The Dialogues of Plato

by Plato

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

ApologyCrito, and Phaedo depict the dialogues of Socrates, beginning with his trial in 399 B.C. and ending with his death. They illustrate both the thought and the integrity of Socrates.

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In the fourth century b.c.e., it was no secret in Athens that the elderly Socrates doubted the wisdom of the city-state’s leaders. So they brought him to trial in order to banish or at least to gag him. Formal charges: atheism and corruption of the city’s youth.

The Apology recreates Socrates’ defense at the trial. Socrates argued that he did believe in God and therefore was no atheist, and that he acted as a corrective to the corruption that permeated Athens. He said that God had given him the duty of questioning the beliefs, values, and behaviors he witnessed in Athens. Rather than punish him, Socrates said, the city should house and feed him because he performed a public service.

However, the court demanded unquestioning allegiance. So, because Socrates refused to be silenced, he was sentenced to death by poisoning.

Socrates accepted his punishment because he believed it was better to do right than to protect one’s self-interest. His life on earth would be extinguished, but he would live nobly throughout eternity.

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Socrates’ only fault was his critical stance towards the powers that be in Athens. The oracle at Delphi had said that Socrates was unparalleled in wisdom, and Socrates confirmed this, he says, after interviewing the teachers, politicians, poets, and craftsmen of Athens. They pretended to know about matters of which they were ignorant. Socrates said that his wisdom lay in the fact that “what I do not know I don’t think I do.”

For Further Review

Grube, G. M. A. Plato’s Thought. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980. A good exposition of Plato’s thought designed for both specialists and nonspecialists. Focuses on broad themes (such as the Ideas, Eros, the soul, the gods, and education) rather than on individual dialogues. Includes a valuable bibliographic essay.

Guthrie, W. K. C. Plato. The Man and His Dialogues: Earlier Period and The Later Plato and the Academy. Vols. 4 and 5 in A History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1975, 1978. Contains a lucid summary and substantial discussions of each dialogue. Scholarly and authoritative, yet fully accessible to the general reader.

Jaeger, Werner. In Search of the Divine Centre and The Conflict of Cultural Ideals in the Age of Plato. Vols. 2 and 3 in Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. Translated by Gilbert Highet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1943. Presents an analysis of Plato’s dialogues within the context of a cultural history of Greece; emphasizes the Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus, and Laws. Provocative reading for novice or specialist.

Raven, J. E. Plato’s Thought in the Making: A Study of the Development of His Metaphysics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1965. Investigates the relative contributions of Socrates and Plato. Treats primarily the Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Phaedrus, Parmenides, Sophist, and Timaeus. Appropriate for the general reader.

Shorey, Paul. What Plato Said. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933. Chapters on Plato’s life and writings precede concise summaries of all the dialogues; running references to the Platonic text being summarized are printed in the margins. A good introduction to Plato’s works.

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