Monday, 9 December 2013

The Spell of Socrates?


I have never been under the spell of Socrates but perhaps that is part of the intent of Plato or is that too subtle a reading. In F.J.E. Woodbridge’s book The Son of Apollo he seems to take this view:

 In the arguments into which he draws others he is not fair as a disputant. Of the tricks of logic and the devices of rhetoric he is a master and trusts more to them than to coherent reasoning. Flattery, cajolery, insinuation, innuendo, sarcasm, feigned humility, personal idiosyncrasies, brow-beating, insolence, anger, changing the subject when in difficulty, distracting attention, faulty analogies, the torturing of words, making adjectives do the work of nouns and nouns of adjectives, tacking on verbs to qualities which could never use them, glad of an interruption or a previous engagement, telling stories which make one forget what the subject of discussion was, hinting that he could say much more and would if his hearers were up to it, promising more to-morrow if they are really interested and want to go on — an accomplished sophist if there ever was one.
The argumentation of Socrates can claim little, if any, superiority to human argumentation generally.
It is not the arguments which give him significance, but he who gives them significance. Plato has made him the incarnation of all the subtleties men use in argument to confirm or destroy opinions.

I was directed to this book by the excellent source book on Socrates compiled by John Ferguson (Open University Book). It is available at Internet Archive:
https://archive.org/details/sonofapollo031753mbp
This at first glance seems to represent Plato as predominantly a creative artist presenting us Socrates as a character. Reading Gorgias at the moment with its haymakers which do not connect, its overcooked analogies, false disjunctions and a generally humourless animus towards rhetoric, it might be possible that its bad philosophy is good chamber drama. We understand that Socrates was clever and wise but does everyone else have to be stupid and ignorant to show this. This may be part of the deficiency of the dialogue form or an antique version of the political view that the other crowd are wrong about everything.

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