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This book addresses the problem of fully explaining Socrates’ motives for philosophic interlocution in Plato’s dialogues. Why, for instance, does Socrates talk to many philosophically immature and seemingly incapable interlocutors? Are his motives in these cases moral, prudential, erotic, pedagogic, or intellectual? In any one case, can Socrates’ reasons for engaging an unlikely interlocutor be explained fully on the grounds of intellectual self-interest (i.e., the promise of advancing his own wisdom)? Or does his activity, including his self-presentation and staging of his death, require additional motives for adequate explanation? Finally, how, if at all, does our conception of Socrates’ motives help illuminate our understanding of the life of reason as Plato presents it? By inviting a multitude of authors to contribute their thoughts on these question—all of whom share a commitment to close reading, but by no means agree on the meaning of Plato’s dialogues—this book provides the reader with an excellent map of the terrain of these problems and aims to help the student of Plato clarify the tensions involved, showing especially how each major stance on Socrates entails problematic assumptions that prompt further critical reflection.



Chapter 1. Editors’ Introduction: Why Clarifying Socrates’ Motives Matters for Platonic Philosophy

Diduch and Harding explain that the question of why Socrates pursues dialectical conversations with a range of interlocutors must be clarified if one is to fully understand Socrates’ way of life. To better help the reader survey the terrain of this problem, the editors then limn the two competing interpretive camps, showing how each major position on Socrates’ motive commits itself to questionable and potentially problematic assumptions.
Paul J. Diduch, Michael P. Harding

Chapter 2. The Strange Conversation of Plato’s Minos

In the Minos or On Law Socrates asks a nameless companion out of the blue, “What is law for us?” knowing full well, it seems, that the companion himself will not be able to give a satisfactory answer. Why on earth, then, would Socrates bother to ask the question of the companion—a man clearly more ignorant than himself? The mystery only deepens when the companion mishears and misunderstands Socrates’ decisive contribution to the conversation and Socrates doesn’t even bother to set him straight. Rather, he uses the definition of law the companion mistakenly thinks he heard to lead him, via the companion’s own opinions, to a position that Socrates does not himself hold. In this chapter, Goldberg hopes to uncover the deep philosophical reasons for Socrates’ procedure in conducting so strange a conversation.
Robert Goldberg

Chapter 3. Platonic Beginnings

Blitz discusses the question of Socrates’ motives in two ways. First, he considers the general importance of Plato’s titles, opening scenes, and conclusions for clarifying Socrates’ motives. He then illustrates this primarily through Socrates’ discussion with Alcibiades in Alcibiades 1, the Lysis, the Parmenides, and the Theaetetus in order to explore Socrates’ art of seduction and what he seeks to achieve in talking with political men and in discussing “philosophical” matters. Second, Blitz pursues these questions in greater detail through an examination of Plato’s Erastai (Lovers), in which each of these issues appears.
Mark Blitz

Chapter 4. A Look at Socrates’ Motive in Plato’s Laches

Lund argues that Socrates pits the generals Laches and Nicias against each other in the hopes of getting Lysimachus and Melesias to allow him access to their sons. The dialogue thus offers a good occasion to reflect on Socrates’ motives, especially since his treatment of Laches and Nicias suggests that he is unmoved by civic obligation. Lund finds clues in the dialogue that indicate that Socrates’ interest in the young is to secure useful interlocutors for his continued inquiry into moral and divine phenomena.
Jason Lund

Chapter 5. Socrates’ Self-Knowledge

Focusing mainly on Plato’s Phaedrus, Levy intends to reflect on the way Socrates characterizes his philosophizing in contrast to the intellectual activity of the sophists. Levy’s chapter takes up specifically the question of the character of the self-knowledge Socrates is seeking, why talking to others contributes to his self-knowledge, why Socrates is interested in and respectful of eros, and the character of Socrates’ interest in educating others.
David Levy

Chapter 6. Socrates’ Exhortation to Follow the Logos

Carey argues that Socrates’ injunction to follow the logos has two distinct, though related implications. The first is well-known: we should subject what is sub-rational in the soul to the rule of reason. The second implication is less well-known, though it becomes obvious on reflection: we can follow the logos only if the logos is, of its own nature, headed somewhere, or at least pointing somewhere. What human reason is headed toward or pointing to is its natural end. Reason is intrinsically teleological. Carey explores the Socratic conception of reason, which is generally the pre-modern conception, as something more than an instrument to be employed solely for the sake of attaining ends, such as longevity and pleasure, that are not specifically rational.
James Carey

Chapter 7. Philosophy, Eros, and the Socratic Turn

Lutz focuses on the sections of Phaedo, Parmenides, Symposium, and Apology that shed light on Socrates’ intellectual biography. Taken together, Lutz argues, these passages reveal the stages of Socrates’ education in human things, especially his reasons for pursuing knowledge of eros (erotics). For Lutz, making sense of Socrates’ philosophic development is essential for explaining why Socrates engages others—including unpromising non-philosophers—in conversation and refutation. Lutz concludes by attempting to resolve certain puzzles in Apology, particularly Socrates’ seemingly contradictory statements about the god and his (Socrates’) divine mission.
Mark J. Lutz

Chapter 8. Free to Care: Socrates’ Political Engagement

Taking her bearings from Socrates’ remark in Apology that “I always do your business, going to each of you privately, as a father or an older brother might do, persuading you to care for virtue” (31b), Weiss argues that Socrates’ relationship with Alcibiades exemplifies Socrates’ freedom to care. Freedom to care means, in large part, freedom from the desires that might lead a teacher to sexually exploit his student. As Alcibiades testifies, Socrates exhibits the kind of self-control that is an absolutely necessary condition for being genuinely able to help others toward virtue.
Roslyn Weiss

Chapter 9. Socrates: Sisyphean or Overflowing?

Based on the ostensible fact that truly Socratic dialogue entails a considerable inequality between participants, Parens explores Socrates’s reasons for conversing dialectically with those who are manifestly his philosophic inferiors. Contrary to many Plato scholars who emphasize Socrates’s self-reported ignorance and, hence, the “Sisyphean” character of his philosophic activity, Parens intends to show—with the help of Maimonides—that Socrates is an “overflowing” philosopher, who cannot help but share his wisdom with others.
Joshua Parens

Chapter 10. Socrates’ Motives and Human Wisdom in Plato’s Theages

Hadley argues that Plato’s Theages counters the charges of Aristophanes’ Clouds that Socrates is impious and corrupts the young. Hadley pursues the character of Plato’s response by exploring the relation between Socrates’ wisdom and his invocation of the daimonion. Hadley shows, more specifically, that one’s interpretation of the daimonion will bear decisively on how one understands the putatively philanthropic character of Socrates’ activity.
Travis S. Hadley

Chapter 11. Plato’s Euthyphro on Divine and Human Wisdom

A chance encounter with a certain Euthyphro leads Socrates to have a conversation directly related to the charges that are about to be brought against him and on which he will soon be convicted and sentenced to die. Euthyphro claims, and persists in claiming, that he possesses a profound understanding of piety and the gods, which understanding Socrates has long tried to acquire for himself. The dialogue consists of Socrates’ effort to learn what Euthyphro knows, which includes the requirement that he test whether Euthyphro really knows what he claims. Although Socrates may also wish to deter Euthyphro from prosecuting his father for murder, which he thinks his professed knowledge requires him to do, Ambler argues that Socrates’ deeper goal is to see whether, how, and how far his merely human wisdom is entitled to assess and reject Euthyphro’s claim to divine wisdom.
Wayne Ambler

Chapter 12. On the Question of Socratic Benevolence

In the Euthyphro, Socrates claims to be benevolent. As specific proof of his benevolence, Socrates points to the fact that he says profusely whatever he happens to possess to every man, free of charge. So in order to understand Socratic benevolence, one should begin by adumbrating his various kinds of speeches. Accordingly, this chapter first briefly surveys several dialogues to search for what motivates Socrates to speak with particular persons. McBrayer aims to contrast cases where Socrates seems particularly interested in speaking to his interlocutors with those cases where Socrates appears to be indifferent or even disinclined to speak with someone, yet nevertheless does. In the next place, McBrayer pays particular attention to Book I of the Republic, where Socrates outlines a rather passive view of justice—understood as doing no one harm—to see whether that discussion can shed light on Socrates’s alleged care for human beings.
Gregory A. McBrayer

Chapter 13. Philanthropy in the Action of the Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito

Harding’s chapter examines the Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, focusing on Socrates’ philanthropic moderation of Euthyphro in order to establish that Socrates’ motivation in that discussion is at least in part philanthropic. Harding subsequently argues that the motives for Socrates’ weak defense in the Apology are ultimately philanthropic, a fact which comes to light more fully in the Crito.
Michael P. Harding

Chapter 14. Philosophic Care in the Life of Plato’s Socrates

In order to better understand the meaning of Socrates’ philosophic life, Nichols explores the theme of caring that is prominent in Socrates’ Apology. What is the relation between the examined life that he says is the only one worth living for a human being and the care he claims and shows for others, especially the young of Athens? Nichols discusses Socrates’ illustrations of philosophic caretaking from the Symposium, Phaedrus, and Theaetetus, both his own caretaking activities as well as his teachings about love and generation, the art of words, and midwifery. Finally, she argues that the god who “commands” an answer to his oracular riddle, as Socrates interprets it in the Apology, serves as a model for the union of questioning and caretaking central to Socrates' life of philosophizing. Through his presentation of Socrates, Plato therefore offers an alternative to the Eleatic Stranger’s view of divine and human care in the Statesman that forms a backdrop to Socrates’ defense in the Apology.
Mary P. Nichols

Chapter 15. Plato’s Sons and the Library of Magnesia

Papadopoulos explains why Plato, unlike his Socrates, wrote philosophic texts and founded a school. His paper brings together the Phaedrus and Laws in an attempt to show how Socrates’s critique of writing is met by the Athenian Stranger’s prescriptions for the preservation and study of texts in Magnesia. Papadopoulos reflects on the possible ways in which Plato’s writing can be construed as a kind of philosophic care or philanthropy.
Pavlos Leonidas Papadopoulos


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