Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Phaedrus was probably composed around 370 b.c.e., but the dramatic date of the dialogue is about 410 b.c.e., about ten years before the trial and death of Socrates. Phaedrus is a direct dialogue; that is, Plato does not use in this dialogue a narrator who retells a conversation of Socrates. The scene, a walk outside the walls of Athens to a shady spot along the banks of the river Ilissus, is an unusual setting for Socrates. There are only two characters, Socrates and Phaedrus; Phaedrus also participates in two earlier dialogues, Prtagoras (early period, 399-390 b.c.e.; Protagoras, 1804) and Symposion (middle period, 388-368 b.c.e.; Symposium, 1701).

There are several possible answers to the question, “What is Phaedrus about?” Love, rhetoric, and philosophy are all possible answers because all three subjects are significantly involved in the dialogue. Love is the subject of all three of the set speeches included in Phaedrus; this does not, however, necessarily make love the subject of the dialogue. Rhetoric is examined and criticized, and proposals are made for a reformed rhetoric capable of serving philosophy. Perhaps the most significant feature of this dialogue is Plato’s continuation of his effort to justify philosophy as the most worthy life of the soul against the opposing claims of the Sophists. The dialogue also presents a special method of philosophy, dialectic, which involves collection and division.