My trip through the Classics so far was, to a large extent, a preparation for the works of Plato. I’ll work my way through The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, a few dialogues at a time, and posting about them as I go.
Now, one choice I had to make at the outset was what order to read these in. There is no one perfect method, it seems, but in a project like this I like to have some plan going in. When I asked about this on twitter I got a few very helpful suggestions (beginning here) from Megillus, who knows the dialogues well, and I also found this recommendation online. That one is fairly close to Megillus’s recommendation, so I slightly modified it and will proceed through them like so:
- Getting started: Lysis/Laches/Charmides
- Socrates’ trial: Meno + Euthyphro/Apology/Crito
- The Sophists: Protagoras +Hippias major/Gorgias/Hippias minor
- The soul: Symposium + Phaedrus/Republic/Phaedo
- Logos: Cratylus + Ion/Euthydemus/Menexenus
- Dialectic: Parmenides + Theaetetus/Sophist/Statesman
- Kosmos: Philebus + Timaeus/Critias/Laws
You may notice that I cut out Alcibiades I, and I did that because it’s not included in my edition of The Collected Dialogues. I may look it up later; after all this I’ll be so close to being a Plato completist anyway that I may as well.
In any case, the first three, very short, works are all aporetic dialogues, that is, they each raise a question concerning some virtue that Socrates and his interlocutors try to define, but never come to a definite conclusion. At first glance that sounds rather pointless, but it does a few valuable things, namely introducing us to the style of Socratic dialogue, and forces us to begin thinking seriously about these virtues ourselves. This is why I don’t have a lot to say about Lysis, Laches, and Charmides, because I don’t think that the ideas raised are the point; rather, the point is the process, which isn’t something that can really be summarised adequately.
The style of these dialogues is taking some getting used to for me. When I read philosophy I generally prefer someone like Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, who approach a question systematically, with all the directness and charm of a dictionary entry, and who offer a conclusion at the end of a discussion. I know a few people who much prefer Plato’s style, because it feels more natural, and philosophy does seem more entertaining when it includes a little storytelling and characterisation of the interlocutors. So I completely understand why many people like Plato’s work so much, but personally I much prefer a formal approach in works of non-fiction.
In any case, these are like the appetiser for the main course, and there’ll be more to follow, probably over the next several months.… Read More Getting Started with Plato (Lysis, Laches, and Charmides)