Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.08.41

Lindsay Judson, Vassilis Karasmanis, Remembering Socrates. Philosophical Essays.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2006.  Pp. viii, 207.  ISBN 0-19-927613-7.  $74.00.  

Reviewed by Robert Zaborowski, Institute of Philosophy, University of Warmia and Mazury (
Word count: 2895 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

It has become almost the norm for reviewers of collective works to complain of the uneven quality of the contributions.1 With Remembering Socrates, however, this does not hold true. Each of the contributions is interesting and stimulating.

They differ in methodology and form as well as in length (from almost 8 to almost 30 pages) and in their usage of Greek (in some the Greek is transliterated, in others it is maintained, in some only in the footnotes and elsewhere also in the main flow of the text). There is also some variety in how the contributions handle their bibliographies (some of the contributions have their own bibliographies, others do not). The index (203-207) compensates for the lack of a general bibliography, and features the most entries under Aristotle (Plato is omitted, but we find Christianity: 190-202 passim). Perhaps this bias is somehow linked to the fact that as we can see from the information about the contributors (cf. vii-viii), from among 13 authors and editors, 7 are specialists more in Aristotle rather than in Plato (as deduced from the titles of their publications). We may ask whether the book would be very different in character if it happened to be dominated by Platonists. Finally, some of the papers have already been given or published on other occasions whereas other are inedita.

The book has been compiled from the results of the international conference "Year of Socrates. 2400 Years Since His Death (399 B.C. - 2001 A.D)".2 Some of the conference proceedings had already been published in a volume of the same title.3 This latter publication I was unable to access, and so could not compare the two works. The 12 papers in Remembering Socrates were selected by both the editors (assisted by D. Charles and M. Frede) according to whether they had any relation with "Socrates' most famous saying 'The unexamined life is not a life worth living for a human being'" (1).

The texts were carefully assembled and there are many cross references, especially to previous ones, which makes them into something more than a haphazard whole and illustrates how the conference participants drew on each other's papers.

The first paper, by Carlo Natali, is one of a series of studies which defend the authenticity and importance of testimonies provided by Xenophon, though Natali in fact adopted the more limited objective of "establish[ing] if it is possible to trace in the Memorabilia a coherent theory of a couple of central concepts such as dialegesthai and dialektikos." (3-4) Natali argues that in Xenophon, dialectics serve Socrates not only as a means of refutation (elenchos), but also as encouragement (protreptikos), these being two different types of speech addressed to different types of disciples. N. states that it is a mistake to omit Xenophon from "standard histories of ancient logic" (18, n. 47), especially since Xenophon's dialectic is different from that of Plato and that of Aristotle.

In his article, Gerhard Seel analyses Socrates' moral intellectualism with subtlety and precision. Seel distinguishes two types: 'action-intellectualism' and 'intention-intellectualism', each of which has a weak and a strong form. In view of the testimonies of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle "it seems (...) that the historical Socrates held the position of moral intellectualism at least in its weak form." (30). Seel gives special attention to the textual problem with the phrase ouden ge mallon ê (Xen. Mem. 3.9.4) and concludes that between the two versions of intellectualism transmitted by Plato and Xenophon, the last one is more plausible (cf. 38). However, the radicalisation of Plato's position in Protagoras as compared to Apology comes as a result of the development of his own thought and not the position of Socrates. The last part tries to answer the question: "Is Socrates a Deontologist?" Seel answers that if we take Xenophon's description to be accurate, Socrates would be a prominent deontologist alongside Kant, but he argues that the Socrates portrayed by Xenophon is false and Socrates only had knowledge of meta-ethical questions which gives no concrete knowledge. This comes of "endless conversations with other people who have wisdom, the patience and the motivation to discuss questions of this kind" (47). The introduction to this paper ("Preliminary Remark", 20-24) was particularly effective and eloquent.4

After this paper, which is the longest, comes the shortest contribution to the book, written by Charles H. Kahn. It concerns the problem of how hedonism was attributed to Socrates in the final refutation of Protagoras, which stands in stark contrast to the popular portrayal of Socrates.5 Kahn speaks of Socrates' position as "quasi-hedonism" (51). In essence, this is the position of Plato who attributed it to Socrates "to do justice to the deep psychological appeal of hedonism" (57).6

Terence Irwin discusses the argument against the statement that "piety is what all the gods love" (58) (the so called 'Euthyphro Argument'). Irwin draws a distinction between logical and moral argument and differentiates between concepts and properties ("it is difficult to decide whether Socrates is concerned with concepts or with properties" (61)), and further on between conceptual (semantic) and metaphysical explanation. Socrates probably understood 'pious' and 'god-beloved' not as different concepts, but as different properties (metaphysical explanatory, not conceptual, 62). Further on, Irwin discusses later versions of the Euthyphro Argument in Augustine, Duns Scotus, Aquinas, Cudworth and Clarke.

Lesley Brown's paper, which has already been published twice elsewhere (once in the proceedings of the conference) argues that the fact that Socrates remained in prison need not mean that he was obedient to the Laws of Athens. B. differentiates (after J. Raz) between performative agreement and cognitive agreement (with subdivisions into private and public, sincere and insincere). Brown "suggest[s] that the (erroneous) claim that Socrates, or a present-day citizen, has agreed to obey the law is made plausible in part due to a conflation of different notions of agreement (...)" (72). Brown demonstrates that Socrates did not make an agreement with the Laws of Athens, which would have to be based on awareness and on "freely chosen obligation" (87).7

Vasilis Politis demonstrates that the term aporia has meanings in the earlier Platonic dialogues which are usually recognised only in later ones. Aporia has not only (contra Kahn) 'purgative' or 'cathartic' senses, i.e. showing someone his lack of knowledge and preparing him to seek for knowledge, but can also mean "'productive state, the first stirring of creative thought'" (88)--a meaning that, in truth, is not systematically set out until the Theaetetus in association with the midwifery function. Politis analyses a number of passages from early dialogues in which aporia has a cathartic character (Laches, Euthyphro, Meno), and then goes on to study those places where it has a zetetic character: Apology, Charmides, and Protagoras. One passage which he studies especially closely to demonstrate this is Prot. 324d2-e2. Politis states that the difference between the two aporiai is based on their objects, functions and aims: "From the start, Plato thought that the search for knowledge involves the endeavour to solve particular puzzles and problems" (109).

David Charles in his paper, which was delivered on three occasions (Delphi, San Diego and Bogota), argues that in Meno Socrates asks two questions. The first one, 'what is F?' concerns "the essence of the object" and "is answered by giving a definition of the thing", the second one 'what is "F"?' concerns "which object a linguistic term signifies" and "is answered by giving an account of what is named by the linguistic term "F". Charles notices that all the three types of definition usually distinguished by philosophers ('real', 'conceptual' and 'factual' (112, 115) in essence come under the second category ('what is "F"?'). But both questions, however, are insufficiently distinguished in Meno and "the interlocutors, Socrates included [didn't] succeed in distinguishing them" (116). This is so because Socrates "is not using the vocabulary which keeps the answers to the two questions clearly distinct" (116). It is a pity that the Greek in the text has been transliterated.

Vassilis Karasmanis takes up a question closely related to the one treated by Charles, and tries "to show that in this part of the dialogue [Meno] we have something more (...) a-more or less-complete theory of definition" (129). After mentioning the ti - hopoion distinction (where it seems to me that he refers to Irwin's contribution), the analysis of the three answers by Meno and the three definitions by Socrates, Karasmanis states: "still he [Plato] does not have a method for finding definitions" and "We have to wait until the Sophist for a new Platonic contribution on this topic." (141). I do not understand Karasmanis' comment on atoms in. Ti. 67c-68d (137), as this is not a word which appears in this dialogue.

Theodore Scaltsas discusses the dialogue in Hippias Major 300-303 in the light of formal ontology. He differentiates between Hippias' and Socrates' thesis, calling these the "distributive plural predication" and "collective plural predication" respectively. In the last count, Scaltsas thinks Socrates supports the more general model, i.e. in Scaltsas' words "attributes belong to subjects at two levels: the plural or collective level, and also at the level of the individuals" (150). In the second part, Scaltsas discusses the question of the ontology of plural subjects. He then describes the position of Frege, who, according to M. Dummett, "repudiated pluralities in favour of a predicative analysis of plural terms." (151). He ends by discussing the positions of Alex Olivier, Peter Simons, George Boolos and David Lewis.

C. C. W. Taylor considers the problem whether Socrates is a Sophist. He states that Plato "presents Socrates, not merely by implication but avowedly, as sharing some of the characteristics which define a sophist" (157). Taylor especially cites descriptions of Socrates from Theaetetus and Symposium, where he is described as a "hunter of young men", hence in exactly the same manner as the sophist in the dialogue which bears this title. He concludes: "Socrates is then a magician (...) and very noble sophist" (168).8

In the penultimate chapter, by John M. Cooper, Socrates appears as deuteragonist. He provides the backdrop to Arcesilaus, whom Cooper places somewhere between two views: Socratic and sceptic. In effect Cooper argues: "Arcesilaus' scepticism is the expression of his Socratic commitment to living according to reason as our life's guide", but in the final say he speaks about Sextus: "Sextus' is the expression of a complete renunciation of reason altogether" (187). Hence, where Arcesilaus appears as a sceptic, Cooper's chapter has nothing to do with Socrates and is out of place--as, for instance, when the difference between the scepticism of Arcesilaus and that of Sextus is discussed. Nevertheless, the paper is of great importance and has many detailed footnotes (the largest number of footnotes in the whole volume -- sometimes even exceeding half a page in length).

Michael Frede describes perceptions of Socrates by Christians and demonstrates that these were only positive when Socrates could be used for Christian apology during court trials. Otherwise it was negative, since Socrates represented so-called pagan philosophy. Frede discusses the roots of both these perceptions and this is where the value of his contribution lies. It is a pity that his text lacks any positive conclusion, especially considering that the text is the final one in the whole book: "Although the Athenians sentenced Socrates to death, they also had a much better understanding of him and more sympathy for him than did late antiquity in general" (202).9 But was it not the case, albeit much later, that a certain Christian thinker transcended the reception of Early Christianity even so far as to say: "pray for us, holy Socrates"? (Erasmus, Apophthegmata III) I also noted a small auto-citation ("in such a way ... to live well", 188 = 189).

In view of the prominent positions of its authors (including lecturers from Oxford and Princeton), the book may be considered representative of contemporary studies in ancient philosophy. Hence it is worth commenting on two matters the book raises in an exemplary manner -- as they may more broadly concern the dominant trends in the field today.

The first matter concerns the frequent use of such expressions as "pagan philosophy", "pagan culture", "pagan society" etc. Use of such expressions seems to attest to some asymmetric thinking. And in essence, they are often contrasted with "Christian thought", "Christianity" etc. It is interesting that this phraseology is so prevalent that it seems almost natural. But such a view is only natural to those who look from a Christian viewpoint. From the Greek point of view, things look different, if not diametrically opposed: Greek (or Classic) versus "barbarian". This just shows how opposed valuations can be (cf. Z. Herbert's Barbarian in the Garden). It needs to be asked whether the pagan versus Christian approach contains hidden biases. Typically, it restricts us to silence. When Friedrich Nietzsche attempted to liberate scholars from this approach, he was accused of losing his head, when in fact he only contrasted Christianity to Classical culture.

The second matter concerns the ever disputed question of so-called Socratic intellectualism, ethical intellectualism etc. It is a separate question whether this has anything to do with the first matter.10 This is mentioned in Remembering Socrates not only by Seel, but also by Natali and Kahn. As Seel has thoroughly demonstrated, varying interpretations are possible, though at the end of the day the matter remains an open one. On the one hand, intellectualists argue that if you know what is best, you do it (or hyperbolically speaking, that virtue is knowledge), but on the other hand, this is 'obviously contrary to empirical evidence', as Aristotle has observed (30). So how can this dichotomy be solved? I would say that this is of key importance in defining Socrates' understanding of knowledge. We can work from the assumption that he was right, and define knowledge in such a manner as to allow for its discovery to be confirmed (Seel qualifies this rightly though still too generally as "appropriate knowledge" (26, n. 15)). Thus the dispute between Aristotle and Socrates concerns not the nature of virtue, but the essence of knowledge. This is one possibility. If we understand knowledge not as external knowledge or as a collection of information but as something internal or experienced, then it is clear that he who says that he knows but acts differently in fact does not know but only thinks he knows. However, the person who has lived this knowledge, not only knows but also understands and thus acts in accordance with his experiential knowledge.11 Hence either we need to redefine the statement that virtue is knowledge so that it ceases to have an exclusively intellectual character, or utterly refrain from using the phrase "Socratic intellectualism",12 and stop treating Socrates like a naive peasant who maintained something that is clearly untrue as shown by everyday life.

Remembering Socrates as a whole, makes for interesting reading and its individual contentions are well-grounded, well-targeted and unequal only in their presentation. They differ as to their objectives, as to the level and scope of problematics presented, and as to the expression of their argumen. Hence the question: whom is this publication addressed to if some of the contributions require much concentration and prior knowledge while others are easier and could well be made more accessible to the wider public?

If the collection is intended to describe and weigh up the figure and importance of Socrates, then one weakness is that it omits among others the question of the famous Socratic irony, whereas there are several contributions on definition. A second weakness is that it lacks any reference to the greatest Socratic thinkers other than Plato, such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (cited once by C. C. W. Taylor as the author of confessions which are still too little known and once in the footnotes by D. Charles).

Without doubt, the "essays in this collection demonstrate the vitality as well as the diversity of Socratic studies at the start of the twenty-first century" (2). The book will enrich our libraries with a valuable new item and will be compulsory reading for specialists and perhaps even for students. But will it demonstrate the vitality of Socrates as Socrates? Will it become a point of reference and introduce Socrates to scholars beyond the circle of ancient philosophy researchers? In view of the important anniversary that has just passed, we could expect a volume that would attempt to give a comprehensive answer to the question: "Socrates - what for?" There is an excellent example of such a book already created by Karl Jaspers.13 Today, we could strive for a newer grasp of Socrates' greatness and of his anthropology.14


1. Carlo Natali, 'Socrates' Dialectic in Xenophon's Memorabilia'

2. Gerhard Seel, 'If you Know What is Best, you Do it: Socratic Intellectualism in Xenophon and Plato'

3. Charles H. Kahn, 'Socrates and Hedonism'

4. Terence Irwin, 'Socrates and Euthyphro: The Argument and its Revival'

5. Lesley Brown, 'Did Socrates Agree to Obey the Law of Athens?'

6. Vasilis Politis, 'Aporia and Searching in the Early Plato'

7. David Charles, 'Types of Definition in the Meno'

8. Vassilis Karasmanis, 'Definition in Plato's Meno'

9. Theodore Scaltsas, 'Sharing a Property'

10. C. C. W. Taylor, 'Socrates the Sophist'

11. John M. Cooper, 'Arcesilaus: Socratic and Sceptic'

12. Michael Frede, 'The Early Christian Reception of Socrates'.


1.   To quote only two examples: P. Aronoff, BMCR 2005.07.32: "It is difficult to say anything both useful and general about this book, since the essays vary so much in content, method, style and success." or B. Inwood, BMCR 2005.09.74: "These collections have uneven patches here and there. This is an inevitable risk for books based on conferences."
2.   Held at Athens and Delphi, 13-21 July 2001 (cf. website).
3.   V. Karasmanis (ed.), Year of Socrates. 2400 Years Since His Death (399 B.C. - 2001 A.D.), European Cultural Centre of Delphi, Athens 2004.
4.   But what is Rossetti (2004), quoted on p. 21, n. 3 and on p. 47, n. 55?
5.   This matter was emphasised by A. W. Price, Mental Conflict (1995), pp. 30 sq.
6.   After writing my review, on 23 June 2006 I received a review of: Ales Havlícek, Filip Karfík (ed.), Plato's Protagoras. Proceedings of the Third Symposium Platonicum Pragense, Prague 2003 by Gerald A. Press = BMCR 2006-06-27. The book under this review has a contribution by C. Kahn that bears the same title as in Remembering Socrates. The three quotations cited by G. A. Press are identical with the sentences in Remembering Socrates. Thus, is this a paper given in Delphi, then in Prague, then published in Prague, and then in Athens? However, in Remembering Socrates, the editors make no mention of any reprints.
7.   Perhaps the matter could be solved by arguing from Socrates' statement in Apology (29 c-d), that even if he were to be freed under the condition that he resign from philosophy, he should not be obedient, since his mission is to adhere to god, not to "political obligation".
8.   Such an interpretation, i.e. Socrates as the most eminent sophist, was given also by A. Krokiewicz, Zarys filozofii greckiej (Outline of Greek Philosophy) (1971).
9.   Socrates himself noted that he had been condemned by a slim majority (cf. Ap. 36 a) -- hence a large number of the population were against the condemnation and supported (?) Socrates.
10.   This is because this is somewhat similar to the question of rationalism versus irrationalism. According to common language, the second term is described by reference to the first, the first is considered binding, normative and right and the whole matter -- that of the conflict between rationalism and so called irrationalism, is of course viewed from the rationalist perspective.
11.   Such an interpretation was put forward in 1950 by A. Krokiewicz, cf. A. Krokiewicz, Sokrates (1958) and A. Krokiewicz, "Etyka Sokratesa" in: Filomata 135, 1960, pp. 258-266. The same line of argument was partly taken up by C. Natali: "Xenophon maintains the idea of Socratic intellectualism, but he wants also to stress the strength of emotions and feelings" (19).
12.   On the scope of eidenai as exceeding the mere intellectual, though in relation to the Homeric context, in English, cf. A. W. H. Adkins, From the Many to the One (1970), pp. 47-48.
13.   K. Jaspers, "Sokrates" in: Die grossen Philosophen, "1. Die massgebenden Menschen" (1957).
14.   I only noticed one typo: p. 10, n. 24: lacking smooth breathing.

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