Sunday, August 31, 2008


See the list on the right of your screen of "literary works online."
Go there & read the following:
1. The Apology of Socrates
2. Paideia--Out of the Cave

Read a bit about Socrates' life & background. He was accused of "corrupting the youth" and sentenced to death by poison. Plato, his student, allegedly wrote down true accounts of his philosophy & also his death. The "Apology" is Socrates' defense of himself to the Athenian court. In this context, "apology" does not mean he's repentant; it's simply an explanation & even a justification.

You may have already read "The Allegory of the Cave." If so, did you notice anything new this time? What's your general response?

As you read these two works & skim some others, what evidence do you see of the so-called "Socratic method" of instruction? Can you come up with a definition?

How does Socrates strike you?


Dean Elazab said...

i am very excited about reading this apology. the way socrates talks is so exhilarating compared to today;s courts full of wimpy kiddy baby whiners.

Caroline said...
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michelle scandurro said...

In the "Apology," Socrates said: "For this fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown."

Much of Plato's work addresses death. How does Socrates' philosophy seem to deal with notions of death, afterlife, honor, etc?

Stephen Gieger said...

I enjoyed how Socrates initially explained how he has been regarded as pompous in thinking that he is wiser than all when in reality he explains the pompousness in human nature as he visits with men who think themselves wise, however, pretend to know more than they actually do.

Through this apology, it seems that Socrates believed that a man should not calcululate his dangers of death but rather should hold his ground in the face of danger and only fear the possibility of dishhonor. Socrates exhibits these traits through his examples of his political action under a democracy and the tyrannical government of the thirty tyrants

Caroline said...

I really liked how Socrates did not fear death because he thought that death could be better than life. This thought is obvious in his closing statement, "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways- I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows." I like this because most people fear death, but he almost embraces it. Also, like Stephen said, he thought that men should not fear life or death, they should think about whether what they are doing is right or wrong.

El Paco said...

?"...for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know."
I love that quote - Socrates is the man. Imagine how brave you'd have to be to stand up to pretty much an entire city and tell them they're wrong, and when they sentence you to death you just thank them and face your destination with pride. I've always tried my hardest not to compromise my own ideals but I wonder if I could do what Socrates did; to face death rather than pretend to be sorry.

also - I thought this was kind of funny:
"and that any stranger coming in would say of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the Athenians themselves give honor and command, are no better than women." - Nothing better than good old fashioned anti-feminism.

bballinsupasta said...

i would have been quite lost without some of the footnotes. i think that Socrates actually did not understand death or why we all die (not saying i do). rather, he tries to come up with diversions like wrestling with honor crises so that he didn't appear ignorant(...not exactly the right word but i can't think of it now.

bballinsupasta said...

i also think his syntax is interesting and fun to read, though i did split the reading of the apology into two readings

Caroline said...

Socrates says that people should not live their lives avoiding death; they should live their lives according to right or wrong. Also he says that "there is great reason to hope that death is a good." However, I don't think he ever claims to understand the secrets of death.

Mr. Plainview said...

"Do not the good do their neighbors good, and the bad do them evil?"
Mkay. Socrates seems to do this a lot. He provides a really simple question that perfectly illustrates his point. This is just one, but there are many more.
In terms of "Paideia", though, I would like to bring attention to this concept. For the people underground, Plato says "...the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images." I would just like to ask...What is truth?

bballinsupasta said...

the whole point is that as great of a thinker as he was...he didn't come up with a theory on death (its meaning, an afterlife)...he just glosses over it and talks about things related to death...not the act of dying and what happens to a person afterwards

bballinsupasta said...

does anyone know if the monks were responsible for translating the apology because i find it hard to believe that Socrates said, "and so leaving the event with God, in obedience to the law i will now make my defence"

tmichals said...

I felt very relaxed when reading Socrates' philosophy on death and how it is a blessing whether than something to fear. It is almost inspiring to me for some reason how he accepts his fate so willingly, not seeming at all disturbed by his death sentence.

JP said...

I've heard the quote from Socrates before, paraphrasing "I know only the extent of my own ignorance." I've always thought that was a really good quote, but the backstory of how he went around cross-examining the wisest men in Athens makes it much more meaningful to me.

I kind of thought that some of his Socratic-method debate with Meletus was kind of weak, though, for the guy who invented it. Maybe I'm not understanding it right, but this is roughly what I understood he said to Meletus:

Socrates: Meletus, you accuse me of corrupting the youth. Do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally, or uninentionally?

Meletus: Intentionally, I say.

Socrates: Yeah... well... why would I do that? If I corrupt them, then they will be harmful neighbors to me and injure me. Therefore, since nobody likes being injured and corrupted people injure their neighbors, there is no possible way that I intentionally corrupt.

I feel like there's a non-sequitur in there between his assumptions and his conclusion. It's something like saying there's no way anybody would ever rob a bank, because nobody wants to go to jail.

Can anybody explain his logic here better to me?

Here's the original passage:

"And now, Meletus, I will ask you another question, by Zeus I will: Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer, friend, I say; the question is one which may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbors good, and the bad do them evil?


And is there any one who would rather be injured than benefited by those who live with him? Answer, my good friend, the law requires you to answer, does any one like to be injured?

Certainly not.

And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating the youth, do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?

Intentionally, I say.

But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbors good, and the evil do them evil. Now, is that a truth which your superior wisdom has recognized thus early in life, and am I, at my age, in such darkness and ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is corrupted by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him; and yet I corrupt him, and intentionally, too, so you say, although neither I nor any other human being is ever likely to be convinced by you. But either I do not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally; and on either view of the case you lie."

ndepass said...

I really enjoyed reading this piece on socrates and found it all very interesting. My favorite part was when he was questioning Meletus because he so easily exposed how false all of his accusations truly were. Meletus could not even begin respond in an intelligent manner because of socrates wise statements.

I thought one of the most interesting quotes was when socrates was talking about his sons and justice and said,

"..or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing- then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands. "

i found it incredible how he was able to pull meaning and something good from this horrible situation.

joel derby said...

I, like Socrates, disagree with pretty much all of you. Socrates strikes me as an arrogant hypocrite. He says, "I am better off than he is-for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him." He claims to be so much better than these other wise men, but his whole speech is about how he thinks he's wiser than everyone else because he doesn't think he's wise. To me the whole speech sounds like he's trying to claim he's better than everyone else. He knows he's going to die so he says he likes death, kinda like when a little kid doesn't get what he wants so he lies and says its exactly what I want.

El Paco said...
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tmichals said...

joel we really don't appreciate the "tude"... just kidding tehe.

El Paco said...

A very bold statement, Joel. I feel you, broseph, but you have to understand the context. I think he's completely right. Also, John makes a pretty good point.

puddlewonderful said...

I love Socrates. Yes, he comes off a little arrogant-- almost like he as a Jesus complex. At one time he claims ignorance in humble manner, and then he claims superiority for awareness of that ignorance. Then he goes on to essentially proclaim himself the prophet of God (well, Apollo), sent by the Divinity to do His Work among mortals and teach them that they really know nothing at all. I wonder what the reality behind that story is; if the Oracle really disclosed what Socrates said it did.

Socrates may be ignorant, but he's also brilliant, and that's obvious. Already what we see of his rhetoric (assuming this is not really Plato's work) indicates his brilliance. The fact that he was so successful in perturbing people and making them feel stupid (which seems to be why Athens wanted him dead) supports this. You can watch him use his method on Meletus, and at least I sensed in it his genius.

I also admire his eloquence-- it has moved me to compassion for him. The closing sentence is one I think will stick with me forever, as will this quote: "the unexamined life is not worth living." I'd heard it before, but to read it in context and know who said it, when, and why-- it has gained new significance.

John: I blinked a bit over that passage, too, and it didn't make much sense at first. It conflicts with, I think, our modern view of the criminal. Here's the argument: If Socrates is corrupting the youth, he's making them bad. Bad people harm other people; good people are good to other people. Logically Socrates would not intentionally make the people around him bad, because he would know that they, once they were bad, would injure him.

puddlewonderful said...

As for the Socratic method, I think it's marvelous, but it requires a brilliant instructor to carry it out. It seems to me to be the process of testing someone's beliefs-- you start with a simple question, and then you find all the loopholes in the person's position, leading them into traps, and making them concede that they are wrong. That way, they learn about issues thoroughly, and come to their conclusions having been lead through what should be a careful, complete investigation.

I read everyone's comments-- I agree with Andrew about Socrates' inspiring integrity.

Jane- I think the syntax is what happens in translation; to a Greek all those phrases and ways of speaking would have sounded natural, though perhaps elevated. You find this in Latin a lot-- translation is a tricky subject, because on the one hand you want to preserve the meaning and the way thoughts are being expressed, on the other, you want to render it into at least somewhat pleasing English. Also, the translator is Benjamin Jowett-- guess he could be a monk, though.

As I read his defense, I began to picture Socrates in my mind. I could see him, old, but proud, with vigor and clarity in his rheumy eyes. This sounds like hodgepodge and it is. My point is that I admired how he faced death so resolutely. His theory of death is profound in its submission-- in keeping with his idea of ignorance, he again admits ignorance of death. And yet-- this is the important part-- he does not fear it. One of the two or three quotes I marked in my book with hearts (I do that when I find a quote I want to remember for the sake of its eloquence) is this: "For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good." He embraces the unknown. In the words of Dumbledore: "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." (JKR was a classics scholar...)

Anyway, if he's going to die, he might as well look on the bright side, right?

As for honor-- in keeping with that ancient Greek emphasis on life, death must not define one. It must not reign over life; one must act as if it does not exist at all, and one mustn't fear it. Therefore it makes sense that one should live one's life with honor and integrity, so that it, the only thing we are sure of, is of value, and it is good. If we shirk honor, hoping to delay death, we've never really lived righteously, which is the only way to live. That's what I gleaned from Socrates, and I, for one, agree.

JP said...

You know, now that I think about it, no wonder everyone wanted to kill Socrates. He went around asking questions and telling people they're ignorant, and saying God commanded him to do this.

If some modern-day Socrates guy came up to me and said "Hey man, God told me to tell you you're ignorant. Just letting you know." I'd probably want to kill him too. Jerk.

On a serious note, dude was pretty smart. He's totally right about the irrationality of fearing death. Despite what people will tell you, nobody in this world can know for certain what comes after death. Fear of death essentially boils down to fear of the unknown - and that is, without a doubt, foolishly ignorant.

puddlewonderful said...

I think most of us would be peeved at Socrates, but to his defense, I think it was more of a "Hey, do you think you're smart?"
"...uh, yeah, I guess? Who are you?"
"Doesn't matter. So what you're saying is..."

And after five minutes he's proven that you don't know anything, and you're pretty pissed, and he's probably at least a bit smug about it. Then, of course, a bunch of idle young rich boys decide to try their hand at doing the same thing, and all of Athens is overrun by gadflies.

I propose our class take a field trip and try to do this to random people in the French Quarter!

tmichals said...

I have to admit, I have always been more of the kind to fear death rather than embrace it. However, I found the last paragraph where he talks about the eternal, undisturbed sleep challenging my views on this as I read it.

puddlewonderful said...

I'm the same way, Taylor.

The other thing that can really challenge such views is the last Harry Potter book.

bballinsupasta said...

i agree with Joel that socrates was definitely arrogant...i do think that he reached a level of understanding that not many other greeks wanted to reach or could reach. i think that a person must be pretty wise and mature to acknowledge their own ignorance

El Paco said...

Sage, I see your point, but like I said in class, the importance of a gadfly can't be (mis)underestimated. Gadflies (I think) are those who point out the flaws of the status quo (tell me if I'm using that phrase correctly; I was just watching the news and they said "status quo" and I was like, "yes! I'm totally using that phrase in the English blog). In Socrates' case, the sophists were acting like they knew everything and making people pay to hear their false wisdom, and Socrates was all up in they grill. Someone needed to be all up in they grill, or else the status quo would have remained and the sophists might never have been challenged.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

i think, Joel, that Socrates was coming off as arrogant to slap the faces of the court. Socrates was stating that his death would provide him with a purpose, a defiance that transcends death, and that is how he remembered to this day.
not to go all "po-mo" on everything, but could plato have stuffed socrates' mouth with these words of defiance to make Socrartes' last moments heroic?

Manal said...

I agree with Michelle's defination of the socratic method. That by asking seemingly simple questions you prove the other to be wrong by the logic of the arguement. This i think is an essential part to the method that the arguement you are representing is logical so the other person can agree that he was indeed wrong. The less complicated the arguement, the easier others would believe you and understand what your message is. If you present a complicated arguement, then they might just think you are showing off and not believe the integrity of your arguement.

Manal said...

On the other hand, I also enjoyed reading Socrates and appreciated his acceptance of being ignorant. I do think that his accepting this does make him wiser than thoes who claim to be wise becasue they think they know everything. He agreed that people can know a great deal about their own special job, but then they assume that by that knowledge they know almost everything and ignore what they don't know. Socrates said he was wise because he does not know everything, which is true because as long as one lives, they keep learning something new.

Margaret said...

I thought Plato's Socrates was extremely honorable, and I think I could only hope to be half as dedicated as he was to his life's purpose. I don't think he was arrogant. I tried to read The Apology without putting my own inferences into it. I mean, maybe you could infer he was acting all pompous, but you don't really know. And I know that could be a device he used to manipulate the crowd, it's really likely. But I'd prefer to believe Socrates was the hero that Plato wants to portray, and I'll explain that later.

He acknowledged and accepted his ignorance and in this way, he was honestly "wiser" than others since those other people thought they were smart. I think that's incredibly profound. Socrates was ahead of his time and because the people around him could not come to terms with his philosophy, they persecuted him. I understand that they'd be pissed, but they should've seen the reason behind his argument and challenged themselves to live honorably. This is the only way we can hope to better ourselves. Anyway, in the Apology it's even said that Socrates would certainly not be the last to be condemned for his beliefs. So, I see Socrates as a martyr for his beliefs.

Does it really matter if Plato glorified Socrates or not? Regardless, Socrates inspires us to question and grow. And because Socrates' beliefs may be considered ideal to some, that's all that matters as long as we strive to realize this ideal. In this way, we elevate ourselves to a higher, more meaningful plane of existence. And wasn't his goal realized? Athens became the center of thought, I think I read... and we remember him today.

I completely agree with Socrates' views on death, and I haven't seen it explained so eloquently before. We can't go around fearing death all the time, it's another barrier that keeps us from realizing true potential in attaining that higher plane.

Wasn't it said in class that our basic judiciary system is based on the Socratic method? Cross-examination and all that? I think it works, and Socrates was the best at executing his own method. I think people with strong analytical and deductive skills would be able to use the method effectively, but with Socrates, he was just so eloquent and graceful in speech (I agree with Michelle).

And it wasn't his purpose to comment on what happens in the afterlife. He doesn't have theories about it because he doesn't know. Plus, his whole point is that we shouldn't worry about it. So he wanted us to just accept that everyone must die eventually and spend the time we have on earth honorably bettering ourselves spiritually.