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In defence of four socratic doctrines1


In this article, Sandis defends four of the most notorious doctrines which Plato attributes to Socrates. The first is the ‘theory’ of forms, the second is the doctrine of recollection, the third Socrates'contention that philosophers ought to be the guardian-kings of the ideal state, and the fourth his rejection of rhetoric. Sandis does not claim that his interpretation (which owes a lot to Wittgenstein) is correct, but only that it renders the doctrines both relevant and plausible.

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2 Phaedo, 65 dff. Trns Tredennick H. (London: Penguin, 1954).

3 Republic, Book V, 476a. Trns. Lee D. (London: Penguin, 1955). Cf. Theaetetus 146dff. I remain neutral on whether or not the term ‘eidos’ should be translated as ‘form’ here but see no reason to deny the existence of ‘negative eternal forms’, save that these will be the opposite of ideals (which is not to say that the belong to the order of earthly things that can change, see below). I do not wish to defend that part of Plato which extends his ‘theory’ of forms beyond such to include forms of objects such as beds and tables (cf. Plato , Republic, Book X, 596b597b), though I see no reason why it cannot work for all non-normative properties (such as tallness) as well as for normative ones (such as uprightness).

4 Cratylus, 439dff,.Trns. Jowett B. (Oxford: OUP, 1871)

5 Republic, Book V, 476b.

6 Cratylus, 440b.

7 Republic, Book V, 476d.

8 Recent debates among academics suggest that concepts themselves do not obviously belong in either the world of ideas or the world of sights and sounds. But one can remain neutral on this issue while agreeing that some of the things which we can have concepts of have no independent material existence (but only material manifestations).

9 Meno 81 c-d. Trns. Sharples R. W. (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1985).

10 Phaedo 72e73a.

11 Theaetetus 147b, trns. McDowell J. (Oxford: OUP, 1977).

12 Phaedo, 99E.

13 Cf. Hanfling O., Philosophy and Ordinary Language (London: Routledge, 2000), Ch. 1.

14 Cf. Cratylus, 436b439b.

15 Wittgenstein L., The Big Typescript, Trns. Luckhardt C. G. & Aue M. A. E. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), § 419.

16 Wittgenstein L., Philosophical Investigations, Trns. Anscombe G. E. M. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), § 109.

17 Ibid, § 127.

18 Wittgenstein L., The Blue and Brown Books (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), p. 20. &. p 27. Emphasis in the original. The passage in Plato that Wittgenstein is referring to is Theaetetus 146d–7c where, interestingly, Socrates asks Theaetetus about what he means by certain words he is using.

19 See, for example, Theaetetus 146e.

20 Malcolm N., Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford: OUP, 1958), p. 511.

21 G. H. von Wright ‘Wittgenstein: A Biographical Sketch’, Ajatus 1954 & (in English) Philosophical Review 1955. Reprinted in Malcolm (1958: 20–1). Malcolm's reference to the Investigations makes it likely that the lecture in question was delivered after the dictation of the passage from the Blue Book, quoted above, while his final remark suggests that he had not entirely abandoned his earlier view of Socrates either.

22 Republic, Book VI, 484b.

23 Ibid. 499b–c.

24 Theaetetus, 149b–150d. Trns. McDowell J. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).

25 Nussbaum M., The Therapy of Desire, p227 (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994).

26 Gorgias, 462. Trns. Hamilton W. (London: Penguin, 1960).

27 Ibid, 465. Given his definition of cooking as ‘a pandering which corresponds to medicine’, I take it that Socrates' real target here is what we would now call nutriology; alternative medicines such as aromatherapy might also fit the bill.

28 Ash T. G., ‘The War on Terror is Over’ The Age, 01 27, 2004.

29 Such legitimate uses are at odds with some of the conditions which Barries Paskins and Michael L. Dockrill claim are ‘necessary’ for war in their 1979 book Ethics of War (University of Minnesota Press). They might insist that some uses of the word ‘war’ are parasitic on others and therefore in some sense secondary; I leave such arbitrary etymological questions for another day.

30 N. Chomsky Distorted Morality. Televised talk at Harvard University (Epitaph, 2002).

31 Gorgias, 454–60.

32 Ibid, 463. Trns. W. Hamilton (London: Penguin, 1960).

1 Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the University of Bath in 23 November 2004, the XVIth International Symposium of the Olympic Centre for Philosophy and Culture at Pyrgos of Elia & Ancient Olympia, Greece 25–30 July 2005, and the Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association, University of Bristol, 6–9 July 2007. Many thanks for helpful comments and questions to those in the audience, especially Elizabeth Belcher, Hugh Benson, David Charles, Catherine Osborne, and Ron Polansky. Thanks also to Stephen Boulter, David Dolby, and John Shand for helpful discussions and communications. Last but not least, the final section benefited greatly from Tom Joyce's extremely useful comments on an earlier draft.

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