has referred to virtuousness (which has a slightly different connotation than virtue, which he mentions briefly in “Song of Myself” in conjunction with evil) in a negative light. Like Socrates in the Meno, Whitman offers no set definition for virtue. He only tells us what it is not, or gives us examples of not being virtuous. This is very much like the arguments about virtue in the Meno. The group, (Socrates, Meno, and Anytus) have finally, through many arguments about the definition of virtue, decided, “While the nature of virtue as a whole is still under question, don’t suppose that you can explain it to anyone in terms of its part, or by any similar type of explanation; you say this and that about virtue, but what is it?” There is no definition of virtue in the Meno. Both Socrates and Whitman seem able to recognize it, such as when Whitman says that the “universe says it is good”, but they cannot, and do not attempt to exactly describe virtue. Manliness, as related to virtue and separate from it, shows up more often in the 1855 Leaves than virtue does. Whitman mentions the word “manly” four times in the poetic text, and three out of the four times it is referring to something good. While “manly” has a generally good connotation in English, it appears that for Whitman is it a far easier quality to admire than the vague idea of “virtue”. The fact that the words have similar root meanings may have significance to Whitman, and he applies the word “manly” in constructions where the word “virtue” or “virtuous” could well suffice. In “Song of Myself” he describes the “manly wheat” as something he could worship (51). In this section, it is clear that strong and healthy things of nature are to be revered for Whitman, but also things with masculinity, both in a general and a sexually referential way, are to be admired. Similarly, in a “Song for Occupations” Whitman admires the “manly exercises” (97). At the end of “Song of the Answerer” Whitman asks You think it would be good to be the writer of melodious verses,Well it would be good to be the writer of melodious verses;But what are verses beyond the flowing character you could have?….or beyond beautiful manners and behaviour?Or beyond one manly or affection deed of an apprenticeboy?..or and old woman? Or man that has been in prison or is likely to be in prison” (132)Here Whitman is using the adjective “manly” to refer to the importance of what he would term the good deed (could it be a virtuous deed?) of an apprenticeboy. In it he includes an old woman being capable of manly acts. Manly is, to Whitman, a term not only applicable to men. Finally, in “There Was a Child Went Forth”, Whitman describes a domestic scene, and includes the only negative mention of “manly” in the poem. It is to be assumed that this family scene is describing, at least in part, the poet’s own family. The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper table, The mother with mild words . . . . clean her cap and gown . . . . a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by: The father, strong, selfsufficient, manly, mean, angered, unjust, The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure, (139)Whitman is describing, perhaps in a remembrance of his own father, an instance of the negative aspects possible within the state of manliness. He implies by the juxtaposition of the words (“strong, selfsufficient,” two alliterative words with positive connotations, then “manly, mean” another alliteration both with negative connotations, and the line rounded out with the almost-assonance of “angered, unjust”, also with negative connotations) the limitations of manliness. He puts the father, whom the reader may imagine sitting sourly at the table, in direct contrast with the “mild” mother, performing a graceful household chore, and it becomes apparent that, though the poet has earlier admired manliness, it is not always considered a faultlessly positive attribute to the poet.The Meno, a very famous and widely read work of philosophy, was possibly read by Whitman and referred to in his poetry. While there are similarities between the two works, it appears that the outgrowth of the ideas in it, begun twenty-three hundred years before Whitman wrote, were expanded and had variations made on them by him. This is in no doubt due to Whitman’s belief in Transcendentalism, which shares some ideas with Platonism.The two writers, Plato and Whitman, would have agreed on reincarnation, the importance of the spiritual world, the immortality of the soul, and the practice, if not the nature, of virtue. However, Whitman has less precision in expressing his ideas, as is proper in the work of a poet rather than a philosopher, and his ideas have many more possible meanings than those set forth in the Meno. Works CitedAllen, G. W. 1997. A Reader’s Guide to Walt Whitman. New York: Syracuse University Press. Hamilton, E., & Cairns, H. (Eds.). 1961. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Perseus Project. (06, September 20). Meno 70a. Retrieved September 20, 2006, from Perseus Digital Library Project. Ed. Gregory R. Crane. Updated daily. Tufts University. Web Site:
Plato: How God is Good
The central argument in Euthyphro implies that the concept of ‘good’ must be independent of the concept of ‘God’ such that “God must love that which is good because it is good.” Grube argues that the implication of this is that God has no choice in the matter. To understand this conclusion, it is first necessary to evaluate how the concepts ‘good’ and ‘God’ can be independent of one another, since they seem to be synonymous in the sense that good is an integral element in the concept of God. This poses the first problem. If accepted, however, one still must confront the problematic argument that God has no choice in the matter. How could this be possible? There must be a set of rules that regulate what is good, independent of God’s opinion, that he has no control over. Although this statement appears to be absurd, it is possible that God has no choice in deciding what is good, but must adhere to rules that govern that which is good.The assumption that the concept of good is independent of the concept of God seems to be preposterous. If “God is good” is a synthetic statement, then the concept of good helps to characterize the concept of God. Good must be separate from God in order for it to be an attribute of God. If good and God were not independent of one another, the statement “God is good” would simply be saying “God is God,” which does not make sense. Most followers of God have a reason for following what God wants. If one is judging to follow God because he is good, then it appears that good must mean something other than God for the statement to make sense, and for people to follow him. Good must describe more than “what God loves” or else it would not mean anything. If good is independent of God, however, does that imply that God did not create good, and if so, who or what did? Did good create God? Perhaps God is just a manifestation of the qualities of good. Where, then, did humans get their concept of good? Although these questions remain, it would not make sense if God and good were not independent concepts.The alternative does not make sense, therefore the concept of God and good exist independently. This statement seems to imply that good existed prior to God and that he did not create good. If he has no choice in the matter and he did not create good, then could there be a power superior to God, forcing him to love what is good? Having a standard of good separate from God means that good existed before God. What is the concept of God without the concept of good to define it? He could not have existed before he created good because there would have been no way to understand what God is. It seems impossible to imagine that he created good before he himself existed, though. This seems to indicate that God did not create good.In order for a word to have meaning, there must be a consistent, unbreakable rule for using the word. One can assume that God loves everything in his world. However, this does not follow a standard, so it cannot be a rule. If he is to love that which is good, though, God must conform to a concept of good. If he did not, how would we know what God is and why would we think he is worthy of our praise and respect. If God had a choice in whether he loved good, he would still have to love by a standard. Therefore, he has independent criteria of good: a set of rules. God must follow these criteria. Since the concept of good exists independent of God, the definition of good is not determined by God. Good may define God, but God does not define good. God must therefore follow criteria that is not at his discretion. He has no choice in the matter. God will not love what is good unless it fits a predetermined standard of good. If it does fit this standard, then he must love it.God has no choice in the matter because his very essence is goodness and God does not control what goodness is. God is defined by goodness, or loving goodness. If that is what he is, then he cannot defy it and he cannot not love what is good. If he did, then he would no longer be God. This would indicate that God did not love anything that is bad. However, one would imagine that God can love bad things, such as inhumane people. This does not change the meaning of good, though. Just because God loves something, it does not change and become good. However, the statement does not say God cannot love bad, but he must love all things that are good. Therefore, God loves everything that is good, he has no choice, but just because God loves it does not mean it is good.
Socrates in the Phaedo: Philosophy as Preparation for Death
Socrates, the father of modern Western philosophy, once said, shortly before his own death that “[Those] who happen to have gotten in touch with philosophy in the right way devote themselves to nothing else but dying and being dead” (Phaedo 64A). In other words, Socrates believed that the life of philosopher should be centered on the preparation for death. While this may seem like a morbid reason for existence, Socrates argues that the body is holding back the soul from finding what is true through sense experience, needs and emotions, and the only release from this “prison” of sorts is death. Socrates furthers this argument by making the case that throughout his life he has been preparing for death and not to worry when it comes since the soul is eternal. In the Phaedo by Plato, Socrates views the body as “… impediment [in] the very attainment of thoughtfulness.” (Phaedo 65B) and therefore, the true philosopher’s soul must be separated from it to obtain true enlightenment.
For example, Socrates claims that the body “… deprives us of leisure on thousands of occasions [and get in the way] of our hunt for what is.” (Phaedo 66C). Ultimately, the highest desire for a philosopher is the search and attainment of the truth yet the body impedes its’ search due to necessities, such as food, shelter and security, and through emotions such as love, desire and terror. Through desires, necessities, greed, and other impulses, the body perverts the soul’s desire for wisdom into the “desire for money and the desire for honor” as if the soul were enslaved to the wants of the body (Phaedo 67E). Socrates then goes onto argue that “…any man making a fuss at the prospect of dying was not a lover of wisdom but a lover of the body.” (Phaedo 68C). Philosophy itself comes from the Ancient Greek ‘philo-’, meaning love and ‘-sophia’, meaning wisdom (Mark). Together the two terms, mean “lover of wisdom” and is defined as “the study of the most basic and most profound matters of human existence.” (Mark). Socrates furthers this argument by stating that there exist simple, unchanging ideas in life that exist such as justice, beauty and good, that will never be understood through sense experience (Phaedo 65D).
Previously in the text, Socrates provides examples of how, throughout his life, he has distanced himself from the desires of the body in order to better prepare him for death such as the rejection of indulgences relating to food, drink, clothes, sex and honor (Phaedo 64C) in exchange for thoughtfulness, which was the only thing of true value and cleansed all impurities (Phaedo 69C). In conclusion, Socrates makes the claim that once the soul is freed from the body, it will finally be prepared to attain truth and enlightenment. Once Socrates establishes that the body and soul are separate entities and the desires of each vary, the two other philosophers in the dialogue question Socrates’ confidence in the eternal life of the soul and whether his time preparing for death was a waste. In response, Socrates gives two separate arguments for the everlasting nature of the soul continuing in life “among the Gods.” (Phaedo 69E). The first of these arguments is the “Argument for the Contraries” and Socrates states that opposites seem to seek out each-other such as the “contrary to being asleep is to being awake” (Phaedo 71C). Therefore, since opposites exist due to each-other, whether pain to pleasure or weak to strong, there exists an opposite state to life which is death. However, since people are in a state of living now, “living things come to be from the dead.” (Phaedo 71D) just as the strong come to be from the weak and pleasure comes to be from pain. Essentially, Socrates is stating that life is a circular process and the only thing that connects the two phases is the soul which much exist before life (Phaedo 72E).
The second of these arguments is the “Argument for Recollection” which begins with Socrates showing that recollection of information can be done with the association of similarities (Phaedo 73A-74A). Socrates then uses an example with similar sticks and stones that appear to be equal but are only associated with the true form of equal since no sticks and stones can be exactly equal (Phaedo 74B-74C). The conclusion being drawn upon, states that since there is no true example of equal here on Earth, yet people know the true notion of equal, it must’ve been obtained before the body came to being. In conclusion, Socrates makes convincing logical arguments for the eternalness of the soul during some of his last moments on Earth in order to show that his time preparing for death was not wasted. While it may be morbid thought to the rest of society, Socrates spent his life living close to death in order further his hunger for knowledge. The rest of his contemporaries may have wept for the fact that Socrates was wrongfully punished for his actions, Socrates was prepared to go if it meant that he stood by his teachings and actions.
While it may have been a therapeutic conversation for those in his chamber or if Socrates was convinced of his teachings, the world may never know. Socrates must have come to a celebratory acceptance of his own death, however as he did request that “his debt of a cock be paid to Asclepius”, (Phaedo 118) the God of healing, leading some to believe that Socrates felt as if his death was being healed from the real world. Socrates, finally, made the most of his life in the agora and made an even bigger impact in the world today, one that was probably beyond even his conception.
Exposition and Criticism of the Final Argument for Immortality of the Soul in Phaedo
In the prior conversations, Cebes proposes that even though the soul is long-lasting, it can be worn out and destroyed (91d). In response to that, Socrates investigates the cause of generation and destruction (96a) and proposes his final argument for the immortality of the soul.
Before coming to his final argument, Socrates recounts his own experience in searching for the cause of things and introducesthe theory of Forms, which will later serve as an important hypothesis for his argument. First, Socrates recalls his exploration in natural science when he was young and describes his investigation of how things come and cease to be (96b). However, when Socrates uses the old method of investigation for natural science, he feels himself becoming more ignorant in the process (96c). As it is explained by natural science, a man grows from small to large bulk because food adds proper parts to his body (96d). Natural science also explains “by a head” as the cause of being taller and addition of two as the cause of ten being more than eight (96e). However, Socrates is not satisfied with those explanations. For instance, he does not think two ones being brought together is why one plus one equals to two. He wonders why when ones are separated, each of them is one, but when they are brought together, they suddenly become two (97a). Neither is he convinced that division cause something divided to become two (97b). Socrates rejects those explanations of how things come to be, perish or continue to exist.
Socrates continues to explore the cause of all things, and he encounters the theory proposed by Anaxagoras. According to Anaxagoras, Mind is the cause of everything (97c). At first, Socrates was pleased by this explanation. However, after closely examining Anaxagoras’s work, Socrates finds his theory problematic and contradictory. Socrates states that if Mind is cause of all, it should direct things to the best states possible. In this way, directed by the Mind, one should find what it is best for him to be (97d). Therefore, Socrates assumes that Anaxagoras would tell him, for example, whether the earth is flat or round and show him why it is best for the earth to be in a certain condition (97e). He also thinks Anaxagoras would describe a common good as the general cause for all (98b). If so, Socrates would be satisfied. However, after reading Anaxagoras’s work, Socrates realizes that Anaxagoras gives no such accounts but focuses on some strange things (98c). Then, Socrates uses an example to clarify the inconsistencies within Anaxagoras’s theory. On the one hand, Anaxagoras would say Socrates’s actions are caused by his Mind. On the other hand, he would say the cause of Socrates’s sitting in the prison is the compositions and positioning of his bones, sinews, and muscles. In the same manner, Anaxagoras would explain the cause of Socrates’s talking as sounds, air and hearing (98d). However, the true reason why Socrates is sitting in the prison is his sentence by the Athenians. Moreover, it is actually best for his bones and sinews to escape, but Socrates decides to remain due to his pursuit of honor and justice (98e). Therefore, Anaxagoras’s claims about causation seem ridiculous. Socrates points out that things like bones and sinews are necessary conditions for people to act in a certain way, but they cannot be the real causes of these actions (99b). By showing the contradictions and problems in Anaxagoras’s work, Socrates disapproves it as an alternative explanation ofthe cause of things. After rejecting those two propositions, Socrates states that it is better for them to examine the causes of all things by means of words rather than facts (100a). Therefore, he decides to formulate a hypothesis by himself and this is where the theory of Forms comes forth.
Socrates proposes that Forms can explain the cause of everything. Also, he intends to establish the theory of Forms as an important hypothesis for his final argument for the immortality of the soul. Socrates assumes the existence of Forms, which means something like Beauty itself, Goodness itself and Greatness itself (100b). Then, Socrates indicates that anything, other than Beauty itself, is beautiful only because it shares in the Form of Beauty (100c). Socrates rejects any other cause like shape or color and maintains the only cause that he concerns about is the presence of or sharing in the Forms (100d). For example, big things are big only because they share in the Form of Bigness, and small things are small only because they share in the Form of Smallness (101a). Socrates strengthens this theory of Forms by refuting the alternative explanation. For instance, Socrates points out, when we compare sizes, the statement that one is bigger or smaller by a head is problematic in two ways. First, when we say one is bigger by a head, we can also say the other is smaller by a head. In this way, the same cause, “by a head”, shows opposite results. Second, it seems contradictory that we say someone is made big by a head, which is something small (101b). Due to those problems in the alternative explanation, being bigger or smaller can better be explained by its sharing in the Form of Bigness or the Form of Smallness. In this way, this theory of Forms can explain the questions raised by Socrates earlier during his discussion about the causes in natural science. For example, ten is more numerous than eight not “by two” but due to the Form of Numerousness. One plus one equals two not because of addition of ones but because two shares in the Form of Twoness (101c).
After proposing the hypothesis stating that Forms are the cause of everything, Socrates gives some suggestions for their further investigation of the immortality of the soul. He states that they should stick to this hypothesis and ignore any attack of it until they examine the consistency of consequences derived from it (101d). Socrates encourages the propositions of other hypotheses in the course of coming to a satisfactory decision. He also warns against discussing the hypothesis and its consequences at the same time (101e).
Then, Socrates starts to put forth his final argument for the immortality of the soul in the light of the theory of Forms. The first point he makes is that opposite will never admit opposite. Socrates illustrates this point through an example. He invites his followers to compare heights among Phaedo, Simmias and himself, and he states that Simmias is taller than him but shorter than Phaedo (102b). Under the assumption that Forms are the cause of everything, Simmias is taller than Socrates is because Simmias shares in the Form of Tallness compared to the Shortness of Socrates. Likewise, Simmias is shorter than Phaedo because Simmias shares in the Form of Shortness compared to the Tallness of Phaedo (102c). Although there are both Tallness and Shortness in Simmias, the Tallness in him will never become Shortness (102e). When Tallness is approached by its opposite Form, Shortness, it will not admit it but either retreat or be destroyed. Therefore, Socrates proposes that any Form will never admit or become its opposite (103a). Then, Socrates clarifies a question saying that this claim seems to contradict with the earlier statement that opposite comes from opposite. Socrates explains that what they discuss before are things that have opposite qualities, but here they are talking about the opposite Forms (103b). Opposite things do come from each other, which is the cyclical argument. However, opposite Forms will never admit each other.
The second point Socrates makes is that there is always something which shares in the characteristic of some Forms. Just as a Form itself will never admit its opposite Form, the thing sharing in the Form will also never admit the opposite Form. For example, Snow is different from cold, but it has the characteristic of Coldness. Fire is also different from hot, but it has the characteristic of Hotness. According to Socrates, like Coldness, the snow will never admit Hotness. When snow is approached by heat, it will either flee or perish. The same thing will happen with fire approached by cold (103d). Also, the number three, though different from odd, has the characteristic of Oddness and hence will never admit the Form of Evenness. Although two and three are not opposites, three’s sharing in the Form of Oddness causes it to never admit two and any other even numbers because those even numbers share in the Form of Evenness. When three is approached by an even, facing the Form of Evenness, it will either retreat or perish. This is why three is uneven (104e). In this way, Socrates concludes that not only opposite Forms do not admit each other but also the things sharing in the Form will not admit the opposite Form (105a). When approached by the opposite Form, the thing either goes away safely or fails to exist.
Then, Socrates uses this conclusion to reach his final argument for the immortality of the soul. First, Socrates gives some examples of things that share in and bring along the Forms. According to Socrates, fire brings along the Form of Hotness, fever brings along Sickness, and the number one brings along Oddness (105c). In the same manner, Socrates proposes that soul brings along the Form of life (105d). In other words, soul gives life to the body it occupies. The Form of Life has its opposite, which is the Form of Death. Previously, Socrates has concluded that the thing which shares in a Form will not admit the opposite Form. Therefore, the soul, which shares in the Form of Life, will never admit the Form of Death. Just as something that does not admit even is called as uneven, and something does not admit just as unjust, the soul, which does not admit death, is deathless (105e). If the soul is approached by Death, it will either retreat safely or be destroyed. To prove the immortality of the soul, Socrates has to show that the soul will retreat safely rather than cease to exist.
To build his argument, Socrates assumes that if uneven is said to be indestructible, this would imply that three, being uneven, is also indestructible (106a). Likewise, if deathless is agreed to be indestructible, soul, being deathless, can also never be destroyed and therefore immortal (106b). Then, Socrates asserts that deathless is indeed the only thing that can resist destructions, and he points out that all men agree that something deathless, such as the gods and Form of Life itself, are indestructible (106d). Given that something deathless cannot be destroyed, the soul is therefore indestructible and immortal. When death comes to a man, his body, the mortal part, is destroyed, and his soul, the immortal part, goes away safely and dwells in the underworld.
Socrates offers his final argument under an important hypothesis of the existence of Forms and reaches the conclusion that soul is immortal. However, after critically examining Socrates’s argument and dialogues, I discovered one inconsistency in his final argument. In 106d, Socrates states that the immortality of the soul can be proved by saying that deathless is indestructible. Here, Socrates seems to associate the state of death with destruction. Soul, which does not admit death, will therefore never admit destruction. However, in the previous dialogues in Phaedo, Socrates defines death not as destruction but as a separation of the body and the soul: “Do we believe that death is this, namely, that the body comes to be separated by itself apart from the soul, and the soul comes to be separated by itself apart from the body? Is death anything else than that? No, that is what it is” (64c). Here, Socrates argues that death is nothing but a separation of the soul from the body. Following the theory of Forms, it can be concluded that soul never admit death. Then, according to Socrates’s own definition of death, the statement would become that soul never admit its separation from the body. However, in his final argument for the immortality of the soul, Socrates claims that when death approaches the body, soul will separate itself from the mortal body and retreats safely (106e). Therefore, the two statements Socrates proposes in his final argument that soul never admits death and that soul will retreat from the immortal body are inconsistent with each other. This leads Socrates to contradict himself and weakens the validity of his final argument for the immortality of the soul.
The Quest for Virtue in Plato’s “Meno”
A seemingly excited lad initiates Plato’s Meno. Meno appears to have learned what virtue is and is eager to share this knowledge with the renowned Socrates. Thus, Meno tactically lays out calculated questions to Socrates: “…is virtue something that can be taught? Or does it come by practice? Or is it neither teaching nor practice that gives it to a man but natural aptitude or something else?” Meno’s enthusiasm to discuss virtue is immediately seen. Also, behind Meno’s sincere, keen interest lies a somewhat arrogant desire to prove his knowledge to Socrates. But does Meno actually know that which he thinks he knows?
On the other hand, we see a skeptical Socrates. He is very wary of agreeing to certain opinions, regardless of how sensible they might appear to be. Socrates blames Gorgias for acclimating Meno to the habit of answering questions confidently, as is appropriate to the ones who know: “ὥσπεr εἰκoV touV εἰδότας.” Socrates frequently uses various forms of the verb “οἶδα” in this part of the dialogue while referring to the knowledge of what virtue is. According to the Middle Liddell Lexicon, “εἰδότaV” is the perfect participle of “οἶδα”—translated in the present tense—meaning “the ones who know.” Also, “oἶδα” is related to “oraw” which means “to see or look.” Hence, “oἶδα” tends to deal with that which is known by being seen, and not only by being thought. The process of “seeing” or “knowing” implied by using “oida” could be literal or metaphorical. In the figurative sense, the thing in question could be perceived by the mind’s eye, reflected upon, and maybe eventually known. For this reason, “oida” could mean “to know by reflection or perception.” In light of this figurative definition, perhaps, Socrates is referring to those “people who know”— touV εἰδότας—as people who have an insight into the being of something, in contrast to those who merely claim to know—even though they really do not know.
Socrates sarcastically tells Meno that Meno speaks as though he knows, thus distinguishing Meno from those who actually know. These people who merely claim to know a thing do not actually see the thing in its entirety. They only see the different parts of a thing and suppose that, by seeing the parts, they have seen the whole. This happens to be the case in Meno’s analysis of virtue. Meno lists various examples of virtue but does not pinpoint what virtue is. Socrates, therefore, says to him: “…don’t suppose that you can explain it to anyone in terms of its parts, or by any similar type of explanation. Understand rather that the same question remains to be answered; you say this and that about virtue, but what is it?” Meno is expected to stop evading the question of interest and to identify virtue wholly. Still, it looks as though Meno is struggling, and is doing the best he can.
It is important to note that Meno starts off this virtue inquiry in a very promising way. He does not appear thick-headed as is mostly thought of him. The atmosphere at the beginning of the dialogue is optimistic. The investigation of virtue did not seem difficult. Meno, with ease, makes his first attempt to tell what virtue is. In summary, according to Meno, a man of virtue must be capable of managing the affairs of the city and a woman of virtue must be a good housewife. His second attempt is still just as enthusiastic: “it must be simply the capacity to govern men.” After Socrates refutes Meno’s definition for the second time, Meno appears to lose some of his confidence. He begins to realize that he might not have possessed the knowledge he thinks he has. Though Meno might not often be seen as a smart lad, he embodies the virtue of perseverance. This positive attitude of Meno towards understanding the ‘being’ of virtue is what keeps the dialogue going. It appears that Meno’s difficulty in defining virtue is not due to stupidity but due to the natural tendency to jump to multiplicity while discussing virtue. It could also be that virtue is somewhat immaterial, such that it is not definable in the way a material thing may be.
In the course of their dialogue, Socrates and Meno come across several analogies, such as the analogy of the swarm of bees, the analogy of shapes, etc. At first, these analogies appear to be helpful in the quest for virtue. However, despite the apparent usefulness of these analogies, Meno finds it difficult to map these analogies appropriately onto virtue itself. That is, relating these analogies to virtue without generality. He knows how to approach virtue while discussing the analogies, but again goes into plurality while referring to virtue. What, then, makes a precise characterization of virtue more difficult than an analogical description? In other words, is virtue too broad for definition? It appears that analogies do not guarantee comprehension. However, analogies attempt to bring the reader closer to the meaning of a thing, and maybe, facilitate the understanding of that thing. Plato seems to be accentuating the limitations of analogical thinking in philosophy.
A thought-provoking alteration in vocabulary is seen as Socrates introduces “gignwskw” alongside “oida.” Socrates asks Meno if somebody who does not know Meno would be able to describe him: “…ὅστις Mένωνα μὴ γιγνώσκει to παrάπαν ὅστις estin, τοῦτον εἰδέναι εἶτε kaloV….” Just like “οἶδα”, “gignwskw” also means “know.” It is, therefore, difficult to flesh out the connotative difference between these two words. The Liddell and Scott Lexicon defines “gignwskw” with different words including observe, understand, discern, distinguish, recognize, etc. Considering the subtle distinction Socrates tries to make, however, it appears that “gignwskw” has to do with discernment in observation, whereas “oida” has to do with reflection on observation. Socrates tries to show that one must be able to observe—gignwskw—Meno’s personality in order to know or see—οἶδα—his attributes. Thus, if someone is not able to distinguish Meno from some other male, that person would also not be able to characterize Meno.
Another interesting use of “gignwskw”—but this time alongside “oiomai”—occurs in section 77 of the dialogue. Meno makes his third attempt to spell out what virtue is. In the words of a poet, Meno defines virtue as “desiring fine things and being able to acquire them.” Socrates, however, rejects this definition by pointing out that everyone, even the most unvirtuous, desires good things. Socrates illustrates that people only desire something that is bad when they mistake the bad for the good. No one, clearly seeing that something is bad, will proceed to want it. Before reaching this conclusion, Socrates asks: “οἰόμενοι ta kaka ἀγαθa εἶναι, legeiV, ἤ kai gignwskonteV ὅτι kaka estin ὅμως ἐπιθυμοῦσιν αὐτῶν;” This is translated in English as: “And would you say that the others suppose evils to be good, or do they still desire them although they recognize them as evil? Here, a contrast is made between blunt supposition—oiomai—and actual recognition—gignwskw. Socrates emphasizes that supposing something to be in a certain way is not enough to make one knowledgeable. Further, “oiomai,” according to the Liddell and Scott Lexicon is mainly translated as: “think, suppose and believe.” In contrast to “gignwskw,” mere thinking is distinct from actual understanding. Meno initially mistakes ‘thinking’ for ‘knowing’ in his quest for virtue. But this problem might not only be applicable to Meno. Is it easy to tell when one knows a thing from when one only supposes that thing? Is there something unique about true knowledge that marks it off from assumption and fallacy? Moreover, is there really anything like true knowledge?
Though Socrates and Meno do not finally spell out what virtue is in its entirety, their quest is not futile. Necessary clarifications are made about certain misconceptions. For instance, Socrates shows that not all people who assume they know are knowledgeable, it is seen that analogies are not always effective, Meno learns to discern what he believes—oiomai—from what he knows—gignwskw, etc. Notwithstanding, the challenge of distinguishing when we are ‘gignwskw-ing’ from when we are ‘oiomai-ing’ still stands. ‘Knowing,’ thus, appears to involve a two-way process. Inasmuch as we run the risk of mistaking mere assumption for knowledge, we also run the risk of disparaging true knowledge in thinking that we do not know.
 All citations to Meno are to the translation by W.K.C Guthrie in The Completed Dialogues of Plato (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961 by section 70a)  70c2  Liddell and Scott Lexicon  Referring to virtue  79d6- 79de1  71e  73d1  71b5  77b3  77c 3-4
Socrates and High-Mindedness
Aristotle’s definition of the virtue of high-mindedness in Nichomachean Ethics, and of what constitutes the excess and deficiency of this virtue, poses a problem when applied to Socrates’ in Plato’s Apology. On one hand, Socrates is high-minded when he accepts his death sentence, despite believing that he is serving an important function in Athens, and because he advises people without charging a fee. On the other hand, Socrates shows timidity because he does not spread his beliefs in public affairs or make distinctions between the rich and poor, which would be characteristics of the small-souled person. Aristotle’s criteria for high-mindedness gives us pause as to whether Socrates is consistently virtuous. During his defense speech, Socrates displays both the characteristics of high-mindedness and small-souledness, indicating a flaw in Aristotle’s definition of the virtue, since according to Aristotle, one cannot be virtuous and deficient of a virtue at the same time.
Socrates fits the definition of high-mindedness because he does not spare his life, despite believing that he does not deserve the death penalty. Even though he believes he was given a divine role to play in making Athens a better place, Socrates understands that the best thing for him to do is to accept his death sentence. He thinks that because he is “superior to the majority of men”, supplicating the jury by bringing in family members and begging for acquittal would be considered a disgrace (Plato 35a). He does not argue against his death sentence because getting condemned for standing by his beliefs would be a greater honor than being remembered for performing “pitiful dramatics in court” (Plato 35b). Aristotle’s definition of high-mindedness applies in this case because Socrates does not necessarily believe that the death sentence is what he deserves, but rather that it is a more honorable option than begging for mercy. According to Aristotle, there is “no honour worthy of total virtue” (Aristotle 1124a 7-8). By avoiding the disgrace of begging for mercy, Socrates is able to aim closer at the honor that he is worthy of. Aristotle also states that the great-souled person will not spare his life when facing great dangers (Aristotle 1124b 7-8). Socrates does not think his life is so great that he needs to save it. He tells the judges after his death sentence that he is still convinced he neither wronged anyone nor wronged himself (Plato 37b), yet he does not spare his life, because it is not worth being disgraceful by arguing for a different punishment.
Socrates’ willingness to help others without asking for payment in return is yet another reason why Socrates would fit Aristotle’s definition of high-mindedness. The high-minded person asks for nothing, or almost nothing, but is willing to help others readily (Aristotle 1124b 17-18). Socrates fits this statement because he argues that he does not “undertake to teach people and charge a fee for it” (Plato 19d). Spreading his beliefs is Socrates benefiting others, but he does not ask for anything in return. He questions others for the sake of stirring up the city because that is what he believes he was placed in the city to do. The high-minded person is also one whose “possessions are noble but unprofitable” (Aristotle 1125a 12). Socrates does not have many possessions, living in great poverty, since he does not charge for his occupation of questioning people to show them that they are not wise (Plato 23b). He is self-sufficient because he does not need material possessions to keep spreading his beliefs.
At the same time, however, Socrates would considered small-souled because he did not strive for greater honor by spreading his beliefs in public affairs. The small-souled person is someone who “deprives himself of what he is worthy of” and is similar to the timid rather than foolish person (Aristotle 1125a 22, 24-25). Socrates only goes around advising people in private affairs but refuses to venture out in public to advise the entire city because he believes he would have died a long time ago if he had tried taking part in public affairs (Plato 31c-e). Trying to advise the city by taking part in politics would have been foolish, because if he had died, Socrates would not have been able to spread his beliefs to anyone. Socrates took a more moderate approach by intervening only in private affairs, so he would not be considered vain, since the vain person is foolish for being ignorant of their worth (Aristotle 1125a 28). Taking this more moderate approach, however, would be considered small-souled and timid, because the small-souled person should have “striven for the things of which he was worthy” (Aristotle 1124b 26-27). There is a problem in this situation, because whether Socrates chose to advise the public or not, he would have been acting either foolishly or timidly. It seems that hitting the mean would be impossible, but Aristotle acknowledges that it is sometimes better to lean towards one excess than the other. In this case, acting foolishly would be closer to hitting the mean of high-mindedness because smallness of soul is more opposed to high-mindedness than vanity (Aristotle 1125a 32-3). Although Socrates did serve in public life twice, he did not actively spread his beliefs like he does in private affairs. When he served on the Hall during the Thirty, Socrates simply left when he and the rest of the Hall was ordered to bring in Leon from Salamis to be executed, something he considered unjust (Plato 32c-d). He was able to stay true to his beliefs of what he considered right and wrong by not participating, but he did not stay in public life to save Leon’s life or keep spreading his beliefs.
Another indication of Socrates missing the mark of high-mindedness is that he is equally ready to question anyone, whether they are rich or poor (Plato 33b). According to Aristotle, the high-minded person should be “dignified in his behavior towards people of distinction or the well-off, but unassuming towards people at the middle level” (Aristotle 1124b 18-20). Socrates does not distinguish between those who are well-off and those who are not. He uses the same method of questioning for everyone as long as they are willing to listen and is not interested in hierarchy. Superiority over the rich would be considered by Aristotle to be impressive, but superiority over the poor would not mean anything because it is easy (Aristotle 1124b 22-23). Since Socrates is exhibiting the same behavior to people of all types, he does not fit this definition of high-mindedness. He does not make a distinction between the poor and the rich; rather, he only differentiates between people who are willing to listen or not. Furthermore, Socrates tells the jury that he is accustomed to spending time at the marketplace by the bankers’ tables (Plato 17c). This shows that he spent more of his time interacting with the masses rather than with people of distinction or the well-off. Socrates is not unassuming towards those who are not distinguished, a characteristic of the high-minded person. This is another indication of him acting in a small-souled manner.
Many of the actions that Socrates describes during his defense speech and his acceptance of the death sentence would be considered high-minded; however, his actions are not always consistent, because some of them would be classified as small-souled. According to Aristotle, virtue is a kind of mean or target to reach, and any missing of the mark would be vice (Aristotle 1106b 25-27). This poses a problem for Aristotle because high-mindedness would be considered virtuous, but at the same time, Socrates exhibits a vice by acting small-souled. It would not be possible to be truly virtuous if one displays both virtuous and vicious actions because virtue and vice are opposites. The contradiction between Aristotle’s beliefs and Socrates’ actions lies in Aristotle’s definition of high-mindedness because Socrates fits into both the mean and the deficiency of this virtue when it appears that he is not consistently virtuous.
The high-minded person is one who “thinks himself worthy of great things – and is indeed worthy of them” (Aristotle 1123b 2-3). Although Socrates meets the criteria for this Aristotelian definition of high-mindedness, he displays small-souledness at the same time when he does not intervene in public affairs to spread his beliefs. Socrates consistently hitting the mean and missing the mark by acting both high-minded and small-souled presents a problem for Aristotle’s definition of the virtue of high-mindedness because one cannot be high-minded and small-souled at the same time.
The Great Philosophers’ Opinions and “No Exit”: From Socrates to Sartre
A major controversy in the philosophies of both the modern philosopher Sartre and the ancient philosopher Socrates is the argument regarding how life will unfold. Either every choice someone makes determines the next thing that may happen to that person, or his or her life is already laid out in front of him or her, so that his or her every move has been predetermined. In the play No Exit, written by Sartre, the three characters Garcin, Inez, and Estelle all end up in hell and must examine their past actions and how they lived to see why they have arrived at their current situation. Sartre and Socrates were very strict about their philosophies, and the characters in this drama both agree and disagree with said philosophies. The characters believe that every move has been laid out before them by the devil in order for them to torture each other (Sartre 2559). The philosophers, of course, would disagree with this conception, as the choices that someone makes will affect his or her life path. Although the characters may think otherwise, ultimately their actions define who they really are.
Sartre and Socrates would criticize Garcin, a journalist for a pacifist newspaper, for thinking that he is in hell by some fluke, not because of his actions. He claims that he has done nothing wrong and stood by his morals, and when he had refused to fight was shot (Sartre 2549). He in fact was not standing by his morals because, in reality, he had run away from the fighting. He acted in a cowardly manner and is now trying to put up a false front and trick his new roommates. Socrates would think that Garcin is foolish for caring what others think because, in The Trial and Death of Socrates, the philosopher himself says, “Why should we care so much for what the majority think? The most reasonable people, to whom one should pay more attention, will believe that things were done as they were done” (Plato 45). This statement shows that Socrates would believe that Garcin’s actions got him where he was, so that he should just accept the consequences and deal with his situation instead of trying to trick others into thinking that he is someone that he really isn’t; their opinions should be irrelevant. Garcin also acted deceitfully when he treated his wife very poorly. He cheated on her, made her serve him and his mistress breakfast, and then blamed her for his cheating and poor treatment of her (Sartre 2555). This behavior showed how awful of a person he was and offers another reason why he has ended up in hell. In the book Twelve Theories of Human Nature, Sartre explains that a man would be in bad faith for believing that he is something that he is not (Sartre 236). Sartre would argue that this act of his had put Garcin in bad faith for blaming others for the actions he clearly decided to do, and for not owning up to his faults even though is it obvious that he was in the wrong.
Sartre and Socrates would look poorly upon Estelle as well for thinking that her actions did not define who she was on the inside. When asked why she is in hell, she responds, “As I told you, I haven’t a notion. I rack my brain, but it’s no use” (Sartre 2557). This statement shows that, along with Garcin, she is also trying to conceal her true self so that she will not be regarded as a monster. She is also lying to herself and not being true to who she really is. After further examination, she breaks down and tells her roommates that she had murdered her baby and drove a man to kill himself. In The Twelve Theories of Human Nature, Sartre says that a person cannot have freedom if that person thinks that he or she is something that he or she is not in reality (Sartre 235). This idea relates to Estelle because she keeps telling herself that she is this sweet young girl when in reality she is a horrible person; until she believes what she really is, she loses the freedom of choice that can define who she really is. In The Trial and Death of Socrates, Socrates says that the oracles are fools because they believe that they have more knowledge than they really do (Plato 25). For her part, Estelle is a fool for thinking that she knows a greater amount of information than she does when she attempts to fool the others. Estelle eventually dies of pneumonia after all the wrongs she had done just because something did not please her (Sartre 2558). The way she acted put her in bad faith; her guilt eventually overcame and weakened her when she died of pneumonia. Indeed, the choices she made dictated the path of her life.
In No Exit, Inez is a post-office clerk who understands that the actions she has committed have influenced her life and led her to be in the situation she is currently in. She had tortured her lover after her lover’s husband had passed away. Inez made the woman so miserable that she eventually killed Inez in her sleep by leaving the gas stove on (Sartre 2556). This chain of events shows how awful a person Inez was and how her actions in her mortal life impacted how she would live the rest of eternity. Socrates says, “It is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death” (Plato 40). Socrates would criticize Inez for being so awful, torturous, and wicked towards others. Yet he would advise her to try to change her ways, since she can clearly realize that she is doing wrong and therefore is capable of change. Sartre says, “We must accept our responsibility for everything about ourselves — not just our actions, but our attitudes, emotions, and characters” (Sartre 239). On the basis of these words, Sartre would commend Inez on this aspect of his philosophy because she fully accepts what she has done, along with its consequences, and she says that she would willingly do so again. Nonetheless, he would not think that the actions she has performed to incur those consequences were very admirablem, as he himself has placed her in hell in his play.
The actions of Garcin, Estelle, and Inez dictated every new event that happened to them. Their actions affected them during their mortal lives and persist in affecting them in the afterlife, even though they believe that the devil has already planned out their demise. Throughout No Exit, the characters slowly realize that their actions truly did define who they really were, the legacies they left behind, and how they got into the predicaments they were in. The philosophies of Socrates and Sartre, as related to the characters, reveal that the belief that everything is predetermined is false and that, in a scenario such as is presented by No Exit, individuals must endure the everlasting consequences for their previous actions.
The Trial of Socrates: Finding the Root of Reason
The four dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo were all authored by Plato in order to give insight into the trial and death of the famed philosopher Socrates. Each work focuses on a different aspect of Socrates’ personal teachings and ideals, ranging from questions about piety to Socrates’ final musings about an afterlife and death itself. Throughout the dialogues, each statement made by Socrates revolves around practicality and logic. This line of reasoning often results in vague or unresolved questions, as is typical of the Socratic Method. The intention of Socrates was not to provide the answers, but to make his listeners rethink previously held-beliefs and see the error in them.
The dialogues’ main focus is Socrates’ trial, as described in Apology. Socrates chooses to address both old and new charges brought against him in order to fully prove his innocence. He is accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and failing to properly pay homage to the gods of the city. Socrates begins to refute these claims by stating, “I know that I have no wisdom.” He could not possibly teach others because he is not wise; Socrates is simply considered wise because he is aware of his own personal limitations while others are “thought to be wise by many and wiser by themselves.” However, they are simply deluded by what they think to be true. Socrates’ specific type of questioning “has made an enemy of him and of many others,” which in turn is one of the main reasons he is brought to trial because he has made a fool of many prominent society members. Socrates does not set out to make others look foolish. It is simply a result of his efforts to push the citizens of Athens to not simply accept everything they believe as fact, but to be able to defend and prove their beliefs.
Socrates, instead of addressing the charges of “corrupting the youth,” turns the question back on his accusers. Meletus, his primary accuser, claims that “every Athenian improves and elevates [the youth]; all with the exception of [Socrates].” Logically, this statement cannot be true, as one person cannot be the root of all wrong doing. Socrates, once again, likens the situation to another less complicated subject, horses. By using a different subject he shifts the accusers’ focus and makes them think of the charges in a more practical application, rather than through the vague and lofty idea of “corrupting the youth.” By doing so, he strikes down this portion of accusations.
Another element of the charges brought against Socrates focuses on the allegation that he is not paying proper homage to the gods of the city of Athens. The original charge is that Socrates is a complete atheist. Socrates quickly refutes this notion with a question: “can a man believe in divine agencies and not in spirits or demigods?” He is making the claim that someone cannot believe in demi-gods without first believing in the gods that fathered such demi-gods for the simple reason that one cannot exist without the other. Throughout the trial, Socrates relies on logical solutions to seemingly lofty questions; this method infuriates his accusers but is an effective tool for refuting both the new and old charges.
At this point, a reader could reasonably assume that Socrates would be cleared of charges and be released since he has quickly and succinctly proven the charges false. Socrates was correct in assuming that he had made many enemies in Athens because, ultimately, he is condemned to die. Even when faced with death he refuses to “desert the principles which were acknowledged by us to be just.” If Socrates is above the law due to money and connections, then the rule of the Athenian people stands for nothing and will only be followed when it proves convenient. Strangely, Socrates shows no fear and even says, “he expected his result.” For Socrates, exile is worse than death; it would require him to reject his city, his countrymen, and his purposeful questioning of those around him. Socrates goes on to claim he was convicted so that his fellow Athenians could “escape their accuser.” His countrymen felt accused because it is common in human nature to avoid what is not understood; people don’t want to face the reality that every ideal they have could be proven faulty. The reason Socrates is so calm when sentenced with death is that he has “hope that death is good.” Socrates discloses that he has two ideas about what death could be: “a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness” or a “journey to another place.” People are naturally inclined to fear death, but Socrates was not one such person. He saw death in an honest, realistic, inevitable way. Death for Socrates would be a release from his body and from the needs of the material world; he would be unable to push the Athenians to keep striving for more, but his mind and soul would be free.
Through the dialogues, Socrates’ main goal was to educate and to further the virtue of the polis. His willingness to die rather than to leave his community shows the lasting impression that Athens leaves not just for those who lived during the time period, but also for people from future generations. As a society, we look back in awe at the advancements made by ancient Greece and see pieces of our own reality looking back at us. Indeed, as a whole, humanity has repeated similar patterns; many of the political and humanitarian rights that are so prevalent today were the results of the struggles, and suffering, of men and women of reason. Even with these advancements, the people of today still share a similar goal with the ancient Greeks; we strive for the Ideal of the Polis and for a lasting legacy, moral strengths to be given to future generations.
On the Relationship of Socrates and Plato
From historical sources it is known that Socrates was Plato’s teacher and that Socrates was Plato’s elder by at least a few decades. Other than this, things become far less clear when examining the relationship between these two founders of western philosophy. Since Socrates never wrote down anything, scholars have become totally reliant on the works of his students to figure out who he was and what his philosophical ideas were. In Phaedrus, Plato presents a Socrates who says that writing is “inhuman, pretending to establish outside the mind what in reality can be only in the mind” (Phaedrus 275a). Socrates was a master of oral speech and this was evidently his preferred method of engaging his interlocutors and teaching his students. However, when comparing the works of those who mention Socrates contradictions arise and these works disagree in places. Kierkegaard believes that Xenophon is unreliable because he is shallow, Plato is unreliable because he tries to idealize his teacher, and Aristophanes is too heavily influenced by his nature as a comic playwright.
Despite these inconsistences it is important to look at the works of these three individuals because it is the only way of beginning to understand Socrates. Due to the very large amount of Plato’s works that incorporate Socrates, Plato is generally the go to source for examining the philosophy of Socrates. Consequently, understanding the relationship between these two becomes incredibly important. Many scholars, including Kierkegaard, consider the Apology to be the one work that gives a truly reliable picture of the actual Socrates. Some scholars extend this to include Euthyphro and Crito because they also come from what many consider to be Plato’s “early period.” No one believes that Plato actually recorded the words or speeches of Socrates verbatim, but there is nothing in the Apology that stands out as being something Socrates would not have uttered at his historical trial.
It is important to examine the four main views held by scholars about Plato’s dialogues and their depiction of Socrates. These views all have vastly difference implications for the relationship between Plato and Socrates. The first view, called the Unitarian view, argues that everything found in Plato’s works is a single philosophy characterized as Platonic philosophy. The second view, called the Literary Atomist view, treats every dialogue as a complete literary work and says that all works can be interpreted without referencing other works so there is no reason to group the dialogues. Essentially these first two views give no reason to ever talk about Socratic philosophy because everything written by Plato is his own philosophy. The third view, called the Developmentalist view, points out the differences between the early and later dialogues and claims that the differences represent developments in Plato’s own philosophical views. This theory divides Plato’s works into two categories: Socratic and Platonic. This paper advocates for the final view, called the Historicist view. This view recognizes the developments in Plato’s dialogue, but attributes the earlier dialogues to Plato’s desire to represent the historical Socrates. Later on, however, Plato began to more freely put his own views into the mouth of Socrates.
In Plato’s “early” or Socratic dialogues, Plato is serving as a mouthpiece for Socrates because without Plato we would not know the philosophy of Socrates. Socrates was particularly well known for his dedication to careful reasoning. He wanted far more than victory over his interlocutors, Socrates was seeking genuine knowledge. Socrates had a willingness to call everything into question and would accept nothing less than an adequate account on the nature of things. In the Apology Socrates claims that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a) and that “there is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance” (Apology 28a). Socrates saw it as his mission to awaken the citizens of Athens and help them live an examined life (Apology 30e). He went about this by simply asking questions in order to expose his interlocutors’ confusions, while claiming his own ignorance on the subject at hand. This method came to be known as the Socratic Method.
Through his Socratic Method, Socrates began to showcase his own philosophical thoughts, most of which were ethical positions. Socrates held the view that only virtue is good just by itself: anything else that is good, is good due to its ability to serve or be used for or by virtue (Apology 30b; Euthydemus 281d-e). Socrates also claimed that doing injustice harms one’s soul, the thing that is most precious, and thus it is better to suffer injustice than to do it (Republic I. 353d – 354a). Within this primarily ethical discussion facilitated by Socrates some of his other views also came out, which were related to subjects such as religion, politics, and epistemology. In the Crito, Socrates proposes that if a citizen has agreed to live in a state they must always obey the laws of that state, with the only alternatives being to change the law or leave the state (Crito 51b-c, 52a-d). From a psychological perspective, Socrates believed that all wrongdoing is done in ignorance, for everyone desires only what is good (Protagoras 352a-c; Gorgias 468b).
However, in the middle period of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates is suddenly willing to defend his own theories on many subjects that he considers to be important. This is what marks the switch over to Platonic dialogues. Plato’s views on philosophy have not evolved at all; he is simply straying away from his earlier method of representing the historical Socrates in favor of presenting his own views. Another change in this period involves the subjects that are discussed; Socrates primarily stuck to a philosophical agenda concerning ethics and the portrayal of virtue, but Plato’s interests are expanded and involve countless areas of inquiry. The philosophical positions advanced in many of these middle dialogues are far more systematical and involve broad theoretical inquires. While Socrates recognizes the full extent of his own ignorance, Plato uses Socrates in his later works to acknowledge the possibility of infallible human knowledge. This is especially prevalent in the simile of the divided line in Book VI of the Republic and in the allegory of the cave in Book VII of the Republic.
Perhaps the most definitive aspect of what is now considered Platonism is Plato’s Theory of Forms. The Theory of Forms keeps reappearing throughout Plato’s middle period dialogues and it is through contact with the Forms that infallible human knowledge is possible. For Plato these Forms serve as perfect examples of what they represent; the Form of Beauty is perfect beauty (Symposium), the Form of Justice is perfect justice (Republic), the Form of Tall is perfect tallness (Phaedo), and so on. Another huge difference between Socrates and Plato is their views on morality. Socrates advanced the idea that one can never do what one actually believes is wrong, and therefore all wrongdoing is the result of some sort of cognitive error. Plato, on the other hand, advocated for akrasia, also known as moral weakness. Akrasia means that it is possible for one to find them self engaging in some sort of act that they believe is not the right thing to do (Republic IV 439e – 440b).
The last way in which Plato used Socrates is in the act of self-interrogation. In the Parmenides, Plato is critiquing his own Theory of Forms. The most well-known argument advanced in the Parmenides is the “Third Man Argument,” which suggests that the concept of participation in a form is prone to infinite regress. However, since Plato continued to use his Theory of Forms, it shows that his thoughts on them didn’t develop; he was simply aware of possible shortcomings of his theory.
In Plato’s last dialogues, Socrates is even further marginalized. In both the Sophist and the Statesman, he is shown as a mostly silent bystander and in the Laws and Critias, Socrates is completely absent from the dialogue. Once again, this change in the portrayal of Socrates does not represent a change in the philosophical views of Socrates or Plato. Plato has just gotten to the point where he doesn’t need Socrates to advance his own philosophical and political views.
In conclusion, Socrates and Plato remain static figures through their lifetimes as far as their philosophical views are concerned. The only thing that changes is who is playing the role of a mouthpiece. In Plato’s “earliest” or Socratic dialogues, Plato is serving as Socrates’ mouthpiece because without Plato we would not know much about Socrates and his philosophy. However, in Plato’s “later” or Platonic dialogues, Socrates is serving as Plato’s mouthpiece. Plato uses Socrates as a character in his dialogues in order to advance and question his own philosophical positions. Despite their differences in philosophical views, they also have many similarities and in the end understanding Plato is vital to understanding Socrates and understanding Socrates is vital to understanding Plato.
Plato, John M. Cooper, and D. S. Hutchinson. Complete Works. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997. Print.
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