Socratic protreptic and moral education in Plato's early dialogues
Rider, Benjamin Albert, 1978-
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I examine how Plato, in his early dialogues, tries to make good on Socrates' claims, in the Apology, about the value of his philosophical life and the benefits it provides his fellow citizens. Beginning with the Apology, I analyze how Socrates tries to exhort people to take care for or tend to virtue and the state of their souls. I argue that Socrates is challenging his fellow-citizens, and Plato his readers, not only to recognize their ignorance, but also to engage in active philosophical inquiry into ethical questions. This aspect of Socrates' mission--his quest to get people to live examined, philosophical lives--is sometimes called philosophical protreptic. In subsequent chapters, I analyze the arguments that Socrates employs in engaging interlocutors in philosophy in three dialogues, the Euthydemus, Lysis, and Alcibiades I. In the Euthydemus, Socrates argues that wisdom is necessary for happiness, but he and his interlocutor discover that they neither have nor understand the wisdom they need. In the Lysis, Socrates discusses friendship and love with two youths, and though their inquiry fails, their cooperative philosophical investigation exemplifies philosophical love and friendship. Finally, in the Alcibiades I, Socrates tries to convince an ambitious young Alcibiades that true power and happiness arise from self-knowledge, and he challenges the young man to seek self-knowledge by taking up a philosophical life under Socrates' guidance. What emerges in these dialogues is a radical and compelling picture of the good life. Socrates does not believe that he or any human fully understands virtue or happiness. His investigations end inconclusively, and indeed he has little hope that he or anyone else will discover final and complete answers about virtue or happiness. Nevertheless, each dialogue demonstrates both the nature and value of philosophical enquiry. We humans are limited and ignorant, and we need to examine ethical questions together in order to live well. By drawing others into the philosophical discussion--full though it is with problems, inconclusive results, and difficulties--Socrates believes that he is both himself living the best available human life and offering the greatest benefit any human can provide to those with whom he talks.