Sunday, September 26, 2004

Summer Reading 8

Lysis, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito by Plato
Memorabilia by Xenophon

My first time reading Lysis and Memorabilia.

My first time really thinking about the Apology of Plato. The Apology poses this central question to the reader: Is the apology of Socrates successful? If you know the story, you know that Socrates is condemned to death, but I do not think that indicates a failure on Socrates's part. (It may or may not indicate success. I don't know.) A limitation, perhaps, but not necessarily a failure. Why? Well, let us ask the following: Could Socrates have been successful and yet lost his court case and been condemned to death? [NB: the decision to find Socrates guilty is distinct from the decision to condemn him to death.] This forces us to ask what success would mean to Socrates, and thus we are forced to answer the question What is the good life? I think that is what the Apology is about. Is the good life the philosophical life? The religious life? The political life?

The good (and oft infuriating) thing about reading Plato is that one leaves with questions and not answers. But one hopes that one has learned to ask better questions.

The good thing about reading Xenophon is that it's not Plato or "Plato's Socrates." Xenophon gets bad press, undeservedly, because he seems dull. Is Xenophon as stupid as he seems? That's the million-dollar question.

BMCR has a review of the edition of Memorabilia I read. I couldn't find a peer-reviewed review of the translation of Apology, Euthyphro, and Crito, but the comments from the readers at Amazon were quite insightful. I could find no peer-reviewed or Amazon-reviewed reviews of the translation of Lysis I read.

One last thought for now. The Apology is a text usually taught in introduction to philosophy courses as an example of Plato's writing and thought, but the Apology is highly atypical in Plato's corpus. It is one of the few Platonic writings that is not really a dialogue. It is (for the most part) a Socratic monologue. To present it to first-time readers of Plato as representative of his work is misleading. Perhaps it's better to start with something like the Lysis, though that suggestion is not likely to get far in philosophy departments since the Lysis has no overt philosophical content. Perhaps this is to the detriment of philosophy departments.

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