Philosophy, not philology, informs this volume, which is in the vein of Gregory Vlastos’ works, and requires little to no Greek knowledge of the reader. The Socrates is Plato’s, mostly ignoring questions of historical accuracy (Prior’s essay is an exception). Arising from the Arizona Colloquium on Socrates (1996), several of the articles are works in progress or parts of larger projects. Clarity and brevity are its strengths, not scholarly completeness (although McPherran, Brickhouse and Smith, and Tsouna are good): the bibliographies are simply works cited and relevant work is frequently ignored (with exceptions already noted).
“Socrates’ Absolutist Prohibition of Wrongdoing,” by Lloyd P. Gerson (G.), explores the principle that “one ought never to do wrong” ( Crito 49b7). Many would claim that the harm to her soul will not dissuade the atheist about to die tomorrow from a wrong tremendously gratifying to her body, if she now thinks her desires more important than her soul’s health. G. believes, however, that Socrates would say she not only harms her soul, but her self, for soul is self.
Identifying soul with self, G. holds, also supports Socrates’ paradoxically simultaneously asserting the impossibility of and forbidding voluntary wrongdoing.
“First Principles of Socratic Ethics,” by Charles M. Young (Y.), argues that an implausible version of a “Self-Interest Theory” underlies Socrates’ absolute probition of wrongdoing. In the essay’s best part, Y. capably analyzes the claims, based on text citations, which logically lead to the absolutist prohibition. That Socrates claims that one should choose bodily harm over injustice and that this leads to apparent implausibilities is uncontroversial and obvious; witness the Crito, which explores just these issues. Y. nonetheless concludes with a hypothetical case leading to supposedly greater implausibility: A young Socrates faces either lifelong physical agony or escape from prison and the harm escaping will do his soul. Y. rightly says even that situation wouldn’t change Socrates’ decision, and concludes that Socrates’ ethics are implausible. That the position is implausible to us ought to spur investigation rather than vitiate the position.
“What Socrates Knew,” by Daniel W. Graham (G.), tries to crack an old nut — 1) Socrates knows nothing; 2) virtue is knowledge; 3) Socrates is virtuous — by explaining one way to resolve the incompatibility, viz., allowing Socrates one bit of knowledge (of his own ignorance). Complete neglect of other scholars’ work should have been acknowledged and explained. This is, however, an admirably brief, clear introduction to a well-known problem and to the passages which provoke it.
“Socratic Ignorance and the Therapeutic Aim of the Elenchos,” by Hope E. May (M.), reassesses the definitional elenchos, in which, M. says “Socrates is showing that his interlocutor is unable to provide a definition that completely accords with the interlocutor’s own beliefs about the definiendum. When used in this way, the elenchos proceeds by revealing a form of ignorance that is radically different from ignorance qua inconsistent beliefs.” (38; M.’s italics, my underlining). M. justifies a radical difference between the received view of the elenchos, which involves “propositional inconsistency,” and her proposed “scope inconsistency” by claiming that definitions involve properties having extensions, not sentential truth values. Definitions, however, usually come in propositions (even M.’s example (P41), “Tablehood is having four legs and a flat surface,” is inconsistent both propositionally and extensionally).
“Socrates and the Recognition of Experts,” by Scott Labarge (L.), addresses renowned questions in the Charmides, but does not sufficiently cite or discuss the central passages ( Charmides 171-172). Woodruff’s (1990)
“Socrates’ Attack on Intellectualism in the Charmides,” by Voula Tsouna (T.) reassesses the Charmides. The first section shows that Critias is complex — smart, but with failings: neither altogether bad nor good, despite scholarly tendencies to classify him simply. Secondly, T. briefly discusses Charmides’ intellectualism. Finally, she distinguishes Critias’ beliefs from Socrates’, claiming that Critias’ notion of virtue is inconsistent and exhibits misguided intellectualism. The first is the most successful section, the third the most interesting. T. twice (64 and 72) claims in the third section that she will limit her discussion to four issues where Critias apparently holds Socratic positions, but she does not clearly or explicitly discuss them in the subsequent discussion. She does, however, explain that Critias’ definition of temperance slips from self-knowledge to “science of sciences” and that its flaw lies in making temperance ethically neutral: Critias thinks knowledge of good and evil merely a science subordinate to temperance. (Socrates holds the science of good and evil most important, not subordinate.) Interestingly, she claims that Critias never defined temperance as knowledge of good and evil. He only said that knowledge of good and evil is the kind that would bring happiness. T. also claims that Socrates has self-knowledge, which enables him to identify moral knowledge in himself and other people (73-4). T. does not, however, consider the fact that Socratic self-knowledge is severely limited: he only knows that he does not have moral knowledge. The elenchos identifies moral knowledge in others. His knowledge of his ignorance does not do that, and it is unclear why elenchos-wielders must be temperate.
“Socratic Dynamic Theory: a Sketch,” by Hugh H. Benson (B.), is an ongoing project on the term dunamis in Platonic Socratic philosophy. B.’s project outlines what a thorough investigation of the term would look like. B. is particularly helpful in analyzing precisely what we can safely say about the term and where the borders and grey areas of Plato’s Socrates’ thought lie. The article is for philosophers and philologists working on this area, but not others, as B. spends little time explaining why there should be interest in the subject and what larger problems and developments it relates to or resolves.
“The Problem of Punishment in Socratic Philosophy,” by Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith (
B begin by explaining Socratic intellectualism, in line with their 1994 book, 85-102, then they explore what harm is. Punishments preventing further wrongdoing, such as imprisonment, are fine. Those which do not do so have traditionally been justified by a theory of motivation put forward in Socrates’ discussion with Callicles in the Gorgias, where in addition to the desire for benefit, the desire for pleasure is held to motivate. B reject the claim that pleasure as an independent motivator can explain such punishments, and they reject the claim itself that the Gorgias includes pleasure as an independent motivator. They point out that many punishments often explained by a pleasure motive occur earlier than the Gorgias. Thus they must explain, e.g., whipping, without any motivation other than desire for benefit. They claim that certain wrongdoers act thinking that worldly goods can trump moral goodness. Such wrongdoers can justifiably be, e.g., whipped, to disconnect wrongdoing from its perceived benefit. Whipping severs the connection by giving the wrongdoer the opposite of what was sought, and so wrongdoing becomes less attractive. That depends on the wrongdoer thinking that the wrongdoing itself, not “getting caught,” caused his punishment. Thus it assumes not only an intellectualist wrongdoer, as B admit, but also one who thinks the police perfect. The punishment, as B go on to claim, severs the bad connection without creating the right one: it is incomplete, but beneficial. B then speculate that Socrates holds that the experience of some vices’ pleasures causes one to think that the pleasures are good and hinders rational thought about one’s good, which explains Socrates’ comparison of vice to disease and why some vice is incurable. Such vice is false belief that is not open to reason, but is vulnerable to corporal punishment. The punishment of vice which is egregious and highly ingrained, however, only benefiting by deterring others. Thus corporal punishments are justified in Plato as “a necessary feature of the human condition.”
“Why did Plato Write Socratic Dialogues?” by William J. Prior (P.), sketches out an alternative to the view that Plato’s writings exhibit his development from Socrates’ disciple to independent philosopher. P. briefly rehearses Kahn’s destructive argument against the standard view. Here is not the place to quarrel with it since P. does not add to it. P. discusses dialogues in which Socrates figures as a character.
P. starts by observing that Socrates is the type of the philosopher wherever he is the main character, and concludes that “Plato intended to portray Socrates as the exemplification of the philosophical life…. we need not even ask the historical question whether a particular doctrine or argument represents the view of the historical Socrates.” But portraying Socrates as the type of the philosopher may not exhaust Plato’s reasons for casting Socrates. Philosophers philosophize about some content in a certain manner. It is a slippery slope from minimally admitting that Plato used Socrates as the philosopher to maximally claiming that Plato portrayed Socrates faithfully, methods and material included. P. puts no blocks on that slope.
Next P. claims that the dialogues present unhappy encounters between the philosopher and others, and concludes that philosophers’ and non-philosophers’ lives are incompatible. Consider, however, the Protagoras, the Gorgias, and the Charmides, whose characters hold interesting philosophical positions with which Socrates differs.
Finally, P. suggests that Plato wanted to show either the philosophical life’s superiority (the Republic) or that it is the only life worth living (the Apology). But Plato shows the superiority of Socrates‘ philosophical life. If Plato chose to use Socrates as his type of the philosopher, and put a philosophy superior to other philosophies, including Socrates’ own, into his mouth, then the historical Socrates may not be the type of the philosopher after all.
“Recognizing the Gods of Socrates,” by Mark L. McPherran (M.), explores “whether Socrates was guilty in some form of the nonrecognition charge.” It is also section 3.4.4ff. of his The Religion of Socrates. M. rightly explores the issue despite Meletus’ interpretation of the charges as atheism. The jury considered Socrates’ religious beliefs relevant, perhaps decisive. We might add that the issue of whether and what sort of gods Socrates recognized is important in itself.
M. thinks Socrates’ various oaths and functions amply demonstrate that he thought the gods of Athens existed and paid attention to humans. In asking whether Socrates fulfilled the basic requirements of the concept of “recognizing the gods of the city,” the key point for M. is whether Socrates accepted gods with a do ut des cult. Socrates rejected such gods, for he held the gods to be perfectly wise and moral and so immune to sacrifice (not necessarily performed by the virtuous for virtuous reasons). M. rightly rejects those who, like Vlastos, think that Socrates’ rejecting most myths about the gods offended Athenian religious sensibilities enough to justify the charges. By rejecting the lex talionis and the motivations underlying do ut des and by insisting on self-exploring as service to the gods, however, he transformed the purpose of, the motivation for, and the rewards of traditional cult, and that justifies the nonrecognition charge in some form. Socrates can, nonetheless, claim to believe in Athens’ gods as he does at Apology 35c7-d7, since he can claim that Athenians would themselves agree with him if enough time were given to discuss it. Since Socrates believes in thoroughly moral gods, he can justifiably claim that he believes in the gods in a way superior to his accusers. In concluding this excellent essay, M. wisely both refrains from claiming that many jurors will have seen all this and so voted against Socrates, and emphasizes that western thought did take Socrates’ nonrecognition of the gods and its theological ramifications seriously.
Overall, there is much of interest in the volume, and some excellent material, but one may question the usefulness of publishing a separate volume with essays in varying stages of completion, one of which is already published, and several of which will go through further revision prior to attempts to publish them elsewhere.