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.
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.
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.
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.
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