Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Plato in 90 Minutes and Socrates in 90 Minutes (Book Reviews #84-85 of 2014)

This year I have read several works on ancient Greek history and European history through the Middle Ages, along with other works examining the development of philosophy-- including Augustine's Confessions which incorporated Greek philosophy into Christian thought. But I had never read a complete work of Plato, a grievous error which I decided to right. Before reading Plato's Dialogues and The Republic, I finished these brief overviews of the life, works, and impacts of Plato and Socrates.

Nietzsche  and Heiddeger wrote that Plato and Aristotle ruined philosophy forever, that pre-socratic philosophers (like Pythagoras) had been on the right track in questioning what could possibly be known. Plato developed the theory of "Forms," that someone who is making a table has the form of a table in mind because he has already seen a table and knows what it is. If I say "cat" you have an image of a cat in your mind. Time is essentially a moving image of eternity, and Plato's theories on time would hold up for years. It would be until Augustine before someone attempted to really philosophize on time, (as far as we know from what records remain).

Plato apparently thought it possible to establish his utopia as described from the mouth of Socrates in The Republic on earth, with the help of a tyrant who he befriended. This utopia, as described in The Republic, was a nightmare of rigid classes and lack of individual freedom. This argument for this republic was arguably adopted by the Nazis and the Soviets who saw themselves as possessors of the truth that could set men free. Plato's Laws (which I have not read) apparently double down and create a "hell on earth," acccording to Strathern.

Plato's Dialogues was first on my list and I decided to read Paul Strathern's take on Socrates to get more background. Socrates introduced us to reason, further developed by Plato, who taught Aristotle, who eventually gave us logic. Almost all we know about Socrates comes from Plato, and we know that he had been both a soldier and a teacher. Both Plato and Socrates survived the years under the 30 Tyrants that ruled Athens briefly after the Peloponnesian War. But Socrates was sentenced to death later on the false charge raised by political enemies that he was an atheist and corrupter of the youth of Athens.

Socrates was apparently no lover of democracy.  He believed in an immortal soul that would receive rewards according to its good deeds, or pursuit of justice. Since philosophers alone embodied the true love of knowledge, and therefore piety and justice, they fare best in the afterlife. Socrates was therefore unafraid of dying.

These books illustrate the commonality of homosexuality, bisexuality, and pedophilia in Greek life. Socrates was married and writes of the love men have of boys-- he supposedly had relationships with some of his students. A story is told of an unsuccessful seduction of him by one of his admirers. Scholars suggest that one of the masterminds behind Socrates' trial was angry over a relationship Socrates may have had with his son. The author paints these dealings in somewhat of a humorous light (commenting on how old and ugly Socrates must have been) but it's hard for a modern reader not to be appalled at what passes for love in Greek culture. I give them both 4 stars because they are what they are as intended.

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