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Parker Thomas
Parker Thomas

Plato And The Post-Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialogue (Ancient Greek: Σωκρατικὸς λόγος) is a genre of literary prose developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC. The earliest ones are preserved in the works of Plato and Xenophon and all involve Socrates as the protagonist. These dialogues and subsequent ones in the genre present a discussion of moral and philosophical problems between two or more individuals illustrating the application of the Socratic method. The dialogues may be either dramatic or narrative. While Socrates is often the main participant, his presence in the dialogue is not essential to the genre.

Plato and the Post-Socratic Dialogue

Plato wrote approximately 35 dialogues, in most of which Socrates is the main character. Strictly speaking, the term refers to works in which Socrates is a character. As a genre, however, other texts are included; Plato's Laws and Xenophon's Hiero are Socratic dialogues in which a wise man other than Socrates leads the discussion (the Athenian Stranger and Simonides, respectively). The protagonist of each dialogue, both in Plato's and Xenophon's work, usually is Socrates who by means of a kind of interrogation tries to find out more about the other person's understanding of moral issues. In the dialogues Socrates presents himself as a simple man who confesses that he has little knowledge. With this ironic approach he manages to confuse the other who boasts that he is an expert in the domain they discuss. The outcome of the dialogue is that Socrates demonstrates that the other person's views are inconsistent. In this way Socrates tries to show the way to real wisdom. One of his most famous statements in that regard is "The unexamined life is not worth living." This philosophical questioning is known as the Socratic method. In some dialogues Plato's main character is not Socrates but someone from outside of Athens. In Xenophon's Hiero a certain Simonides plays this role when Socrates is not the protagonist.

Generally, the works which are most often assigned to Plato's early years are all considered to be Socratic dialogues (written from 399 to 387). Many of his Middle dialogues (written from 387 to 361, after the establishment of his Academy), and later dialogues (written in the period between 361 and his death in 347) incorporate Socrates' character and are often included here as well.[1] However, this interpretation of the corpus is not universally accepted.[2] The time that Plato began to write his works and the date of composition of his last work are not known and what adds to the complexity is that even the ancient sources do not know the order of the works or the dialogues.[3]

The complete list of the thirty-five Platonic dialogues that have been traditionally identified as authentic, as given in Diogenes Laërtius,[4] is included below in alphabetical order. The authenticity of some of these dialogues has been questioned by some modern scholarship.[5]

Socratic dialogue remained a popular format for expressing arguments and drawing literary portraits of those who espouse them. Some of these dialogues employ Socrates as a character, but most simply employ the philosophical style similar to Plato while substituting a different character to lead the discussion.

More than just a late dialogue concerning natural philosophy, the Timaeus contains a radical project of replacing the Gigantomachy as the charter myth of Athens. In agreement with Gregory Nagy, DM Hutchinson offers some additional considerations for why the Timaeus-Critias constitutes a new peplos to be presented to Athena during the Panathenaic festival.

I chose to do my graduate study at Penn because of Charles Kahn. Knowing my great interest in the Socrates of the early Platonic dialogues, he suggested I explore Epictetus for my dissertation. He was such an excellent mentor to me and deeply shaped my career. I remember him very fondly.Report

The Statesman chiefly aims to demonstrate how to undertake all such inquiries. Its own inquiry stimulates the participants (and us readers) to recognize what mistakes to avoid and what paths are worth pursuing and why. But significantly, as one sees from comparingthe treatments of the sophist and statesman, different kinds of subject matter demand different sorts of methods. So we cannot simplyextend the methods of the Sophist and Statesman in a mechanical way to the investigation of the philosopher and other great and difficult topics. These dialogues teach us how to go about philosophical investigations. They do not offer a formula that can besimply applied to further cases.

If the Sophist and Statesman are philosophical exercises, there may be a good reason why the final dialogue of the trilogy, the Philosopher, is missing. Plato would spoil the lesson if he wrote it for us (cf. Dorter 1994, 236). If we have learned how to investigate philosophical problems in the Sophist and Statesman, Plato may be challenging hisaudience to search for the philosopher themselves, using the techniques and recommendations these dialogues provide (M. L. Gill, 2012).

Along with Protagoras was Gorgias (c.485-c.380 B.C.E.), another sophist whose namesake became the title of a Platonic dialogue. Perhaps flashier than Protagoras when it came to rhetoric and speech making, Gorgias is known for his sophisticated and poetic style. He is known also for extemporaneous speeches, taking audience suggestions for possible topics upon which he would speak at length. His most well-known work is On Nature, Or On What-Is-Not wherein he, contrary to Eleatic philosophy, sets out to show that neither being nor non-being is, and that even if there were anything, it could be neither known nor spoken. It is unclear whether this work was in jest or in earnest. If it was in jest, then it was likely an exercise in argumentation as much as it was a gibe at the Eleatics. If it was in earnest, then Gorgias could be seen as an advocate for extreme skepticism, relativism, or perhaps even nihilism (Graham 725).

The most peculiar and firm principle of all the dialogues of Plato, and the whole theory of that philosopher, is the knowledge of our own nature, and such pure and genuine knowledge of ourselves, circumscribed in scientific boundaries, must be considered as the most proper principle of all philosophy.

The design of all that has been said in the First Alcibiades is to purify our dianoetic part [i.e., our reasoning power] from two-fold ignorance, and to remove all that impedes our resumption of true science. For we are ignorant of ourselves in consequence of being involved in oblivion produced by the realms of generation, and agitation by the tumult of the irrational forms of life. In the mean time, we think that we know many things of which we are ignorant. This dialogue therefore is the beginning of all philosophy, in the same manner as the knowledge of ourselves.1 (italics mine)

For years, I have read entire dialogues of Plato and parts of others in no particular order. But for the serious student of Plato, of which I am now, I would suggest reading them in a particular order, preferably starting with the early dialogues and moving forward from there. You can search the internet for more specific ideas.

The irony is that one of the most important dialogues that sheds light on understanding Plato, Alcibiades, is one of the most ignored. This is analogous to a neophyte Bible reader starting in the book of Isaiah instead of in Genesis.

One reason for this is that Alcibiades was largely held to be an authentic Platonic dialogue until the emergence of German Higher Criticism, in particular the German scholar Friedrich Schleiermacher who, in 1836, argued against this.3 It is beyond the purpose of this blog to get into dry academic discussions, lest I lose my audience.

I am more interested in understanding and learning from Plato than in dissecting his dialogues under a microscope à la contemporary academia. After all, the purpose of philosophy is to gain wisdom and thus live a virtuous life.

In this dialogue, Socrates takes us on a journey of self-discovery from the unmasking of this ignorance to a profound discussion on the nature of man, and finally to its practical outworking in statecraft. I find some of his insights absolutely earth-shattering. As we read through the dialogue, we realize that Socrates is not addressing Alcibiades, but us as readers. And we would do well to heed his message, for the profound ignorance of the times calls for people of wisdom and virtue to intervene.

On a practical note, I would suggest reading the dialogue for yourself in order to grasp the whole picture presented in Alcibiades. There are numerous translations on the internet. Nevertheless, I will include pertinent excerpts in the discussion.

And if you want to have some fun, grab a copy of Alcibiades, find a partner, and read the dialogue to one another, even in front of other people. This could make for some great discussion along with some coffee, ale, or wine. The more I study Plato, the more I realize that his dialogues were probably meant to be read aloud in dramatic fashion in such an environment rather than in an undergraduate lecture hall.

This is where the dialogue takes an interesting turn. I would think that once Alcibiades becomes willing to learn from his teacher, Socrates would start instructing him on the nature of justice to prepare him to meet with the Athenian assembly. Socrates does nothing of the sort, but rather he takes Alcibiades on an even more fundamental quest of self-discovery, attempting to answer the question of who we are as human beings. What is the essence of human nature?

The question Socrates then asks of Alcibiades in the dialogue is if it is easy or difficult to know oneself, and he concludes that whether easy or difficult, it is imperative to know ourselves lest we remain in darkness. This is really the question for today. How can we construct society that seeks the common good of man if we do not know the nature of man? 041b061a72


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