1. How was Democritus remembered after his death, and why?
- If everything is composed of atoms, does it follow that there is no life after death? (100)
- Does atomism "liberate [us] from superstition, fear of death, and the tyranny of priests"?
- If thought consists in the motion of mind-atoms, can we freely think our own thoughts? Or are we passive spectators of "our" minds?
- What difference does it make, if particles are inseparable from forces and fields and bundles of energy and thus cannot be proved to be "unsplittable" (as the ancient atomists said)?
- Is it "reasonable to suppose that every sort of world crop[s] up somewhere"? (109)
- Comment on Dawkins' "selfish gene" statement about meaning and design. (110)
- What do you think of Democritus's view of children (112)?
- What do you think of Democritus's "preaching"? (112)
- By Pericles' definition, do we have a democracy? (115)
- Was Socrates a Sophist?
- Was Protagoras a relativist?
- [Add yours]
Th 9 - Socrates and the Socratics, DR 10. Also recommended: LISTEN M.M. McCabe on Socratic Method
2. How does Gottlieb account for Socrates' appeal to the "high society" of Athens, given his humble background and poverty?
3. What did Alcibiades see in Socrates?
4. with what request did Socrates typically commence a philosophical conversation? What was his method called?
5. Why were the defenders of Athenian democracy uneasy about Socrates?
6. In what way did the Oracle mean that Socrates was wise? Did Socrates accept the Oracle's authority at face value?
7. What was Socrates' basic motive for philosophizing?
8. Why did Socrates say it's unwise to fear death?
9. In what different ways were Socrates and Plato "unworldly"?
10. What form of life did Socrates say is not worth living? OR, Do the "authentically Socratic" dialogues usually settle on a final conclusion?
- 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)?
...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 IX The Atomists THE founders of atomism were two, Leucippus and Democritus. It is difficult to disentangle them, because they are generally mentioned together, and apparently some of the works of Leucippus were subsequently attributed to Democritus. Leucippus, who seems to have flourished about 440 B.C., * came from Miletus, and carried on the scientific rationalist philosophy associated with that city. He was much influenced by Parmenides and Zeno. So little is known of him that Epicurus (a later follower of Democritus) was thought to have denied his existence altogether, and some moderns have revived this theory. There are, however, a number of allusions to him in Aristotle, and it seems incredible that these (which include textual quotations) would have occurred if he had been merely a myth. Democritus is a much more definite figure. He was a native of Abdera in Thrace; as for his date, he stated that he was young when Anaxagoras was old, say about 432 B.C., and he is taken to have flourished about 420 B.C. He travelled widely in southern and eastern lands in search of knowledge; he perhaps spent a considerable time in Egypt, and he certainly visited Persia. He then returned to Abdera, where he remained. Zeller calls him "superior to all earlier and contemporary philosophers in wealth of knowledge, and to most in acuteness and logical correctness of thinking." Democritus was a contemporary of Socrates and the Sophists, and should, on purely chronological grounds, be treated somewhat later in our history. The difficulty is that he is so hard to separate from Leucippus...
CHAPTER X Protagoras THE great pre-Socratic systems that we have been considering were confronted, in the latter half of the fifth century, by a sceptical movement, in which the most important figure was Protagoras, chief of the Sophists. The word "Sophist" had originally no bad connotation; it meant, as nearly as may be, what we mean by "professor." A Sophist was a man who made his living by teaching young men certain things that, it was thought, would be useful to them -73- in practical life. As there was no public provision for such education, the Sophists taught only those who had private means, or whose parents had. This tended to give them a certain class bias, which was increased by the political circumstances of the time. In Athens and many other cities, democracy was politically triumphant, but nothing had been done to diminish the wealth of those who belonged to the old aristocratic families. It was, in the main, the rich who embodied what appears to us as Hellenic culture: they had education and leisure, travel had taken the edge off their traditional prejudices, and the time that they spent in discussion sharpened their wits. What was called democracy did not touch the institution of slavery, which enabled the rich to enjoy their wealth without oppressing free citizens. In many cities, however, and especially in Athens, the poorer citizens had towards the rich a double hostility, that of envy, and that of traditionalism. The rich were supposed--often with justice--to be impious and immoral; they were subverting ancient beliefs, and probably trying to destroy democracy. It thus happened that political democracy was associated with cultural conservatism, while those who were cultural innovators tended to be political reactionaries. Somewhat the same situation exists in modern America, where Tammany, as a mainly Catholic organization, is engaged in defending traditional theological and ethical dogmas against the assaults of enlightenment. But the enlightened are politically weaker in America than they were in Athens, because they have failed to make common cause with the plutocracy. There is, however, one important and highly intellectual class which is concerned with the fence of the plutocracy, namely the class of corporation lawyers. In some respects, their functions are similar to those that were performed in Athens by the Sophists. Athenian democracy, though it had the grave limitation of not including slaves or women, was in some respects more democratic than any modern system. Judges and most executive officers were chosen by lot, and served for short periods; they were thus average citizens, like our jurymen, with the prejudices and lack of professionalism characteristic of average citizens. In general, there were a large number of judges to hear each case...
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)
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 Symposium. Angie 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.