BMCR 2022.11.41

Socrates and the Socratic philosophies. Selected papers from Socratica IV

, Socrates and the Socratic philosophies. Selected papers from Socratica IV. International Socrates Studies, 2. Baden-Baden: Academia Verlag, 2022. Pp. 427. ISBN 9783985720040 €98,00.

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


This volume is the result of Socratica IV, a conference held in Buenos Aires in 2018 that saw the establishment of a new scholarly organization, the International Society for Socratic Studies.[1] The conference and the resulting volume break with Socratica tradition: the conference was the first of the series to be held outside of Italy, and the volume is the first to be edited without members of the rotating team of Livio Rossetti, Alessandro Stavru, and Fulvia de Luise. Nevertheless, in organizing Socratica IV and editing this volume, Claudia Marsico has kept alive many of the same virtues that animated the previous Socratica volumes:

-A truly international line-up. According to Marsico (5), scholars from more than twenty-five countries were present at the conference, and, by my count, the contributors to the volume represent at least seven countries.

-An expansive evidentiary base. The Megarics and the Cyrenaics, for instance, get nearly as much coverage as Plato.

-Broad topical coverage. The volume covers historical and literary problems, as well as a broad sweep of philosophical issues, spanning method, anthropology, moral psychology, language, epistemology, ontology, ethics, and aesthetics.

-A wide range of methodological approaches. To give just a few examples, some chapters are concerned with the historical Socrates, others think the historical Socrates is beyond our grasp. Some chapters are markedly analytical or focused narrowly on a single passage or problem, while others are more discursive or speculative or make big-picture claims.

The volume’s twenty-seven chapters are arranged into four parts. The first, “Socrates and the Socratic environment,” deals with the interaction between Socratic philosophy and broader contemporary intellectual and cultural trends. The second, “Plato’s Socrates,” treats topics ranging from moral psychology, epistemology, rhetoric, and medicine, with Plato’s Socrates as the focal point. Notably, however, several of the chapters in this section (Martinez and Smith, Giombini, and Regali) devote considerable attention to other Socratics, especially Aeschines and Xenophon. The third part, “The Socratic lines,” is even more expansive, containing papers on Antisthenes, Xenophon, Aeschines, the Megarics, and Cyrenaics. The final part, “Socrates’s Reception,” deals with the uptake of Socrates by Aristotle, in Epicurean philosophy, and in (Cicero’s presentation of) the Old Academy. The volume is sensibly arranged, but one of its strengths is that several thematic congruencies emerge across its parts (the minimal cross-referencing between chapters is therefore regrettable). Here I shall draw attention to some of the larger themes that run through the volume.

Several chapters contribute to the renewed scholarly interest in the sophistic movement and Socrates’ place therein.[2] Livio Rossetti (“Né filosofo né sofista”) opens the volume by drawing attention to some scholarly trends that problematize the distinction between ‘sophist’ and ‘philosopher’ and the identification of Socrates with the latter, such as an increased willingness to consider Socrates alongside his fifth-century contemporaries (as evidenced by his place in Laks-Most’s Early Greek Philosophy, for instance); a recognition that sophists were unified neither dogmatically nor institutionally, with Plato bearing most of the responsibility for our perception of ‘sophist’ as a single and singular type of intellectual; and a general rehabilitation of the sophists from the mid-twentieth century onwards. These trends are praiseworthy in the eyes of Rossetti, who agrees that Socrates is profitably studied in his fifth-century environment, with the labels ‘philosopher’ and ‘sophist’ set aside as largely anachronistic and unhelpful. David Murphy’s tightly argued chapter (“Περιτροπή, or Reversal, Arguments from Antiphon and Socrates”) builds upon this framework. Murphy finds common methodological ground between Socrates and Antiphon in their shared used of a particular argumentative form—περιτροπή, a ‘reversal’ argument that refutes a speaker’s claim by showing that “it is already formulated so as to entail its own contradictory” (36). Murphy’s detailed focus on reversal arguments is in service of the larger goal of demonstrating similarities between Socrates and his contemporaries to problematize our familiar ways of distinguishing between philosophers and sophists. Murphy’s claim that in antiquity Socrates and Antiphon would have plausibly been located “on the same intellectual field” (48) is perhaps best seen in his analysis of the three conversations in Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.6, where Socrates and Antiphon employ reversal arguments against one another. Yet Murphy is careful to note that while Socrates and Antiphon, as presented, share methodological commitments, they hold different views on matters of substance, such as the relationship between the law and justice. Murphy thus offers a detailed and focused study that illuminates Rossetti’s broader claims. Worth reading alongside these chapters are the contributions of Silvio Marino (“Socrates Medicus: una rappresentazione platonica”) and Fiorenza Bevilacqua (“Socrates ‘philosophos’ in Oeconomicus 16.9”), with the former demonstrating how Plato uses the language of medicine to at times distinguish (and at times muddle the distinction between) Socrates and his sophistic contemporaries, and the latter offering a salient reminder that what Xenophon means by philosophos is not the same as what Plato means.

One of the more striking features of this volume in comparison to its Socratica predecessors is the number of chapters that treat the philosophy of language. By focusing on problems about unity and multiplicity that arise from predication, Pilar Spangenberg (“Debates en torno al monism linguistico en el movimiento socratico”) reconstructs a vibrant debate within the Socratic circle and the Socratic schools about the relationship between language and reality. Several of the issues raised by Spangenberg recur in later chapters. Mariana Gardella (“‘The good, one thing called by many names’ (D.L. II.106.9-10). Agathology and Eristic in Euclides of Megara”) focuses on Euclides’ embrace of anxieties about the disconnect between logos and the world as generative of eristic paradoxes designed to foster skepticism of logos in interlocutors. This pedagogical aspect present in Megaric skepticism about logos is also the subject of Francisco Villar’s contribution (“The Complex Question Fallacy in Megaric Philosophy”) focuses on the ‘complex question’, a question that forces the respondent into admitting something unacceptable because “it entails an undesirable presupposition,” such as “Have you stopped hitting your father?” (265). Villar shows how Megarics like Eubulides and Alexinus exploited the fallacy by requiring their respondents to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to such questions. One of Spangenberg’s focal passages, Aristotle’s Physics I.2, 185b25–32, is also central for Deyvis Deniz Machín (“Did Aristotle have some knowledge of the grammar advocated by the Cyrenaics? Reflections on a new Cyrenaic testimony”), who focuses on ways of speaking that are peculiar to the Cyrenaics, such as the avoidance of copular and predicative sentences. While the chapter’s central claim that this Aristotelian passage should be plausibly regarded as a new testimonium, not just of the Cyrenaics, but particularly of the elder Aristippus, may not convince all readers, the chapter is nevertheless valuable for gathering together and analyzing the sources for Cyrenaic views on language.

Two complementary chapters treat different aspects of Antisthenes’ thought. In “Il concetto di ponos in Antistene,” Aldo Brancacci offers a wide-ranging study of Antisthenes’ view of ponos and demonstrates how it plays a central role in his ethics, operating on both the physical and psychological levels. Brancacci is right to argue that for Antisthenes ponos must be good-directed for it to be an ethical virtue—one can toil in vain or for the wrong reasons. An interesting facet that emerges from Brancacci’s chapter is the extent to which Antisthenes deployed mythological (or quasi-mythological) characters as paradigms for presenting or working through ethical concepts and problems, such as the value of ponos. Heracles, Ajax, Odysseus, and the (mythologized) elder Cyrus seem to have been his main vehicles for discussing ponos and related concepts like askēsis and ischus. This is perhaps not surprising given Antisthenes’ work on Homeric criticism, but it does remind us that he is as much a part of the world of Gorgias and Prodicus as the Socratic circle, and it also means that Brancacci’s chapter sits nicely next to François Renaud’s contribution, “L’exégèse homérique d’Antisthène: l’intention d’Ulysse et celle d’Homère.” Renaud’s starting point is the debate over whether Antisthenes’ criticism was allegorical, but rather than attempting to answer this question directly, Renaud uses it as a springboard to discuss Antisthenes’ interest in authorial intention. Renaud examines Antisthenes’ comments on the Cyclopes (SSR V A 189), Odysseus (V A 187), and on Homer’s handling of opinion (doxa) and truth (alētheia) (V A 194), the last of which is tied up in a debate over whether Homer contradicts himself or allows views with which he disagrees to be expressed by characters. Renaud demonstrates that Antisthenes’ criticism is concerned with uncovering different layers of meaning that an author works into a text, and his examples make clear the ethical relevance of such criticism.

Stefano Mecci’s contribution (“Terpsion of Megara and the Socratic Daemon”) illustrates the value of attending to the lesser-known figures in Socratic philosophy, even those often assumed to have no philosophical views of their own. Mecci excavates Terpsion’s views on Socrates’ daimonion, which Terpsion evidently claimed was merely a sneeze. If someone sneezed on the right, behind, or in front, it exhorted Socrates to act; if the sneeze was on the left, it dissuaded him from acting. Similarly, if Socrates himself sneezed as he was about to act, it confirmed his views; if he sneezed when he had already begun acting, it stopped him from going further. Mecci convincingly demonstrates how Terpsion’s view of Socrates’ daimonion, in having both protreptic and apotreptic functions, adapts Euclides’ view of the double daimōn.[3] Mecci also argues that Terpsion’s view of the daimonion accords with Xenophon’s, in as much as both attempt to place it within a traditional religious framework. Mecci thus helpfully draws attention to the fact that the daimonion was central to debates over the reception of Socrates in antiquity. One wonders, however, where and how Terpsion would have presented these views.

I found several other chapters compelling, convincing, or thought-provoking (especially those of Humble, Zuckerman, Simon, Pentassuglio, Jimenez, and Watton), and their absence from this review should not be attributed to anything other than a lack of space. Marsico should be congratulated for assembling a volume that showcases the broad and exciting range of Socratic scholarship.[4]


Authors and Titles

PART I: Socrates and the Socratic environment

Livio Rossetti, Né filosofo né sofista
David J. Murphy, Περιτροπή, or Reversal, Arguments from Antiphon and Socrates
Noreen Humble, Sparta and the Socratics
Michele Corradi, Callia nella letteratura socratica: un paradigma complesso
Claudia Marsico, Walls, Heavy Seas, and Lion Cubs. The Socratics Beyond the Soul-Body Dualism
Alessandro Stavru, Socrates’ Ambivalent Erotes
Pilar Spangenberg, Debates en torno al monism lingüístico en el movimiento socrático

PART II: Plato’s Socrates

Joel A. Martinez and Nicholas D. Smith, Socrates and the Sufficiency Thesis
William H. F. Altman, Socrates in Plato’s Philebus
Lucas Soares, ‘No sé de otra cosa que de asuntos eróticos’. El saber erótico de Sócrates y la téchne de la caza de hombres
Stefania Giombini, Sócrates desmemoriado. El olvido como dispositivo retórico
Silvio Marino, Socrates Medicus: una rappresentazione platonica
Mario Regali, L’invenzione di Socrate: la maschera del philosophos tra Platone e Senofonte

PART III: The Socratic lines

Aldo Brancacci, Il concetto di ponos in Antistene
François Renaud, L’exégèse homérique d’Antisthène: l’intention d’Ulysse et celle d’Homère
Mariana Gardella, ‘The good, one thing called by many names’ (D.L. II.106.9-10). Agathology and Eristic in Euclides of Megara
Stefano Mecci, Terpsion of Megara and the Socratic Daemon
Francisco Villar, The Complex Question Fallacy in Megaric Philosophy
Fiorenza Bevilacqua, Socrates ‘philosophos’ in Oeconomicus 16.9
Vladimir Gildin Zuckerman, Mimesis and the bodily sign in Xenophon’s Memorabilia 3.10
Deyvis Deniz Machín, Did Aristotle have some knowledge of the grammar advocated by the Cyrenaics? Reflections on a new Cyrenaic testimony
Romina Simon, El concepto de αἴσθησις en la filosofía cirenaica
Francesca Pentassuglio, The role of wealth and the value of poverty in Socratic literature: a reading of Aeschines’ Callias and Telauges

PART IV: Socrates’s Reception

Marta Jimenez, Aristotle and Protagoras against Socrates on Courage and Experience
Esteban Bieda, Aristóteles, el socrático. Sobre los alcances y límites de la crítica aristotélica al intelectualismo socrático
Dino De Sanctis, Socrate nel Kepos: ricezione epicurea del pensiero di Socrate nel Contra Lysidem e nel Contra Euthydemum di Colote
Matthew Watton, Antiochus’ Interpretation of Socrates in Cicero’s Academica



[1] Three earlier Socratica conferences were held in Italy in 2005, 2008, and 2012. They were published, respectively, as Rossetti, L. and Stavru, A. eds. 2008. Socratica 2005: Studi sulla letteratura socratica antica. Bari: Levante; Rossetti, L. and Stavru, A. eds. 2010. Socratica 2008: Studies in Ancient Socratic Literature. Bari: Levante; and de Luise, F. and Stavru, A. eds. 2013. Socratica III: Studies on Socrates, the Socratics, and the Ancient Socratic Literature. Sankt Augustin: Academia Verlag.

[2] See, e.g., Tell, H. 2011. Plato’s Counterfeit Sophists. Washington, D.C.: Center for Hellenic Studies; McCoy, M. 2008. Plato on the Rhetoric of Philosophers and Sophists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Corey, D. 2015. The Sophists in Plato’s Dialogues. Albany: SUNY Press.

[3] See Brancacci, A. 2005. “The Double Daimōn in Euclides the Socratic.” Apeiron 38(2): 143–154.

[4] The press could have served Marsico better. There are many typographical and grammatical errors, some of which seriously impede understanding. The lack of any indices is also regrettable.