Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher

Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher

Gregory Vlastos

Language: English

Pages: 334

ISBN: 0801497876

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This long-awaited study of the most enigmatic figure of Greek philosophy reclaims Socrates' ground-breaking originality. Written by a leading historian of Greek thought, it argues for a Socrates who, though long overshadowed by his successors Plato and Aristotle, marked the true turning point in Greek philosophy, religion and ethics. The quest for the historical figure focuses on the Socrates of Plato's earlier dialogues, setting him in sharp contrast to that other Socrates of later dialogues, where he is used as a mouthpiece for Plato's often anti-Socratic doctrine. At the heart of the book is the paradoxical nature of Socratic thought. But the paradoxes are explained, not explained away. The book highlights the tensions in the Socratic search for the answer to the question 'How should we live?' Conceived as a divine mandate, the search is carried out through elenctic argument, and dominated by an uncompromising rationalism. The magnetic quality of Socrates' personality is allowed to emerge throughout the book. Clearly and forcefully written, philosophically sophisticated but entirely accessible to non-specialists, this book will be of major importance and interest to all those studying ancient philosophy and the history of Western thought.

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cz:ii"" ·,J!cm. 1.4.16: 30 Ap. 23A-B. \\"hen Socrates discoYers il1c true meaning of the oracle Chaerephon had n·.:.·ei,·cd at Delphi he sees that crnnparcd 'l.\"ith the di,·inc ,,·isdo1n man's·· is 1o...-onh little or nothing.·· In the Hippias .\lajer :289e; Soera1cs endorses the saving ofHeradi1us that" the wisest man is to god a5 an ape is to a man,.; cf. Charles Kahn~s gloss ·, r 979: 183-5:• on this fragment '.no. 68 in his book•. 3 r £\"en subordinate di,·initie-s, like the 1'Iuses, are

message to them: "If absolute stability is what you \Vant, you will never find it in the "'·orld of sights and sounds. You must look for it in that other world in whose existence you do not believe. " 115 \\'e can now consider a third categorial feature of S~1 's Forms: their incorporeali£i:. How fundamental this feature of theirs really is Plato comes to sec best in retrospect when he views the ontology of his middle dialogues from the perspective of his latest period. In the Sophist he sees the

Socrates after all. :\nd this he ncYer does. He represents Socrates at [c] abm·e as haYing been" the first to search for universal definitions of t!u' ''irfues" - not as the first to search for the definition of the w1i1crsal or to im estiga te the nature of the unircrsa/. \\'hen he praises Socrates for not ha\·ing ·'separated" the a: . 43 .-\llen. r 970 cf. ch..LpLn 2, n. +6' put' rhis inro the title of his book Plato's·' Eull!'Phr0' ·and tlu Ear/ia Tluo~r Qf F[,)1m5 This Yit"\"- i.~ by 110

because of ignorance. Thus at each of those salient points marked off in the first four of the Ten Theses at \\·hich SocratesE's thought is antithetical to that of Socrates~ 1 , Aristotle, when reading Plato's dialogues, unhesitatingly allocates to Socrates the views Plato puts into the mouth of SocratesE, to Plato himself the ,-ie,,.vs Plato puts into the mouth of SocratesM. 67 \\'hat is so remarkable about this distributive allocation is that Aristotle should be making it without ever feeling

duplicates the area of a gi,·en square ,,·hose side is t\,·o fret long. The interrogation which follows has been ab~urcl and \\'ut'd in the fnrnili~r Socra1ic way '.a replay of the dt'tKhus to show it dcad-t"nding .. lands in i1npas:->e :_8uo E: cf. n. 40 aboYe .. :\ radically tH'\\ . ..;;tan i.':' called

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