Review: Five Dialogues by Plato

Summary:

Plato’s Five Dialogues includes essays which recount the days leading up to Socrates’ trial for “corrupting the youths of Athens”, as well as Socrates’ defense (apologia) to the jury, and his final conversation with his closest friends before his induced suicide by hemlock. The essays are an exploration of the man and his methods, as well as an historical account by Plato of the time period and its dangers (during the transition from oligarchy to democracy there was a tension between the government and its people – the government being always weary of its own weaknesses).

The Good:

My particular favorites of these five are: “Euthyphro,” “Apology,” and “Phaedo.” I found the first dialogue, “Euthyphro” to be the most true to Socratic Method and to my understanding of the kind of man Socrates was likely to be – humorously humble. He allows Euthyphro, in their discussion of piety, to back himself into corners, find new footing, then get turned around all over again, before finally Euthyphro gives up and ends the discussion (never admitting defeat, of course). “Apology” was, perhaps, the most moving and inspirational; that a man could stand such injustice, look into the faces of his prosecutors and still be empathetic and forgiving – interpreting with distinction the law as the law, and human fault as human fault, is impressive and powerful. Finally, though I found some fault with “Phaedo” as being largely a fiction placed with (supposed) true or nearly-true historical dialogues, I also found it to be truly thought provoking. What is death, really? What does it mean for the human soul, and how can we, in waking life, ensure that our souls will live on in a greater and better way, after separation from the bodily shell? Whether one is atheist, religious, or agnostic, it is fascinating to watch the discussion and to begin to test one’s own beliefs in terms of the afterlife and, in a way, immortality.

The Bad:

I did not particularly enjoy “Crito” or “Meno,” perhaps because I found the philosophical argument too heavily scaled in Socrates’ favor. This is, to an extent, to be expected – the dialogues are about Socrates and the Socratic method, after all; still, that Socrates would go on and on for paragraphs at a time, with the only rejoinders from these supposedly equally learned men to be one or two words, or a sentence perhaps, typically in agreement or submission, seems to be a bit dishonest. I also found some fault with “Phaedo,” perhaps because I knew it was more hearsay than the other dialogues. I understand that they are all reinterpretations, as Socrates never wrote his own essays (his life and lessons were relayed through Plato, largely), but knowing Plato was not even present during the time of Socrates’ death, and that the back-and-forth among Socrates and the other philosophers was largely imagined and based off what Plato would assume to be true to Socrates’ vision (with a bit of Plato mixed in), makes “Phaedo” harder to appreciate – a pity, as it is, really, the most important.

The Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 5.0

Published by Hackett, 2002

ISBN: 0872206335
Challenges: N/A
YTD: 33
Source: Owned Copy

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