Plato: dialectical questions

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  1. Pericles’ Oration Speech:

Thucydides: What is history? What do we learn from history?

What is democracy? What is a great democracy?

To what weaknesses are democratic societies prone?

Legal system: equal access, legal profession, rich get best defense

Value individuality: drive for personal power, no concern for common good

Value freedom of foreigners vs. value Empire

Private life/leisure time: corruption of pleasures has social impact

Respect for authority inadequate




Globalization, diversity


Military training

The importance of thought: self-examination and examination of others to keep a democratic system honest, headed in the right direction.
Thucydides wrote his history so that people living in democratic societies after his would avoid making the mistakes the Athenians made.
Political and intellectual freedom: democratic societies provide the opportunity to develop practical wisdom and love of learning, creativity, deliberation

Democratic societies are also prone to abuses at two extremes:

  1. overindulgence, leading to laziness, corruption of various kinds

  2. individual pursuit of excess wealth and power

  3. the freedom to ignore the need for community

  4. Republic VIII: the democratic personality

  5. Republic IX: the tyrannical personality

  6. Glaucon and Adeimantus (Socrates’ brothers) asked Socrates to teach them to love justice for its own sake, as one part of having a healthy soul; their parents and elders had told them to love the appearance of being just so they could gain power for themselves

  7. Plato did not think everyone was equally capable of ruling well, but he did think the greatest threat to stability in a democratic society occurs when those with the most power and privilege rule for the sake of themselves rather than ruling for the sake of the ruled. Without this basic emotional drive, all other intellectual gifts are worthless and will only be used for evil.

  1. Socrates: Apology

What were Socrates’ motives?

What were Meletus’ motives?

What were the juries’ motives?

Was this really a suicide speech? Did Socrates “ask for death”?

Did Socrates want to be a martyr?

Is the title ironic? Is Socrates ‘apologizing’? (Erin says he is not apologizing for anything. The title is ironic.)
1. The archetype/model of the life of a philosopher: gadfly

  1. Socrates has a daimon, or spirit, which prevents him from doing wrong.

  2. If you were to internalize the image of Socrates as an alter-ego (“What

would Socrates say?”) would you then have a similar kind of daimon?

What is the divine? What does the god Apollo require of us?

  1. Is the philosopher a great blessing, a threat, or irrelevant to the well-being of a democracy?

  2. To what extent could one say that Socrates actually agreed with the ideal of Athenian democracy as Pericles described it, but he was critical of the Athenians because they were hypocrites, that is, they did not believe in, or follow through on, their own ideal?

  3. Did Socrates value intellectual freedom? If so, would he value a democratic political order?

  1. Crito:

  1. What were Crito’s motives?

  2. What does the dialogue tell you about the spirit of the times in Athens?

  3. Did the Athenians respect authority? What was their attitude toward the legal system?

  4. Did the Athenians believe in freedom? In what sense? (Republic VIII)

  5. Is authority natural or cultural? What is Crito’s view? Socrates?

  6. Are we social and political beings or primarily individuals? How does one argue one way or the other?

  7. What do we owe the city?

  8. How should societies be constructed to best reflect/realize human nature?

  9. What is the place of laws and a legal system in maintaining a just order?

  10. What is the place of friendships in maintaining social order?

  11. How does the spirit of the times in a nation affect the real nature of the system of laws and social institutions?

  12. If you had a friend who you thought was very just and was completely unjust accused of something and was going to lose the case, would you chip in some money to get him/her out of the situation?

  13. Why are such questions/issues built into the very nature of the human condition? What is it about human life that makes these issues and questions universal?

“Thought is an inner dialogue of the soul with itself”

Memory vs. recollection: Plato’s dialogues reflect conversations every thoughtful person has had with him/herself and/or with others.

Socrates is everyperson: his daimon represents the voice of reason

Socrates is everyperson: the need for every member of a democracy to render an account of his/her life. People have choices about how to live and the choices they make and their reasoning for making them are what keep a democratic system honest or what cause it to fail.

Crito dialogue: Socrates is everyperson: everyone should know that and how much they do depend upon social and political institutions. This should motivate us constantly to try and keep these institutions honest, to do what we can to maintain a high quality of life in order to prevent the abuse of the legal, educational and other social institutions. In a democracy, it is up to the people by their own choice to maintain the correct spirit because nothing is forced.

Socrates and Jesus:

  1. Both accused of violating the traditional institutions.

Jesus: “I have come not to destroy the law, but that it may be fulfilled.

Socrates: Trying to make democracy what it really should be.

  1. Both tried to stay out of politics, avoid being used by politicians.

Jesus: “Render to Ceasar what is Ceaser’s and to God what is God’s.”

Socrates: I chose a private life; wouldn’t have survived in public life.

  1. Both gadflys: critical of the established order, the corruption of the leaders. Both called the leaders to render an account of their lives and to justify their power and reputations.

4. Both the opposite of what they appeared:

Jesus accused of being impious

Socrates accused of being impious and corrupting the youth

  1. Common person: could not distinguish between those who challenged the status quo and religious leaders from a desire to make it truly good and get rid of the corruption and those who undermined the status quo due to their own corruption and desire for personal power

Jesus vs. the pharaisees; Zealots, Sadducees, Essenes

Socrates vs. the sophists, Euthyphro, Meletus, Anytus

  1. Both found followers in the dispossesed, the poor and/or the youth, those who did not have as much at stake in the status-quo

7. Why should we study a figure both like and unlike Jesus?

a) St. Paul: “When I was a child I thought like and child, I reasoned like a

child. Now that I am an adult I have put away childish things.”

b) Paul’s adult faith and life was the opposite of his childhood training.

c) Many people alter their convictions in the transition from childhood to

adulthood because their ways of thinking, feeling, being change

  1. Young adults need to study some religious/philosophical system or

Language or figure other than the one with which they grew up so they can reflect on the serious questions in life with a language which reflects their higher level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. Then they can turn back to the language of their childhood detached from the associations and level of awareness of a child and able to connect it with the spiritual, intellectual and emotional life of an adult.

  1. Socrates/Plato and multiculturalism

Within the United States there exist many very different cultures. Further, we are made aware of the cultures around the world and either have or will travel and be exposed to many cultural differences. This exposure has a tendency to lead to moral relativism: there is not good or evil, but human beings are molded to behave in different ways and to think of those ways as good or evil.

Socrates and the Athenians lived under similar circumstances. Their great navy and democratic beliefs led them to be exposed to many different cultures and to encourage foreigners to come and talk about their ideas. Plato’s dialogues are an effort to find a common ground underlying all of these apparent differences. The powers of soul Socrates exhibits and discussed are intended by Plato to be qualities of soul and life which every human being should aspire to, although these qualities will be exercised under very different physical circumstances. Did Plato/Socrates find some universal common ground? It is up to each of you to decide for yourselves by the end of the semester.

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