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920-1731-1-SM

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920-1731-1-SM
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  Plato's  Euthydemus  and the Two Faces of Socrates It is a major purpose of Plato's  Euthydemus  to distinguish the way in which Socrates used his skills in argument from the ways in which similar skills could be employed by less scrupulous  persons. The story which Socrates relates in this work is divided into scenes where the sophists confuse or exasperate their baffled interlocutors and others in which Socrates educates his own interlocutor the young Cleinias. The contrast is given emphasis by the comments that Socrates makes upon their practices at 277d- 278c and his invitation to the sophists to give Cleinias some real education at 278c-e and 282de.' Important here is the reaction of laughter which the sophists' victories provoke (276b7, dl, 278cl, 298e9, 303b2),2 and the request of Socrates to Euthydemus, Dionysodorus, and followers, that they should listen without laughter while he questioned Cleinias (278el).3 Related to this is the contrast between playful and serious pursuits (277d9, 278cd, 288bc). Ultimately the sophists differ from Socrates not just  because they display the eristic trait of trying to win the battle of words at any cost (particularly that of the truth) but also because they are basically entertainers, earning their living as comedians rather than as serious advisors.Plato faces a real problem: how is one to distinguish between the passionate promoter of unorthodox theses and the expert in argument who expounds similarly unorthodox theses because1Cf. 288c.2This is also forthcoming when Ctesippus imitates them (300d6, el).3This is the only case of the adverb άγελαστί in Plato.  H.A.S. TARRANT 5 success in doing so will excite the amusement or admiration of others? How, in particular, can you separate Socrates' question- and-answer examination of respected moral views (which  presumably had some serious concern for finding the truth), from the question-and-answer techniques of those who want only to demolish respected theses (without any concern for the truth whatever)? In short, what separates Socrates from the 'eristics'?That question was by now a critical one. Isocrates had been  publicly associating the Socratics themselves, some or all of them, with the practice of eristic (  Against the Sophists,  1-8). He accuses them of attempted deception, thereby bringing 'philosophy' into disrepute. He identifies them as those who spend time on disputes ( erides).  They pretend, he maintains, to seek the truth, while their claims are founded on a falsehood: the belief that human beings can know in advance what they should be doing to achieve happiness (1-3). When their weaknesses are made manifest by their lack of practical advice for the present, let alone for the future, this results in a reputation for adoleschia  and micrologia  (aimless rantings and quibbling) rather than for  psyches epimeleia  (tending the soul). There is no reason for us to think that Isocrates had Plato specially in mind here, for these Socratics take a fee (albeit a small one, 3-7), but there would have been no difficulty in painting Plato's Socrates in some passages as an idle talker without a central concern for truth. The challenge issued by Isocrates would seem to be as follows:1. Persuade us that your Socrates genuinely cares for truth, and does not simply adopt a position;2. Persuade us that this teaching he offers can really impart the good qualities claimed;3. Persuade us that it has some practical value.Isocrates' reservations about the activities of Socratics again surface in the  Helen  (1), and here he separates different groups by  pointing to their most spectacular cases of deviance: group 1 (Antisthenes and any like him) claim that contradiction is impossible and that there can't be two logoi   about the same thing,  6  EUTHYDEMUS   AND SOCRATES group 2 (Plato, as in  Protagoras,  and any like him) make all the virtues the same thing and claim that a single branch of knowledge covers them all, and group 3 (perhaps Euclides and any like him)4 occupy themselves with useless disputes (again erides)   that make trouble for one. By now he has appreciated the differences between rival Socratic groups, but he continues to issue much the same challenges, particularly the first.What does this mean for any Platonic work which tries to overcome these Isocratean criticisms? Clearly the major task is to  persuade us that Plato's Socrates is concerned to find as much of the truth as possible, even when appearing to espouse unlikely theses, while he must also be of real help in the education of the young. Socrates has to be respectable. He has to be respectable in a way in which he was not respectable in the  Protagoras,  for the theory that there are five virtue-names for the same thing (329cd), whether or not seriously espoused by Socrates, was clearly  presented in a contentious manner, and the literary digression had shown even more clearly how Socrates could imitate the sophists in setting out to argue for his own counter-intuitive views at any cost and to impress the gathering thereby. It is no accident that Isocrates chooses to characterize Plato's early philosophic activity with an oblique reference to this work, but a multitude of other dialogues which Vlastos would label early have similar image-problems: we see a 'Socrates' who will appear to some to be less than serious, sometimes adopting counter-intuitive theses, and certainly less than constructive, when he harasses the unfortunate interlocutor into conceding defeat. The other works most vulnerable to such an interpretation are:1. The  Hippias Minor,  which revels in forcing Hippias tocounter-intuitive conclusions (if it were possible to do wrongwillingly, the willing wrongdoer would be better than the unwilling);4 It is particularly welcome to be able to refer here to the judicious discussion of the targets of the  Euthydemus  and the  Helen  in R. S. W. Hawtrey, Commentary on Plato's  Euthydemus (Philadelphia 1981), 23-30.  H.A.S. TARRANT7 2. The  Lysis,  where much of the argument concerning the nature of what a friend is seems fairly trivial, and where opposite theses are successively expounded;53. The  Euthyphro,  where Socrates seems less charitable than one would like, and does much to add to the interlocutor's confusion. The alleged pressing reason for wanting to discover the true nature of piety (the imminence of Socrates' own impiety trial) seems something of a sham.4. The Charmid.es,  where the intricate argument about knowledge of knowledge is frequently taken as dependent on a fairly straightforward fallacy (166c ff.), and the discussion with Critias in general throws up difficulty after difficulty without seeming to make any progress towards satisfying the reader; and where Socrates had only struck up the srcinal conversation with Charmides through trickery, and does not seem to have been as concerned for this youth's welfare as for that of a Cleinias or a Hippocrates.5. One perhaps ought to include the  Apology,  since, where Socrates is able to indulge in a little of his usual cross-examination (24c-27d), the impression of unfairness and sophistry is never far away.Of these works only the  Hippias Minor   is unrelentingly nonconstructive and counter-intuitive, and elsewhere there are5The following propositions are argued during the contentious portion of the dialogue: Nothing is dear to the lover unless it loves in return (212d); but what is loved is dear to the lover regardless of reciprocity (212e).Many are dear to their enemies and inimical to their friends (213ab); but this proposition is declared impossible (213b).What loves is dear to the beloved (213b).Like is friend to like (214a); but many like pairs are not friends (214b). Good is friend to good (214c); but good can't be friend to good, qua self- sufficient (215ab).Unlike is friend of unlike, opposite of opposite (215de); but opposite can't  be friends with opposite (216b).
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