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Plato's Socrateses



"Here, Socrates, said [Agathon], come lie next to me, so that [me] too, being in contact with the wise [man that] you [are], I may benefit from what came into your mind while in the porch, for [it is] obvious that you found it and got hold of it, for otherwise, you wouldn't have left!
How fine it would be, said
[Socrates], Agathon, if wisdom was such as to flow from the one of us [who is] fuller to the one [who is] emptier, provided we were in contact with one another, as in cups, water flowing through wool from the fuller into the emptier! If indeed such is the case with wisdom too, I would highly value my lying next to you, for I think that me [being] along you, I would be filled with an abundant and beautiful wisdom. For indeed, mine seems to be something of low value, or else disputable as if it were a dream, while yours [is] radiant and prone to much progress"

  Symposium, 175c7-e4

Warning: the Greek words I use in this page are clickable when they appear in the Lexicon of Greek words important for understanding Plato available on another page of this site. When that's the case they appear in blue and clicking on them displays the entry for that word in the lexicon. I especially use the word logos rather than the various English words by which it may be translated depending on the context (saying, speech, reasoning, reason, definition...) because knowing that it is the same Greek word which encompasses all these meanings is paramount to properly understand Plato. In a way, it might be said that the whole purpose of Plato all through his dialogues is to try and understand what is this logos which distinguishes man from all other animals, how it works, what its power and limits are, and how human beings can best use it to reach excellence (aretè) as human beings. And I use the word dialektikos and the name dialektikè, rather than their transcription in English as "dialectical" and "dialectic(s)" to stress the fact that this word doesn't have for Plato the meaning it has taken nowadays, especially after Hegal and Marx: for Plato, dialektikè, which he identifies as the ultimate knowledge to be mastered by who wants to be "philosophos", is indeed the art of knowing how to use logos through the active practice of dialogue (to dialegesthai, the verb from which dialektikos stems) to reach truth and excellence (aretè) as a human being (anthrôpos). For similar reasons, I write philosophos rather than "philosopher" when I want to raise attention to the fact that what Plato calls by this name is not what we nowadays call "philosopher" (see lexicon).

Note to the English version: in the French version of this page, I often use the French word "pedagogue", meaning "specialist in the science of education, person who masters the art of teaching, of educating, who knows how to explain things", to qualify Plato. The word "pedagogue" exists in English but, though it derives from the same Greek root as "pedagogy" and "pedagogical" (the Greek word paidagogos, meaning etymologically "one who leads (agein) children (pais)", originally the word for an enslaved person who brought children to school), while "pedagogical" and "pedagogy" have meanings simply related to education, teaching, or teachers (with no implied judgment), "pedagogue" has taken on a negative tone, often referring to a dull or overly formal teacher. As a result, I translate the French word "pedagogue" as "master of pedagogy", in the sense of an expert in the art of education.

Table of contents

• Plato's dialogues: journalistic reports or literary fictions?
• The fashion of Socratic dialogues
• Socrates, a master of pedagogy above all
• Socrates as a spokesman
• Plato true to Socrates' method rather than history
• Socrates as a model of philosophos
• Plato and history - example of the Republic
• Plato and history - example of the Symposium
• The dialogues with a "historical" prologue: the question of sources
• Prologues full of implausibility and inconsistencies
• The question of Plato's sources for these prologues
• Historical truth or relevance of arguments?
• Back to the Symposium
• The meaning of the prologues
   - Symposium
   - Phaedo
   - Parmenides
   - Theaetetus
• Prologue of the Theaetetus or prologue of the trilogy ?
• The Philosopher
• The brief return of Socrates
• The "publication" of the dialogues
• Plato's "unwritten doctrines" (agrapha dogmata)


Plato's dialogues: journalistic reports or literary fictions?

Most of Plato's dialogues stage a character named Socrates, who, most of the time, leads the discussion recounted by the dialogue. (1) The question which immediately comes to mind, since a character named Socrates, whom Plato frequented in his youth for about ten years till his death (Socrates'), actually existed is that of the greater or lesser "historicity" of the dialogues staging Socrates: are they more or less faithful (depending on the dialogue) "journalistic reports" on events and discussions having taken place in the actual life of Socrates or litterary creations by Plato having nothing to do with actual events in Socrate's life? This question takes different turns and might lead to different answers depending on the dialogue, especially when we notice that some of them allude to known and datable historical events, the most obvious and best known of them being the trial leading to Socrates' condemnation to death by Athens in 399 BC, which is known to us by other extant sources such as Xenophon. One of Plato's "dialogues", which happens not to be a dialogue, The Apology of Socrates, looks to the reader as the succession of three speeches Socrates would have delivered at his trial, (2) and, in the course of these speeches, we learn that Plato attended this trial, so that we might think that this work is a faithful transcription of Socrates' own words on this occasion, especially since at one point, the speech leaves room to a questionning of Meletos, one of Socrates' accusers (Apologie, 24c10-28a2). But the fact is Plato never explicitely tells us that this is the case and only let us guess it from the contents of the text we read, which is only the text of those three speeches (except fro Meletos' questioning, which flows seamlessly in the course of the speech in defense), without any contextualization and with nothing more than the contents of the speeches to mark the transition from one to another. Besides, when comparing this Apology to the one written by Xenophon, who had also frequented Socrates but was away from Athens at the time of his trial, and who had more than Plato a historian's fiber (3) and who contextualizes the words he puts in Socrates' mouth in direct style within a more extensive story of Socrates' trial, its preparation by Socrates and the ensuing events, differences are such that it is impossible to think that both works faithfully report the same event, (4) which, by Xenophon's own admission in his Apology, had already been, at the time he was writing it, the subject of several works having all stressed the "loftyness" (5) of Socrates' words in the circumstance. Xenophon justifies his own work by his wish to highlight an aspect of it that his predecessors had nor sufficiently stressed in his opinion, the fact that, at this point in his life, "he (Socrates) deemed death more desirable than life". (6) But the main argument against the "historicity" of Plato's Apology of Socrates, that is, against the idea that it might reproduce what Socrates actually said at his trial, has to be found in the structure of the text that we read, which abides by a rigorous overall plan which doesn't care much about the division into three different speeches (see this plan on the page of this site which presents it) and which relies on the same organizational principles than those presiding over the organization of the dialogues in tetralogies I'm suggesting on this site. And if one accepts this hypothesis that the dialogues make up a single work structured in seven tetralogies meant to accompany at the Academy, the school Plato founded and led in Athens, the education of future leaders, those "philosopher kings" whom he calls for at the center of the Republic (see Republic, V, 473c11-e5), it implies that they all were probably written in the last years of his life, and he died about fifty years after the trial and death of Socrates, that is, at a time where the details of those events were no longer fresh in the memory of potential readers, in a time when there were no printed or filmed archives of past events (newspapers, television, and the like), but when this specific event had led, in the ensuing years, to the production of several written narratives, not necessarily consistent with one another. We must thus admit that Plato's Apology of Socrates doesn't answer a historian's concern, but that of a master of pedagogy, seeking to give Socrates' death an examplary meaning for generations to come and imagining what Socrates might have said to more clearly state that meaning of his attitude and behavior in the face of charges brought against him and his condemnation, not what he actually said in those circumstances, which was probably less clear and structured than what Plato has him say. (7) Thus, if concerning the most emblematic event of Socrates' life, Plato took liberties with historical accuracy in flatly rewriting what could be construed by readers as Socrates' own words in the circumstance, he probably felt even freer to attribute words to Socrates and imagine from scratch conversations between him and other characters, historical or fictional, to reach the pedagogical and philosophical objectives he had in mind. And he probably was neither the first one nor the only one to do this.

The fashion of Socratic dialogues

Indeed, we know that, in the years following Socrates' death, many of those who knew him published works, most of them no longer extant, except for those of Xenophon and Plato, which staged him, not only at his trial, but more broadly in "dialogues" in which he was one of the participants, and probaly in most case the leader of the discussion, works known under the general appellation of "Socratic dialogues". Diogenes Laertius, in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, refers to these works when he writes, in the section dealing with Aeschynes, one of the philosophers he ranges among the "Socratics": (8) "of all the socratic dialogues (tôn socratikôn dialogôn), Panaetius thinks those by Plato, Xenophon, Antisthenes, Aeschines are true / genuine (alètheis) ; he is in doubt about those of Phaedo and Euclides, as for the others, he rejects them all" (DL, Vies, II-64). It seems that the "truth" Panaetius (9) has in mind has more to do with the attribution of this or that work to this or that author than with its "historicity" (the "truth" of the facts and words related with respect to the life of the historical Socrates), but, if indeed that's the case, it means that, in antiquity, the problem was less to reconcile, for instance, the account given by Xenophon of Socrates' trial with the one given by Plato, despite the huge difference in the words attributed to Socrates by both authors, than to ascertain the authorship of the extant works (are they actually from the author they are attributed to). In other words, the question they were concerned with was not "Did Socrates actually said what the author of the work I'm reading has him say?", but "Is the work I'm reading really from the person it is ascribed to?", probably with the idea that what really mattered was to make sure the work had been written by one having personnaly known Socrates, in which case it provided a credible testimony regarding the historical Socrates, even if all eyewitnesses didn't agree with one another on what they had their Socrates say.

Socrates, a master of pedagogy above all

And indeed, when faced with the diversity of the theses and opinions upheld by thinkers who had spend time with Socrates, traditionally viewed as the heads of distinct schools of thought, (10) we come to think that what was common to all those thinkers and explained that they were all given the qualification of "Socratic" was not so much the theses they promoted as their continuation of a manner of addressing problems through dialogue which they all seemed to have inherited from Socrates and which they attempted to imitate in their "Socratic dialogues". Based on what Plato's dialogues suggest, the main features of this Socratic way of "philosophizing" are (I) the refusal of a teacher-student relation resulting from (II) the admission of not having certain enough a knowledge, especially on questions dealing with ethic, which are precisely those on which it would be most mportant to reach certainty, to "teach" one's own opinions to others except by example and (III) the conviction that, anyhow, knowledge is not something which can be transmitted "predigested" from one person to another in the same way as water flows from a cup to another through a strand of whool (see Symposium, 175c7-e4, repoduced as epigraph for this page), but can only result from an individual work of assimilation that nobody can do for somebody else, thus leading to (IV) the practice of dialogue, and especially dialogue with a single intelocutor (not necessarily a compagnon of Socrates), possibly in the presence of silent witnesses, taking the form of a series of questions from Socrates and answers from his interlocutor, leading to progress in the reasoning through a series of logical deductions ending in a conclusion agreed upon by both interlocutors in view of the logic of the reasoning rather than the personality of the one leading the discussion, but that the respondant might probably not have admitted if it had been stated without the detailed reasoning leading to it, dialogues purporting eventually to allow a group of persons to put to the test each participant's opinions with the objective of making progress together toward a better understanding of the problems we are faced with and of the answers that seem most appropriate in each case, with the objective of (V) consistency between the answers given to the different problems and (VI) taking into account the difficulties posed by language, built on words not necessarily given the same meaning(s) by all as a result of differences in past experience having shaped those meanings for each one, further admitting that (VII) this quest of meaning and knowledge never ends and that prior answers may be challenged in the light of new experience and discussions, with the same or other persons, (VIII) the main concern being to reach together the truth, not to make one's own opinion win the debate at any cost and (IX) the main topics of these inquiries being the best way to behave as human beings to reach "excellence" (aretè) and happiness (eudaimonia) which is the ultimate goal of all humain beings, not nature (phusis) as such and the origin of the universe (kosmos) in itself, (11) with the goal of (X) bringing consistency between one's words and deeds, which means "teachning" by example. But Obviously Socrates didn't theorize this approach as Plato tried to do and his followers didn't all perceived in the same way the implied assumptions and consistency of his method whose visible features were limited to the dialogues he participated in (item IV), of which some of his followers only remembered the logical rigor and the same or others the role of "teacher" supposedly endowed with "knowledge" he seemed to play in them, and the example he gave with his life (item X). In conclusion, it might be said that what constitutes the main contribution and novelty of Socrates is to have used in dealing with ethical problems the methods of reasoning used by geometers and mathematicians to demonstrate theorems and to have done it by way of an approach by questions and answers making it possible to verify the agreement of the interlocutor(s) at each step of the reasoning, unconcerned by who the persons were, but caring only for the truth. (12) The reason for this is that, in the domain of ethic, the vocabulary is less rigorously defined and it is thus necessary to verify at each step that the interlocutors agree on the meaning of the words being used as new terms are introduced, especially when those words may have different meanings in different contexts : it is easier to agree on what is called "square", even if the Greek word tetragônon can have both its etymological meaning of "a figure having four (tetra) angles (gônia)", that is, in English "tetragon / quadrilateral", and a specialized meaning of "square" (a figure having not only four angles, but also four rectilinear sides, and besides, those four angles and sides being all equal to one another), that to agree on what is meant by "just".

Socrates as a spokesman

In such conditions, in a time when copyright and legal deposit didn't exist and it was not uncommon that a writer hide behind the name of a better known person to promote his own ideas (13), the middle of the road solution of staging a famous personage while keeping one's own name as the author of the work staging it was a tempting compromise, and we can understand that those who had frequented and admired Socrates and his way of conducting discussions might have thought they were paying him homage in staging him in their works, not necessarily to reproduce his opinions, but to promote what they had understood of them and above all the original manner he had to induce his interlocutors into agreeing with them through dialogues, without necessarily looking for fidelity at all costs to the "historical" Socrates whom they knew, most of them at least, for having more or less assiduously frequented him over a greater or lesser period of time, and, all of them, for having heard stories about him recounted by word of mouth or staged at the theater (such as in Aristophanes' Clouds) originating in those who had known him, whether as "followers" or simply for having met him on the agora or elsewhere, the personage having become, after his trial and death, a topic of conversations and controversies prone to enrich his "legend" (see Diogenes Laercius, Lives, II, 43).

Plato true to Socrates' method rather than history

And what about Plato? Should we think that, because he seems to have been the one best understanding, not only Socrates' pedagogical methods, but also the theoretical foundations of those methods, he was also the one whou would be most faithful to "historical truth" about his "master"? It seems to me that it is the exact opposite. Precisely because he had best of all understood what was at the root of Socrates' approach by questions and answers, and understood that it was this manner of proceeding more than its specific implementation on particular topics in chance circumstances which was the main contribution of Socrates, he felt perfectly true to Socrates' spirit in reusing his approach by questions and answers, labelled dialektikè, in discussions imagined by him in which Socrates would be the "leader" to highlight the fact that he was the inventor of the "method" being used, knowing full well that fidelity to the historical truth was in no way an argument in favor of the opinions displayed in these dialogues. If one or another opinion displayed by his Socrates in one of these dialogues was true, it was not because the historical Socrates had defended it, but because the reasoning leading to it, presented by a person by the name of Socrates or anybody else, known by name or anonymous (such as the Elean Stranger of the Sophist and Statesman (14)), convinced the interlocutors to admit it, not by mere trust (pistis) (15) in the person who presented it, but because of the binding character of the sequence of intermediate steps leading to it. (16) The child / slave (pais) staged by Platon in the Meno doesn't believe that the square built on the diagonal of a given square has an area double the area of the original square because it is Socrates who told him, but because the step by step "demonstration" Socrates made him understand convinced him. (17) And we readers don't believe it's the case because this scene depicted in the dialogue actually happened during the life of the historical Socrates (which obviously is not the case), but because the step by step "proof" given in Plato's dialogue convinces us that this is indeed the case, if we were not already convinced for having learned it while a child (pais) in a geometry class. (18) And the conclusion reached by Plato's Socrates about the difference between true opinion and knowledge doesn't draw its strength for us, readers, from the fact that the historical Socrates would have thus told it (which would precisely make it a mere opinion accepted based on the confidence we might have in Socrates, and in Plato as a reporter of true stories about Socrates' life), but from the binding character of the line of reasoning reproduced by Plato in his dialogue, whichever name he gives the person who develops it.

Socrates as a model of philosophos

In a word, Plato is not a historian, but a philosopher especially interested in pedagogy, and the Socrates he stages in most of his dialogues is not the historical Socrates but an ahistorical, we might even say atemporal, (19) Socrates who plays the part of the philosophos par excellence and most of all, of the master of pedagogy (and not the "master" per se) in a structured set of dialogues intent, not on offering his answers to questions he raises, which would impliy he "knows" and would make him a "master / teacher", but on accompanying the reader using a pedagogical method geared in its progression toward the goal of making him a new Socrates, along the lines of the one answering the Elean Stranger in the Statesman, that is, to better know himself (gnôthi sauton, "learn to know thyself") as a human being (anthrôpos) and to make the best possible use of the logos which makes him a member of that species by becoming dialektikos in order to reach excellence (aretè) within the limits of what his individual nature (phusis) allows, different from one person to another, properly "educated" all through his life by interaction with his fellow human beings for the sharing of individual experience with the goal of determining what is the best (to ariston, superlatifve of to agathon, the good) for them, individually and collectively, since human beings, being by nature meant to live in society (which allowed them to develop logos), can't reach individual happiness while ignoring their fellow human beings.

Plato and history - example of the Republic

This being the case, we see the danger of using Plato's dialogues as sources of historical data. Most of his dialogues are written in direct style, like plays, without contextual information (20) and it is only from the words of the interlocutors that the reader must grab information about who speaks (21) and where and possibly when the conversation took place. But the data provided in this way, through conversations which, let's not forget it, are creations of Plato's imagination, not reports on actual events in the historical Socrates' life, have most of the time more to do with the pedagogical and philosophical objectives of the author than with the concerns of a historian, as is the case as well with the choice of characters, which, in some cases, is dictated more by their name as having a meaning than by historical concerns. Let's take some examples, particularly explicit for one having understood how Plato worked in composing his dialogues. At the beginning of the Republic, one of Plato's most famous dialogues and the one occupying the central position in the layout of the dialogues I suggest (middle dialogue of the middle trilogy, on the soul as bridge between the seen / visible) and the perceived by intelligence / intelligible), dialogue which, for once, is not in direct style, but is the narrative by Socrates to unknown listeners on the day following the reported events, we learn that what he is about to narrate happened in Piraeus, the port of Athens, a place where a great number of Thracian slaves used to live, on the day where the city of Athens was celebrating there for the first time a festival in honor of a Thracian goddess, Bendis, which, after the specifically religious part of it, was about to continue with a torchlight race on horseback followed by a night festival that would most likely end in heavy drinking and orgy for the youth attending it, and that Socrates discourages a group of youth having previously attended along with him the religious part of the festival to return there to attend the torchlight race and the night festival / drinking binge / orgy that was to follow it and keeps them away from it by holding them in the house of the father of one of them, a man by the name of Cephalus, (22) who lived in Piraeus, for a long conversation about justice and the ideal city. If Plato stages this conversation on the day when Athens was celebrating for the fist time a festival in honor of Bendis, the Bendidia, it is not to allow us the determine what scholars call the "dramatic date" of the Republic, that is, the date at which took place the events there reported, allowing us to deduce from it the age of the various characters of the dialogue, which has no bearing whatsoever on the understanding of the dialogue, but to stage a Socrates who was condemned to death for supposedly introducing new deities in the city and corrupting the youth, preventing a bunch of youth from partying and participating in a collective orgy organized by the city on the occasion of the city introducing a new deity in Athens, in other words, to present us with the city of Athens, and not Socrates, introducing a new deitiy in Athens and organizing occasions of debauchery for the youth, which Socrates prevents some of them from participating in by having them think about how to best lead one's life and best organize social life in the city!... (23) As for the choice of Cephalus as the host of this discussion, in which he participate only shortly at first before withdrawing to leave room to the young friends of his sons, it owes nothing to the industrial and political activities (arms dealer and friend of Pericles) of this individual, nothing either to the fact that he was the father of the famous Attic orator Lysias, one of the characters of the Phaedrus, since Lysias, though present during the discussion taking place at his father's place, never utters a word and only plays the role of a silent listener, unlike his brother Polemarchus, but has everything to do with the fact that his name, "Cephalus", means "head", and the name of his son, who plays an active role at the begining of the dialogue, "Polemarchus", means "war lord", as I explain in the page of this site (in French only) called Aux âmes, citoyens ! (the thrust of this page is the idea that several dialogues of Socrates stage "tripartite souls" whose "parts", as described in book IV of the Republic, namely a "logical" rational part (to logistikon), a multifaced part having to do with the multiplicity of bodily desires, pulsions and needs such as hunger thirst, sexual appetite, (to epithumetikon) and an intermediate part roughly corresponding to self-esteem (to thumoeides), are impersonated by different characters of the dialogue whose soul is in each case dominated by the part he impersonate. Thus, in the Gorgias, Socrates is faced with the "soul" of rhetoric, with Gorgias in the role of its "rational" part (logistikon), Polus as its intermediate part (thumoeides) and Callicles as its desiring part (epithumetikon). Along the same lines, the Republic stages the confrontation of Athens' aristocratic soul, impersonated by Socrates as its "rational" part (logistikon), and the two brothers of Plato, Adeimantus as its intermediate part (thumoeides) and Glaucon as its desiring part (epithumetikon), with Athens' democratic soul impersonated by Cephalus as its "rational" part (logikon), his son Polemarchus as its intermediate part (thumoeides) and Thrasymachus as its desiring part (epithumetikon). In this perspective, the fact that the name of the character impersonating the rational part means "head", the location of the bodily organ of though, is relevant, especially when the dialogue shows that the part of that soul which is supposed to lead it doesn't assume that role and leaves it to the intermediate part, played by his son Polemarchus, whose name meaning "war lord" makes him fit for that role, before he himself is superseded by the desiring part, played by a character (Thrasymachus) whose name means "bold fighter", here again fit for that part. After the confrontation of these two souls in book I, where Socrates (rational part of the aristocratic soul of Athens) successively faces Cephalus, the rational part of the democratic soul of Athens (shortly), Polemarchus, its intermediate part (a little longer), and eventually Thrasymachus, its desiring part (still longer), that is, moves downward through the various parts of a soul where reason, a mere biological "head" (kephalè), plays a minimal role down to the desiring part, which plays the leading role, the remainding of the dialogue stages Socrates, the rational part of Athens' aristocratic soul (though not being himself of "aristocratic" descent in the usual sense), trying to convince its two lower parts, two brethren, Adeimantus as the intermediate part and Glaucon as the desiring part, that justice as understood by him, that is, inward harmony within the tripartite soul as foundation for social harmony in the city, is the best way to go, both as individuals and for the good of the city).

Plato and history - example of the Symposium

Along the same line, if the collective drinking binge (24) narrated by Plato in the Symposium takes place in the house of Agathon, the poet, the very day he celebrates his first win in a tragedy contest, an event we know occured in 416 BC during the feast of the Lenaia, it is not to allow scholars to determine the "dramatic date" of the dialogue and, here again, to deduce from it the approxiamete age of each participant in the binge, but to face us with a character whose name, Agathon (Agathôn) means "good" (agathos) and resonates with a notion central to the Republic, central dialogue of the trilogy introduced by the Symposium (Phaedrus, Republic, Phaedo), itself central trilogy of the whole course of the dialogues, the idea of the good (hè tou agathou idea), (25) which it presents as the "sun", the light, of intelligence (noûs) in the parallel between sun and good, the implied question being asked by this naming of the master of ceremony and host of the symposim being "is it enough to be named Agathôn and to produce beautiful logoi (and thus good, if it is true that what is beautiful is good (26)), to be what the name implies, that is, good (agathos)?", and form there, "are there "good" (and not merely "beautiful", of a "beauty"which needs further explanation) logoi / speeches among those delivered during this symposium, by the "good" Agathon or by one or another of his guests, and, if that is the case, which ones and in which way are they "good"?". Indeed, if what makes a human being (anthrôpos) a human being and differenciates him / her form all other animals, is the fact of being endowed with logos, it is based on the excellence of his / her logoi that a human being is recognized as "good". And when Plato has his Socrates say, after Agathon's speech, when his turn of talking comes, that his speech reminded him of Gorgias (Symposium, 198c1-2), we should take this as an invitation to read the Gorgias once more, rather than relying on his probably ironic praise, to determine whether, coming from him, it is a compliment or a critic.
And the fact that Plato's Symposium is not the truthfull account of a symposium which Socrates actually attended at some point of his life, as might possibly have been the case for Xenophon's Symposium if chronological considerations didn't make it impossible for him to have attended the symposium he narrates, (27) can be deduced, among other things, as in the case of the Apology mentioned at the beginning of this page, from the fact that Platos' work is too rigorously structured along the organizational principles of the tetralogies fot it to be anything other than a creation of him, as can be seen in the array below, showing the parallel between the seven tetralogies and the seven speeches of the Symposium.

Rank Tetralogies Speeches of the Symposium
1 Alcibiades - Lysis / Laches / Charmides :
presentation of the subject matter
Speech of Phaedrus
the « father of the speech » (pater tou logou, Symposium, 177d5)
2 Protagoras - Greater Hippias / Lesser Hippias / Gorgias :
Sophistical illusions
Speech of Pausanias
sophistical justification of pederasty in a relativistic context
3 Meno - Euthyphro / Apology / Crito :
Materiality of facts (through the exemple of Socrates' trial)
Speech of Eryximachus (the physician)
materialistic, universalistic and "scientific" conception of love
4 Symposium - Phaedrus / Republic / Phaedo :
The soul
Speech of Aristophanus
Men without soul moved by an original mutilation by a jealous god
5 Cratylus - Ion / Euthydemus / Menexenus :
Speech of Agathon
beautiful logos reminding Socrates of Gorgias, one of the fathers of rhetoric
6 Parmenides - Theaetetus / Sophist / Statesman :
"Speech" of Socrate
narrative of educative dialogues with Diotima, examples of dialektikè
7 Philèbe - Timée / Cruitias / Lois :
Speech of Alcibiades
a window on Socrates' life showing consistency between deeds and words

In the progression of the tetralogies, the first five tetralogies, ending on the apparent (temporary) triumph ot rhetoric used for political purposes with no care for truth, of which Plato gives a shining example in the conventional speech of the Menexenus, (28) constitute a preparation for platonician dialektikè described in the sixth tetralogy. And the Symposium is structured so that the first five speeches make up exactly the first half of the dialogue, Agathon speech, the fifth one, echoing the speech of the Menexenus, which ends the fifth tetralogy, and the last two speeches, those of Socrates and Alcibiades, the second half of the dialogue. (29) As for Socrates' "speech", it narrates a series of conversations between him and a woman from the city of Mantinea named Diotima whom he introduces as the one who taught him on things relating to Eros (ta erôtika, Symposium, 201d5), a person otherwise unknown, who is most likely a creation of Plato, (30) in which he uses names of persons and locations to, in a sense, illustrate his point and carry meaning. Indeed, the name Diotima means "honor / esteem (timè) of Zeus (Dios, genitive of Zeus)", that is "one who honors Zeus", and the name of her birthplace, Mantinea, derived from mantis, meaning "diviner, prophet", might be translated as "Prophet city". (31) Plato, through the "fictitious" character of Diotima, probably wanted to oppose two kinds of relations to the divine, the one alluded to in the Apology, involving the sames as Pythia, priestess of Apollo at Delphi, speaking from the entrails of the earth through enigmas having multiple meanings, and, as far as Socrates is concerned, uttering the oracle reported by Chaerephon suggesting that Socrates was the wisest of men, without the least explanation on her part as to why it was so, and the other, here under consideration, in the Symposium, which indeed doesn't imply a priestess or prophetess in the manner of the Pythia but on the contrary one who has brushed divination off by leaving her hometown, Mantinea (Prophet City), to move to Athens, where she uses dialektikos reasoning to contribute to the education of those she happens to meet, thus bringing to light the role of logos as a gift from the god of gods, Zeus (see Critias, 121b7), who must be honored (timan, verb derived from timè) for this gift by making a good use of it, as she does.

The dialogues with a "historical" prologue: the question of sources

There is one more reason why the Symposium should deserve attention when considering the historicity of the Socrates of Plato's dialogues. It is indeed the first dialogue (in the order of progression through the tetralogies) to explicitely raise the question of the "sources" of the story narrated by Plato, through a prologue involving, in a dialogue distinct from the main dialogue, characters different from those of the main dialogue, in a place different from that where the main dialogue takes place and occuring at a later time. There are four dialogues using this manner of presenting "sources": the Symposium and the Phaedo in the fourth tetralogy, the tetralogy about the soul, the Parmenides and the Theaetetus in the sixth tetralogy about dialektikè (see the array at note 20). What is common to those four dialogues, aside from the fact of having this structure of "Russian dolls" of a dialogue staging Socrates narrated inside a dialogue or narration where he doesn't play a part and occuring at a later time, is that all four of them are not restricted to staging the "ahistorical" Socrates of the other dialogues of Plato in the conversation which is transcribed or narrated:
- the Symposium and the Phaedo include perspectives on Socrates' life beyond the specific event reported, the symposium at Agathon's place for the one, the last day of Socrates for the other, the Symposium with the narration by Socrates of his education in "love-matters" by Diotima and the speech of Alcibiades narrating his several encounters with Socrates in erotic or war-related situations, the Phaedo with what might be called the intellectual autobiography of Socrates (Phaedo, 96e6 ssq.), in which he recounts the effect on him of reading Anaxagoras and the change of direction induced by this reading which he calls a "second sailing" (deuteron ploun, 99d1), through which he "fled for refuge in logoi to examine in them the truth of beings" (eis tous logous kataphugonta en ekeinois skopein tôn ontôn tèn alètheian, 99e5-6);
- the Parmenides is the only dialogue in which Plato explicitely, and not indirectly through references to dateable events, gives information on the age of Socrates at the time of the reported event,  (32) when he says, toward the beginning of the dialogue, that he was "very young" (sphodra neon, Parmenides, 127c5), a piece of information which is key for understanding this dialogue, in which the Socrates whom it stages doesn't stand up to an elderly Parmenides, Plato expecting the reader, in one more implicit "test" before dealing with dialektikè, to assist him based on what he learned from earlier dialogues, and especially form the Republic, to come up by himself with the arguments which a mature Socrates might have opposed to Parmenides' fallacious arguments, and which a young Socrates not yet in his "second sailing" cannot come up with; (33)
- the Theaetetus, in which the prologue makes us understand that the Socrates which we are about to meet is not Plato's, but a Socrates the paternity of which he attributes to Euclid of Megara, another "follower" of Socrates and the father of a school of thought whose members ended up being called "Dialecticians", whom he sees as a challenger of his understanding of dialektikè and the manner Socrates practiced it, attempting to make us believe through the prologue that what we are about to read is a work of Euclid written immediately after Socrates had narrated to him the conversation with Theaetetus related in this work.

Prologues full of implausibility and inconsistencies

But these prologues, when analyzed without prejudice ("it's Plato talking, so we can believe him, it must be historical truth!...") raise two kinds of problems seriously challenging their pretense to offer warranties of "historicity" about what the narratives they introduce report. The first category of problems it that the very story they tell to explain the sources of the narrative which follows, if we pay close attention to it, reveals inconsistencies and implausibilities:
- The prologue of the Symposium claims that what follows it the story of a symposium held at Agathon's place which Socrates would have attended, narrated by Apollodorus to unidentified interlocutors, reproducing the narrative he would have made of it a few days earlier to a certain Glaucon (whom nothing but his name allows us to identify with Plato's brother, interlocutor of Socrates in the Republic). But Apollodorus describes these anonymous interlocutors as belonging to the category of rich businessmen (tous tôn plousiôn kai chrèmatistikôn, Symposium, 173c6) who, by his own avowal, have little interest for philosophy, unlike himself (Symposium, 173b9-e6), and more explicitely states about the Glaucon to whom he made the narrative a few days earlier that "[he] deems that it is better to practice anything rather than philosophize" (oiomenos dein panta mallon prattein è philosophein, 173a2-3). In short, he takes pains to let us know that twice he has made the narrative of "the meeting between Agathon and Socrates and Alcibiades and the others who long ago attended the symposium and, regarding the speeches on eros (peri tôn erotikôn logôn), which they were" (172a7-b3), thus a narrative in which Socrates' presence is key to arouse interest of those interested in listening to it, having been the occasion of speeches on a topic which is not among the key worries of businessmen, especially when delt with in a philosophical guise by Socrates, to persons he himself describes as having no interest whatsoever in philosophy and about whom we may wonder where their sudden interest in speeches of Socrates comes from, but who nonetheless seem to have patiently listened to a narrative which must have taken quite a time. What's more, Apollodorus' own words inform us that this interest of Glaucon is not so sudden, since he tells Apollodorus that he had already asked earlier someone else (unnamed), to tell him the same story, which he had heard from a certain Pheonix, son of Philippus, unknown otherwise, who knew the story from the same source as Apollodorus, Aristodemus, who attended the symposium along whith Socrates. For one for whom "it is better to practice anything rather than philosophize", such a sustained curiosity about a speech by Socrates is rather surprising!...
- The prologue of the Phaedo, in which Phaedo narrates, as a direct witness, the last day of Socrates and his death, tells us that more than fifteen people, including several "strangers" (non Athenian citizens), were beside Socrates in his jail that day. (34) And immediately after listing those present, he explains that all these persons used to spend their whole days, from the opening of the jail till evening with Socrates in his jail, probably since his condemnation, that is, since about a month ago (59d1-7). So, we may wonder whetehr Socrates was in jail or in a conference room, where jailors would let, from morning till evening, enter whoever feeled like it, "strangers" included, to visit a prisoner, what's more one condemned to death. Whether regarding the size of the cell, in which, according to what Phaedo says at 60b1-2, there was at least a bed aside from the prisoner, who according to what Phaedo says at 60a1-2 and what Socrates says at 60c6, was so far chained, but which was nonetheless capable of holding more than fifteen persons aside from the prisoner, or regarding the management of visits to a prisoner condemned to death, it leaves us agape!... But there is more! Can we reasonably believe that the magistrates (the "archons") mentioned at 58c8 accept, as Phaedo suggests at 58d1, that Socrates continue doing in jail what he was just condemned to death for doing in the streets when he was free, namely, corrupt the youth, whom they would have themselves let into the jail to allow this supposed corruption to continue?!...
The prologue of the Parmenides purports to transmit, through a narrative of a citizen from Clazomenae in Ionia, named Cephalus, come specifically to Athens with several of his fellow citizens to hear it, the narrative by Antiphon, the young half-brother of Plato, of a conversation between Zeno, Parmenides aged about sixty-five and a still very young Socrates having taken place in Athens at a friend of Zeno's named Pythodorus, who would have recounted it several times to Antiphon when the later was still a teenager, so much so that this one, though having since lost any interest in philosophical matters to dedicate himself to horse breeding, is still able to retell it from memory, apparently word per word, though three quarters of this conversation consist, after a short dialogue between Socrates and Zeno, followed by a somewhat longer dialogue between Socrates and Parmenides, in a "dialogue" between Parmenides and a young man named Aristotle, a historical character who ended up being one of the Thirty Tyrants, (35) a "dialogue" wich is in fact a quasi monologue of Parmenides developing a series of highly abstract logical arguments on the one and being which demonstrate in turn with the same logical rigor propositons contrary to one another, in which Aristotle is but a stooge, there only to allow Parmenides to catch his breath and contributing or objecting nothing to these arguments. When reading the transcript of this conversation and realizing that Antiphon seems to precisely remember, not only the successive steps of Parmenides' arguments, but also the exact place of Aristotle's interventions and wording of his insignificant answers, and actually relates this whole discussion, not under the form of a summary highlighting only the key points of Parmenides' reasoning, but as a conversation apparently reported word for word, one might think Antiphon is reading a written transcript, and yet, he does it from memory. But, aside from the fact that it is rather surprizing for him to have, years later, so accurate a remembrance of this highly abstract discussion he heard reported when he was only a teenager on a topic he lost interest in years ago, we are told nothing about the way the one who reported it to him many times when he was young, Pythodorus, could remembre it many years after the fact. Indeed, Antiphon was born around 422 BC, that is, about fifty years after Socrates, born in 469 BC, and even if, when listening to Pythodorus relating this encounter between Socrates and Parmenides, he was somehow younger than Socrates when it took place, it must have taken place at least forty years before the time Pythodorus talked to him about it. And he heard him several times talking about it. Yet, Plato doesn't tell us that Pythodorus had made a written transcript of it (while he says so in the case of Euclid for the conversation between Socratess and Theaetetus related in the Theaetetus), so that it is unlikely that Pythodorus used the exact same words each time he told young Antiphon about it! Where could then the preciseness of Antiphon's narrative made from several reports, most likely not identical to one another word for word, heard from Pythodorus years earlier, come from?...
- The prologue of Theaetetus is a dialogue between Euclid of Megara and Terpsion, in which Euclid proposes his friend Terpsion to have one of his slaves read the written transcript he would have made "on the spot" of a conversation between Socrates and a young Theaetetus, coming back several times to ask Socrates for more details about this conversation. And the main dialogue is this transcript by Euclid in direct style of the conversation between Socrates and Theaetetus, read years after the event it reports, as we gather from the prologue, which takes place soon after Euclid met in Megara Theaetetus about to die from wounds received and dysentery contracted during a war between Athens and Corinth. (36) But several things in this story raise questions. Is it likely that Socrates, the very day he is summoned to a tribunal in a case which may (and will) cost him his life, find time and freedom of mind enough to go, before abiding by the summons to the tribunal, wander around a gymnasium where teenagers train and next to which Theodorus of Cyrene gives them classes in geometry? And if the meeting with Theaetetus took place a few days before Socrates' trial, when did the later find time to tell Euclid, who lived in Megara, at about forty kilometers from Athens, about it, and not only to tell him once, but to have several occasions to answer his questions on the details of the meeting while he was writing down his transcript of it? To be sure, Socrates stayed about a month in jail after his trial and Phaedo mentions Euclid among those who were visiting Socrates daily in his jail till his last day, but he was not alone and such a context with many people around Socrates was not favorable for what seems to have rather been person to person meetings between Socrates and Theetetus. And above all, Terpsion is listed by Phaedo immediately after Euclid among those who visited daily Socrates during his last days. Yet, in the prologue of the Theaetetus, Terpsion seems to have no knowledge whatsoever of a meeting between Socrates and Theaetetus, which would not be the case if Euclid had discussed it with Socrates in his jail in the middle of a group of persons he was also a member of.

The question of Plato's sources for these prologues

But there is an even more devastating problem with all these prologues meant to ensure the historicity of the narratives they introduce, which is common to all four of them, namely that what we read are writings form Plato, not from those who are supposed to talk in these prologues (Apollodorus in the Symposium, Phaedo in the Phaedo, Cephalus of Clazomenae in the Parmenides, Euclide of Megara in the Theaetetus), and that Plato never tells us how he got word of these stories he writes for us, so that the chain of transmission is never complete. And what is worse, when we think coolly about it, setting aside all that twenty-five centuries of platonic tradition have taught us, all the embellishments and iconography surrounding some at least of the scenes depicted by these dialogues, such as the scene depicted by the Phaedo, we can wonder why Plato took such a tortuous path to tell us a story which, if there was a semblance of historical truth in it, he probably knew through a more direct channel.
- In the case of the Symposium, it is Apollodorus who tells the story of the symposium to unknown interlocutors, saying that he told it earlier to Glaucon, to whom he said he had frequented Socrates for hardly three years (Symposium, 172c5-6), which implies that Socrates was still alive at that time, and he also says that he sought confirmation by Socrates of the report on the symposium he had from Aristodemus, who attended it along with Socrates (173b4-6). But Plato obviously was not one of the rich businessmen not interested in philosophy to whom Apollodorus narrates the symposium and we don't know where and when he heard about this story of Apollodorus which he writes in direct style, not even whether he heard it from Apollodorus himself or from someone else. If Plato's purpose had been to warrant the truthfulness of the story about the symposium at Agathon's place he writes, he should have written something along those lines: "Much has been said about a symposium held by Agathon after his first win in a tragedy contest, attended by Socrates among others and which was the occcasion of many a speech in the praise of Eros and, toward the end, of an intrusion of Alcibiades, drunk as was often the case with him, who delivered one in praise of Socrates. There was even a time when everybody in Athens, even people who didn't usually care about philosophy and Socrates, wanted to have the story told them. But Socrates had always refused to tell it himself, even to his friends. Yet, befoe his death, Aristodemus, who was at the time of this feast in love with Socrates and would not let go of him, and who had attend the symposium with him, had told the story to several of his friends and, among them, to Apollodorus. And the later, who was at the time close to Socrates, managed to get him, short of telling the whole story, to confirm the accuracy of Aristodemus story of it. As far as I am concerned, not having been able to meet Aristodemus before his death, it is from Apollodorus that I got the story I put in writing in this work."
- In the case of the Phaedo, the story is supposedly told by Phaedo some time after Socrates' death, in the city of Phlius, and there is no reason to suppose that Plato, who is not mentioned among the listeners, was a direct witness of it. In any case, he doesn't say so. The question thus raised is whether this report, made far from Athens some time after the events he reports, which we don't know how Plato heard of, is the only one through which he got knowledge of what happened the day of Socrates' death, which would be quite surprising concerning a close follower of Socrates for years till his death, even if he has Phaedo say that he was sick on that day and was not among those present in the jail on that day. It is infinitely more likely that, as soon as he recoverd (if indeed he was sick that very day... and if the scene actually occured as he has Phaedo tell us, with more than fifteen persons present in Socrates' cell to witness his death), being himself in Athens and having been for the last ten years or so among Socrates closest followers, he asked one or another of his friends, and more likely several of them, to tell him what had happened on his last day an how he died. But if that's the case, why choose the late report of Phaedo far from Athens which we don't know how and why he heard of, to narrate this last day pretending that it is Phaedo who is talking?...
- In the case of the Parmenides, why Plato has the story told by a citizen of Clazomenae, in Ionia, supposed to have come to Athens along with a few of his fellow-citizen philosophers, specifically to hear it from Agathon, his own half-brother, as if he couldn't at any time ask him to tell it directly, in case he wasn't present, in Agathon's youth in one or another of the instances when Pythodorus was telling him the story of Socrates' encounter with Parmenides, assuming he couldn't manage to have Socrates himself tell it? How this hardly credible story, which Plato doesn't say how he got word of (Cephalus says his brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon served as intermediaries between him and Antiphon, but he doesn't mention Plato) gives more credibility to a story Plato could have obtained directly from his half-brother, when it multiplies the intermediaries and omits one of them (the one between Cephalus, who is supposed to tell the story, and Plato who writes it)?!...
- In the case of the Theaetetus, Plato reports a dialogue between Euclid and Terpsion leading to the reading of a report supposedly written by Euclid. But he doesn't tell us how he got word of this conversation nor whether he got a copy of Euclid's writing, which, if that were the case, he would have only copied, which would make him a plagiarist, unless Euclid himself had given him a copy of his work. But why would Euclid have allowed Plato to publish under his name a work which had been written by somebody else? It is hard to imagine how Euclid could have told Plato the story of his private conversation with Terpsion leading to the reading of his manuscript, which would have somehow forced him to give Plato a copy of it. And if the story of the encounter between Socrates and Theaetetus which Euclid's manuscript is supposed to report is not from Euclid but from Plato, then, the whole story told in the prologue is also an invention of Plato and proves nothing regarding the historicity of this encounter and the truthfulness of Plato's story of it...

Historical truth or relevance of arguments?

We must then come to terms with the fact that these prologues are not meant, as the preceeding lines have shown, to offer guarantees about the truthfulness of what is told in what they introduce, but on the contrary, to make us think about the illusory nature of any pretense to tell in a manner perfectly accurate the reality of conversations and events of the life of the historical Socrates, whether through oral or written transmission and no matter how many (or how few) intermediaries there are between the events and the written report of them, so as to eventually make us understand that it is not the accuracy in reporting past events which matters, since attempting to guarantee this accuracy implies putting the value of the arguments involved in the faith (pistis) we have in those who transmitted them to us and in the end in the "historical" person of Socrates, that is, staying at the level of the second stage of the progression through the four segments of the line of Republic VI illustrated by the allegory of the cave, and thus, staying in the cave and in the realm of opinion (doxa) and not in that of knowledge (epistèmè), which implies a personal effort of appropration which nobody can do for someone else, through which the reader puts to the test the arguments presented, independant of who presented them, whether known or unknown, named or anonymous (as is the case for the Elean Stranger of the Sophist and Statesman who takes the place of Socrates as leader of the discussion precisely at the moment when we reach the ultimate step of the educational program developed by Plato's dialogues). In this perspective, the work of imagination of Plato "inventing" dialogues implying Socrates which never actually occured during his actual life is not a betrayal of the historical Socrate, but on the contrary an ultimate tribute rendered to the one who helped Plato understand all this and the means of ensuring the survival after Socrates' death (and his own) of a pedagogical method he invented and which precisely doesn't rely on the greater or lesser faith we have in those who make us think about topics where "scientific" truth is out of reach of the human beings that we are. It is possible to demonstrate in a way binding for any reasonable person a theorem of geometry, not that somethin immaterial which Plato calls psuchè and we may call "soul" might not be destroyed at death along with the body it "animates" and might survive it, within or outside time, though is is, or should be, infinitely more important for us to think about this than to know that the square double in area of a given square is the square built on the diagonal of the original square, a statement which is not true because a historical character named Socrates having lived in Athens during the Vth century BC had it discovered by a young slave in a conversation he would have had in Athens at an unspecified date with another historical character named Meno in the house of a third historical character named Anytus in order to prove him that it is possible to learn what you didn't know earlier, a conversation narrated by Plato in one of his works, but simply because reason (logos) properly guided leads us, anyone of us, at any past, present or future time, in Athens of anywhere else in the world, into admitting it as true and, once we have properly undestood it and have also understood its binding demonstration, makes us capable of convincingly teach it to other people. Thus, it is not Socrates or our geometry teacher, or anyone else who taught us this theorem, who guarantees the truth of this statement, but the reasoning that each one conducts in one's own mind to become convinced of its truth. And this is the reason why determining whether or not Socrates whispered the answer to Meno's slave doesn't matter since anyway it is not the words of Socrates (especially if they are an invention of Plato) which guarantee their truthfulness, but the reasoning that would have conducted within himself, had he existed, the young slave of Meno (who in fact never existed but in Plato's imagination) guided by his interlocutor, and above all, the one conducted by the reader, when reading Plato's dialogue or earlier to become convinced of it, and to become convinced, if that were not the case already, that it is possible to learn something that one didn't know earlier, and that there are "truths", which might be qualified as "transcendent", which impose themselves to the reason of any reasonable human being, the key question being then to determine whether what is true in the domain of mathematics (the fact that there are "transcendent" truths in that sense) is true also in other domains, and particularly in the ethical domain. This is the question Socrates was the first to ask and which Plato, his "pupil", in writing his dialogues, wanted people to keep thinking about, even after their death (that of Socrates and his own), using the methods of reasoning and arguing initiated by Socrates properly understood, which are more important than the specific answers Socrates (or Plato) gave to those questions.

Back to the Symposium

This question of historicity and of its importance to reach the objectives the dialogues are meant to lead us to is particulartly well raised by the Symposium, not only through the prologue, but by the main dialogue itself, through the two windows upon Socrates' life offered by his own narrative of his supposed education by Diotima in his speech, which raises the question of the origin of his logoi, and Alcibiades narrative of his relations with Socrates, which raises the question of the efficiency of these logoi in an emblematic case. These two apparently "biographical" stories, which I said justify the prologue describing the origin of the narrative of the symposium making up the core of the dialogue to attempt to raise confidence in its "historicity" and truthfulness, indeed focus us on two possible attitudes regarding Socrates and the words Plato has him say (are they faithfully related by Plato, the historicist viewpoint, or are they credible and worthy of being taken into account to orient our behavior, whether or not they come from Socrates, the "philosophical" and rational viewpoint) by opposing a theologico-dialectic speech, that of Socrates relating his education by Diotima, to the erotico-historic speech of a drunk Alcibiades presenting himself as a disappointed lover of Socrates relating several episodes, both "public" (during military campains together) and private of his relationship with him. The question raised by these two speeches facing one another is that of deciding what is most important for us regarding Socrates to accept the words Plato has him say, faithfulness to their "source", a historian's vision turned toward the past which cannot be changed, or relevance for action, a philosopher's viewpoint open on a future which remains to be built.
Socrates' speech let us know that he only transmits something he learned from somebody else. If that is the case, is it that important to hear it from Socrates himself, or in a wording as close to what he actually said as possible, rather than from one he trained as Diotima trained him? Diotima's teaching precisely includes among other things the suggestion that the one who " gets to know in the end what is the beautifull itself" (gnôi auto teleutôn ho esti kalon, Symposium, 211c8-d1) tries to reach immortality by helping younger persons having the appropriate dispositions to reach that same knowledge so that it doesn't get lost and survive eternally. If that is indeed the case, why care for who we get it through, especially if this access doesn't result from the mere words, since it is not in the words, but requires some homework that has to be done in turn in the mind of who wants to reach this knowledge. Thus, rather than making efforts to try to recover the exact words employed by Socrates, those efforts must be made to reproduce in oneself the progression suggested by Diotima, Socrates, Plato or whoever has already undegone it, to reach a knowledge which is beyond words. And after all, this Diotima, whom Socrates pretends he learned what he knows from, or rather, whom Plato pretends Socrates learned what he knows from, who is she? All what Plato's Socrates says about her to introduce her, her name, her birthplace, what little he says about her accomplishments (postponing the plague in Athens for ten years), is meant to orient our mind toward the idea of a quasi-divine woman, kind of a priestess or prophetess honoring the god of gods (37) (and very successfully, as we have seen earlier!), and she starts her speeches with stories of generation of gods and godesses, with words imbued with a kind of mysticism which will progressively leave room to dialektikon reasoning and to another form of "mysticism", no longer religious, centered on the beautifull itself (auto to kalon), to end up almost forgetting Eros. (38) So, what is the most important in all this? The beautifull legend of Eros' begetting at the beginning (meant to talk to the "horses" (39) devoid of reason (alogoi) of our soul) or the dialektikon reasoning at the end (meant to talk to the "charioteer" endowed with reason of our soul) suggesting a path toward the beautifull itself, which is the sensible trace of the good, (40) a path which is of value to us only if we follow it in turn by ourself, not because we heard it described by someone else, impressive as one's credetials may be? And if, in the end, Diotima is but an invention of Plato, a cover for Socrates, or rather, for Plato using a fictitious Socrates as a cover, does it matter if what alone counts is not who said or wrote what we hear or read, but what happens in our mind when we read what Plato wrote?
The speech of Alcibiades, who bursts uninvited and full drunk into the room where the symposium is taking place at the end of Socrates' speech, along with a bunch of merry revelers as drunk as him, perfectly aware of the fact that his state, on which he insists several times in his speech, is detrimental to the credibility of his words, but recalling a proverb saying that "wine, without children or with children, is [source of] truth", (41) is meant to give us the emblematic example of the fact that Socrates' words alone are not enough to convince even the most gifted Athenian of his time to act according to his recommendations, that is, to act in a manner consistent with logoi that his reason approves. His whole speech shows that he, the most gifted Athenian of his time, beautifull (and very proud of it, see Symposium, 217a5-6), smart, rich, coming from one of the noblest families of Athens, who had Pericles as a tutor after the death of his father when he was four, though he understood Socrates' words, acknowledged the worth of his recommendations and was able to overcome the common wisdom that good was inseparable from beautiful (understood in the case of human beings as refering to physical beauty) as reflected in the words kalos kagathos (42) he uses at 222a6 to show that he had understood from the case of Socrates, who was not physically beautiful, that what counts more than physical beauty is the beauty of the soul, evidenced by the logoi it produces and the deeds it induces, could not tame the horses of his soul, to reuse the already mentioned image of the Phaedrus (see note 39), in other words that he, who wanted to be master of others, could not be master of himself to put in practice what Socrates recommended, (43) and ended up defeated by his own drives, the pleasure he found in the honors rendered him by the crowds (Symposium, 216b5), his frustration in failing to seduce Socrates. And the anecdote he tells about Socrates who supposedly saved his life during the battle of Potidea (Symposium, 220d5-e2) is meant to make us understand that if Socrates could alone save the body of Alcibiades (and his weapons), he could not alone save his soul with his words and that, indeed he was not able to save Alcibiades from his demons. (44) But if that is the case, if words are nor enough, even when understood by the reason of the person they are addressed to, to prompt that person to act accordingly, what is the use of trying to recover as accurately as possible the very words of the historical Socrates? There was mo magic in Socrates' words and in the end, understanding the most rigorous reasonings conducted by him or someone else is but one step along the path that each one has to follow and complete by oneself to translate the conclusions of these reasonings into acts consistent with them. And regretting not to hear or read the very words of Socrates is but an excuse for not putting into practice the conclusions of the reasonings Plato (or anybody else) attributes to him, if these reasonings look relevant.

The meaning of the prologues

If all the dialogues of Plato are fictions, why does he feel the need to add to some of them a prologue purporting to provide guarantees about their autheticity? The reason is that these prologues, under the pretense of providing guarantees about their authentiicity, are in fact used to stage, with a good deal of humor explaining their implausibility (Socratic irony here become Platonic (45)), a context which is relevant to the philosophical objectives of the dialogue.

In the case of the Symposium, I said earlier that the goal of Plato was to stage a character named Agathon ("good"), taking advantage for that purpose of the fact that there existed a historical characte by this name having won a prize for producing good logoi (in his case, tragedies), in a context allowing to question what makes a "good" (agathon) logos ("speech" in the case of the dialogue) from seven examples, the last two of them dealing with Socrates' logoi seen from two different points of view, his own, that is that of the author of those logoi, seeking their origin at the border between human and divine, and that of the most famous of his listeners, who investigates their effect from his own case (Alcibiades). Before dealing with Socrates' speeches, seen successively from the standpoint of their author and from the standpoint of one of their most famous listeners, five examples set the stage through five types of speeches: the commonplace speech stating the opinion of most people (Phaedrus), the opportunistic speech seeking to justify after the fact the behavior of its author (Pausanias), the scientific speech delivered by a physician (Eryximachus), the mythological speech seeking to explain human behavior through myths involving gods (Aristophanes) and the rethorical speech assuming the appearance of a structured reasoning but interested only in form and stylistic effects (Agathon). The only purpose of the prologue is to set the stage (the symposium at Agathon's) and to raise our interest in speeches it suggests everybody was trying to hear again years after the (supposed) facts.

In the case of the Phaedo, Plato, in the same way he wanted to offer in the Apology his version of what Socrates might have said at his trial, offers what he thinks Socrates might have said on the last day of his life when confronted with an imposed death to justify his attitude toward death (not toward his condemantion to death, which is the purpose of the Crito, but toward death as something that everybody will face someday), bring to the fore the limits of what reason may reach through logoi on this question and warn us against the danger of "misology" (see Phaedo, 89d1), hate of logos, that is ultimately hate of reason (one of the meanings of logos) which makes us human beings just because it doesn't give us all the answers to the questions that we raise. In order to do so, he invents a totally improbable situation, the whole bunch of his" followers" crowded in his cell with the blessing of the authorities who precisely condemned him to death for this kind of conversations, in the dialogic form which was his trademark. And if he locates, through the prologue, whose main purpose it is, the narrative of this conversation in Phlius, the reason is that it is the city where, according to an anecdote reported by Heraclides Ponticus, disciple of Plato at the Academy, and recalled by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations (V, 3), Pythagoras is said to have coined the word philosophos to answer a question from the tyrant of Phlius asking him what his craft was (the anecdote is also mentioned by Diogenes Laertius in his Life of Pythagoras (DL, Lives, VIII, 8)), and that Socrates, who behaved in a way consistent with his logoi till the last day of his life can be viewed as the philosopher par excellence.

In the case of the Parmenides, Plato wants to confront the theses of Parmenides, whom he considers, especially due to his use of logic, improved by his student Zeno, as the most formidable thinker he knows about (see Theaetetus, 180d7-e4 and 183e3-184a3, Parmenides being mentionned by name in the later), and bring to light their flaws, especially to the eyes of his brightest student and colleague, Aristotle, fascinated by this logic, which he intended to codify and which is for him the pathway toward truth, more important in his opinion than what Plato calls dialektikè and considers as the climax of philosophical studies. But he wants to do it while still abiding by his principle of never staging himself, but staging his fictitious Socrates. The viewpoint held by Plato is that logic is only worth what the understanding of the words being used in logical arguments by those who develop them and those who listen to them and try to understand them is worth. But words may have several meanings and not everybody understand them in the same way, let alone the fact that defining the meaning of a word can only be done with other words, as problematic as the one being defined, and possibly even more so, so that we end up in an endless loop which can't be evaded through definitions, but on the contrary, by taking into account the weaknesses of language and using dialogue multiplying the viewpoints and the variations in vocabulary on what is being investigated. It is this approach to language and its efficient use alone able to lead to truth, implying an understanding of its mechanisms and limits, which Plato calls dialektikè and considers as the climax of philosophical studies, logic taking only second place, to define the rules of correct reasoning to the extent that vocabulary problems have been properly identified and taken into account between the interlocutors (which is never possible in the case of writings, where dialogue between the author and the reader to make sure the later understands the words used by the author the same way he does is not possible). It is this understanding of dialektikè that Plato presents in the sixth tetralogy, mainly in the Sophist, which the Parmenides preludes by attempting to pinpoint the problems we are faced with. In order to do so, he imagins a dialogue between Parmenides and Socrrates, followed by a dialogue, or what pretends to be one but is only nominally so, between Parmenides and a teenager named Aristotle, which is obviously not the Aristotle we know, born after Socrates' death, but, as we saw earlier, a historical character having the same name (and that's what is important for Plato), about whom the only thing we are told is that he ended up a tyrant (see note 35). The dialogue between Parmenides and Socrates focuses on what gives meaning to words, something which neither Parmenides nor the Socrates presented as a teenager who dialogues with him adequately grasp, neither having a clear understanding of what eidè and ideai are, unable to make the difference between both that Plato's mature Socrates will later do, as presented in the discussion about the three kinds of beds in book X of the Republic (that is, before the Parmenides in the order of the tetralogies). And the discussion between Parmenides and Aristotle, the future tyrant, which is in fact a monologue of Parmenides presenting the steps of his arguments through purely rhetorical questions to which Aristotle can only acquiesce, shows through examples, and deliberately not through logical reasoning, that the same logical rigor can prove conclusions opposite to one another when the one who conducts the reasoning (in this case, Parmenides) changes without warning, from one argument to another, the meaning he assumes for the words with which he formulates his assumptions (in this cas, the words "one" (hen) and "to be / being" (einai / on)), which he never takes pains to define even though they are the most ambiguous and vague words there is. (46) But, as he has reached the sixth stage of a program including seven, that is, is adressing students / readers who are no longer beginners but on the contrary come close to the end of the educational process, he leaves it to them, as an implicit test of end of first cycle, to understand by themselves, in the light of what they are supposed to have understood of the first five tetralogies, what Plato attempts to make them understand, by correcting the answers of the young Socrates here staged by Plato in the light of what they are supposed to have learned from the mature Socrates, especially from the Republic, which should allow them to overcome Parmenides' objections, and by finding out what goes wrong in the "laborious game" of Parmenides with Aristotle. But since the possibility of a meeting between Parmenides and Socrates was not obvious (see note 33), Plato had to make up a story to explain the context of this meeting and how he (or rather the one whom he had chosen to tell the story) had learned about it, since such a meeting could only have taken place, if it was indeed possible, in a remote past. And, with the irony which we now get used to in these prologues, he invented the most unlikely story that could be, as I showed above. And indeed, even if it were historically possible, a meeting between Parmenides and Socrates could only involve a very young Socrates, which worked along well with the need to stage a Socrates who didn't master yet the "theses" that would become his, or at least those of the Socrates staged by Plato in most of his dialogues, in later life (that is, when Plato gives no indications on his age). And similarly, the fact that one of the Thirty Tyrants had the same name as Aristotle the philosopher allowed him to stage a namesake of the "fan" of logic he had rubbed shoulders with for a long time without succeeding in making him understand that logic was only second to dialektikè as understood by him, Plato, that the dream of fixing vocabulary through definitions supposed fit for all in all places at all times was just that, a dream, impossible from a practical standpoint, human beings being what they are and logos being what it is, and that, if he persisted in his approach, he would end up, as did his namesake of the Parmendes, a tyrant (of thought).

In the case of the Theaetetus, Plato, having dealt with Parmenides in the Parmenides, wants to deal with one of Socrates followers, Euclid of Megara, who is said by tradition to have attempted to reconcile Parmenides and Socrates and whose way of understanding Socrates pedagogy and dialectic he disagrees with. (47) He does it by writing a dialogue staging Socrates, but which he pretends in a prologue to be the work of Euclid, who would have written it long ago to record on the spot the story he had heard from Socrates of his encounter with a teenager named Theaetetus, taking pains at the time to come back several times to Socrates to ask him to confirm what he didn't remember or wasn't sure to have properly understood. In fact, he stages in this dialogue a Socrates which is not the one he stages in the first five tetralogies, but a Socrates as understood by Euclid (wrongly, in his opinion), expecting once again from the student / reader that he realizes it and understands what differenciates the Socrates of Euclid of Megara and his own. The underlying theme of the dialogue is once again logos: the Theaetetus indeed ends up on a failure of Theaetetus, unable to define what knowledge (epistèmè) is, and the reason for this failure is that his search for a "definition" is undertaken from beginning to end through logos (48) and that it is only at the end, faced with the failure of his earlier attempts, and more specifically the last one, which suggests to define knowledge (epistèmè) as "true opinion accompanied with logos" (meta logou alethè doxa, Theaetetus, 201c8-d1), while, not long ago, Socrates had him agree that opinion is a kind of logos silently told for oneself (tèn doxan logon eirèmenon [...] sigèi kai pros hauton, Theaetetus, 190a5-6), so that this definition becomes "true logos accompanied with logos", that Socrates and Theaetetus at last address the question of what "logos" means, while it is the question they should have started with (it is indeed what the Elean Stranger will do with that same Theaetetus in the Sophist). And indeed, so long as we don't know how the logos works, how words may refer to something else than themselves as sounds or graphic signs (this is the question already debated between Parmenides and Socrates in the Parmenides), what makes it possible for a logos to be either true or false, and true or false with regard to what, what are the power and limits of logos, all the logic in the world in reasonings is of no use. But beyond this overall view, several feature of the Socrates staged in the Theaetetus which don't fit with the Socrates of the first five tetralogies allow us to better understand what Plato reproaches Euclid.
The portrait of the "philosopher" that his Euclid presents at Theaetetus, 173c7-176a1 seems deliberately made to discourage readers from recognizing in it the Socrates of the other dialogues, which is for him the model par excellence of the philosopher after his own heart: someone who "since infancy do[esn't] know the way to the agora, nor where [are] the court-room or the council-chamber or any other public place of gathering for the city, do[esn't] hear or see the laws and decrees proclaimed or written; [to whon] indulging in [...] gatherings and repasts and revels with aulos-players never comes to mind, not even in dreams" (Theaetetus, 173c9-d6), whose thought "measure[s] what is beneath the earth and on its surface, observes the stars above and want[s] to know everything in detail about the nature of each [element] of the whole of beings, but never lower[s himself] toward anything close at hand" (Theaetetus, 173e5-174a2), cannot be the Socrates who depicts himself in the Apology as haunting the agora all day long and caring for his fellow citizens when they happen to cross his path, nor the one staged in the Crito, concerned by the laws of his city to the point of dying for them, or the Symposium, taking part in a revel with aulos-players. It is rather the one Aristophanes caricatures in The Clouds. It is that of a pure theorician, who delights in reasonings and haunts the heaven of pure ideas, for whom "justice" is but a word pointing at an idea, not to concrete ways for him of behaving in his everyday life.
But Plato's genius is such that, when he presents viewpoints he doesn't share, and even when he attributes them to a character named Socrates, he provides at the same time to those able to uncover them hints to "straighten out things". In the case of the portrait of the "philosopher" drawn in the Theaetetus, in what Socrates himself calls a "digression" (parerga, Theaetetus, 177b8), but which is nonetheless highlighted by its position at the exact center of the dialogue, it is up to the reader to notice that the only time where Socrates uses the word philosophos in that whole portrait is toward the end, at 175e1, when, talking to Theororus of Cyrene, the geometer, he characterizes the one whose portrait he has just drawh as "the very one you call philosopher" (hon dè philosophon kaleis), (49) suggesting that the portrait he has just drawn is not the portrait of the philosophos dear to his heart, but a caricature of the philoopher as seen by "scientists", those persons Plato's Socrates has in mind when, in his commentary on the allegory of the cave in the Republic, he talks about those who are not fit to govern because "they are left spending / wasting their time in education forever" and who, having left the cave, "think[] they have already been transported, while still living, to the Islands of the Blest", and, for this reason, will never willingly accept to take part in political activity (Republic, VII, 519b7-c6). Thus, the portrait of the philosopher Plato presents through words of Socrates whose authorship he attributes to Euclid is that of an intellectual behind closed door more interested by fine reasoning than by the fate of his fellow men. We may think that this is the way Plato thought Euclid viewed Socrates, who, at the start of the portrait of the philosopher he has him draw, includes himself along with Theodorus among those he will portray and that it is a way for him to make us understand that Euclid hadn't really understood Socrates (at least the way Plato had understood him), if we are able to understand that this portrait is not the portrait of the philosophos whom Plato's Socrates is the archetype of.
The use of images and analogies by the Socrates supposedly staged by Euclid doesn't work the way it works with the Socrates of the earlier dialogues. The Socrates of the Theaetetus uses in several occasions analogies, images, especially about the soul successively compared to a block of wax, then to a dovecote, in attempts to explain false opinion, but, contrary to the Socrates of the other dialogues, whose images are relevant and functional, even if their meaning is not always easy to "decode" (see for instance the analogy of the line and the allegory of the cave in the Republic), the Socrates of Euclid uses images which he himself demonstrates not to work: indeed, neither the image of the block of wax nor the image of the dovecote as he presents them allow him to satisfactorily explain the possibility of false opinion. This feature of the Socrates supposed staged by Euclid is particularly interesting when we notice that one of the few things that Diogenes Laertius tells us about Euclid of Megara is that "he rejected the argument from analogy" (ton dia parabolès logon anèirei, DL, Vies, II, 107). This use of non-working analogies by the Socrates Plato has him stage may thus be seen as a way of having his Euclid show through examples that the use of analogies, even by Socrates, leads nowhere. But it must be understood that, behind this business of using images and analogies in reasoning, something fundamental for Plato is at play: on the one hand the fact that there are limits to what logos, reasoning, can discover and rationally demonstrate, and that, when those limits are reached, for instance regarding the existence of the soul and its possible "survival" at death, the use of analogies and images, in myths among other things, (50) may be of some use and allow to overcome, to a certain extent the limitations of rational language, and, on the other hand and above all, that the human soul il not limited to its rational part (logistikon, the charioteer of the image of the tripartite soul of the Phaedrus) and that it is precisely not this part of the soul which is capable of setting in motion the person it animates, body and tripartite soul, for action. (51) In other words, as the example of Alcibiades shows (see his speech in the Symposium), being intellectually convinced of something is not sufficient to draw and accept its consequences in action, which depend on the two other parts of the soul (the horses of the winged chariot or Phaedrus), alone capable of moving the body and which are, as far as they are concerned, alogoi (not endowed with reason), but may react to images. To move from reasonings understood and accepted to actions they imply, it is also necessary to "convince" the two other parts of the soul, and that cannot be accomplished through reasoning (logoi), while simple and properly chosen images may partake in the job. Making use of images, is thus trying to "talk" to the whole soul, not only to reason, and accept that even reason has limits.
But here again, the genius of Plato is at work and he has the Socrates supposed to be staged by Euclid use two images, those of the block of wax and of the dovecote, which, though they don't work as presented, may work perfectly provided minimal changes are made to them, finding out which changes being what is expected from the reader. If the image of the block of wax doesn't work, it is because Socrates assumes that what the memory records are directly data provided by the senses (aisthèseis) and thoughts (ennoiai) (52) (see Theaetetus, 191d7). But this is not possible since both are in constantly changing and thus cannot play the part of an unchanging seal capable of imprinting the wax, which would require on their part some degree of permanence (why indeed record what presents itself to one of our senses or our mind at one instant rather than at another, if it keeps changing?). What the Socrates who proposes this image doesn't see, is that what the memory records is not "raw" sense data and inner thoughts (images forming on the retina, sonic waves reaching the ears, feelings perceived by skin in contact with something else, odors and savors reaching, mixed to one another, the nostrils and papillae, thoughts flowing continuously in the mind), but something which is already the result of a process of selection and inconscious analysis linked to the structure of our mind (we might say nowadays, of our brain), whose first purpose is precisely to get away with time ("when?") and place ("Where?"): our eyes don't see forms, they only see a bidimensional continuous pattern of patches of colors corresponding to the whole field of view, and it is our brain which, by means of unconscious processes, isolates in this perpetually changing jumble of colors forms corresponding to distinct entities (persons, objects, landscapes...) which it associates more or less perennial "properties" (shape, color, movement...) to, that it can memorize and retrieve in multiple instances of sight; it is not our ears which analyze a sonic flux to recognize in it words pronounced by different people distinguished by the specific sound of their voice, notes produced by different musical instruments distinguished fron one another by specific timbres, cries of distinct animals, various noises superimposed on one another in our environment..., but, here again, unconscious processes of our mind which break down continuously changing raw data into elements stable enough to be recognized in multiple sonic flux; and similarly with the other senses, a unique flux of sense data being decomposed in a plurality of such "elements". And it is still the mind which binds together, before recording them, data coming from several senses it considers as coming from a same "something", for instance a shape, one or several colors, a smell, tactile sensations, a taste to a specific fruit. And what we thus record of the result of these unconscious analyzes takes in our mind the form of eidè which we can associate with names, eidè which evolve for each person all along one's life as a result of new experiences, thus different from one person to another and, for the same person, from one time in life to another, but all having as targets ideai which are the same for all, for they depend only of what they are ideai of and on the nature of the "organs" (senses and mind) through which they are perceived by human beings, supposed to be perfectly functioning. It is thanks to these words and the logoi the mind silently composes with them when we think that we are able to memorize thoughts produced by reflection and discussions with other persons. And it is through relations that we establish between these different eidè that our greater or lesser knowledge of the world around us is expressed. And the Socrates of the other dialogues is full well conscious of this fact (see especially the discussion about the three kinds of beds at book X of the Republic, which pinpoints the link between eidè and names / words (onomata) and the difference between eidè and ideai). And if the image of the dovecote doesn't work, it is here again because the Socrates supposed to have been authored by Euclid skips steps in assuming that what we record in our memory-dovecote since infancy are directly items of knowledge (epistèmai, see Theaetetus, 197e3), while at first they are only words, and that knowing the name of something is not knowing what it is the name of (to take an example used by Socrates, knowing the word "twelve" doesn't imply knowing that twelve is, among other things, the result of adding seven to five). Thus, replacing "items of knowledge" (epistèmai) by "names" (onomata) is enough to have the image of the dovecote work perfectly, and ultimately to join both images by associating names to the eidè which give them meaning for each one of us (53) to end up with a pair of images accurately illustrating the possibility of false opinion. (54)
The image of the midwife of thoughts which the Socrates of the Theaetetus gives of himself is among the images which don't work properly. If we take this self-portrait at face value, Socrates depicts himself as one who knows nothing, who produces no thoughts of his own and thus never gives his own opinion about the issues he discusses with others (since he is sterile in the domain of thought, he has no opinions of his own on anything), who teaches nothing to those who frequent him, but only helps them "beget" thoughts they find in themselves and whose fecundity and worth with regard to truth he claims to be able to appraise, as if it were possible to appraise the truth of words spoken by someone else when knowing nothing oneself! (55) This business of appraising thoughts of someone on the basis of what could be called, in line with the analogy of midwifery, the "baby", or else the "end result", resonates with another one of the scarce data transmitted by Diogenes Laertius about Euclid of Megara, the fact that "in expositions / demonstrations, he objected, not to the assumptions, but to the conclusion" (Tais te apodeixesin enistato ou kata lèmmata, alla kat' epiphoran, DL, Lives, II, 107), which may be understood as meaning that he appraised the worth of an argument on its conclusions rather than on the strength of its hypotheses. (56)
It is tempting to compare this description the Socrates of the Theatetus gives of himself to what the Socrates of the Apology says of himself when he tells how he conducted an inquiry about the meaning of the oracle brought back from Delphi by Chaerephon in which the Pythia said that nobody was wiser (sophôteron) than Socrates to reach the conclusion, regarding each of his successive interlocutors which he thought wiser than himself (politicians, poets, craftsmen) that "neither of [them] (himself and his interlocutor at that time) know[s] (eidenai) anything beautiful and good, but [his interlocutor] th[ought] he kn[ew] something he d[id]n't know (ti eidenai ouk eidôs) whereas [he], as indeed [he] d[id]n't know (ouk oida), d[id]n't think either he kn[ew]", which made him "to be wiser (sophôteros) than him by this trifle that the [things] [he] d[id]n't know, [he] d[id]n't either th[ought] [he] kn[e]w (ha mè oida oude oiomai eidenai)" (Apology, 21d4-8), the more so since this is almost the conclusion of the Socrates of the Theaetetus at the end of the dialogue, faced with the failure of the whole discussion, which didn't allow Theaetetus to "beget" a satisfactory logos on knowledge (epistèmè), when he tells him that, due to this failure, he will behave more wisely (sôphronôs) in the future, "not thinking [he] know[s] the [things] [he] do[es]n't know" (ouk oiomenos eidenai ha mè oistha, Theaetetus, 210c3-4), words precisely meant to echo those of the Apology and induce readers to compare the Socrates midwife of the Theaetetus and the Socrates investigator of the Apology.
The problem with this portrait by analogy which the Socrates of the Theaetetus gives of himself is that it tells us nothing by itself about Socrates insofar as it uses words, especially sophos (and sophia which stems from it), whose range of meanings is so broad that, to understand what its author means, we need to know which meaning he gives those words, which he doesn't care doing, so that, rather than starting from this self-portrait to learn something abot Socrates, we need to start from what we learned earlier about Socrates from the other dialogues, especially about the meaning we may think he gives in them to sophos, in order to "decode" this portrait. The purpose of the Theaetetus is to try and understand what epistèmè ("knowledge", or else "science", or even "skill") is, but this is not the word Socrates uses in the portrait, where it never shows up, but the words sophos (an adjective qualifiying a person) and sophia, the substantive derived from it which designates the specific quality of a person who is sophos. But sophos has a range of meanings spreading from "skilled" (especially, but not only, in handicrafts) to "wise" in the noblest sense of the word, through "learned", or even "clever, shrewd", including in a deprecative sense, and sophia has a range of meanings close to that of epistèmè, spreading from "skill" (in handicrafts or art) to "wisdom" in the noble sense through "intelligence, learning" and "practical wisdom", and even, in a deprecative sense, "cunning, shrewdness". (57) In order to understand what Socrates, or at least the Socrates of the other dialogues of Plato, means by sophos without undertaking a complete study of all its occurrences in the dialogues (394 occurrences, of which 38 are in the Theaetetus), we may focus on the compound word philosophos, transcribed in English under the form "philosopher", whose etymological meaning is "friend / lover (philos) of sophia" and notice that, in the Republic, to describe those, whether men or women,  (58) he intends to put in charge of governing the ideal city, who should thus be in his mind the best among the citizens, he uses the word philosophoi and not sophoi, which suggests that, for him, to be sophos is not possible for human beings and that the best they can become is to be philosophoi, answering to the criteria he associates with this qualification in book VI of the Republic and for whom he draws in book VII a program of education spreading over the first fifty years of their life. (59) If such is the case, the fact for him to say that he is not sophos doesn't make him an exception, but simply says what is the case for everybody, including all those who frequent him. This being said, if, in his opinion, nobody can be said sophos plain and simple, he admits that there are differences from one person to another on the road toward the ideal of sophia which should be that of all human beings, as can be deduced from his use of the comparative sophôteros ("wiser") at Apology, 21d7, when he says that not thinking he knows what he doesn't know makes him wiser than those who think they know what they actually don"t know. And what he says elsewhere is that the goal of everybody, one's main concern, should be to learn to know oneself (gnôthi sauton, « learn to know thyself »), which implies in the first place to learn to know oneself as a human being (anthrôpos) and thus to inquire about what it means to be a human being, what makes a human being "excellent" as a human being and what is good for such a being, before attempting to determine what are one's specific qualities and defects, strong points and deficiencies as this particular human being, different from all others. Under these conditions, it is in consideration of this greater or lesser understanding that the greater or lesser sophia of any human being is measured. And in this light, one may understand that, for such a Socrates, knowing for instance that the square built on the diagonal of a given square is double in surface that of the initial square, as he has the slave of Meno discover, doesn't the least imply that he would be sophos. On the contrary, the fact that, a few hours before dying, in the Phaedo, he is unable to prove in a manner that is convincing for all that human beings have a soul that doesn't disappear at death proves that he can't say he knows it, in the strongest sense of the word, and thus, that he is not sophos in the sense he gives that word. (60)
This being said about the way sophos should be understood, the main point of this self-portrait, which explains the analogy with midwives, is the role Socrates claims to play regarding those who frequent him and whether or not he teaches them something, which leads to the question what "learning" (manthanein) means to him, when he says, talking about them, that "from [him], they never learned (mathontes) anything, but [that] they, by themselves, have found and engendered (heurontes te kai tekontes) many beautiful [things / thoughts / ideas / reflexions / deeds...] (polla kai kala)" (Theaetetus, 150d6-8). (61) And what comes out of the reading of the other dialogues of Plato is that, for his Socrates, what makes the difference between a mere opinion (doxa) and knowledge (epistèmè), is not the words used to express it in that they are true (62), but the understanding of the reasoning which proves them true and the ability for the one who claims to have this "knowledge" to make others understand it. This is what explains that, in the Meno, at the end of the dialogue with the young slave whom he has find the length of the sides of the square double in area a square whose sides measure two feet, Socrates doesn't say that now he "knows", but only that "if he is asked many times about these same things and in various ways, in the end, he will have as exact a knowledge (epistèsetai) of them as anybody" (Meno, 85c10-d1). He is not inside the head of the slave and cannot verify whether he has properly understood, not only the answer, to which he has associated a word ("diagonal", unknown by the slave before), but only after his interlocutor has shown the line with his finger on the figure he used during the dialogue, but also its demonstration, and whether he would be capable of reproducing it to other people, with or without the "technical" words Socrates associated to it. Thus, he cannot know whether the slave "knows" or has only a true opinion which he doesn't know how long it will last. (63) In other words, it is in the thoughts of each one that knowledge develops, independent of the words used to express it, which vary from one language to another without knowledge changing. It is clear that, in such a situation, the one who tries to make something understood by someone else can't pretend to have "taught" that person, since he is not capable of taking the place of that person to do the homework needed to understand the reasoning being developed and of making sure that what grounds the knowledge being presented has been properly understood. From this standpoint, it is true that Socrates "teaches" nothing to his interlocutors and that they must find within themselves the understanding which alone can transform the heard words into "knowledge". But the fact is knowledge on any subject is not limited to the end result of the reasoning leading to it, under the form of a figure (impossible to exhibit in the case of Meno's slave with the understanding of number which was that of the Greeks of that time), of a word (for instance "diagonal" for Meno's slave) or of set of words (a logos, understood as "definition", for instance, for Theaetetus regarding epistèmè (« knowledge »)), as Euclid, the author of this analogy, might think, but implies the understanding of all the intermediate steps leading, though possibly different paths from one person to another, to the answer, starting with the words used to express it, whose meaning is never unambiguous and the same for all, and this is where someone like Socrates may have a role to play, by guiding step by step his interlocutor toward the right answer, which implies he himself knows it (which doesn't suffice to make him sophos), even though he can never be absolutely sure that his interlocutor has properly understood. And, from this standpoint, since knowledge must "be engendered" in the mind of the interlocutor, the analogy with the part played by midwives is somehow relevant. But, like all analogies, it has limits, which the Socrates of the Theaetetus doesn't always respects, at least not clearly. Thus, to say that he is sterile and "never produce[s] / display[s] anything" is going a little too far in the analogy. To say that Socrates begets nothing when the reading of the dialogues shows that most of the words red in them are attributed to him and are almost never limited to mere questions of a few words is to ignore the evidence. (64) And even if it is not "knowledge", it's not nothing, and it helps some of his interlocutors to make progresses toward elements of knowledge, short of making them "wise" (sophoi). Without Socrates (or some other geometry teacher), Meno's slave would never have found in himself the "truth" which Socrates helps him lay a finger on (a fit expression since it is with his finger that he ends up showing the line whose length is the answer)! To continue using the analogy of begetting, it would thus be more appropriate to compare Socrates to the father "inseminating" the mother so that she produce something within herself, viable or not depending on the case, which grows inside herself, rather than to the midwife, who has nothing to do with the production of the child whom she only helps to deliver. (65) But the main chacteristic of his attitude toward those who frequent him, the one which explains why he doesn't want to be regarded as a "teacher" facing "pupils", is that, on the questions which matter most to him and which should matter most to everybody, questions on ethic, metaphysic, epistemology and the like, he knows that he doesn't have an absolutely certain and demonstrable "knowledge", even if the "opinions" which are his on these issues are the result of intense thinking and reasoning as rigorous as can be, and that, in such conditions, these "opinions" which are not yet "knowledge" may be challenged in any discussion, and that, consequently, he must come into any such discussions with an open mind accepting to call into question what he held so far if new arguments require it. It is thus in truth, and not ironically, that he claims to inquire along with his interlocutors, even if his opinions, the result of intense thinking on his part, are often stronger that theiirs. Each new conversation is for hm taking a risk and may force him to changee his opinions, as it may force his interlocutors to change theirs, since nobody, he no more than anybody else, is sophos. Thus, each conversation on such matters is, or should be, a sharing of experiences and toughts potentially requiring changes of opinions, even of opinions resulting from intense prior reflexion, from each attendant, none of whom can pretend to "know". Thus, this is not an asymmetrical relation analogous to that of the midwife with regard to the mother giving birth, or that of the father with regard to the mother in the understanding of the Greeks of Plato's time, or that of the teacher with regard to his pupils, but a relationship between persons who differ from one another only by their greater or lesser proximity with an unreachable ideal all of them tend, or should tend, toward, none of them being able to know if he or she is closer or farther away from the ideal, since to know this, one should know the target. We thus see all the ambiguities and approximations of the self-portait of Socrates drawn in the Theaetetus by Plato attributing it to Euclid of Megara, which, far from enlightening us on the person of Socrates, can only be corrected by what we may infer about him from the other dialogues. In short, before takling with the Sophist, where Socrates is no longer the leader, leaving this role to an anonymous stranger whom we will know close to nothing about short of the fact that he was born in Elea, the birthplace of Parmenides, Plato submits the reader to one more test: will he be able to recognize the Socrates of the prior dialogues in this highly ambiguous portrait, and will he thus be able to grasp the continuity in the method used successively by Socrates and by the anonymous speaker taking his place in the most important part of the program developed by the dialogues, the part which should allow him to understand what dialektikè is, in the sense Plato gives this word when he calls philosophoi those who master it, conscious of the fact that they will never be sophoi ("wise" in the strongest sense of the word)?...

Prologue of the Theaetetus or prologue of the trilogy?

The Theaetetus ends on these words of Socrates: "So then, now, I must appear at the Porch of the King on account of the indictment Meletus has brought against me, but to-morrow at earliest dawn, Theodorus, let us appear (66) again here" (Theaetetus, 210d2-4), and the Sophist opens with these words of Theodorus: "According to our agreement of yesterday, Socrates, here we are as befits us and we also bring this one, some stranger, who was born in Elea, different (67) from the disciples [gathering] around Parmenides and Zeno, yet a man quite philosopher" (Sophist, 216a1-4). And the Statesman opens with this dialogue: "SOCRATES: No doubt, I owe you much gratitude for my acquaintance with Theaetetus, Theodorus, and at the same time with the Stranger. THEODORUS: But soon enough for sure, Socrates, you will owe me one thrice as great as this one, as soon as they have completed for you the [portrait of the] statesman (politikos) and [that of the] philosopher" (Statesman, 257a1-5), these last words of Theodorus refering to the program agreed upon at the beginning of the Sophist, after Socrates, challenged by the qualification of "philosopher" given the Stranger by Theodorus, asked the Stranger if his fellow citizens thought that sophist (sophistès), statesman (politikos) and philosopher (philosophos) refered to three different kinds of people having each a different name, (68) or if two of these words, or possibly all three of them, refered to the same kind of people, and the Stranger answered they thought them refereing to three different kinds and accepted to draw their portrait in turn, starting with the sophist (Sophist, 216c2-218c1). This shows that Plato does all he can to make us think that these three dialogues constitute a whole, and even for some people an incomplete whole, since the program set by Socrates in the Sophist, and refered to at the begining of the Statesman, suggests that another dialogue dealing with the philosopher should have come after the Statesman, a dialogue which words of Socates at Statesman, 257d1-258a6, suggest that, after a dialogue between Socrates and Theaetetus, the Theaetetus, a dialogue between the Elean Stranger and Thaeetetus, the Sophist, and a dialogue between the Elean Stranger and the young comrade of Theaetetus also called Socrates (who has been silently present since the Theaetetus), the Statesman, it could have been a dialogue between Socrates and his young namesake, so as to have used all the possible combinations between one of the two adults susceptible of leading the conversation (Socrrates and the Stranger) and one of the two teenagers susceptible of anwering them (Theatetus and young Socrates). (69)
But then, the question arises whether the Sophist and the Statesman (and possibly a lost or never written Philosopher) are the continuation of the reading of the manuscript supposed to have been written by Euclid of Megara refered to in the prologue of the Theaetetus, that is, whether the prologue of the Theaetetus is the prologue of the sole Theaetetus or of the trilogy Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, or possibly of a tetralogy whose Philosopher would be missing. The problem is that, at the same time Plato multiplies efforts to link the three dialogues together, and even suggest there might have been a fourth one, he gives in the prologue of the Theaetetus indications which don't fit with the hypothesis that the Sophist and the Statesman (and possibly a missing Philosopher) would be part of the manuscript of Euclid of Megara read by one of his slaves for the enjoyment of his friend Terpsio and himself. Indeed, in this prologue, Euclid mentions only a conversation between Socrates and Theaetetus, not a stranger who would have taken over the role of Socrates the next day or of the young namesake of Socrates who would have replaced Theaetetus in some of these conversations. And if the Sophist and the Statesman are not parts of Euclid manuscript, why did Plato took pains to write a prologue to the Theaetetus telling us what his sources for this dialogue were, but continued the story which is told in it from different sources without telling us how he got word of this "sequel" of the Theaetetus, as he had done for the Theaetetus?...

The Philosopher

In fact, this apparent inconsistency is but one of the parts of the "test" Plato submits his students / readers to in the sixth tetralogy (Parmenides - Theaetetus / Sophist / Statesman), the one constituting the culmination of the "theoretical" part of the program of education for future philosopher kings before moving to practical issues and examples with the seventh tetralogy (Philebus - Timaeus / Critias / Laws), the main other parts being the problem posed by the young Socrates of the Parmenides not being a match for the venerable Elean, the problem posed by the Socrates of the Theaetetus (is he the same as the Socrates of the other dialogues, or is he a Socrates with an Euclidian flavor?), the replacement of Socrates by the Elean Stranger as the master of the game in the Sophist and Statesman, pretending to be the continuation of the Theaetetus, the presence of a young namesake of Socrates who resembles him by name and replaces in the Statesman Theaetetus who physically resembles him, and, above all, the problem of the missing dialogue, about the philosopher, which Socrates anticipates as a dialogue between himself and his young namesake, whereas, according to the initial agreement it was supposed to allow the Stranger from Elea, the birthplace of Parmenides, to tell how his fellow-Eleans (and not Athenians, fellow-citizens of Socrates, or Socrates himself) understood "philosopher", after having explained how they understood "sophist" and "statesman". But what is this "test" about? No more and no less than checking if, after reading twenty-four dialogues (the first six tetralogies) where they were guided by the Socrates staged by Plato in those dialogues as the most accomplished model for him of what he calls a "philosopher", the would-be philosopher kings which this educational guide is geared toward have understood what is expected from them, that is, what a philosophos in the sense Plato gives this word, a model of whom he gave with his Socrates, is. But Plato, as is the case with his Socrates, knows that the answer can only come from the students / readers themselves, that he can only guide them along the path leading to it, not serve them with the predigested answer on a golden plate, and thus never intended to write a dialogue that would have been titled The Philosopher and would have given them ready made an answer which would have been of no use to them if, at this stage, after having read twenty-four preparatory dialogues, and more specifically books VI and VII of the Republic, mostly dedicated to this issue, they were not able to find it by themselves, and which they didn't need in the opposite case. He thus contents himself with submitting a few enigmas to help them "beget" their own understanding of what a philosophos is by confronting them with several candidates.
In the guise of an introduction, Plato begins with "desacralizing" the image of Socrates the students / readers might have drawn while reading the earlier dialogues by staging a still very young Socrates tackling the most formidable of his predecessors, Parmenides of Elea, a Socrates unable, as early in his life, to straighten out his thoughts and stand up to this venerable ancestor, in order to make them understand that one doesn't come to life a philosophos with set theses at birth and that even Socrates was not always the Socrates they imagin, which should remind them the Socrates of the Phaedo and his "intellectual autobiography" stressing the influence of the reading of Anaxagoras on the development of his own toughts and the change of direction in his approach of problems it led to, showing them that progresses toward the goal may take time and imply successive callings into question of earlier opinions and methods (and he takes advantage of this to try to make them understand that the path to overcoming the obstacles posed by the theses of Parmenides, or of other thinkers, is not limited to Aristotle's logic).
Then, he presents his students / readers with two possible models of philosophos as two possible alternatives to the Socrates who accompanied them so far in their formation: in the Theaetetus, a Socrates whose paternity he attributes to Euclides and who raises the question (as we have seen above) whether he still is the Socrates staged by Plato in the dialogues of the first five tetralogies or a different Socrates, and if that is the case, in which ways he is different and whether it is for the better or for the worse (and we saw tha the answer is not a square one, but depended among other things on the meaning given words and the way certain expressions and notions were understood), and, in the two ensuing dialogues, Sophist and Statesman, those which constitute the culmination of all that has been considered so far and give in the Statesman the answer to the question posed in the first dialogue, the Alcibiades, regarding the skills required from who should govern one's fellow-human beings, the question which initiated the whole reflexion of the dialogues, an anonymous stranger, introduced as "a man quite philosopher" (Sophist, 216a4), but by Theodorus of Cyrene whom we saw, in the Theaetetus, gobbling up without reservations the portrait of philosopher served him by Socrates, a portrait doing all that is possible to discourage us to recognase in it the Socrates of the earlier dialogues, which invites us to doubt his ability to recognize philosophoi as envisioned by Plato and as he purports to educate with the help of the dialogues, and whom, short of knowing who he is, the student / reader wil be on his / her own to decide whether he is closer to or more remote from the Socrates of the earlier dialogue, that is, of the philosophos as envisioned by Plato, than the Socrates of the Theaetetus, even though he is not named Socrates. (70) And he presents them with two kinds of interlocutors, both very young (thus about the age of those the dialogues are intended for), symbolically representing two possible attitudes of candidates for the appellation of philosophoi: the one, Theaetetus, who physically resembles Socrates (see Theaetetus, 143e7-9, et Statesman, 257d1-258a2), the other, Young Socrates, his nameske, who resembles him by name, in other words, one who evokes, through the likeness of bodies, the material and historical Socrates, and another who evokes, through the similarity of their names, a common eidos between both (see Republic X, 596a6-7 (71)) and, through it, a unique idea as a target, that is, who is more concerned by reproducing the atemporal spirit of Socrates than the historical character by that name,which raises the question what should be imitated from Socrates to become a philosophos, and thus, eventually, if it is worth spending / wasting time trying to recover his "historical" words or if we shouldn't rather try to recover the spirit that animated them. And this spirit Plato locates not so much in this or that specific thesis of the historical Socrates as in the pedagogical method he initiated (and in the consistency between his words and deeds). The pedagogical method of Socrates is this approach by quetions and answers which is precisely the object of the first question he asks, at the beginning of the Sophist, to the one who is about to take his place as the master of ceremony before he starts dealing with the chosen subject matter, as if to make us understand that this is the key issue regarding him. Thus, the student / reader is at the same time invited to examine whether the Stranger, on closer look and once the first impressions are dissipated, is a worthy successor of the Socrates of the first five tetralogies as a model of philosophos and which one between the interlocutor who physically resembles him (but was found "sterile" in his dialogue with the midwife Socrates in the Theaetetus) and the interlocutor who bears the same name as him looks more promising for becoming a philosophos and why. (72)
And it is worth noticing that, if Plato didn't write the Philosopher, he sowed hints in the Sophist which should help us seek, while reading the dialogue again, in each one of the seven successive descriptions of the sophist, where we should opt for the other branch of the proposed dichotomy or proceed further with divisions to reach the philosopher rather than the sophist, a task he invites us to undertake and helps us to accomplish when suggesting, at the end of the sixth description, which described a method of "purificaiton" in which it is not hard to recognize the socratic method, that it may be making the sophist too much honor to grant him the exclusivity of this method (Sophist, 230b-231c), and, in the course of the seventh definition, at Sophist, 253b9-e8, when he defines what is dialektikè and makes it the specific skill of the philosophoi, adding: "the philosopher, [it is] in a place of this sort [that], now or later, we will find him, if ever we look for him".

The brief return of Socrates

Thus, the Elean Stranger doesn't come back to draw the announced portrait of the philosopher and he will not be involved in the remaining dialogues. Socrates, on the other hand, comes back as leader of the discussion in the dialogue following the Statesman and opening the seventh tetralogy (Philebus - Timaeus / Critias / Laws), the Philebus, which attempts to determine what is good for human beings in their terrestrial life, what constitutes for them the good life, since it is what the philosophos become king should render possible for the greatest number of his subjects. But this return of Socrates is short lived, since in the ensuing dialogues, the Timaeus and the Critias, which are for the most part, after a short introductory dialogue where Socrates is only one among the interlocutors (in fact the recipient of the ensuing speeches), monologues from the one giving his name to the dialogue, and in the last dialogue, the Laws, he has completely disappeared. Indeed, this last tetralogy purports to move from the theoretical standpoint of the first six tetralogies, culminating in the Sophist and Statesman, to providing aids and examples for moving toward practice, in other words, is now turned toward the future and the concrete, upon which Socrates, who, if he was a philosophos, never was a politikos in the usual sense of the word, that is, never was in charge of governing Athens, can teach us nothing more than the theoretical viewpoint he developed in the Republic through the description of the ideal city, and not toward the past (of the historical Socrates) and the abstract (of the ideal city). Thus, those who are concerned by these developments are the potential new Socrates and the role of the historical Socrates is over. Not quite, since he once more takes center stage to set the goal which must be that of the leaders formed to philosophy and which is the same for all times and all places, at least at the level which is that of Socrates in the Philebus. But before moving to what constitutes, strictly speaking, an example of implementation in practice (located in time and space, and thus not reproductible as is in other places at other times), the Laws, Plato offers us two complementary aids, on top of the gaol set by the Philebus: a model to imitate (Timaeus) and considerations on the origin of laws leading to a new "test" of the student / reader's discernment ((dia)krisis) (the unfinished Critias). And since these aids are furnisned through myths (Timaeus) or stories which pretend to refer to very old history (Critias), Socrates' presence is not a problem. The model Plato offers through Timaeus of Locri in the dialogue named after him, is simply the work of the god maker of the well ordered (kosmos) universe obeying laws whom he calls dèmiourgos, that is, in the etymological sense, "one working for the people", suggesting in so doing that human lawmakers should use him as a model to complete his work in organizing the living environment of the "people" composed of these animals bound to live in society (politikoi) and endowed with logos giving them access to the intelligible and "divine" (logikoi) which human beings are, determining by themselves, without waiting for the dèmiourgos or any one of the gods he created to do so, the laws of the cities/ States (polis) which are their living environment, laws which should be the specific work of the best among them, those making the best possible use of the faculty they owe their divine maker and which bring them closer to the gods, logos. The inquiry into the origin (real or supposed to make them accepted by those they are imposed upon) of the laws is in the background of the story Plato has Critias (73) tell and of the fact that the dialogue suddenly stops in the middle of a sentence, but not at random: Critias tells us a story, that of Atlantis, whose "historicity" he tries to guarantee through tricks reminiscent of the prologue of the Parmenides, a story which, like the Iliad and Odyssey, stages gods mingling with human affairs and which, in Critias' mind, should serve to give a divine character to the laws imposed by cynical rulers seeking only their own interest, not that of the people they rule, and Plato stops his tale at the exact point where "Zeus, the god of gods who rules through laws" is about to talk in the assembly of the gods he has convened to attempt to bring order in the Island of Atlantis, whose leaders, and as the result the people they rule, have become more and more dissolute from one generation to the next, (74) that is, when the gods are about to try to do in the place of human rulers what is their specific mission and which they show themselves unable to accomplish. But this dialogue, and the Timaeus which precedes, suggest that, after the Critias which had no reason to stop unfinished, one more dialogue was to be expected, named Hermocrates, after the name of the third person presented to Socrates in the Timaeus and supposed to talk after Timaeus and Critias (see Critias, 108a5-b1 ; 108c5-6), in much the same way the Elean Stranger was supposed to describe the philosopher after having described the sophist and the statesman. Hermocrates is the name of the Syracusan general responsible for the descruction of the Athenian army of the Sicilian expedition initiated by Alcibiades, but Plato nowhere explicitely says or suggestss that it is him whom he stages here. But we should notice that Hermocrates etymologically means "power of Hermes" and that Hermes is the messenger between gods and men. His mere name thus suggests a power coming from the gods. If we then notice that the Laws stages three elders, one an anonymous Athenian, the others a Spartan named Megillos and a Cretan named Clinias, devising laws for a colony Clinias has been missioned to found by the rulers of his own city, Cnossos, while they climb the slopes of Mount Ida in Crete to pay homage to Zeus in the cave which, according to legend, was supposed to be his birthplace and where, according to tradition, Minos, the first king of Crete and the first king to have governed by laws, was said to come every nine years to ask his father Zeus to dictate him laws, and start with a question of the Athenian whether, in the cities where his two companions come from, people ascribe the origin of laws to a god or to a man, before mentioning the legend about Minos, we can't help thinking that the interruption of the Critias and the lack of a Hermocrates are meant to invite the student / reader to wonder whether men should count on gods to solve their problems and whether the laws of men's cities have a divine origin and constitute a power transmitted by Hermes (hermokratès) upon request by gods or men are expected to rise toward the divine by drawing themselves their laws as the three elders of the Laws do. From a practical standpoint, the sorting is between those who miss the end of the story of Atlantis and those who have understood why Plato interrupted the story at this point and that it is the Laws which is the fitting continuation of the Timaeus. In this last dialogue, the leader of the discussion is Athenian, as Socrates, and anonymous, as the Elean Stranger, thus sharing a characteristic with each one of the two leaders who preceded him in the dialogues.

The "publication" of Plato's dialogues

After seeing how, assuming an understanding of Plato's dialogues which challenges the universally accepted understanding, the relation between Plato and the historical Socrates and the roles the former ascribes to a character named Socrates in his dialogues can be understood, there remains to examine whether this understanding is compatible with what we know about the composition and the diffusion of Plato's dialogues during his lifetime and after his death. And indeed, if what I suggest is the case for Plato's dialogues, if they were intended to be only educational manuals for the students at the Academy using a character by the name of Socrates as a companion and guide, rigorously structured according to a plan in tetralogies and implementing a pedagogical method initiated by the historical Socrates without specifically seeking to retrieve as faithfully as possible his own words and theses, manuals which required, to be properly used, keys for reading and understanding them, such as the order in which they should be read, at least the first time around, and warnings to the effect that they included "enigmas" that the reader was expected to uncover and try to solve, (75), the question arises why, when and how they came to be known outside the Academy. The first thing which may be said in this respect is that, as far as I know, we have no irrefutable proof that all or part of these dialogues were available outside the Academy in written form, that is, as "books", (76) outside the Academy during Plato's lifetime. The second is that the production of books at the time being what it was (see note 74), the fact that all or parts of the dialogues might have become available in written form outside the Academy during Plato's lifetime doesn't mean that Plato himself had authorized it. And anyway, we know nothing about the date of writing of each one of the dialogues, on the lenght of time it took to complete the whole set of the dialogues, not even if they reached a final form before his death. On the contrary, Dionysus of Halicarnassus wrote that "Plato, aged eighty, kept combing and curling his dialogues, and rearranging them in all possible manners" (The arrangment of Words, 25), and mentions immediately after this a tradition, also reported by Diogenes Laertius (DL, III, 37), which says that several versions of the first sentence of the Republic were found at Plato's death. Thus nothing prevents us from assuming that Plato's dialogues started becoming available outside the Academy only after their author's death. And indeed, under my hypothesis about the composition of the whole set of the dialogues according to a plan set in advance, nothing forced Plato to write them in the exact order of the tetralogies and, provided these dialogues remained known only inside the Academy, to review and amend some of the already written dialogues as he was writing others, in light of new ideas uncovered on these occasions or to increase the constistency between all the dialogues. (77) But at the same time, if this composition spread over several years and if he started making them available to the successive classes of students at the Academy (for instance to test their efficiency) before having completed the whose set, we cannot rule out "leaks" which would have made some of them known outside the Academy without Plato's agreement, even possibly by disobeying his requests for "secrecy", and copies of some of them available to the general public.

Plato's "unwritten doctrines" (agrapha dogmata)

Be that as it may regarding the "publication" of the dialogues, the hypothesis that I present about them as being a structured whole following a plan fixed from the start and staging a Socrates who is not the "historical" Socrates, implies that this Socrates always presents viewpoints which are those of Plato, whether or not he inherited them from him, and which stay the same all through the dialogues. Thus, looking at the dialogues as a means of following the evolution of Plato's thought all through his life, from an early time where he would still have been mostly under the influence of Socrates in a first group of dialogues, to a time where he developed his own theses in a second group of dialogues and distanced himself from the historical Socrates while still using him as "spokesman", before uncovering difficulties in these theses when growing old, which might have led him to look for other spokesmen (the Elean Stranger, Timaeus, Critias, the Athenian of the Laws), becomes meaningless since the "evolution" perceptible through the dialogues is not that of Plato while writing them, but that which he assumes, expects and accompanies on the basis of pedagogical considerations and in the light of his past experience in the mind of the students / readers. The question we should rather investigate is that of trying to figure out, especially if the dialogues were used with the "students" at the Academy before his death, what he communicated to his close associates at the Academy, and possibly to his pupils, regarding the underlying structure of the dialogues and the pedagogical methods he implemented in them, in short what kind of a "user's guide" he put at their disposal. My own gut feeling is that he communicated the bare minimum since his objective was not to make his own theses known but to provoke thoughts in those who would read the dialogues. Thus, if the "reading keys" of the dialogues were provided with them, it mostly defeated the pedagogical method he used with them, and he was most likely aware of the fact that, if these "reading keys" were given, even to a small number of persons, and even to only one, for instance his successor at the head of the Academy, they would inevitable fall in the public domain. I would thus not be surprised if he didn't even communicate the plan of the tetralogies to anybody and only said that the dialogues could be grouped in tetralogies, but that it was up to each reader to find out this layout, which might explain why Tradition transmitted us several such late organizations, either in tetralogies or in trilogies (a tetralogy in classica Greek theater always included a trilogy), but groupings polluted by apocryphal works added to the list of his works after his death, and even by letters attributed to him. He might also have said that his dialogues didn't present set theses, but required the participation of the reader through various devices he had to discover. And this idea that the dialogues required "reading keys" might well have been the origin of a rumor come down to us that there were "unwritten doctrines" (agrapha dogmata) from Plato. These would then be, not "doctrines" that Plato would have refused to put in writing in his dialogues (Plato never expounded "doctrines" but, through writing or orally, invited his readers and listeners to think by themselves by showing them the paths he had earlier himself explored to avoid them mistakes he had identified as such), but simply reading guidelines explaining that it does not suffice to read the dialogues to understand them but that some homework is expected from the reader to uncover a deeper meaning, in other words, that their meaning was not in the written words, but in what these words were supposed to elicit in the reader's mind, not that all interpretations of these words are equally acceptable, but in that their proper understanding by a reader could only be in the understanding by oneself of the relations between eidè pointing toward ideai whose truth don't depend on oneself but that it was his task to discover with the help of Plato. (78)

(1) The dialogues where Socrates doesn't lead the discussion are of three kinds: a « dialogue » which is rather a succession of monologues, in which he is but one of the seven speakers whose speeches we read in turn (Symposium), several dialogues in which Socrates is present but doesn't lead the discussion (Sophist, Statesman, Timaeus, Ctitias, the later two being, after a short introductory dialogues in which Socrates is but one of the interlocutors, monologues by the character giving his name to the work), and one dialogue where Socrates is not even present (Laws, Plato's last dialogue). (<==)

(2) The speech for the defense, the porposal of a penalty and the speech after the announcement of the verdict of death penalty. It is only by the words we read that we learn, at the forty-fifth line, that the one whose words we read in direct style, adressed to persons we assume, from the very first words, to be Athenian jurors ("How you, men of Athens, have been affected by my accusers, I don't know", Apology, 17a1), is named Socrates, when reading at Apology, 18b7 that his accusers wanted to make the jurors believe that "there is a certain Socrates, a wise man, pondering on celestial phenomena and investigating everything beneath the earth, and making the weaker argument the stronger" (transparent allusion to Aristophanes' comedy, The Clouds, which indeed stages such a Socrates). (<==)

(3) Xenophon wrote, among other works, asides from the chronicle of the retreat of the ten thousand in the Anabasis, a work called Hellenica, which purports to be a continuation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. (<==)

(4) The main common features of both apologies, that of Xenophon and that of Plato, are the charges (corrupting youth, disavowal of the gods of the city, introduction of new gods), the mention of Meletos as one of the leading accusers, the reference to the Phytia in Delphi as having proclaimed Socrates the wisest of men when interrogated by Chairephon, a friend of Socrates, and the gereral attitude of Socrates during his trial, refusing to degrade himself by begging for mercy as do most people in such a case. (<==)

(5) The word used by Xenophon is megalègoria, formed after megas / megalos ("big" in size and by analogy "great (in fame, power...), mighty", or, in deprecatory sense "over-great (of speaking)") and the verb agoreuein (« speak in public »). As "loftiness" in English, the Greek word megalègoria may have both a favorable meaning implying elevation in character, sublimity, and a deprecatory meaning suggesting grandiloquence, boasting, arrogance. which means that Xenophon's comments on Socrates way of speaking at his trial are ambiguous.  (<==)

(6) Xenophon, Apology, 1. Socrates was seventy years old at the time of his trial, as Plato has him incidentally say at Apology, 17d2, at the beginning of his first speech, when he explains his ignorance of the fitting behavior in such circumstances by the fact that, at his age, he has never yet been involved in a trial. But Plato doesn't consider this a main justification of Socrates attitude at his trial, as Xenophon seems to do in a somehow short-sighted and rather down to earth appreciation of Socrates motives, when compared to the more elevated justifications given or implied by Plato. In Plato's Apology, Socrates mentions again his age only once, toward the end, at the start of his third speech, the one following the annoucement of the verdict, to tell the Athenians that they would not have had to wait for long to be gotten rid of him without having to condemn him to death and incur as a result the risk of eliciting criticism and opprobrium from the enemies of Athens for having put to death a man deemed wise (sophos) (see Apology, 38c1-6). (<==)

(7) The different theses upheld by the different philosophical schools initiated by the followers of Socrates evidence that they didn't all understand Socrates in the same way, including regarding the justification he might have given or implied of his attitude during his trial. It's precisely what Xenophon suggests when he writes, at the beginning of his Apology, that he wants to highlight an aspect of this attitude he thinks his predecessors did not, or not sufficiently, bring to light. (<==)

(8) See DL, Lives, II, 47. Aeschines is mentioned by Plato at Apology, 33e2, as one of those who were present at Socrates' trial, and at Phaedo, 59b8, as one of those present in Socrates' jail on the day of his death. (<==)

(9) Panaetius is a Stoic philosopher of the second century BC, born in 185 BC in Rhodes, that is, a little more than two centuries after Socrates' death. (<==)

(10) In the prologue of his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (Lives, I,18-19), Diogenes Laertius holds Socrates as the first philosopher who showed interest for ethical questions and identifies ten "schools" (aireseis) of ethical philosophy, the first five of which originated with a philosopher having frequented Socrates : Plato's Academy, the Cyrenaic, founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, the Elian, founded by Phaedo of Elis (the narrator of Plato's Phaedo), the Megarian, founded by Euclides of Megara and the Cynic, founded by Antisthenes of Athens. And this doesn't include two other companions of Socrates who didn't initiate a school, Xenophon and Aeschines, whom he nonetheless lists among the Socratic philosophers. (<==)

(11) See Xénophon, Memorabilia, I, 1, 11-15 and the gnôthi sauton (« learn to know thyself (as a human being) ») that Socrates had adopted as his motto. (<==)

(12) Regarding this last point, see for instance Charmides, 161c3-6. (<==)

(13) There are extant, aside from the twenty-eight dialogues that I group in tetralogies, a number of dialogues ascribed to Plato and still published nowadays in complete editions of his works, whose autheticity has been challenged ever since Antiquity (see for instance Diogenes Laercius, Lives, III, 62) and which most scholars nowadays agree to regard as fakes. And the Lives of Diogenes Laertius abound in commetaries questioning the genuineness of some of the works tradition ascribes to this or that philosopher he mentions. Such is the case for instance, to limit ourselves to "Socratic" philosophers, with the works ascribed to Aeschines (Lives, II, 60-61), with those ascribed to Aristippus (Lives, II, 83-85), with those ascribed to Glaucon (Lives, II, 124). (<==)

(14) It's precisely to make this point that Plato, at the time when, in the educational program of the tetralogies I suggest as the structure of his dialoges, he reaches the climax of the course he offers his readers after having tested it with the students at the Academy, dialektikè as he understands it (Sophist) and the spirit in which it should be used in the political domain (Statesman), replaces Socrates as the leader of the discussion by an anonymous interlocutor only described as a citizen of Elea, the birthplace of Parmenides and Zeno. Thus, as he stays anonymous, the name of the person (created by Plato for this specific purpose) will not give us preconceived notions about him, positive or negative, and each reader will have to make up one's own mind regarding the truth of the claim by Theodorus of Cyrene, the famous mathematician, introducing him at the beginning of the Sophist as "a man quite philosopher" (Sophist, 216a4), a claim made by a man whose name means "gift (dôron) of god (theos)", so as to suggest that the person he introduces might indeed be the gift of a god, but who has made clear in the Theaetetus that he had a wrong idea of what a philosophos as understood by Plato's Socrates is when he, the geometer and mathematician, accepted without the slightest objection, the caricature of a "philosopher" as understood by "scientists" that Socrates served him at the very center of the Theaetetus (see Theaetetus, 173c7-176a1), in which the only occurrence of the word philosophos is toward the end, at 175e1, when, talking to Theodorus of Cyrene, the geometer, he describes the one he has just depicted, in a way deliberately devised to make it impossible for an even only slightly attentive reader of the dialogues to recognize Socrates in it, as "the very one that you call philosopher" (hon dè philosophon kaleis). In short, it is not because Plato would be stating in those dialogues theses which would no longer be those of the historical Socrates that he has the discussion led by somebody other than Socrates, but in order to challenge the reader and test his progress by leaving him alone to decide, based only on the Stranger's own words in the two dialogues where he takes the place of Socrates as leader, if this new character (a creation of Plato's mind) is indeed, as much as his Socrates, a "philosopher" after his own heart, which invites him to draw by himself, based on those two dialogues (and all those which have preceeded them, such as the Republic), a portrait of the philosophos which Plato dangles at Statesman, 257d1-258a6, through Socrates suggesting that, after a dialogue between himself and Theaetetus (Theaetetus), followed by a dialogue between the Stranger and Theaetetus focused on the sophist (Sophist) and a dialogue between the Stranger and a classmate of Theaetetus also named Socrates dealing with the statesman (Statesman), a dialogue between him and his young namesake might ensue, which, based on what was said at the beginning of the Sophist, in answer to a question of Socrates asking the Elean Stranger just introduced by Theodorus if, in his city, people consider that sophist, statesman and philosopher are different words to designate the same sort of person or if they designate different sorts of persons, should focus on the philosopher, but which Plato never wrote. And the fact is there is no extant work of Plato called the Philosopher, and we can deduce from the fact that there is no room for it in the cycle of the tetralogies that Plato never intended to write it. Indeed it is the reader who must write it, if he succeded in his formation with the help of the cycle of the dialogues and has become a new Socrate, neos Sôkratès, a formula which may as well mean "young Socrates", the name given to the Stranger's interlocutor in the Statesman, as "new Socrates", the idea being that "Socrates" becomes almost a synonym of "philosopher" for Plato. And if he is not able to do this by himself at this stage of his formation, after reading, after all the dialogues having preceded it, the Sophist, which, while explicitely drawing the portrait of the sophist, implies by contrast a portrait of the philosopher (see Sophist, 253c7-9: "or, by Zeus, have we unawares stumbled upon the knowledge proper to free [men] and, while looking for the sophist, first chanced upon the philosopher?"), what good would it do him to read one more dialogue called the Philosopher, that he would probably understand no better than the others?!... (<==)

(15) "Trust" (pistis) is the "state of mind" (pathèma) which Plato's Socrates, in the analogy of the line at the end of book VI of the Republic, associates with the second subsegment of the seen. The four states of mind depicted by Socrates, two associated with the segment of the seen (or visible), two associated with the segment of the understood by the mind (or intelligible), corresponding to the successive stages reached by the prisoner of the allegory of the cave, are, in the seen / cave the stage where we only believe what we see with our own eyes ("imagery" (eikasia), the shadows in the cave); the stage were we accept opinions of other persons based on the lesser or greater confidence placed in them by us ("trust" (pistis), the "statues" that the prisoner freed from his bonds but not yet out of the cave "sees" through the eyes of other people); in the perceived by intelligence  / outside the cave, the stage where we believe that knowing the name of something is knowing that thing itself ("discursive / rambling thought" (dianoia), the "shadows" and "reflections" (under the form of logoi) of men and other things previously seen in the cave that the prisoner exiting the cave sees before being accustomed to the light of the sun); and eventually the stage where one has come to understand that knowledge is beyond words ("grasping by intelligence" (noèsis) / "knowledge" (epistèmè), the prisoner outside the cave capable of seeing the stars in the sky (ideai) and men and the other things on the surface of the earth in the light of the sun / good as intelligible and not solely visible). (<==)

(16) This is what the Socrates of the Meno, in the discussion about the statues of Daedalus (Meno, 97c11-98b5), calls "causal reasoning" (aitias logismos), which makes the difference between a true opinon (orthè doxa) and a piece of knowledge (epistèmè), a difference that Socrates, at the end of this discussion acknowledges as one of the few things he would say he knows. (<==)

(17) The question whether Socrates prompted the answer or he found it by himself is irrelevant, because what Plato is intent on showing by this "experiment" is not the fact that the slave is able to give the right answer (the length of the side of the square double is the length of the diagonal of the original square), but the fact that he moved from a state of mind in which he would give a wrong answer believing it true, to a state of mind in which he not only is able to give the right answer (which he might do by simply learning it by rote while being unable to prove it), but also to prove it, which implies that he will never answer otherwise, short of deliberately lying. So, even if Socrates had "whispered" the right answer to him, the only relevant question is whether he understood the proof, not whether he knew the words. (<==)

(18) And we then can "relive" in thought a time when, before learning it, we might have answered as Meno's slave does at the beginnig of his dialogue with Socrates that the square double (in area) is the one whose side is double (in length). And it is that, not the historicity of the dialogue told by Plato, which is probative for us and makes us understand, if we were not already convinced of it, that it is possible to learn something we don't already know and that knowledge (epistèmè) is not the same thing as opinion, even when true ((orthè) doxa). (<==)

(19) Atemporal except that he is an Athenian, speaks ancient Greek and lives in Athens in the IVth century BC, meeting persons there, especially politicians and thinkers, having actually existed, but in situations in most cases imagined by Plato (with the exception of his trial) and for discussions dealing with universal and atemporal problems which we have no difficulties transposing to different places with different interlocutors, and in the end to our own life, where we face those same problems which, since the time of Plato, have not received more certain answers than those Plato was gearing us toward, so that, short of trying to reach absolutely certain knowledge on those issues, we may at least, following Socrates' example, look for consistency between the answers we give to the various questions we have to address, the same he had to address, which are not independant from one another, consistency between the various answers, and above all consistency between words (logoi) and deeds (erga). (<==)

(20) The array below, arranged according to the tetralogical structure I pretend to have uncovered behind Plato's dialogues, describes the litterary form which each dialogue exhibits. As can be seen, a large majority of the dialogues (23 out of 28) is in direct style. Among those dialogues in direct style, two (Phaedo and Theaetetus) are dialogues in which Socrates is not one of the interlocutors, but which introduce the narrative, after Socrates' death, of a dialogue in which he took part, identifying the sources of this narrative; four are dialogues in which Socrates is present but doesn't lead the discussion (light grey background in the array), either because this role is held by someone else (the Elean Stranger in the Sophist and Statesman) or because these so called "dialogues" are in fact, after an introductory section in direct style in which Socrates is an interlocutor, the monologue of the person giving his name to the dialogue (Timaeus and Critias); and one, the last one, Laws, is the only one out of the 28 dialogues where Socrates is completely absent (heavier grey background in the array). In the case of the Critias, the introductory dialogue in direct style of the Timaeus offered Critias the occasion of identifying the sources of the story he will tell (the story of Atlantis) when his turn comes to talk, in the Critias, in an account reminiscent of the prologue of the Parmenides, in that in both cases, the transmission involves a child or teenager. Three dialogues (Lysis, Charmides, Republic) are narratives by Socrates to one or more unidentified interlocutors of dialogues he took part in, thus are actually monologues by Socrates, and two (Symposium, Parmenides) are narratives by someone other than Socrates, after his death, of conversations Socrates took part in, where the one talking identifies his sources. The Protagoras, direct dialogue, is a mixed case, since a short dialogue in direct style between Socrates and an interlocutor whose name Plato doesn't specify serves only as introduction to a narrative by Socrates of conversations he took part in earlier that same day and of their context.

dialogue in direct style
narrative by Socrates
dialogue in direct style
narrative by Socrates
dialogue in direct style with Socrate
introducing a narrative by Socrates
dialogue in direct style

dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style
monologue in direct style
dialogue in direct style
narrative of a dialogue with Socrates
in a narrative
identifying sources
dialogue in direct style
narrative by Socrates
narrative of a dialogue with Socrates
in a dialogue in direct style
identifying sources
dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style with Socrates
commenting a narrative by Socrates
dialogue in direct style with Socrates
introducing a speech by Socrates
narrative of a dialogue with Socrates
in anarrative
identifying sources
narrative of a dialogue with Socrates
in a dialogue in direct style
identifying sources
dialogue in direct style
Elean Stranger leading
Socrates almost mute
dialogue in direct style
Elean Stranger leading
Socrates almost mute
dialogue in direct style
dialogue in direct style with Socrates
introducing a speech of Timaeus
and identifying sources
of Critias' narrative in the Critias
dialogue in direct style with Socrates
introducing a speech of Critias
(the story of Atlantis) 

dialogue in direct style
(Socrates absent)



(21) In the time of Plato, where writing material, most often papyrus, was rare and costly, texts were written as sequences of capital letters next to one another in succeding lines of the same length (imposed by the width of the writing material) read form top to bottom and from left to right, without spaces between words, without accents and breathing arks and without punctiation marks (you can gat a flavor of what it ooked like in the page of this site titled As in Plato's Time...). And, in the case of dialogues between several interlocutors, unlike what is done nowadays in the text of plays, there were no mentions of the name of who each line belonged to and no line break when moving from an interlocutor to another, not ever a mark between letters in the succession of capital letters making up each line, since punctuation didn't exist then. (<==)

(22) This Cephalus is a historical character, a metic (that is a resident alien in Athens, not being a citizen of Athens because born in another city, but not being a slave either) of Syracusan origin, an arm manufacturer and a friend of Pericles. He was the father of Lysias (through whom we know the story of his family) and of Polemarchus, one of Socrates' interlocutors at the beginning of the dialogue. (<==)

(23) Thus, the Republic, which, like the Apology, is a monologue by Socrates reporting this discussion and its context, and not a dialogue in direct style as is the case with most of the other dialogues of Plato, and which stands in the fourth tetralogy at the same place as the Apology in the third, can be sees as an alternative "defense speech" that Socrates might have delivered at the address of his judges if his speaking time had not been measure by the clepsydra, defense speech that would have allowed him through an example to show that it was the city of Athens, and not him, which was introducing new deities and corrupted the youth rather than educate them. (<==)

(24) The Greek title of the dialogue is sumposion, etymologically meaning "an event for drinking together". 'Symposium" is the mere transcription of the Greek word in English, whose meaning has evolved toward mere "meeting" or "conference". In Greek, the stress was on the heavy drinking (posis means "drinking") more than on the meeting, feast and eating implied by the word. Hence my reference to a "drinking binge". (<==)

(25) It is impossible to understand Plato if we assume that, when he talks about the idea of (the) good (hè tou agathou idea), and more generally speaking, of to agathon and it contrary, to kakon ("the bad / evil"), he has in mind only moral good and evil. Plato's Socrates doesn't hold, as is too often said, that no one does willingly evil (which is easily regarded as a paradox), and that, as a result, it suffices to show someone what is evil to stop him from doing it, but he holds that no one does deliberately what one deems (rightly or wrongly) bad for oneself, or at least more detrimental to oneself that the other options available at the time, "bad" being at first taken in the physical sense (what physically hurts, is painful for oneself), before possibly taking a "moral" or "ethical" meaning, involving the soul more than the body. Or, taking the problem the other way around, what Plato's Socrates holds is that all human beings having to choose between several options in any circumstance of life whatsoever, always chooses, consciously (that is, as a resulf of an examination of the various available courses of action) or unconsciously (that is, under the effect of habit), the behavior which seems to him / her the best for oneself (see Republic, VI, 505d5-506a2, and also Symposium, 205a6-7, where Diotima has Socrates admitting that « all [human beings] want that the good [***s ](= (all) which is good) be for them always » (pantas [anthrôpous] tagatha boulesthai hautois einai aei), where tagatha, contraction of ta agatha, plural neuter of agathos nominalized by the use of the article literally meaning "the good [things]", with no restrictions on what "things" are intended, includes everything that can be qualified as "good": things (taken in the broadest sense not limited to "material" things), possessions, behaviors, activities, thoughts..., hence the ***s in my translation rather than a word like "things", the final "s" stressing the fact that tagatha is a plural in Greek, which doesn't show in English since adjectives are invariable). The question then is to determine if what one deems the best for oneself is indeed such in itself and in all its consequences. And it is where education in a broad sense, which never ends, comes into play. The problem each one of us is faced with, is that, as Socrates tells us in the Republic (see Republic IV, 436a8, sq.), man is the compound of a material body and an immaterial "soul" (psuchè) (that is, of something which cannot be explained by strictly marerial and physical processes), and that the unity of this "soul" is not given at birth but has to be built by each one all through one's life through a quest for harmony between the three parts which make up this soul, a part which partakes in logos, that is, reason (one of the meanings of logos along with "speech" (as exhibiting meaning, thus manifesting reason)), another part having multiple faces and subject to the "tyranny" of bodily needs implying, unlike respiration or digestion for instance, a deliberate choice of the subject to be satisfied (epithumiai: hunger, thirst, sexual drive...), and, in between, a third part reacting in a knee-jerk and spontaneous manner to words and representations elicited by words, something akin to self esteem (in Greek, thumos). And the objective, for Plato's Socrates, is not to end up with the dominion of one part over the other two, not even with the dominion of reason over the others, but with harmony between these different parts of man, tripartite soul and body, under the control of reason, but in a balanced act in which each part gets satisfaction enough of its own needs, some "good" for it, so as to accept the reasonable constraints imposed by the satisfaction of the whole of which it is but a part (this is the very question of the good life delt with by Socrates in the Philebus, the dialogue opening the seventh and last tetralogy, as a prelude to the trilogy Timaeus, Critias, Laws, dealing with the practice of the dialektikè presented in the sixth tetralogy (Parmenides - Theaetetus / Sophist / Statesman), sort of "practical work", pictured by the return to the cave at the end of the analogy of the cave of Republi VII. Thus, to agathon as conceived by Plato includes physical good (a good meal, a good nap...) as well as "moral / ethical" good (a good deed, a good behavior...) and "intellectual" good (a good thought, a good reasoning...). (<==)

(26) At Symposium, 198e4-199a3, Socrates explains that praise as conceived by Agathon and his likes consists in showing, at least to simpletons, that what is praised is "the most beautiful and the best" (kallistos kai aristos), suggesting that the one doesn't come without the other for what deserves praise, and at Symposium, 201c2, Socrates has Agathon admit that what is good is beautiful ("don't good [things] also seem to you to be beautiful?", tagatha kai kala ou dokei soi einai;). For the Greeks of that time, the ideal of the accomplished citizen was designated by the word kalokagathia, and such a person was said kalokagathos, contraction of the expression kalos k(ai )agathos, "beautiful and good", and the person's behavior was described by the verb kalokagathein ("to behave as one beautiful and good"). In this perspective, Socrates, whom everybody agreed to consider physically ugly, but whose behavior and conversation many people admired, was a challenge to such a way of thinking : was it possible to be good without being at the same time beautiful (physically)? And conversely, could someone be beautiful (implied: "physically") without being good?... The move from beautiful (kalos) to good (agathos) by means of the notion of fitness / usefulness is examined in the Greater Hippias, where Socrates suggests in turn to define the beautiful from the notion of prepon ("fitting"), of chrèsimon ("serviceable, useful") and eventually of ôphelimon ("beneficial"), which he defines as "the serviceable and capable of producing something toward the good" (to chrèsimon te kai to dunaton epi to agathon ti poièsai, Greater Hippias, 296d8-9), and also "that which produces good" (to poioun agathon », 296e7), a meaning which is perfectly rendered by the English word "beneficial", derived from the Latin bene facere, "do well / do what is good", the latin equivalent of poioun agathon. (<==)

(27) Xenophon's Symposium takes place in the house of Callias, the richest man of Athens, where Plato locates the Protagoras, an encounter between Socrates and the sophists Protagoras, Hippias and Prodicus, in the presence of numerous other characters, including most of the speakers of his Symposium (Eryximachus and Phaedrus among those gathered around Hippias when Socrates arrives at Callias' place, Pausanias and Agathon, his "beloved" at the time, among those gathered around Prodicus, Alcibiades who joins the party after Socrates' arrival and listens to his conversation with Protagoras). It is supposed to celebrate the victory of Autolycus, Callias's beloved, in a pankration contest which took place in 422 or 421 BC, at a time when Xenopon, born around 430 BC, was hardly 10 years old, which precludes him attending it. If admitting my assumptions about the dialogues as part of a structured whole, it is likely that, as I aldeady said, all the dialogues were written over a period of a few years toward the end of Plato's life, which means that Plato's Symposium was much later than Xenophon's, who might even have been dead when Plato wrote it. And if even Xenophon's Symposium, duller and less srtuctured than Plato's, is a fiction, chances are Plato's, written years later, is a fiction too. (<==)

(28) The Menexenus is a dialogue for which scholars have been unable to provide a satisfacory explanation consistent with what could be expected from Plato as understood from the other dialogues in the nowadays universally accepted hypothesis that the dialogues constitute mostly independent works written over a period of about fifty years between the death of Socrates and that of Plato, allowing us to follow the evolution of their author's thought all through his life. In my hypothesis, it finds a justification quite consistent with the pedagogical project of the dialogues seen as the successive steps of an educational program for future philosopher kings destined to govern the ideal city described in the Republic, in which Plato doesn't provide ready-made answers, doesn't develop theories about what he wants his students / readers to understand, but wants to lead them into finding by themselves what he is only pointing at, and thus, doesn't preclude conceiving some dialogues as "tests" of the progress of the students / readers, as is precisely the case with the Menexenus, but also with the Parmenides, which follows it, and the Theaetetus, last step before the Sophist, and also the Critias, deliberately interrupted, but not at random, named after a character whose name precisely means "sorting, judgment, trial" and which constitutes the "final exam" at the end of the program. In this perspective, the Menexenus is the final test at the end of the first cycle, made up of the first five tetralogies, propaedeutic, when the time comes to introduce dialektikè, viewed as the crowning of these studies : will the student / reader understand that this brilliant political speech composed according to the rules taught by teachers of rhetoric such as Gorgias in the time of Socrates and Isocrates in later time who led a school in Athens competing with Plato's Academy, a speech whose authorship is attributed by Socrates in the short preamble of the dialogue to Aspasia, the concubine of Pericles, who was said to write his speeches, is the very example of what should not be done in politics, politics in trompe l'oeil style run by individuals who only seek to advance their own interests and the continuation of ther power by wowing mostly uneducated people with the tricks of rhetoric taught by the sames of Gorgias to serve the crowds what they want to hear rather than facing them with the often unpleasant state of affairs, looking for persuasion rather than truth and not showing much interest in dialektikè, the next topic in the program, or will he understand that this is presicely the kind of politics which Plato's Socrates challenges and that only dialektikè, which will soon be presented, makes it possible to move to another kind of politics, caring for truth and the common good, alone able to make at least those who have the proper dispositions understand a truth that most people don't want to listen to, but whose knowledge is required to lead a politics beneficial to the greatest number in the long term, and to devise for the others "founding myths" used, not to enroll them at the service of the ideology of an "elite" grounding its power in their "aristocratic" (in the bad sense of the word) origins or in their wealth, an example of this being the myth which Critias starts narrating in the dialogue bearing his name (and which Plato puts to an end before its completion in what constitutes the final test), but to present them through the language of images, with what they can't understand through dialektikon reasoning, a language which, even for those who are able to follow reasoning, offers them a way to talk to the lower two parts of their tripartite soul, to the "guts", which also have to be convinced to move from reasoning to acts, in other words, using the image of the soul as a winged chariot moved by two horses used in the Phaedrus, to allow the charioteer to harness the two horses and have them go where he wants to go? (<==)

(29) Because the third tetralogy uses as leading thread Socrates' trial, we could expect as the third speaker Aristophanes, whom, in the Apology, Socrates accuses of having been, through his comedy, The Clouds, partly responsible for the bad opinion Athenians had about him, and thus for his trial. And indeed, Plato informs us that this should have been the case had the order of the participants around the table (of which he is the sole responsible as the author having imagined the scene) been followed as originally agreed, but that when Aristophanes' turn came, he hiccupped so that he was unable to talk, which resulted in a permutation between him and Eryximachus, the physician whose name means "he who fight eructation", with the burp-fighting physician suggesting Aristophanes a trick to fight his hiccup. This humorous interlude allows Plato to suggest that Aristophanes might have been the third speaker, due to his role in Socrates' trial, but that it would have been mean on his part to limit him to this role, in any event hardly fit for a speech in praise of Eros, and not to give him the opportunity to exhibit the whole measure of his talent in an anti-soul rant by having him speak fourth. The fact remains that both, Eryximachus the physician (Mister Burpfighter) and Aristophanes, the comic poet (whose name means "he who shows the best"), concur in a purely materialistic understanding of the world and of "love", which indeed makes them intechangeable without compromozing the progress of the speeches along the lines of the program of the tetraogies. (<==)

(30) It is customary to present Diotima as a priestess or prophetess, but Plato nowhere uses about her a word which might be translated by one of these English words and would suggest some religious function: nowhere in the Symposium, either the word mantis ("diviner, prophet, prophetess") or the word iereia ("priestess") can be found. This wording is probably derive from the anecdote related by Socrates about her at Symposium, 201d3-5 according to which she would have convinced Athenians to offer sacrifices that would have postponed by ten years the plague. Socrates introduces her at Symposium, 201d2 only as "a woman from Mantinea, Diotima" (gunailos mantinikès Diotimas), and, in the ensuing conversation, he addresses her either by her name (seven times), or by the word "stranger" (xenè, at 201e3, 204c7 and 211d2), and compares her to "accomplished sophists" (teleoi sophistai).
That Socrates' narrative mentions several conversations between him and Diotima, and not only one, as might be deduced from the beginning of his narrative, where he refers to the logos (singular) about Eros "he once (pot') heard from a woman...", if pote is understood as referring to a single instance in the past, is confirmed by the use later on of the verb phoitan ("frequent / resort to" with an idea of meeting often) at Symposium, 206b6 to refer to his intercourse with Diotima, and by what he says a few lines later, at Symposium, 207a5-6, in the middle of his narrative, in conclusion of the first part of it: "thus, all these things, she would teach me each time (opote + optative) she was making speeches (logous) on love-matters (peri tôn erôtikôn) and once (pote), she asked..." These words, giving the impression of a lengthy frequentation of Diotima by Socrates and of multiple conversations between them about "love-matters" (ta erôtika), raise questions regarding the possible historicity of Diotima. How Socrates, who never left Athens, except for military campains, always north of Athens and never in Peloponnese, where Mantinea is located, could have had this sort of frequent meetings implied by these words with a woman from Mantinea, short of assuming she had lived in Athens for a while at the time of Socrates' youth? Should we thus see Diotima of Mantinea as a woman having played in Socrates' life a role similar to the one played by Aspasia of Miletus in Pericles' life, her too a stranger for Athenians and her too settled durably in Athens, so much so as to become Pericles' concubine and author some at least of his speeches? But how the durable stay in Athens of such a woman, atypical for her time as was also the case with Aspasia and having frequented Socrrates, could have left no record having come down to us aside from Plato's dialogue, especially if, as Plato has his Socrates tell us to give his character a semblance of historicity, she convinced the Athenians to offer sacrifices which would have postponed the plague by ten years, a fact not mentioned in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian war, though it mentions the plague in book II? And by the way, why postponing by ten years such a scourge, if it eventually took place anyway, should be praised? And how the Athenians could have known that the arrival of the plague (which killed Pericles) had been postponed by ten years, not one more, not one less?... (<==)

(31) The fact that it is possible to find hidden meanings relevant to the themes of the dialogue to the name of characters and places staged by Plato in his dialogues does not imply that these characters and places are fictitious and his creation, since we have seen with the case of the Republic that he was capable of staging historical characters (namely Cephalus / Head and Polemarchus / Warlord) whose names fitted the message he was intent on delivering. The Lysis gives another example of this: this dialogue which, in the first tetralogy, comes immedialtely after the Alcibiades which has posed the question the whole cycle of the dialogues purports to suggest an answer to, namely what skills should possess who wants to govern his fellow human beings and what form should take such a government, stages a historical character, member of one of the leading families of Athens, named Lysis, son of Democrates, who gives his name to the dialogue, but regarding whom we know almost nothing and are in pain to figure out what makes him worthy of that honor in a fiction imagined by Plato, in which he was thus free to stage whom he wanted, until we realize that his name, lusis, means "deliverance, freeing" and the name of his father, Democrates, refers to one of the forms of government described by Socrates in the Republic, democracy, which he characterizes by the excess of freedom it displays (see the page of this site dedicated to its description at book VIII of the Republic, often quoted in scholarly circles as being from Socrates and not from Plato). This choice of characters thus invites us to ask ourselves whether democracy indeed frees us and whether the kind of freeing it generates is desirable or nefarious. In the case of Diotima of Mantinea, Plato didn't invent the city of Mantinea ("Prophet City"), but chances are he invented Diotima and that he was thus free to make her a citizen of any city of his liking. A more relevant hint at the fictitious character of Diotima can be found at Symposium, 205d10-e1, where Plato has Diotima make a hardly veiled allusion to the story of the split men which was the topic of Aristophanes speech, which suggests that Diotima, about whom we are in pain to figure out how, if she were a historical character, she would have been aware years ago of the story here presented by Aristophanes, and most likely devised by him for the occasion, might play in the Symposium the part played in the Greater Hippias by the anonymous questioner used by Socrates as a mask to force Hippias to answer the arguments in discussion rather than attack the persons developing them with ad hominen arguments, as his insistance in trying to have Socrates give the name of this fictitious questioner suggests: instants before introducing Diotima, Socrates had a dialectical discussion with Agathon and the later, beginning to lose ground in this discussion, said he didn't feel up to arguing with Socrates and agreed that things were as he had said, to which Socrates answered that it was with truth, not with Socrates, that he had to argue (Symposium, 201c8-9). By having the arguments he presents, some of which answer arguments presented by his predecessors, come from a person unknown to the attendants to the symposium, besides, from a woman whose name suggests she defends the honor of the greatest god and birthplace suggests she is a practitioner of divination, Socrates forces his listeners to focus on what she says, not on who said it, even when, along the way, he answers through Diotima to one or another of the speakers who preceded him (as, in this case, Aristophanes). (<==)

(32) At the beginning of the Apology, Plato has Socrates tell his age at the time of the trial (seventy years old, see note 6), but this piece of information is, one might say, incidental, having almost no bearing on the understanding of the dialogue, the mention of the trial sufficing. (<==)

(33) Thus, the difficulties the Socrates staged by Plato faces in the Parmenides don't reflect doubts that Plato might have had toward the end of his life on the validity of the theses he would have expounded in prior dialogues (such as the supposed "theory of eidè / ideai"), and especially in the Republic, as supposed in the predominant interpretation of this dialogue for those who admit the "evolutionist" hypothesis about the composition of the dialogues, and this is exactly what Plato wants us to understand by stating that he stages a very young Socrates. Indeed, he doesn't provide this piece of information, which nothing forced him to give (he never gives information on the age of Socrates when he stages him meeting with other thinkers of his time such as Hippias, Gorgias, Cratylus or Protagoras), to increase credibility about the possibility of an encounter between Parmenides and Socrates, whose historical possibility we can't confirm owing to the fact that the Parmenides has been used since antiquity as a leading source for the chronology of Parmenides, even though it conflicts with other sources mentioned in Diogenes Laertius' Lives, that would set the birthdate of Parmenides toward 544-541 BC(see DL, Lives, IX, 23, which dates the acme of Parmenides, that is, the time of his life when he was about forty, around the sixty-ninth Olympiad, that is, in the years 504-501 BC), which means that he would have been sixty-five (the age given him by Plato in the Parmenides, see Parmenides, 127b3) around 479-476 BC, a span of time when Socrates, born in 470-469 BC, was not yet born; he provides it precisely to make us understand why this Socrates, as "imaginary" as the Socrates of the other dialogues but for once different because located in time to satisfy the needs of the pedagogical exercise Plato has in mind with this dialogue, stumbles in the face of Parmenides, in other words, to stage, here again via Socrates, the difficulties posed by Parmenides' theses (which he alludes to in the Theaetetus at Theaetetus, 180d7-e4 and 183e3-184a3, the later explicitely naming Parmenides), difficulties he himself overcame, but wants the reader to confront by himself, using his conversation with a young Socrates as a test of the reader, to see if he would be capable of overcoming Parmenides' arguments with arguments provided by a mature Socrates in previous dialogues. The most obvious example of this is given by the so called third man argument, which Parmenides uses in a fallacious way in the Parmenides to challenge the notion of eidos / idea (to him, it is the same thing) as he thinks the young Socrates understand it (after having prompted it to him), but which the mature Socrates of the Republic had used appropriately in the discussion about the three sorts of beds (see Republic, X, 597c1-9), to prove the unicity of the idea (not of the eidos, which to him, is something else) (on this specific point, you may consult the page of this site, in French only, titled L'argument du troisième homme). (<==)

(34) At Phaedo, 59b5-c6, Phaedo gives a list of the persons who were present; aside from himself, he mentions Apollodorus, Critobulus and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Épiganes, Aeschines, Antistenes, Ctesippus, Menexenus, plus a few other Athenian people, and also, as far as « strangers » are concerned, Simmias, Cebes, Phaidonides, Euclid and Terpsion, that is, fifteen named persons plus those unnamed. And he ends his enumeration expressing doubts about its completeness. (<==)

(35) That is, the thirty tyrants who, under the leadership of, among others, Critias, a cousin of Plato's mother, and with the help of Sparta took power in Athens after its defeat in the Peloponnesion war against Sparta and installed there a regime of terror soon overthrown by the Democrats. (<==)

(36) If we admit that there is a historical basis to both the meeting between Socrates and Theaetetus while a teenager (meirakion, Theaetetus, 143e5 ; 144c8...), supposed to have taken place the day Socrates was summoned to the Porch of the King to answer Meletos' claim, as the last words of the dialogue tell us, that is, a few days or weeks before his trial and death in 399 BC, and the story of Theaetetus' participation in a military campaign of Athens against Corinth where he met his death, as can be deduced from the words of Euclid about his condition when he met him in Megara, a campaign which, according to historians, could have taken place either in 394 BC, that is, about five years after Socrates' death, at a time when Theaetetus would have been only about twenty years old, or in 369 BC, that is, about thirty years after Socrates' death, at a time when Theaetetus would have been about forty-five to fifty years old and when Euclid, if still living, was an old man near death, usually supposed to have occured between 369 BC and 366 BC (for a birthdate around 450 BC), then the reading of Euclid's work to Terpsion would have occured either five years or thirty years after the reported meeting. (<==)

(37) « Honoring (timan) Zeus » is one possible meaning of the name "Diotima". (<==)

(38) The first words of Diotima are at Symposium, 201e10, and her last words at 212a7. The last of the 14 referenced to Eros as a god or daimôn is at 204d4, that is, toward the third page out of about ten pages encompassing the narrative of the conversations between Socrates and Diotima. After, it is only question of love, eros without capital letter, 17 occurrences, the last one being at 208c4, which leaves about four pages out of ten, that is, close to one half of this narrative, where there is no mention of Eros, with or without capital letter. (<==)

(39) "Horses" and "charioteer" of the soul refer to the image of the soul given by Socrates in his second speech in the Phaedrus (see Phaedrus, 246a6-b4 et 253c7, sq.), an image meant to illustrate by analogy the tripartition of the soul detailed by Socrates in book IV of the Republic (see on this question of the tripartite soul note 25 above; the tripartition of the soul is described at Republic, IV, 436a8, sq.). (<==)

(40) Regarding the good (to agathon), see note 25, and regarding the move from beautifull to good, . (<==)

(41) Oinos aneu te paidôn kai meta paidôn èn alethès (Symposium, 217e3-4). Alcibiades combines two proverbs: "in vino veritas" in its latin form often quoted as such, or in English “in wine there is truth”, and "out of the mouths of babes comes truth", the reference to babes / children (pais, plural paides, in Greek) being suggested by the fact that, in the kind of homosexual relations between persons of differing ages Alcibiades is alluding to at this point of his speech, the younger one, here Alcibiades in his relation with Socrates, was designated by the word pais. (<==)

(42) About the expression kalos kagathos, contraction of kalos kai agathos ("beautifull and good"), see note 26. (<==)

(43) On the question of being master of oneself, of "ruling oneself" (heautou archein), see Gorgias, 491d4-e1. The wole purpose of the Republic is to invite us to move from an exclusively social understanding of justice, concerning only relations between individuals, toward an undrstanding of justice grounding social harmony within the city into inner harmony that each one must establish within oneself between the various parts of one's tripartite soul (see note 25). The whole structure of the Republic, which takes as a starting point the analogy between the "large letters" regarding justice that can be read in the city and the "small letters" harder to read in the soul (see Republic, II, 368c7-369a3), thus mixing psychological concerns (the organization of the psuchè ("soul")) and political concerns (the organizaion of the polis ("city / state")), and conducting in parallel in books VII and VIII the description of the different political regimes and of the different types of men corresponding to those different political regimes, stems from this enlargment of the notion of justice to its "psychological" dimension et explains why the dialogue deals simultaneously with psychology and politics. Justice so understood, as inner harmony in the soul as the foundation of social harmony within the city, becomes in the end the idea / ideal of incarnate man, which justifies the place of the Republic as middle dialogue of the whole structure of the dialogues (the middle dialogue of the trilogy of the middle tetralogy), sort of its "keystone". (<==)

(44) The question may then be asked whether Socrates, by saving Alcibiades' life when he was still very young at Potidea but having been unable to "save" his soul in later life, did good to Athens or on the contrary contributed to its ruin by allowing Alcibiades to play a leading role in the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war, largely due to the fiasco of the Sicilian expedition (see Thucydides, History, VI - VII) which he had initiated but couldn't lead to victory because of his implication during its preparation in two scandals (mutilation of the hermai and profanation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, see History, VI, 27-28), the judicial consequences of which forced him to leave the expedition and to let it under the command of Nicias (who had opposed it from the start but had been put in charge of it along with Alcibiades by the Athenians, along with a third general named Lamachus, to restrain him), and to follow a ship sent to bring him back to Athens after his political opponents had him condemned to death in absentia. Unfortunately for Athens, after Alcibiades' departure, Nicias led the Athenian army to its ruin and it eventually ended up prisoner of the Syracusians, Nicias was put to death and the rest of the army perished from hunger or diseases in the stone quarries used as jails by the Syracusians (see History, VII, 86-87). As far as Alcibiades is concerned, on his way back to Athens, he managed to slip away from the ship which was bringing him back to Athens and that he was following in his own ship (see History, VI, 61), and eventually went away to the enemy, Sparta, helping it with sound advice (see History, VI, 88-93). This defeat considerably reduced Athens' military power in the ongoing war, which was eventually won by Sparta. In other words, if Alcibiades' speech exonerates Socrates of the accusation of having had a bad influence on him through his supposed "teaching", a charge the Athenains raised against him at his trial, it introduces a potential new charge against Socrates regarding Alcibiades, the fact that, by saving his life (if the story told by Plato, known to us only through the Symposium, is true), he made it possible for him to later contribute to the defeat of Athens, which couldn't have been possible had he died at Potidea. (<==)

(45) If, as I suggest, all the dialogues of Plato are fictions, the irony that can be felt in the words of a Socrates who is to some extent his creation, might well be but Platonic irony. Irony is not the main character of Xenophon's Socrates. (<==)

(46) In the Sophist, the Elean Stranger gives a definition of "to be / being" (einai / on), which is probably the only formal definition, in the manner of Aristotle, that can be found in all the dialogues, and which achieves the treat of putting no limits to what fits the "definition", even though the Greek word translated by "definition" is horos, whose original meaning is "limit, boundary", and the Greek verb translated by "define" is horizein, whose original meaning is "bound, delimit": "I declare then that whatever possesses the least power either to act upon whatever else of any nature or to suffer even in the most trifling way under the slightest one, even if only once, all this [I declare] to be in the manner of a being;* for I set up as a definition to define beings (ta onta) that it is nothing else but potentiality." (legô dè to kai hopoianoun tina kektèmenon dunamin eit' eis to poiein heteron hotioun pephukos eit' eis to pathein kai smikrotaton hupo tou phaulotatou, kan ei monon eis hapax, pan touto ontôs einai: tithemai gar horon horizein ta onta hôs estin ouk allo ti plèn dunamis ; Sophist, 247d8-e4). In other words, the only time Plato comes up with a definition in the dialogues, he uses a wording which can apply to absolutely everything. What Plato is trying to make us understand with these words of the Elean Stranger is that the verb einai (« to be ») doesn't have a meaning by itself, but is only a linguistic tool (a copula) meant to assert (affirmative use) or deny (use with a negation) the link between a subject (a "being" (on)) and a predicative expression (ousia) which is supposed relevant (affirmative clause) or irrelevant (negative clause) to the subject being considered, so that anything may become a "being" (on) as soon as it is used as the subject of a phrase having the form « s is p » (s subject, p predicative expression), or even of a phrase having the form « s is not p » since in order to say that p is not relevant for s, we must admit that s "is" somethong of which it is possible to negate certain predicative expresions (it "is" at least the subject of the phrase "s is not p"). That the verb einai is not a verb like any other is confirmed by the Elean Stranger when, at Sophist, 262c2-5, to explain the role of verbs in a meaningfull logos, which is to identify an activity (praxis) or a lack of activity (apraxia), he must add something to specfically deal with the case of the verb einai ("to be"), which precisely doen't imply any specific activity or lack of activity, but merely states "the beingness of a being or of a not being" (ousian ontos [è] mè ontos), that is to say states the relevance (affirmative form ontos) or the irrelevance (negative form mè ontos) of whatever is introduced by the verb einai ("to be") regarding the subject (the on which is or is not that), called generically ousia (which I translate by "beingness", a word formed in English as ousia in Greek, that is, a substantive formed after the feminine form ousa of the present participle of einai ("to be"), which must be construed based on what is said here, that is, in a strictly grammatical perspecive, not based on any other potential meaning, and especially not those of "essence" or "substance", or any other term with ontological connotations). (<==)

* The words "in the manner of a being" translate literally the Greek adverb ontôs, derived from the genitive ontos of the present participle of the verb einai (to be), usually translated as "really", to stress the redundancy which exists in Greek in the words ontôs einai since the adverb suppose to qualify the verb comes from a form of that verb, a fact that is lost in the usual translation "really be" and which shows the difficulty surrounding the notion of "being". A shorter translation using a probable neologism but closer to the Greek would be "beingly be".

(47) The followers of Euclid of Megara ended up being called "dialecticians", but the dialektikè as they practiced it, through questions and answers, was closer to Atistotle's logic than to dialektikè as understood by Plato, because they too had not understood the importance of the questions about how logos works and about the meaning of words, hence the need for him to show his difference. (<==)

(48) Socrates introduces himself at the beginning of the dialogue as a "midwife" of thought (dianoia), claiming that he is able to appraise the fecundity and worth with regard to truth of these thoughts (Theaetetus, 150b9-c3). And in the course of the dialogue, he defines "to think" (dianoeisthai, the verb from which dianoia stems), as producing a logos that the soul addresses to itself (Theaetetus, 189e4-190a7). And anyway, it is possible to appraise the worth of someone else's thought only if it is expressed through audible logoi ("speeches") and not only as silent thoughts. So, eventually, what Socrates delivers his interlocutors of and whose worth he apprises are indeed logoi. (<==)

(49) The problem for those reading this dialogue only in translations and not having access to the Greek text, is that most translators feel the need to add occurrences of the word "philosopher" where Plato didn't use the word philosophos and left verbs without explicit subject, the implicit one being what Socrates has described, when introducing their portrait, as "the choir leaders" of "those who spend / waste their time in philosophy" (tous diatribontas en philosophiai, Theaetetus, 173c7-9, in which the verb diatribein may mean "spend time" in a positive sense as well as "waste time" in a negative sense). This is for instance the case with Fowler's translation for the Loeb edition, available online at Perseus, in which the word "philosopher" is added in the translation at 173e and 175b where the word philosophos doesn't appear in the Greek text, and in Jowett's translation of 1892 available online at OLL, in which the word "philosopher" is used five times (plus one in the plural) between the beginning of the portrait and the only place toward the end where the word philosophos is used in the Greek text of Plato. (<==)

(50) The dialogue between Socrates and Callicles in the Gorgias ends up with a myth, as is the case with the discussion about justice in the Republic, which ends up with the myth of Er, and the discussion about the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo, which also ends up on a myth, which is thus the last word of Socrates on the issue before he drinks the hemlock (<==)

(51) This is indeed the meaning of the image of the winged chariot in the Phaedrus (see note 39). Only the two horses (in short, drives (epithumiai) and self-esteem (thumoeidès)) can move the chariot, which stands for the body, not the charioteer (reason (logos)), who must use the horses to move the chariot on earth. The wings figure the ability of man to raise toward the divine with the help of logos, but this kind of "movement" remains abstract, it is only a "movement" of thought. (<==)

(52) Ennoiai ("inner thoughts in the making") here envisioned, as the use of the plural and the prefix en- ("in") in ennoia show , are thoughts that incessantly pass through the mind of whoever is not asleep or dreaming, which are no more fixed than the impressions of the senses. (<==)

(53) See Republic X, 596a6-7: "we are, methinks, in the habit of positing some eidos, unique in each case, for each of the many [things] upon which we impose the same name". (<==)

(54) A more detailed analysis of these two images and of the way of making them work together is available (in French only) on the page of this site titled Tablette de cire et colombier. (<==)

(55) The description Socrates makes of his art is as follows:* "The same other [things]** as in the case of these (the midwifes he just talked about] result from my art of midwifery,*** but it differs by the [fact of] delivering men rather than women and by the [fact of] overseing their begetting soul rather than body. But the most important [thing] in that art of mine [is] this: to be able to put to the test under all angles whether the thought (dianoia) of the youth begets an illusion (eidôlon) and a lie (pseudos) or [something] productive (gonimon) and true (alèthes). And since indeed this too results (from the art they practice) for me as for midwives, I'm sterile of knowledge / wisdom and thus, regarding what many reproach me, the fact that I ask others [questions] but never produce / display (apophainomai) anything due to the fact that I am in no way knowledgeable / wise (dia to mèden echein sophon), they reproach me [something] true. But the cause of this [is] as follows: to deliver, the god compels me, to beget, he has forbidden me. I am myself in no way knowledgeable / wise (sophos) and, [coming] from me, there is no such (that is, wise) discovery (heurèma) engendered as a child of my soul, but those who hold converse with me, some of whom seem at first too quite ignorant (amatheis), all however, this holding converse (sunousia) proceeding, those at least whom the god permits, [it's] amazing how they improve (epidinontes), in the opinion (dokousi) of both themselves and the others. And [this] is clear, that, from me, they never learned (mathontes) anything, but [that] they, by themselves, have found and engendered (heurontes te kai tekontes) many beautiful [things / thoughts / ideas / reflexions / deeds...] (polla kai kala). Yet, of this midwifery (maieias), the god and myself [are] responsible (aitios)." (Tèi de g' emèi technèi tès maieuseôs ta men alla huparchei hosa ekeinais, diapherei de tôi te andras alla mè gunaikas maieuesthai kai tôi tas psuchas autôn tiktousas episkopein alla mè ta sômata. Megiston de tout' eni tèi hèmeterai technèi, basanizein dunaton einai panti tropôi poteron eidôlon kai pseudos apotiktei tou neou hè dianoia è gonimon te kai alèthes. Epei tode ge kai emoi huparchei hoper tais maiais, agonos eimi sophias, kai hoper èdè polloi moi ôneidisan, hôs tous men allous erôtô, autos de ouden apophainomai peri oudenos dia to mèden echein sophon, alèthes oneidizousin. To de aition toutou tode: maieuesthai me ho theos anagkazei, gennan de apekôlusen. Eimi dè oun autos men ou panu ti sophos, oude ti moi estin heurèma toiouton gegonos tès emès psuchès ekgonon, hoi d' emoi suggignomenoi to men prôton phainontai enioi men kai panu amatheis, pantes de proiousès tès sunousias, hoisper an ho theos pareikèi, thaumaston hoson epididontes, hôs hautois te kai tois allois dokousi. Kai touto enarges hoti par' emou ouden pôpote mathontes, all' autoi par' hautôn polla kai kala heurontes te kai tekontes. Tès mentoi maieias ho theos te kai egô aitios. Théétète, 150b6-e1).
* in the translation, words that are not in the Greek text but have been added for a better understanding are between square brackets in upright characters and the important Greek words are added between parentheses in upright characters; in the complete transcript of the Greek text at the end those important Greek words, which don't always show up in the same order as in the translation are in boldface characters.
** the alla, translated as "other"must be understood, as the Greek allows, with regard to what follows ("but it differs..."), not to what preceded.
*** "midwifery" translates maieusis, at the root of the English word "maieutic" precisely used to refer to the art of Socrates envisioned in this way.


(56) That, for instance, he would reject the argument ascribed to Zeno of Elea claiming that Achilles (or anybody able to run) starting with a handicap in a race with a turtle (that is, starting at a distance behind the turtle) would never catch up with the turtle since when he reaches point A0 where the turtle started, the turtle has moved to point A1, and when he reaches point A1, the turtle is father ahead at point A2, and so on ad infinitum, the turtle thus always having a lead over its pursuer, by appealing to the fact that experience contradicts the conclusion, that everybody knows that Achilles would indeed catch up on the turtle and pass it, and thus, that there must be something wrong with the argument and the assumptions it relies on. (<==)

(57) (Note: since this note refers to a Greek-French dictionnary, translating it into English would be betraying the author. I thus leave it untranslated for those who read French) Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque (in French), donne pour epistèmè, dérivé du verbe episthamai (« savoir, comprendre »), les sens de « connaissance pratique, capacité à », puis « connaissance, science », par opposition à doxa (« opinion »), pour sophos « qui sait, qui maîtrise un art ou une technique », et aussi « instruit, intelligent », et pour sophia « habileté à faire », utilisé aussi pour parler de la sagesse pratique et finalement de la sagesse en général. (<==)

(58) The Socrates of the Republic insists on the fact that women as well as men can become guardians of the city, and thus also leaders (since the leaders are chosen among the best guardians), the only relevant question being their fitness for the job they are destined to, which has nothing to do with sex, which is relevant only regarding generation. The Socrates drawing his self-portrait in the Theaetetus claims he "delivers" only men, not women (see Theaetetus, 150b7-8). (<==)

(59) See Republic VII, 540a7: at least fifty years since a close reading of the text which describes what happens at fifty shows that it only marks the end of the selection process of the future rulers (men and women), but not the end of the learning process of those selected at the end of this long process, who will have one last stage of formation before assuming, alternatively with more periods of "formation", which won't end before death (since sophia is an ideal unreachable in this life but which we can / should always try to come closer to), a role of ruler to "bring order in the city and individuals and themselves for the rest of their life in turn, spending the greatest part of their time in philosophy, but, when their turn comes, taking even greater pains in political affairs and assuming each and every one leading positions in favor of the city, doing it not as something beautiful / fine, but as something of necessity, and, after having thus educated each time others like thelselves, having left them behind to take over the role of guardians of the city, depart (by dying) to inhabit the Islands of the Blessed" (Republic VII, 540a9-b7). (<==)

(60) It is in that same dialogue, Phaedo, that Socrates, at the end of his life, explains that the fact of not being able to reach sophia in the strongest sense of the word in this life is no reason for despair and for throwing the baby out with the bath water by becoming "misologist", that is, coming to hate logos because it doesn't allow us to know everything and undesrtand everything, which would be the worst form of misanthropy (see Phaedo, 89d1) since it is what makes us human beings (anthrôpoi), who are not gods and must accept this gift of the gods (theou moira, see Republic VI, 493a1-2 and note 32 (in French) on my translation in French of this text) with all the imperfections and limits it implies, but which alone can allow them to come closer to the gods. (<==)

(61) It should be noted that Socrates doesn't say much about what those who hold converse with him find and engender. Making use of the turn of phrase available in Greek allowing the use of adjectives in the neuter plural without an associated noun (a turn that most translators render by adding a word such as "things"), he only describes these productions by the words polla kai kala ("many and beautiful"), without saying whether what is" many and beautiful" are thoughts, ideas, logoi, arguments, or even possibly acts. It can only be deduced from the fact that Socrates claims to be able to appraise their truth that it cannot be inner thoughts in the mind of the person who "begets" them and has to at least take the form of logoi audibly formulated. But if they are logoi, qualifying them as "beautiful", coming from Socrates, at least from the Socrates of Plato, is not necessarily a praise! To teach to compose "beautiful" logoi is what Gorgias claimed to be able to do, and the fact that the speech of Agathon in the Symposium is "beautiful" doesn't mean it is true, which is the only thing Socrates cares about regarding logoi. In any event, he doesn't call these productions "knowledge" and doen't claim that those who produced them have turned sophoi. (<==)

(62) The same words, for instance, using again the example of the Meno, "the square built on the diagonal of a given square has an area double that of the original square", may constitute knowledge for one person and opinion for another: knowledge for a geometry teacher teaching it to his students and able to demonstrate it, possibly using different words, a mere opinion for a student who can recite it by rote without having understood its demonstration, not to mention the case of a foreigner who would learn by rote the sounds that make up this formula (in the same way opera singers can learn the words of an aria in a foreign language without necessarily understanding the meaning of what they sing) without understanding the words he recites if he doesn't speak English, or that of a recording device recording them and able to replay them as recorded. (<==)

(63) The slave could for instance memorize the word "diagonal" and use it if somebody else asked him the same question, but be unable to demonstrate it is the right answer, iin which case he wouldn't have a knowledge, but a mere opinion, or on the contrary forget the word "diagonal", but have memorized the line of reasoning and be able to give the right answer on a drawing and demonstrate it as did Socrates with him, in which case he would have the knowledge of it and no longer a mere opinion, even if he doesn't remember the "technical" name of the line corresponding to the answer, which it is by the way impossible to give in numerical form as a ratio (one of the meanings of logos) between two integral numbers from the length of the side of the initial square (two feet in the statement of the problem by Socrates) since this ratio (square root of two) is an "irrational" (alogos) number which cannot be exactly written with figures, even in decimal format, since it implies an infinite number of figures after the decimal point succeeding in unpredictable order (it is impossible to predict the nth decimal from the knowledge of the n-1 which have preceeded, as is for instance the case with 1/3, whose decimals, in infinite number, are all equal to 3). Thus, it is possible for the slave (on for anybody else) to know the answer with certainty without knowing either the word which describes it or the figure corresponding to it. (<==)

(64) Relevant examples are the end of the Gorgias, where, faced with the refusal of Callicles to further answer his questions because they become more and more embarrassing for him, Socrates brings the dialogue to an end by making himself both questions and answers, or the images produced by Socrates in the Republic, parallel between good and sun, analogy of the line and allegory of the cave, since, even though these images are not rational reasoning and require from the part of the listeners / readers some "decoding", they nonetheless are "productions / displays" of Socrates. And, in his self-portrait, Socrates doesn't say that people reproch him of not giving his own answers to the questions he asks, but more broadly never to "produce / display" anything, using the verb apophainesthai, whose original meaning is "making manifest (phainesthai) something coming from oneself (apo)", even if one of the possible meanings of apophainesthai used without direct object is "make known one's opinion" and one of the meanings of the derived substantive apophasis is "answer". (<==)

(65) But this was not in line witht the way Greeks of the time understood begetting, since they viewed the "germ" of the child (Aristotle would say the "form") entirely provided by the semen of the father, the mother only providing the "nest" in which that seed would grow and the "matter" necessary for its growth. (<==)

(66) It should be noticed that it is the same verb apantan, whose original meaning is "move from a place to meet a person", but which is also a law-term meaning "appear in court / present oneself (at a trial)", which is used by Socrates to refer to his summons at the Porch of the King and to the meeting with Theodorus he calls for the next day. In the first instance, he uses the verbal adjective of obligation apantèteon derived from that verb ("one / I must appear in court"), which implies a binding legal obligation; in the second instance, he uses the verb at the first person plural of the imperative (apantômen), which also suggests an obligation, but an obligation which relies only on the good will of those it is addressed to. (<==)

(67) I translate the reading heteron ("other / different") de tôn amphi Parmenidèn kai Zènôna hetairôn found in some manuscripts rather than the reading hetairon ("companion / disciple") de tôn amphi Parmenidèn kai Zènôna [hetairôn] given by Burnet (OCT) and all modern editors (the square brackets suggesting that the final hetairôn, deemed redundant with the initial hetairon, should be suppressed), in complete agreement with the rationale for it given by Nestor Cordero in annex I of his translation in French of the Sophist for GF-Flammarion (n° 687, 1993). The whole dialogue shows that the Stranger is not a follower of Parmenides, against which he himself avows in the course of the dialogue committing a "parricide" in thought, and thus is indeed « different » (heteron) from the « disciples » (hetairôn) of Parmenides and Zeno. (<==)

(68) Plato used the adjective politikos ("having to do witht the city (polis) / State") substantivized by the article to designate a person dealing with public affairs, what is called in English "politics", a word precisely derived from this Greek word. Thus, there are indeed in Greek three words, sophistès, politikos and philosophos, the problem being to determine wheter they are different names for the same persons or designate different kinds of persons, or at least different skills and activities for persons who might deserve several of these appellations, for instance politikos and philosophos, in the same way the same person can be at the same time father (of his children), husband (of his wife) and son (of his parents). And this question is raised here in a specific context, that of interlocutors speaking the same language (Greek) but coming from places far away from one another (Socrates, Theaetetus and Socrates' young namesake are Athenians, Theodorus comes fron Cyrene in Lybia and the Stranger comes from Elea in Italy), so that nothing guarantees that they all give the exact same meaning to at least some of the Greek words they use. Hence the question of Socrates to the Stranger, which amounts to asking him: "Theororus, who is from Lybia, just told us, who are from Athens, that you are what he calls a philosophos. I got earlier a flavor of the way he understands this word (by his acceptance of the portrait Socrates drew for him in the Theaetetus). But, as far as you are concerned, what is the meaning given this word by your fellow-Eleans and, since we are at it and there is sometimes confusion between these words, what is the meaning they give the words sophistès et politikos?". (<==)

(69) But it should be noticed that, since the initial objective was to allow the Elean Stranger to explain what his fellow-citizens, that is, the citizens of Elea, in Italy, meant by the words "sophist", "statesman" and "philosopher", a dialogue between two Athenians named Socrates wouldn't do the job of completing the set program! (<==)

(70) In this perspective, the first exchanges with the Stranger are not encouraging: when Socrates asks him whether he prefers to proceed by questions and answers (the methon having the preference of Plato's Socrates) or continuous speech, he answers that with a "harmless and tractable" interlocutor, the method by questions and answers is easier but that otherwise he prefers continuous speech, before accepting the dialogical form and abide by Socrates' suggestion to choose Theaetetus as his interlocutor. But here again ambiguity is king since the Socrates who asks this question takes as an example of dialogue by questions and answers the conversation with his fellow-citizen Parmenides he witnessed when he was young (see Sophist, 217c5-8), that is, the one narrated in the Parmenides, which is a dialogue only by name and where Parmenides chose as his interlocutor the youngest among those present because "he would be the less meddlesome and the most likely to say what he thinks, and at the same time, his answering would afford me rest" (Parmenides, 137b6-8). And this reference is precisely meant to remind us of the Parmenides which opens this tetralogy and invites us to ask ourselves what exactly is the method by questions and answers. And in this reflexion which implies comparing the two dialogues, we may notice that the Stranger chooses Theaetetus as his interlocutor while acknowledging he already had the occasion to talk with him earlier (Sophist, 218a1-2), which can be understood in two opposite ways, meaning that he was able to determine either that he would indeed be a "harmless and tractable" interlocutor of the kind of the Aristotle of the Parmenides, or on the contrary that it was possible to have with him serious and fruitful conversations in which he wouldn't simply be a stooge. (<==)

(71) The quote of the Republic I refer to here, which defines the eidos as that which we assume behind a plurality which we associate a same name / word to, doesn't refer to the same plurality depending on whether we are talking about a common name like man, horse, table or bed, where the involved plurality is that of multiple instances distinct in space and time of a same "kind" of things, or of proper names like Socrates or Theaetetus, where the plurality under consideration is only that of the temporal succession of material wholes constituting a unique person (or thing: a river, a country...). But if we think that Plato, in his dialogues, and specifically here, in these "tests" of the student / reader who is expected to understand what a philosophos is without Plato having to write a dialogue bearing this name to tell him / her, is not far from considering by metonymy "Socrates" as almost synonymous with philosophos (in the same way the name of the Greek Hero Adonis is used in English as a common name to designate a handsome young man, or the name of the Venitian adventurer of the XVIIIth century Casanova to designate a womanizer), then, the name "Socrates" may be seen as a common name having an associated eidos pointing toward an idea which is the same as the one associated with philosophos. (<==)

(72) Here again, the answer is not a "square" one. Indeed, Theaetetus has revealed himself sterile in the face of Socrates regarding the question on what knowledge is (epistèmè), but he was praised by Socrates (which Socrates? That or Euclid or that of Plato?...) at the beginning of the discussion, when, at Theaetetus, 155d1-7, he commended him for being able to wonder (thaumazein), as he saw this feeling as the origin (archè) of philosophy. But at the same time, the prologue of the Theaetetus is supposed to take place shortly before Theaetetus' death, and Euclid mentions only this remote meeting between him, still a teenager, and Socrates, who only praises the potential he sees in Theaetetus, but nothing else which might confirm that this potential led Theatetus to wonderful accomplisments on the path toward philosophy. And Theaetetus seems to be regarded by Tradition as a mathematician rather than a philoosopher while, for Plato, mathematics are only a prelude to philosophy. And as far as Young Socrates, most likely a creation of Plato, is concerned, all we know about him is what can be deduced from the Statesman and a few words at the beginning of the Theaetetus. (<==)

(73) Critias was a cousin of Plato's mother and was one of the leaders of the Thirty Tyrants who took power in Athens with the help of Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War, lost by Athens, in 404 BC, and who shortly led a regime of terror which Plato criticizes in the VIIth Letter. He was killed at the battle which allowed the democrats to overthrow their regime and regain power in Athens. His name derives from the word krisis, meaning "choice, judgment", which might well be, more than his not so glorious political role, one of the reasons why Plato chose him for the role he plays in this dialogue: he is the occasion of a krisis for the student / reader, testing one's understanding of what one learned so far. (<==)

(74) Critias, 121b7-c5 : the last word of the dialogue is eipen (« said »), whose subject is Zeus the god of gods (theos de ho theôn Zeus) a few lines earlier at the start of the long infinished sentence. (<==)

(75) For instance:
- Why did Plato write the Menexenus, which makes him a particularly gifted rival of the orators he criticizes in the other dialogues, especially the Gorgias and Phaedrus?
- Why did Plato stage in the Parmenides a Socrates who is not capable of defending against Parmenides the theses which will become his own (if not of the historical Socrates, at least of the one staged by Plato) and what meaning should be given to the "tedious game" between Parmenides and Aristotle?
- Why does Socrates uses with Theaetetus images (the soul as a block ow wax and as a dovecote) which he himself proves not working for the purpose he indends them to serve (to explain the possiblity of false speech)?
- Why does the Elean Stranger take the place of Socrates at the very time we reach the most important parts of the program?
- Why Plato didn't write a Philosopher, which seemed the promised natural continuation of the Sophist and Statesman?
- Why does the Critias stops suddenly in the middle of a sentence, and why at this specific point?
- Why the Critias was not followed by a Hermocrates, as announced in the Timaeus and Critias? (<==)

(76) In the time of Plato, a "book" (biblos or biblion, see Apologie, 26d8, where Socrates mentions books (biblia) of Anaxagoras which young Athenians could buy (or have read to them) for a drachma) was a roll of papyrus on which the text was handwritten. The copy could be done by the reader himself or one of his slaves from a copy lended him or which he had access to or by a professional on order from the buyer, or else by a seller who had employees hired for that purpose copying books in multiple instances for him to sell. But, in all cases, each "book" was the result of a specific copy by hand of the whole text. And of course, there were neither copyrights nor legal deposit, so that the author had very little mastery of what happened to his works as soon as one copy of the book (including the original) existed, that could be copied, with or without his consent, if he was not the custodian of it. (<==)

(77) The fact that he might have started using the dialogues with "students" of the Academy, if that were the case, is not incompatible with the possibility that he might have modified some, or all, of them over the years, quite the contrary, in much the same way the author of school books may produce successive edition of his manuals to take into account the remarks made on earlier versions. (<==)

(78) In the Sophist, the Elean Stranger, at the start of an inquiry about "what can possibly be logos" (logon... ti pot' estin ; Sophist, 260a7-8), explains that "[it is] through the interwining of eidè between one another [that] logos comes into being for us" (dia tèn allèlôn tôn eidôn sumplokèn ho logos gegonen hèmin ; Sophist, 259e5-6). And later, he explain that is true (alèthès) a logos which "tells beings as it is" (legei... ta onta hôs estin, Sophist, 263b4). (<==)

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First published July 3rd, 2024  - Last updated July 3rd, 2024
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