Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Presocratics

Section 12--Makeup Essay

The Presocratics are now recognized as a group of thinkers that both preceded and coexisted with the famous Socrates himself. Interestingly, many of the Presocratics likely didn’t know one another, nor did they necessarily identify as “philosophers.” However, the Presocratic thinkers formulated ideas that would greatly influence western philosophy as we know it. While some theories may seem ridiculous today, traces of certain Presocratic ideas are evident in modern science, such as Atomism. While there were many different presocratic thinkers, this blog will be focusing primarily on the Milesians, such as Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, as well as Democratus, who is associated with Atomism.

The Milesians were essentially materialists, interested in matter, or more simply put, “stuff.” They were mainly concerned with answering questions about the natural world, particularly the principles of nature. The first of these thinkers, recognized by Aristotle, is Thales of Miletus. Thales was fascinated by the idea of a fundamental principle, or arche. In fact, he theorized that water was the “first cause,” or fundamental principle of all things. Essentially, he believed that everything came from water. Why did Thales choose water? He likely did this, according to Aristotle, because of the role of water in nature, such as nutrition and growth. 

Anaximander, another Milesian thinker, is rumored to have been a student of Thales. In many ways, Anaximander built off of Thales’ idea of an arche. However, he did not think that the first cause of all things was water. Anaximander emphasized that both the heavens and the world came from some sort of original indefinite nature (apeiron). Anaximander seemed to think that hot and cold were separated from the eternal realm in the beginning of the world. He concluded that the powers of hot and cold, both direct opposites, brought about the “stuff” in our world.

Anaximenes, a Milesian thinker as well, thought that the apeiron was air instead. Anaximenes’ ideas reject not only Anaximander’s theory of hot and cold, but also his theory surrounding earth’s genesis. Anaximenes’ theory was much more similar to that of Thales, except he believed that the first cause of all things was air, rather than water. While Anaximenes thought that the basic principle couldn’t be nothing, he did believe that it must be neutral. He chose air because it’s properties have the ability to change, such as smell, color, temperature, etc. In short, Anaximenes believed that everything came from air. 

Lastly, Democratus developed a very different theory, called Atomism. Democratus believed that one is able to obtain knowledge in two ways, including the senses and the understanding. The way of knowing through “the senses” is limited to sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. The way of knowing through “the understanding” is supposedly separated from the physical senses. Democratus was an Atomist, meaning he believed everything was made up of tiny bits of “stuff,” or atoms, that can’t be seen. It was the combination of these atoms that would determine what things would become. Although Democratus was not able to perform tests or research to confirm his theories, he was not far off from what scientists today have been able to observe on a micro-scale. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Meritocracy vs. democracy?

Don't worry... Listen to the scientists

Dont worryIm tweeting that climate change is fake.
“Don’t worry—I’m tweeting that climate change is fake.”


Greta Thunberg leads the world climate strike-video

Summits, Strikes, and Climate Change
There are positive signs that the politics of climate change are changing in America. And giving up isn’t really an option.
By Elizabeth Kolbert

Late last month, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived in New York. Thunberg, who is sometimes compared to Joan of Arc and sometimes to Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t fly—the emissions from aviation are too high—so she’d spent two weeks sailing across the Atlantic in a racing boat. When she reached New York Harbor, she told Trevor Noah, on “The Daily Show,” the first thing she noticed was “Suddenly, it smells.”

Thunberg doesn’t adhere to social niceties. (She’s spoken openly about having Asperger’s syndrome.) She began her crusade last year, sitting outside the Swedish parliament building, in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” It’s a trait particularly well suited to the cause she’s taken up: on no other issue is the gap between what’s politically acceptable and what’s scientifically necessary wider than it is on climate change. In an address to the French parliament, in July, Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.” (continues)==
Al Gore: The Climate Crisis Is the Battle of Our Time, and We Can Win

We have the tools. Now we are building the political power.
By Al Gore

Mr. Gore was the 45th vice president of the United States.
Sept. 20, 2019

Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could.

The destructive impacts of the climate crisis are now following the trajectory of that economics maxim as horrors long predicted by scientists are becoming realities.

More destructive Category 5 hurricanes are developing, monster fires ignite and burn on every continent but Antarctica, ice is melting in large amounts there and in Greenland, and accelerating sea-level rise now threatens low-lying cities and island nations.

Tropical diseases are spreading to higher latitudes. Cities face drinking water shortages. The ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, destroying coral reefs and endangering fish populations that provide vital protein consumed by about a billion people.

Worsening droughts and biblical deluges are reducing food production and displacing millions of people. Record-high temperatures threaten to render areas of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, North Africa and South Asia uninhabitable. Growing migrations of climate refugees are destabilizing nations. A sixth great extinction could extinguish half the living species on earth.

Finally people are recognizing that the climate is changing, and the consequences are worsening much faster than most thought was possible. A record 72 percent of Americans polled say that the weather is growing more extreme. And yet every day we still emit more than 140 million tons of global warming pollution worldwide into the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I often echo the point made by the climate scientist James Hansen: The accumulation of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases — some of which will envelope the planet for hundreds and possibly thousands of years — is now trapping as much extra energy daily as 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs would release every 24 hours.

This is the crisis we face.

Now we need to ask ourselves: Are we really helpless and unwilling to respond to the gravest threat faced by civilization? Is it time, as some have begun to counsel, to despair, surrender and focus on “adapting” to the progressive loss of the conditions that have supported the flourishing of humanity? Are we really moral cowards, easily manipulated into lethargic complacency by the huge continuing effort to deceive us into ignoring what we see with our own eyes?

More damage and losses are inevitable, no matter what we do, because carbon dioxide remains for so long in the atmosphere. So we will have to do our best to adapt to unwelcome changes. But we still retain the ability to avoid truly catastrophic, civilization-ending consequences if we act quickly.

Greta Thunberg at the climate protest in New York on Friday.

This is our generation’s life-or-death challenge. It is Thermopylae, Agincourt, Trafalgar, Lexington and Concord, Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Bulge, Midway and Sept. 11. At moments of such crisis, the United States and the world have to be mobilized, and before we can be mobilized, we have to be inspired to believe the battle can be won. Is it really too much to ask now that politicians summon the courage to do what most all of them already know is necessary?

We have the technology we need. That economic maxim about slow-fast phenomena, first articulated by the M.I.T. economist Rudiger Dornbusch and known as Dornbusch’s Law, also explains the tsunami of technological and economic change that has given us tools to sharply reduce global warming pollution much faster than we thought was possible only a short time ago. For example, according to the research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance, as recently as 2014 — a year before the Paris climate agreement was reached — electricity from solar and wind was cheaper than new coal and gas plants in probably 1 percent of the world. Today, only five years later, solar and wind provide the cheapest sources of new electricity in two-thirds of the world. Within five more years, these sources are expected to provide the cheapest new electricity in the entire world. And in 10 years, solar and wind electricity will be cheaper nearly everywhere than the electricity that existing fossil fuel plants will be able to provide.

This transition is already unfolding in the largest economies. Consider the progress made by the world’s top four emitters of greenhouse gases. Last year, solar and wind represented 88 percent of the new electricity capacity installed in the 28 nations of the European Union, 65 percent in India, 53 percent in China and 49 percent in the United States.

This year, several American utilities have announced plans to close existing natural gas and coal generating plants — some with decades of useful life remaining — to replace their output with cheaper electricity from wind and solar farms connected to ever-cheaper battery storage. As the chief executive officer of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company said recently, “The surprise was how dramatically the renewables and storage proposals beat natural gas.” He added, “I couldn’t have predicted this five years ago.”

Today, the fastest-growing occupation in the United States is solar installer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it has exceeded average job growth sixfold in the last five years. The second-fastest growing job: wind turbine service technician.

In Australia, a high-tech entrepreneur, Mike Cannon-Brookes, is reportedly planning to sell renewable electricity generated in the Northern Territories to South Asian cities over a long-distance undersea cable. Globally, close to 200 of the world’s largest companies have announced commitments to use 100 percent renewable energy, and several have already reached that goal. A growing number of cities, states and provinces have pledged to do the same.

The number of electric vehicles on the road has increased by 450 percent in the past four years, and several automobile manufacturers are shifting research and development spending away from internal combustion vehicles, because the cost-reduction curve for E. V.s is expected to soon drop the cost of the vehicle well below comparable gasoline and diesel models’. Over half of all buses in the world will be electric within the next five years, a majority in China, according to some market experts. At least 16 nations have set targets to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles.

More broadly, the evidence now indicates that we are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that will achieve the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the Digital Revolution, made possible by new digital tools. To pick one example, Google has reduced the amount of electricity required to cool its enormous server farms by 40 percent using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence. No new hardware was required. Sustainable alternatives to existing methods of industrial production are being pursued by more and more companies.

A farmer-led regenerative agriculture revolution that is also underway avoids plowing and focuses on building soil health by sequestering carbon dioxide in the ground, making the land more fertile. The farmers are using rotational grazing and planting trees and diverse cover crops to enrich soil and protect against erosion.

And so far, the best available technology for pulling carbon dioxide from the air is something called a tree. That’s why many nations are starting ambitious tree planting efforts. Ethiopia recently planted 353 million trees in 12 hours, nearly double the goal of 200 million. Scientists calculate that we have enough available land worldwide to plant between one trillion and one and a half trillion trees. To protect our vast but dwindling forests, new satellites and digital tools can now monitor deforestation virtually tree by tree, so corporations will know if the products they buy were grown on razed or burned forestland.

Yet for all this promise, here is another hard truth: All of these efforts together will not be enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently without significant policy changes. And right now, we don’t have the right policies because the wrong policymakers are in charge. We need to end the mammoth taxpayer-funded subsidies that encourage the continued burning of fossil fuels. We need to place a direct or indirect price on carbon pollution to encourage the use of cheaper, sustainable alternatives that are already out there. New laws and regulations may be needed as well to encourage innovation and force more rapid reductions in emissions.

The political reconfiguration we have desperately needed has been excruciatingly slow in coming, but we now seem to be at an inflection point, when political change begins to unroll more rapidly than we thought was possible. It’s Dornbusch’s Law, brought to politics.

The people, in their true function as the sovereign power, are quickly understanding the truth of this crisis, and they are the ones who must act, especially because the president is not on speaking terms with the truth and seems well beyond the reach of reason.

This will require a ferocious attack on the complacency, complicity, duplicity and mendacity of those in Congress who have paid for their careers by surrendering their votes and judgment to powerful special interests that are sacrificing the planet for their greed. To address the climate crisis, we must address the democracy crisis so that the people themselves can reclaim control of their destiny.

As has often been the case in successful political revolutions, young people have taken up the gauntlet with inspiring passion. Greta Thunberg has stirred millions as the school strike movement she began in Sweden spread to many countries. The Sunrise Movement, the Extinction Rebellion, Zero Hour and other youth-led movements are gathering momentum daily. On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world were marching and gathering to call for action on climate change. Employees of many corporations are aggressively demanding that their employers take action to help save the climate balance.

The “Blue Wave” that gave Democrats control of the House in last year’s midterm elections was fueled in part by concern about climate. The Green New Deal, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, ties solutions to the climate crisis to environmental justice and a “just transition” that will create millions of well-paying jobs. This effort has won support from many Americans, just as the nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s attracted wide approval and helped pave the way for an arms control agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union.

Virtually all of this year’s Democratic presidential candidates are making the climate a top priority. Many have released impressive and detailed plans that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. A CNN poll in April found that the climate crisis was the No. 1 concern of Democrats who are registered to vote. Another recent poll showed that a record 79 percent of American adults and 86 percent of teenagers believe, finally, that the climate crisis is caused by human activity, and, even more significantly, so do 60 percent of Republicans. Americans’ disapproval of President Drumpf’s approach to the climate was higher, at 67 percent, than on any other issue.

College Republicans at dozens of schools have called on the Republican National Committee to support a carbon tax and have loudly warned the party that it will forfeit support from younger voters if it does not. Another recent poll shows that 67 percent of millennial Republican voters say their party needs to do more on climate.

Next year’s election is the crucial test of the nation’s commitment to addressing this crisis, and it is worth remembering that on the day after the 2020 election, the terms of the Paris climate accord will permit the United States to withdraw from it. We cannot allow that to happen. Political will is a renewable resource and must be summoned in this fight. The American people are sovereign, and I am hopeful that they are preparing to issue a command on the climate to those who purport to represent them: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” nyt
Al Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his work to slow global warming. He is the author of, among other books, “An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming.”

Quiz Sep 23/24

Midterm report presentations begin WednesdayThursday this week, volunteers welcome. Please finalize your midterm reports info, in the comments section, so I can make & post a report schedule. As we ease into cooler autumnal weather, bear in mind the possibility of taking us outdoors if your report conduces to that.

LH 1, FL 13-14, JW

1. What kind of conversation did Socrates consider a success?

2. What was wisdom, for Socrates?

3. It is mostly through what texts that we know the ideas and beliefs of Socrates?

4. With what Platonic theory does the parable of the cave connect?

5. Was it abstract or empircal reasoning that Plato valued more?

6. According to Plato, how was the ideal society organized? 

8. What sort of companions are needed for walking the field?

9. What might be like a "gentle transfusion from dull reality to universal reality?"

FL 13-14
10. What Englightenment attitude resulted in the tendency to "disbelieve official explanations?"

11. What do religious and conspiratorial explanations have in common?

12. What was the Freemasons' Secret, according to Ben Franklin?

13. How did many Northerners account for their side's early setbacks in the Civil War?

14. What novel idealized the South and was considered "an antidote to the abolition mischief?"

15. Who did Mark Twain blame for "measureless harm" that reversed southern progress and led to the Civil War?


  • Given the near-universal acknowledgement by all but the most hateful racists that slavery was wrong, why do you think there remains-at least in some quarters of the south-significant opposition to the removal of statues and other commemorative markers of the old Confederacy?
  • Will the South ever get over the Civil War? Can southerners admit that the south was wrong, without also acknowledging the continuing legacy of racist oppression as a source of disequilibrium in our society?
  • Do you agree with Socrates' conception of philosophy as "an intimate and collaborative activity" requiring "discussions among small groups of people"? (150) What part should reflecting and writing play in this activity?
  • Is devotion to reason accurately characterized as a form of faith? How do you define faith? Is it the same as belief?
  • How do you personally rank the importance of making money, having a comfortable home, achieving vocational or social status, helping others, ...?
  • Do you try to see beyond superficial qualities in friends and acquaintances, in assessing their attractiveness, or do you tend to judge by appearances? (If the latter, does that make you a shallow person?)
  • Must a good teacher always have some specific doctrine or factual content to teach?
  • Do you think Socrates really heard the voice of an inner "guardian spirit" or daimon? Or was he talking about what we might call the voice of conscience or reason?
  • Do you think you'd have found Socrates' arguments persuasive, if you'd been a member of his jury? (145)
  • Should everyone philosophize? Or are some just "called" to that vocation? How do Socrates and Plato differ on this point?
  • Socrates says "goodness brings wealth and every other blessing"... (148) What would he say about people who achieve wealth and success by behaving badly? (Tom Brady maybe, for instance?) What would he say about our society, and those who value money-making above all? Would he agree with Wm James regarding "success"? (See sidebar quote...)
  • How do you rank the virtues? (152)
  • What's your response to the Euthyphro question? (158)
  • What role do you think your early environment, including the music and stories you heard, played in the formation of your character? (161)
  • Was Diogenes "Socrates gone mad"? (169) Is it a mistake to accept and follow the conventions of your community? Should a philosopher flout convention and live like a dog (who's not been trained)?
  • Is talking better than writing? (LH 4)
  • Where do you imagine you would be in the social hierarchy, if you lived in Plato's ideal republic? (LH 6)
  • Do you think Socrates did in fact "corrupt the youth"? (LH 7)
  • Do humans ever achieve or encounter perfection in any respect?
  • Do you agree with Socrates/Plato about the ladder of love?
  • Is there an important difference between practical and theoretical knowledge? Is knowledge for its own sake as valuable as knowing "how to"?
  • Does human nature mirror society, and vice versa? Can we learn how to manage one by imitating the other?
  • Was Plato right to suggest that the fate of Socrates was like that of the escaped cavedweller in his Republic? (199)

Socrates (@socratesquots)
Why do souls exceeding long to behold the truth? Because truth is where rest is found.

Socrates, cosmopolitan
When asked where he came from, Diogenes  replied: “I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês)”. Socrates (470-399 BC) concurred: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”

"There are four main witnesses for the intimate thoughts of Socrates..." (Dream of Reason)
"I facilitate philosophical discussions, which I call Socrates Cafe..."
“I don't think that virtue—what we call arete—exists anymore.” No such thing as virtue? How can that be,in this of all places? I'm in the ancient agora of Athens, Greece, and I have just posed the question “What is virtue?"..Six Questions of Socrates
5 Best Books on Socrates (MM McCabe)... on Plato (Melissa Lane)... "Philosophy's Martyr-Socrates and the Socratics" (in The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb)... Dear Socrates (Philosophy Now)... Euthyphro... Finding your better half (on Plato's Symposium, Socrates in Love, etc.)... Plato's Academy is now a public park (Critchley)...
Soc. ...The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods. Euth. I do not understand your meaning, Socrates. Soc. I will endeavour to explain...

Arts & Letters Daily search results for “socrates” (6)

2014-04-15 | Living?and dying?for a cause. For a poet, for a suffragette, and for Socrates, self-sacrifice was a principled last act. But what does it actually mean? more »

2018-12-08 | Writing weakens the intellect, or so claimed Socrates. Despite this, two new books set out to rehabilitate classical philosophy more »

2016-10-27 | Socrates set the bar too high. Sage, ascetic, gadfly: His purity of motivation is impossible for philosophers to sustain in modern capitalist society more »

2011-01-01 | Socrates dismissed money as irrelevant and even inimical to the good life. But what is so morally corrosive about material comfort? more »

2011-01-01 | 'Late in life, Rousseau acknowledged that it was arrogant of him to promote virtues he couldn''t live up to. Sorry, Socrates, the examined life isn''t what it''s cracked up to be' more »

2018-06-08 | Did you know that Aristotle spoke with a lisp? That Socrates enjoyed dancing? The third-century gossip of Diogenes Laërtius is fascinating, if not always factual more »


...for “plato” (13)

2017-01-05 | What would Plato tweet? Social media feels like liberation because it seems to unburden us of our shame. But a man without shame, Plato warned, is a slave to desire  more »

2012-08-20 | The conscience has long been considered the site of moral reasoning. But from Plato to Sara Ruddick, the female conscience has proven confusing more »

2014-10-22 | It's been said ? Alfred North Whitehead said it ? that the history of philosophy is a 'series of footnotes to Plato.' Funny. And completely wrong more »

2017-12-30 | What, exactly, are thought experiments? Glimpses into Plato’s heavenly realm? Simple, ordinary argumentation? They may be something else entirely: mental modeling more »

2012-08-16 | Plato was wary; Horace, too. And why not? Magic is irrational, a false science. Yet our fascination continues unabated in this rationalist age more »

2015-10-12 | If everything is amazing, why is nobody happy? Consider the answers of two philosophical giants: Plato and Louis C.K. more »

2017-12-06 | Equality is a modern idea. Its detractors have included Plato and Aristotle; indeed, for most Western thinkers, humanity was marked by chasms of distinction more »

2014-03-11 | Plato had strong views about many things: beauty, education, virtue, knowledge. In short, he had a mouth on him. But a cable TV talking head? more »

2010-01-01 | Should some kinds of music, especially pop, be positively discouraged, others encouraged? Standing with Plato, Roger Scruton answers a resounding yes more »

2016-06-01 | It’s odd that poetry can inspire hatred, and yet denunciations of the genre have been lobbed for centuries. It all started with Plato more »

2018-05-12 | For Plato, uprightness made us human; for Kant, people were inherently bent; Hegel worried about stiffness. Why does posture attract such philosophical attention? more »

2016-07-14 | Helen DeWitt went to Oxford to study Euripides and discovered she’d rather be Euripides. Now she rages against the publishing industry: “Plato did not have an editor” more »

2017-03-15 | A democracy with an exceptionalist heritage is unprepared to respond wisely when arrogance takes over. That's the lesson of Athens and Plato: Greatness has to be earned again and again more »
Image result for jesus and mo euthyphro
Dave O'Hara (@Davoh)
I love teaching Plato's Socratic dialogues. Not because I am a Platonist but because they invite good questions and good conversation. Their incompleteness suggests that the work of philosophy is not to learn Socrates' alleged doctrines but to continue the dialogue without him.

...Socrates was not elitist in the normal sense. He didn’t believe that a narrow 
few should only ever vote. He did, however, insist that only those who had thought about issues rationally and deeply should be let near a vote. We have forgotten this distinction between an intellectual democracy and a democracy by birthright. We have given the vote to all without connecting it to wisdom. And Socrates knew exactly where that would lead: to a system the Greeks feared above all, demagoguery.
Ancient Athens had painful experience of demagogues, for example, the louche figure of Alcibiades,a rich, charismatic, smooth-talking wealthy man who eroded basic freedoms and helped to push Athens to its disastrous military adventures in Sicily. Socrates knew how easily people seeking election could exploit our desire for easy answers. He asked us to imagine an election debate between two candidates, one who was like a doctor and the other who was like a sweet shop owner. The sweet shop owner would say of his rival: Look, this person here has worked many evils on you. He hurts you, gives you bitter potions and tells you not to eat and drink whatever you like. He’ll never serve you feasts of many and varied pleasant things like I will. Socrates asks us to consider the audience response: Do you think the doctor would be able to reply effectively? The true answer – ‘I cause you trouble, and go against you desires in order to help you’ would cause an uproar among the voters, don’t you think? We have forgotten all about Socrates’s salient warnings against democracy. We have preferred to think of democracy as an unambiguous good – rather than as something that is only ever as effective as the education system that surrounds it. As a result, we have elected many sweet shop owners, and very few doctors.

From Russell's History-

CHAPTER XI Socrates SOCRATES is a very difficult subject for the historian. There are many men concerning whom it is certain that very little is known, and other men concerning whom it is certain that a great deal is known; but in the case of Socrates the uncertainty is as to whether we know very little or a great deal. He was undoubtedly an Athenian citizen of moderate means, who spent his time in disputation, and taught philosophy to the young, but not for money, like the Sophists. He was certainly tried, condemned to death, and executed in 399 B. C., at about the age of seventy. He was unquestionably a well-known figure in Athens, since Aristophanes caricatured him in The Clouds. But beyond this point we become involved in controversy. Two of his pupils, Xenophon and Plato, wrote voluminously about him, but they said very different things. Even when they agree, it has been suggested by Burnet that Xenophon is copying Plato. Where they disagree, some believe the one, some the other, some neither. In such a dangerous dispute, I shall not venture to take sides, but I will set out briefly the various points of view. Let us begin with Xenophon, a military man, not very liberally endowed with brains, and on the whole conventional in his outlook. Xenophon is pained that Socrates should have been accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth; he contends that, on the contrary, Socrates was eminently pious and had a thoroughly wholesome effect upon those who came under his influence. His ideas, it appears, so -82- far from being subversive, were rather dull and commonplace. This defence goes too far, since it leaves the hostility to Socrates unexplained. As Burnet says ( Thales to Plato, p. 149): "Xenophon's defence of Socrates is too successful. He would never have been put to death if he had been like that." There has been a tendency to think that everything Xenophon says must be true, because he had not the wits to think of anything untrue. This is a very invalid line of argument. A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand. I would rather be reported by my bitterest enemy among philosophers than by a friend innocent of philosophy. We cannot therefore accept what Xenophon says if it either involves any difficult point in philosophy or is part of an argument to prove that Socrates was unjustly condemned. Nevertheless, some of Xenophon's reminiscences are very convincing. He tells (as Plato also does) how Socrates was continually occupied with the problem of getting competent men into positions of power. He would ask such questions as: "If I wanted a shoe mended, whom should I employ?" To which some ingenuous youth would answer: "A shoemaker, O Socrates." He would go on to carpenters, coppersmiths, etc., and finally ask some such question as "who should mend the Ship of State?" When he fell into conflict with the Thirty Tyrants, Critias, their chief, who knew his ways from having studied under him, forbade him to continue teaching the young, and added: "You had better be done with your shoemakers, carpenters, and coppersmiths. These must be pretty well trodden out at heel by this time, considering the circulation you have given them" ( Xenophon, Memorabilia, Bk. I, Chap. II). This happened during the brief oligarchic government established by the Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War. But at most times Athens was democratic, so much so that even generals were elected or chosen by lot. Socrates came across a young man who wished to become a general, and persuaded him that it would be well to know something of the art of war. The young man accordingly went away and took a brief course in tactics. When he returned, Socrates, after some satirical praise, sent him back for further instruction (ib. Bk. III, Chap I). Another young man he set to learning the principles of -83- finance. He tried the same sort of plan on many people, including the war minister; but it was decided that it was easier to silence him by means of the hemlock than to cure the evils of which he complained. With Plato's account of Socrates, the difficulty is quite a different one from what it is in the case of Xenophon, namely, that it is very hard to judge how far Plato means to portray the historical Socrates, and how far he intends the person called "Socrates" in his dialogues to be merely the mouthpiece of his own opinions. Plato, in addition to being a philosopher, is an imaginative writer of great genius and charm. No one supposes, and he himself does not seriously pretend, that the conversations in his dialogues took place just as he records them. Nevertheless, at any rate in the earlier dialogues, the conversation is completely natural and the characters quite convincing. It is the excellence of Plato as a writer of fiction that throws doubt on him as a historian. His Socrates is a consistent and extraordinarily interesting character, far beyond the power of most men to invent; but I think Platocould have invented him. Whether he did so is of course another question... (continues)
An old post-
Socrates & Plato
Western philosophy began well before Socrates, but we'll leave the pre-Socratics to themselves for now and pretend that Socrates was indeed the first (western) philosopher. We'll also soft-pedal Bertrand Russell's judgment (later shared by Izzy Stone) that the Platonic Socrates is "dishonest and sophistical in argument... smug and unctuous... not scientific in his thinking... [guilty of] treachery to truth" and so on. If the esteemed Socrates-as-paragon and personification of intellectual integrity ("I'd rather die than give up my philosophy" etc.) didn't exist we'd have had to invent him. Perhaps Plato did.

In the southern part of Europe is a little country called Greece… the Greeks have lived in it for more than three thousand years. In olden times they believed that before they came to the land it was the home of the gods, and they used to tell wonderful stories

And then Socrates came along to challenge some of those stories. (There actually were some important pre-Socratics like Thales and Democritus already challenging what everybody knew, but we’re jumping ahead in our Little History.) And that’s why, from a western philosopher’s point of view, the Greeks matter.

The old Parthenon must have been lovely, but I think ours is prettier nowadays. And btw, our Parthenon's city ("The Athens of the South") is hot (as in cool) lately.

[There's a new theory about the old Parthenon, btw. "Horses and riders, youths and elders, men and women, animals being led to sacrifice: What is the Parthenon’s frieze telling us?"... more]

Socrates, from Alopece, near Athens, asked a lot of questions. Like Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna. Like Bertrand Russell:

Bertrand Russell ‏@B_RussellQuotesJan 31
In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Did curiosity kill the philosopher? No, a narrow plurality of 500 jurors did. (His unrepentant attitude during sentencing didn't help, either.) They convicted him of "impiety" (atheism) and corrupting the youth of Athens. One more reason I'm lucky to live in the 21st century: I don't like hemlock. I'm like Woody Allen, that way. (But if shocking new allegations are true, hemlock may be too good for him.) Steve Martin (did I mention that he was a philosophy major?) had a go at it too. Here's a good Discussion Question: what would you do, in Socrates' cell?

He was “snub-nosed, podgy, shabby and a bit strange,” says our text. "He was ugly," says podcastee Mary McCabe. But brilliant and charismatic too, as gadflies go. Said he had nothing to teach, but those around him (including young Plato) said they learned plenty from him, especially how
to discuss with others in this open-minded, open-ended way that allows them to reflect on what they think and us to reflect on what we think, without dictating, without dogma, without insistence, and without imperative... to be true to themselves: to be sincere about their beliefs and to be honest... and to have some respect for their companion. If that's not good teaching, what is? 

The annotated and hyperlinked Last Days of Socrates is a gripping and inspiring tale, whether or not its hero was really as heroic through all the days of his life as Plato and his other admirers would have us believe. The honored pedestal version of this gadfly remains a worthy ideal for philosophy.

"Plato, they say, could stick it away..." -they being Monty Python. And the late great Hitch sang it too, sorta. But Plato was a serious and sober fellow, in Reality, usually capitalizing that word to distinguish it from mere appearance. The everyday world is not at all what it appears to be, he said. If you want Truth and Reality and the Good, get out of your cave and go behold the Forms. He seemed to think that’s what his hero Socrates had done. I’m not so sure. But read the relevant Platonic dialogues telling the tragic and inspiring story of the last days of Socrates and see what you think.

He also had interesting thoughts about love and eros, as expressed through his constant dialogue character "Socrates" (who may or may not have spoken faithfully for his martyred namesake) in SymposiumAngie Hobbs says Plato rejected Aristophanes' mythic notion that we all have one unique other "half," formerly parts of our hermaphroditic spherical selves, that would complete us and make us happy. But he defended a view some of us find equally implausible, the idea that the true and highest love spurns (or spins upward from) particular persons and embraces the Form of Beauty.

The Form of Beauty "is always going to be there for you," but on the other hand "it's never going to love you back." Unrequited affection is hardly what most of us think of as Perfect Love. There's a myth for you. This really was an early foreshadowing of the phenomenon recently deplored in the Stone, our modern turn to abstraction and virtual experience in lieu of immediacy and reality and touch. ("Losing Our Touch", nyt). Reminds me, too, of Rebecca Goldstein's Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away.

We romantics (as Angie Hobbs pronounces herself, and as I confess to being too) should know better than to seek a perfect match. We should know better than to think that any enduring relationship can be wholly free of "pain, fragility, and transience." Those are inevitable parts of the story and the glory of human (as against Ideal, Platonic, Perfect) love, no? Just ask Cecil the Butler about Sidney Poitier.   ["Guess Who's Coming to DInner?"]