Sept. 19, 2013
431-404: Peloponnesian War
427: Plato was born
411: Oligarchic revolution (rule of “The 400”)
404: Oligarchic revolution (rule of the 30 Tyrants one of them is Plato’s uncle)
399: Trial and death of Socrates
The “Socratic problem” and the trauma of Socrates’ death
Xenophone – paints Socrates as a pious man
Plato paints Socrates as an atheist
Various accounts of what he was like
-Socrates’ dialogue in some pieces contradict Socrates’ dialogue in other works
Plato was at the trial
Socrates is the most influential figure in Western thought
Many have compared his story to that of Jesus (impact on the Western world, traumatic
deaths, etc.) Dedicated to their causes, both extremely virtuous, developed a new way
of thinking/set of principles.
The events surrounding Socrates forever changed the development of the Western
Genuinely cared about the good, the truth, and the well-being of Athens
Killed by the very city he cares so much about
His trial and execution took place in a democratic regime
We don’t like to think of democracies as executing critical thinkers
Influenced the US Constitution – why a radical constitution would be wrong
The old accusations and the new ones
-Socrates’ rebuttal: convincing?
Indicted by 3 specific individuals – no public prosecutor – up to private citizens to bring
charges against people and serve as lawyers.
This is why rhetoric was so important – in case they needed to defend their own case in
Socrates wants to start with the old accusations first – “fighting shadows”
Not the reason why he’s in court, but will affect the outcome of the jury
He thinks they are more problematic because (Aristophanes’ play with accusations –
false picture of Socrates) give false prejudice – rumors which many juror members have heard: p. 22 a student of all things in the sky and below the earth; someone who makes
the worst argument the stronger. Socrates rejects both as false
Socrates is a natural philosophers (studies the elements) – threatening because it’s
impious; considered dangerous because they denied the Gods as causes for plagues,
storms, etc. Goes against the word of priests. Natural philosophy was equated with
hubris; an excessive faith in the power of reason. Athens will be punished for its hubris.
Equated with atheism. Natural philosophy is pre-Socratic.
Socrates is considered by many to be the first philosopher; founder of political
Cicero – ancient philosophy before Socrates dealt with number…celestial matters.
…Socrates brought philosophy down from the sky and brought it into homes; questions
morals, good, and evil.
Who’s right? Aristophanes or Cicero? Textual or historical evidence – most accounts of
Socrates that we have claim Socrates was not a natural philosopher. Cared more about
good and evil than the elements.
Socrates denies the charges p.23.
Socrates makes the weaker argument the stronger; he’s using sophistry. Presenting
something that is wrong as something true; sophist. Playing with words, being clever,
being a moral relativist. Sophists – travelling rhetoric teachers. Plato did not consider
them thinkers, they simply had good tricks. In it for the power and money. Twist words
to win arguments. People did not like the sophist, but would pay them to learn rhetoric
skills – defend oneself in court, avoid being humiliated, build your reputation, etc.
Plato accuses the sophists of not giving a damn about truth and justice – all that
mattered to them was that their speech would be well-received in council and
power/money. Associated with corruption and selfishness
How does Socrates refute the charge of Sophistry?
-Says he never took money or ask for money or anything. Sophist never taught for free.
Never asked for anything in return. My poverty is proof that I’m not a sophist.
-Always cared for his interlocutor’s soul – only concerned with making them good men.
P. 24 – one of Socrates’ friend goes to the temple to ask if there is anyone wiser than
Socrates. He decides to test it to know if it’s true, if so, what does being the wisest man
mean? Starts asking people questions – different social groups, occupations, reaches
different conclusions. First, to the politicians – distinguished public men. Men with the
highest reputation to see if they truly have knowledge. They have none – and worse,
those with the greatest reputation for critical thinking are the most ignorant. Not
enough to just establish that these men did not know more than he did, he tells them
they’re ignorant. Second group…knowledge based on divine inspiration. Thirdly, craftsmen, do have
knowledge – they know things he doesn’t know. He gives more credit to the
commoners than those in power. Those considered inferior were more knowledgeable.
Considered a democratic man because he talks with commoners, people other than the
rich, and recognizes their wisdom.
Socrates claims to be the wisest because he “knows that I kno