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Socrates Was Against Writing

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Socrates on the Forgetfulness that Comes with Writing
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Each age, each intellectual turn, produces a Socrates of its own. The extant sources agree that Socrates was profoundly ugly, resembling a satyr more than a man—and resembling not at all the statues that turned up later in ancient times and now grace Internet sites and the covers of books.

He had wide-set, bulging eyes that darted sideways and enabled him, like a crab, to see not only what was straight ahead, but what was beside him as well; a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils; and large fleshy lips like an ass. Socrates let his hair grow long, Spartan-style even while Athens and Sparta were at war , and went about barefoot and unwashed, carrying a stick and looking arrogant.

Something was peculiar about his gait as well, sometimes described as a swagger so intimidating that enemy soldiers kept their distance. He was impervious to the effects of alcohol and cold weather, but this made him an object of suspicion to his fellow soldiers on campaign.

We can safely assume an average height since no one mentions it at all , and a strong build, given the active life he appears to have led. Against the iconic tradition of a pot-belly, Socrates and his companions are described as going hungry Aristophanes, Birds — In the late fifth century B.

Although many citizens lived by their labor in a wide variety of occupations, they were expected to spend much of their leisure time, if they had any, busying themselves with the affairs of the city. Other forms of higher education were also known in Athens: One of the things that seemed strange about Socrates is that he neither labored to earn a living, nor participated voluntarily in affairs of state. Rather, he embraced poverty and, although youths of the city kept company with him and imitated him, Socrates adamantly insisted he was not a teacher Plato, Apology 33a—b and refused all his life to take money for what he did.

The strangeness of this behavior is mitigated by the image then current of teachers and students: Because Socrates was no transmitter of information that others were passively to receive, he resists the comparison to teachers. Rather, he helped others recognize on their own what is real, true, and good Plato, Meno , Theaetetus —a new, and thus suspect, approach to education. He was known for confusing, stinging and stunning his conversation partners into the unpleasant experience of realizing their own ignorance, a state sometimes superseded by genuine intellectual curiosity.

Socrates claimed to have learned rhetoric from Aspasia of Miletus, the de facto spouse of Pericles Plato, Menexenus ; and to have learned erotics from the priestess Diotima of Mantinea Plato, Symposium. Socrates was unconventional in a related respect. Athenian citizen males of the upper social classes did not marry until they were at least thirty, and Athenian females were poorly educated and kept sequestered until puberty, when they were given in marriage by their fathers.

It was assumed among Athenians that mature men would find youths sexually attractive, and such relationships were conventionally viewed as beneficial to both parties by family and friends alike.

A degree of hypocrisy or denial , however, was implied by the arrangement: What was odd about Socrates is that, although he was no exception to the rule of finding youths attractive Plato, Charmides d, Protagoras a—b; Xenophon, Symposium 4. Socrates also acknowledged a rather strange personal phenomenon, a daimonion or internal voice that prohibited his doing certain things, some trivial and some important, often unrelated to matters of right and wrong thus not to be confused with the popular notions of a superego or a conscience.

The implication that he was guided by something he regarded as divine or semi-divine was all the more reason for other Athenians to be suspicious of Socrates. Socrates was usually to be found in the marketplace and other public areas, conversing with a variety of different people—young and old, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor—that is, with virtually anyone he could persuade to join with him in his question-and-answer mode of probing serious matters.

Socrates pursued this task single-mindedly, questioning people about what matters most, e. He did this regardless of whether his respondents wanted to be questioned or resisted him. The difficulties are increased because all those who knew and wrote about Socrates lived before any standardization of modern categories of, or sensibilities about, what constitutes historical accuracy or poetic license.

All authors present their own interpretations of the personalities and lives of their characters, whether they mean to or not, whether they write fiction or biography or philosophy if the philosophy they write has characters , so other criteria must be introduced for deciding among the contending views of who Socrates really was. One thing is certain about the historical Socrates: Our earliest extant source—and the only one who can claim to have known Socrates in his early years—is the playwright Aristophanes.

His comedy, Clouds , was produced in when the other two writers of our extant sources, Xenophon and Plato, were infants. In the play, the character Socrates heads a Think-o-Rama in which young men study the natural world, from insects to stars, and study slick argumentative techniques as well, lacking all respect for the Athenian sense of propriety. The actor wearing the mask of Socrates makes fun of the traditional gods of Athens lines —48, , —24 , mimicked later by the young protagonist, and gives naturalistic explanations of phenomena Athenians viewed as divinely directed lines —33; cf.

Theaetetus e, c—d, e—a; Phaedo 96a—a. Worst of all, he teaches dishonest techniques for avoiding repayment of debt lines — and encourages young men to beat their parents into submission lines — Thus, what had seemed comical a quarter century earlier, Socrates hanging in a basket on-stage, talking nonsense, was ominous in memory by then. Comedy by its very nature is a tricky source for information about anyone. A good reason to believe that the representation of Socrates is not merely comic exaggeration but systematically misleading is that Clouds amalgamates in one character, Socrates, features now well known to be unique to other particular fifth-century intellectuals Dover , xxxii-lvii.

That Socrates eschewed any earning potential in philosophy does not seem to have been significant to the great writer of comedies. Aristophanes did not stop accusing Socrates in when Clouds placed third behind another play in which Socrates was mentioned as barefoot; rather, he soon began writing a revision, which he published but never produced.

Aristophanes appears to have given up on reviving Clouds in about , but his attacks on Socrates continued. Another source for the historical Socrates is the soldier-historian, Xenophon. Xenophon was a practical man whose ability to recognize philosophical issues is almost imperceptible, so it is plausible that his Socrates appears as such a practical and helpful advisor because that is the side of Socrates Xenophon witnessed.

Although Xenophon tends to moralize and does not follow the superior conventions introduced by Thucydides, still it is sometimes argued that, having had no philosophical axes to grind, Xenophon may have presented a more accurate portrait of Socrates than Plato does.

But two considerations have always weakened that claim: He left Athens in on an expedition to Persia and, for a variety of reasons mercenary service for Thracians and Spartans; exile , never resided in Athens again. And now a third is in order. Philosophers have usually privileged the account of Socrates given by their fellow philosopher, Plato. Plato was about twenty-five when Socrates was tried and executed, and had probably known the old man most of his life.

The extant sources agree that Socrates was often to be found where youths of the city spent their time. The dialogues have dramatic dates that fall into place as one learns more about their characters and, despite incidental anachronisms, it turns out that there is more realism in the dialogues than most have suspected.

It does not follow, however, that Plato represented the views and methods of Socrates or anyone, for that matter as he recalled them, much less as they were originally uttered. There are a number of cautions and caveats that should be in place from the start.

Even when a specific festival or other reference fixes the season or month of a dialogue, or birth of a character, one should imagine a margin of error. Although it becomes obnoxious to use circa or plus-minus everywhere, the ancients did not require or desire contemporary precision in these matters.

All the children born during a full year, for example, had the same nominal birthday, accounting for the conversation at Lysis b, odd by contemporary standards, in which two boys disagree about who is the elder. This is a way of asking a popular question, Why do history of philosophy? One might reply that our study of some of our philosophical predecessors is intrinsically valuable , philosophically enlightening and satisfying.

The truly great philosophers, and Plato was one of them, are still capable of becoming our companions in philosophical conversation, our dialectical partners.

Because he addressed timeless, universal, fundamental questions with insight and intelligence, our own understanding of such questions is heightened.

That explains Plato, one might say, but where is Socrates in this picture? Is he interesting merely as a predecessor to Plato? That again is the Socratic problem. Inconsistencies among the dialogues seem to demand explanation, though not all philosophers have thought so Shorey Most famously, the Parmenides attacks various theories of forms that the Republic , Symposium , and Phaedo develop and defend.

In some dialogues e. There are differences on smaller matters as well. A related problem is that some of the dialogues appear to develop positions familiar from other philosophical traditions e. Three centuries of efforts to solve the Socratic problem are summarized in the following supplementary document:.

Contemporary efforts recycle bits and pieces—including the failures—of these older attempts. Until relatively recently in modern times, it was hoped that confident elimination of what could be ascribed purely to Socrates would leave standing a coherent set of doctrines attributable to Plato who appears nowhere in the dialogues as a speaker.

Many philosophers, inspired by the nineteenth century scholar Eduard Zeller, expect the greatest philosophers to promote grand, impenetrable schemes.

Nothing of the sort was possible for Socrates, so it remained for Plato to be assigned all the positive doctrines that could be extracted from the dialogues. In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, there was a resurgence of interest in who Socrates was and what his own views and methods were. The result is a narrower, but no less contentious, Socratic problem.

Two strands of interpretation dominated views of Socrates in the twentieth century Griswold ; Klagge and Smith Although there has been some healthy cross-pollination and growth since the mid s, the two were so hostile to one another for so long that the bulk of the secondary literature on Socrates, including translations peculiar to each, still divides into two camps, hardly reading one another: The literary-contextual study of Socrates, like hermeneutics more generally, uses the tools of literary criticism—typically interpreting one complete dialogue at a time; its European origins are traced to Heidegger and earlier to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.

The analytic study of Socrates, like analytic philosophy more generally, is fueled by the arguments in the texts—typically addressing a single argument or set of arguments, whether in a single text or across texts; its origins are in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition. Hans-Georg Gadamer — was the doyen of the hermeneutic strand, and Gregory Vlastos — of the analytic. Thus terms, arguments, characters, and in fact all elements in the dialogues should be addressed in their literary context.

For both varieties of contextualism, the Platonic dialogues are like a brilliant constellation whose separate stars naturally require separate focus. Marking the maturity of the literary contextualist tradition in the early twenty-first century is a greater diversity of approaches and an attempt to be more internally critical see Hyland Socrates's acceptance of his death sentence after his conviction can also be seen to support this view.

It is often claimed much of the anti-democratic leanings are from Plato, who was never able to overcome his disgust at what was done to his teacher. In any case, it is clear Socrates thought the rule of the Thirty Tyrants was also objectionable; when called before them to assist in the arrest of a fellow Athenian, Socrates refused and narrowly escaped death before the Tyrants were overthrown.

He did, however, fulfill his duty to serve as Prytanis when a trial of a group of Generals who presided over a disastrous naval campaign were judged; even then, he maintained an uncompromising attitude, being one of those who refused to proceed in a manner not supported by the laws, despite intense pressure.

Socrates's apparent respect for democracy is one of the themes emphasized in the play Socrates on Trial by Andrew David Irvine. Irvine argues that it was because of his loyalty to Athenian democracy that Socrates was willing to accept the verdict of his fellow citizens. As Irvine puts it, "During a time of war and great social and intellectual upheaval, Socrates felt compelled to express his views openly, regardless of the consequences.

As a result, he is remembered today, not only for his sharp wit and high ethical standards, but also for his loyalty to the view that in a democracy the best way for a man to serve himself, his friends, and his city—even during times of war—is by being loyal to, and by speaking publicly about, the truth. In the Dialogues of Plato, though Socrates sometimes seems to support a mystical side, discussing reincarnation and the mystery religions , this is generally attributed to Plato.

In the culmination of the philosophic path as discussed in Plato's Symposium , one comes to the Sea of Beauty or to the sight of "the beautiful itself" C ; only then can one become wise.

In the Symposium , Socrates credits his speech on the philosophic path to his teacher, the priestess Diotima , who is not even sure if Socrates is capable of reaching the highest mysteries. In the Meno , he refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries , telling Meno he would understand Socrates's answers better if only he could stay for the initiations next week.

Further confusions result from the nature of these sources, insofar as the Platonic Dialogues are arguably the work of an artist-philosopher, whose meaning does not volunteer itself to the passive reader nor again the lifelong scholar. According to Olympiodorus the Younger in his Life of Plato , [] Plato himself "received instruction from the writers of tragedy" before taking up the study of philosophy.

His works are, indeed, dialogues; Plato's choice of this, the medium of Sophocles, Euripides, and the fictions of theatre, may reflect the ever-interpretable nature of his writings, as he has been called a "dramatist of reason".

What is more, the first word of nearly all Plato's works is a significant term for that respective dialogue, and is used with its many connotations in mind. Finally, the Phaedrus and the Symposium each allude to Socrates's coy delivery of philosophic truths in conversation; the Socrates of the Phaedrus goes so far as to demand such dissembling and mystery in all writing.

These indirect methods may fail to satisfy some readers. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics. In the Phaedrus , we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of "divine madness", the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry , mysticism , love , and even philosophy itself. Today, such a voice would be classified under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a command hallucination.

Socrates practiced and advocated divination. He was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes 's comedy The Clouds , produced when Socrates was in his mid-forties; he said at his trial according to Plato that the laughter of the theater was a harder task to answer than the arguments of his accusers. In the play, Socrates is ridiculed for his dirtiness, which is associated with the Laconizing fad; also in plays by Callias , Eupolis , and Telecleides.

Other comic poets who lampooned Socrates include Mnesimachus and Ameipsias. In all of these, Socrates and the Sophists were criticized for "the moral dangers inherent in contemporary thought and literature".

Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle are the main sources for the historical Socrates; however, Xenophon and Plato were students of Socrates, and they may idealize him; however, they wrote the only extended descriptions of Socrates that have come down to us in their complete form. Aristotle refers frequently, but in passing, to Socrates in his writings. Almost all of Plato's works center on Socrates. However, Plato's later works appear to be more his own philosophy put into the mouth of his mentor.

The Socratic Dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato and Xenophon in the form of discussions between Socrates and other persons of his time, or as discussions between Socrates's followers over his concepts.

Plato's Phaedo is an example of this latter category. Although his Apology is a monologue delivered by Socrates, it is usually grouped with the Dialogues.

The Apology professes to be a record of the actual speech Socrates delivered in his own defense at the trial. In the Athenian jury system, an "apology" is composed of three parts: Plato generally does not place his own ideas in the mouth of a specific speaker; he lets ideas emerge via the Socratic Method , under the guidance of Socrates.

Most of the dialogues present Socrates applying this method to some extent, but nowhere as completely as in the Euthyphro. In this dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through several iterations of refining the answer to Socrates's question, " What is the pious, and what the impious? In Plato's Dialogues, learning appears as a process of remembering. The soul , before its incarnation in the body, was in the realm of Ideas very similar to the Platonic "Forms".

There, it saw things the way they truly are, rather than the pale shadows or copies we experience on earth. By a process of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember the ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom. Especially for Plato's writings referring to Socrates, it is not always clear which ideas brought forward by Socrates or his friends actually belonged to Socrates and which of these may have been new additions or elaborations by Plato—this is known as the Socratic Problem.

Generally, the early works of Plato are considered to be close to the spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works—including Phaedo and Republic —are considered to be possibly products of Plato's elaborations. Immediately, the students of Socrates set to work both on exercising their perceptions of his teachings in politics and also on developing many new philosophical schools of thought. Some of Athens' controversial and anti-democratic tyrants were contemporary or posthumous students of Socrates including Alcibiades and Critias.

While "Socrates dealt with moral matters and took no notice at all of nature in general", [] in his Dialogues, Plato would emphasize mathematics with metaphysical overtones mirroring that of Pythagoras —the former who would dominate Western thought well into the Renaissance.

Aristotle himself was as much of a philosopher as he was a scientist with extensive work in the fields of biology and physics. Socratic thought which challenged conventions, especially in stressing a simplistic way of living, became divorced from Plato's more detached and philosophical pursuits. This idea was inherited by one of Socrates's older students, Antisthenes , who became the originator of another philosophy in the years after Socrates's death: While some of the later contributions of Socrates to Hellenistic Era culture and philosophy as well as the Roman Era have been lost to time, his teachings began a resurgence in both medieval Europe and the Islamic Middle East alongside those of Aristotle and Stoicism.

Socrates is mentioned in the dialogue Kuzari by Jewish philosopher and rabbi Yehuda Halevi in which a Jew instructs the Khazar king about Judaism. Socrates's stature in Western philosophy returned in full force with the Renaissance and the Age of Reason in Europe when political theory began to resurface under those like Locke and Hobbes.

To this day, different versions of the Socratic method are still used in classroom and law school discourse to expose underlying issues in both subject and the speaker.

Over the past century, numerous plays about Socrates have also focused on Socrates's life and influence. One of the most recent has been Socrates on Trial , a play based on Aristophanes's Clouds and Plato's Apology , Crito , and Phaedo , all adapted for modern performance. Evaluation of and reaction to Socrates has been undertaken by both historians and philosophers from the time of his death to the present day with a multitude of conclusions and perspectives.

Although he was not directly prosecuted for his connection to Critias, leader of the Spartan-backed Thirty Tyrants , and "showed considerable personal courage in refusing to submit to [them]", he was seen by some as a figure who mentored oligarchs who became abusive tyrants, and undermined Athenian democracy. The Sophistic movement that he railed at in life survived him, but by the 3rd century BC, was rapidly overtaken by the many philosophical schools of thought that Socrates influenced.

Socrates's death is considered iconic and his status as a martyr of philosophy overshadows most contemporary and posthumous criticism.

However, Xenophon mentions Socrates's "arrogance" and that he was "an expert in the art of primping" or "self-presentation". Some modern scholarship holds that, with so much of his own thought obscured and possibly altered by Plato, it is impossible to gain a clear picture of Socrates amid all the contradictory evidence. That both Cynicism and Stoicism , which carried heavy influence from Socratic thought, were unlike or even contrary to Platonism further illustrates this.

The ambiguity and lack of reliability serves as the modern basis of criticism—that it is nearly impossible to know the real Socrates. Some controversy also exists about Socrates's attitude towards homosexuality [] and as to whether or not he believed in the Olympian gods , was monotheistic, or held some other religious viewpoint.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the classical Greek philosopher. For other uses of Socrates, see Socrates disambiguation. For the Attic orator, see Isocrates. Prodicus , Anaxagoras , Archelaus. Virtually all subsequent Western philosophy , but Plato and Xenophon in particular. Plato from Raphael 's The School of Athens — Retrieved 20 November Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.

The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. Retrieved 19 November Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy. But the year of Socrates's birth is probably only an inference from Plato [who] has Socrates casually describe himself as having lived seventy years.

Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Kahn - Ethics - p. Fictions of a Philosopher. Socrates, of course, is the only of these philosophers who didn't write anything Interviews from the Harvard Review of Philosophy p. The historical Socrates undoubtedly existed, but he did not write anything Socrates is especially pure because he does not write.

Blitz, Ann Ward - Socrates: Reason or Unreason as the Foundation of European Identity p. As Socrates did not write anything and assigned to the living word and to dialogue with his followers all of his thought, The Schools of the Imperial Age p.

Socrates explains to Meno: This is why Socrates did not write anything; he had nothing to teach that could be fixed in writing New Ideas for an Old Relationship p. They achieved renown precisely because they did not write at all. The vice of graphorrhoea was frequently contrasted with the virtue of such ancient philosophers as Pythagoras, Aristarchus, Favorinus and Socrates, who did not write anything Ethics for Criminal Justice Professionals.

Fear and Loathing in Ancient Athens: Religion and Politics During the Peloponnesian War. The Rise and Fall of the Socratic Problem pp. In addition to Plato and Xenophon , each of the following is credited by some source as having added to the genre: It is unlikely Plato was the first in this field Vlastos, p. The Cambridge Companion to Socrates p. An Interpretation of Plato's Phaedo p. The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form p. A Guide for the Perplexed p. A Companion to Socrates pp.

A translation of one fragment reads: Spellbinder of the Greeks, who made them precise in language. Sneerer trained by rhetoroticians, sub-Attic ironist. Celenza , Angelo Poliziano's Lamia: Woodruff - Reason and Religion in Socratic Philosophy p. Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy p. King , One Hundred Philosophers p. Gill - The Death of Socrates p. A Brief History - p. Brisson , Griechische Biographie in hellenistischer Zeit: Akten des internationalen Kongresses vom His Evidence on Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.

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Socrates saw writing in the same way: writing cannot be used as a sort of standalone memory bank because people who read a text will only have a partial understanding of the author’s meaning, and therefore should not be taken seriously.

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Socrates ( BCE) was a Greek Philosopher who thought and taught through argumentative dialogue, or dialectic. Socrates did not write down any of his thoughts, however his dialogues were recorded by his student and protégé, the philosopher Plato ( – BCE).

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Socrates on the Invention of Writing and the Relationship of Writing to Memory (Circa BCE) In the Phaedrus, written circa BCE, Plato recorded Socrates's discussion of the Egyptian myth of the creation of writing. Plato, The Phaedrus – a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus written down by the pupil of Socrates, Plato, in approximately BC.

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In the dialogue, Socrates recounts the story of the god Theuth, or Ammon, who offers the king Thamus the gift of letters: This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Aristophanes did not stop accusing Socrates in when Clouds placed third behind another play in which Socrates was mentioned as barefoot; rather, he soon began writing a revision, which he published but never produced.