Why is Socrates so influential?

There are two kinds of responses people make to this question, because Socrates affected later philosophy in at least two ways. First of all, he must have been an extraordinary person, both charismatic and counter-cultural. He seemed to embody the values he inquired into. As a result he could ask probing questions about what a friend is without failing to be a friend. He could ask whether anyone understood courage, but ask as a courageous person rather than as a coward looking to undermine the virtue. He struck his friends as possessing what we call a sixth sense, what he called a "sign" that a spirit brought him in certain circumstances. That is Socrates the person. Meanwhile Socrates philosophized in a systematic way, trying to develop a new way for human beings to analyze and assess difficult concepts, and especially the concepts of moral and political philosophy. He was not the first ancient intellectual to prioritize thinking about values ahead of thinking about the non-human universe (the...
Law

What was the biggest procedural error made at Socrates' Trial that no fair legal system today would make? Why didn't those Greeks think about it back then?

The Athenians followed some sound procedures in their legal cases that we respect today, like having the jury decide one's guilt or innocence and letting the defense speak last. We know a fair amount about how courtroom speeches worked, not to be sure in Socrates' own time but in the decades after his death, because we have over 100 speeches by plaintiffs and defendants. Plato tells us a lot about the trial of Socrates but we can't trust him entirely. After all his version differs from that of Xenophon. So anything we say will have to be provisional and attentive to the limitations on our evidence. Some of the weaknesses of ancient trials followed from the difference in technology between then and now, which translated into a difference in credentials and proof. John Dillon's book SALT AND OLIVES spends a lot of time discussing ancient legal cases, and sometimes points out how things we consider trivially easy had to be argued in court then. For instance, an ID card and birth certificate today...

I have been reading some of Aristotle's explanations of physical phenomena and I'm left wondering, "Did he get anything right?" Did he?

I don't know how broadly or how narrowly you're using the word "physical," but if your "physical phenomena" include everything that takes place in the physical world, i.e. everything biological, then the answer is clearly Yes. As an observer of animals, the parts of animals, and their internal anatomy, both Aristotle's methodology and his actual statements are impressive. This is not to say he's right all the time, or even most of the time. Sometimes he can look right at an organ, like a heart, and misdescribe it. (This is not to mention his failure to understand how the blood circulates.) I imagine you'd rather hear the assessment from a modern biologist than from a philosopher, and so I recommend the recent book THE LAGOON by Armand Marie Leroi. Leroi is a biologist who makes clear what Aristotle observed correctly, what he missed, and where (as in his thinking about natural selection) his presuppositions prevented him from drawing better conclusions from his observations. The book is written...

Did Plato and Aristotle have economic philosophies? Or were they smart enough to avoid the dismal science?

Sometimes when you discuss ancient philosophers it’s allright to be a little anachronistic. Sowe can discuss Aristotle and technology, even though what he would have known as technology was close to nothing compared to what we find in the modern world. Or we talk about Plato and democracy in spite of the huge differences between the democracy that he lived in and the representative democracies of the past few centuries. There are other times when such tolerance for anachronism comes to an end, and I’d say that talk of economics is one of those times. No economic philosophy occurs in either one’s work, or in the work of any near-contemporary of theirs; and the most important reason must be that the economies they lived in were nowhere near sophisticated enough to make state economic policies possible, or to let such phenomena as employment fluctuations be studied. Look at a city like Athens,one of the largest populations in Greece and probably the wealthiest. Its economy was based (as all ancient...

Is evolution a problem for Platonists? Can there be a form for organisms that by there nature change, even if individual examples of species do not? Another way of saying it is that species are organic processes, and I have difficulty imagining an essential, unchanging process.

The problem you describe is obviously a threat to Aristotle's view of nature and of the species of plants and animals (which may be why Aristotle argues against Darwin in Book 2 of the Physics). As you say, "species are organic processes" -- although you ought to recognize that this conception of biological species is our shared conception of species after Darwin. Darwin has indeed made many elements of the ancient theory of nature hard to imagine, even if the ancients found their view of nature extremely easy to imagine. Plato differs from Aristotle, however. For one thing, Plato expects to find much less order in the natural world than Aristotle does. If you confront Plato with the spectacle of constant change in nature, he might be inclined to agree. In this particular case, a lot depends on whether or not Plato thought there were Forms for species -- a Form of human being, of dog, of oak. In some of the dialogues that speak of Forms, the description of them does not seem to include biological...

What would Plato say about terrorism, specifically Al Qadea? What would he say about the role of religion in terrorism, as well. Thank you

As far as the use of force goes, I would be surprised if Plato would have had much to say about what we call terrorism. This is not because he would approve of the tactic of singling out civilians as targets, in the hopes of demoralizing an enemy; but simply because he would take a lot of such tactics for granted. The histories of the time indicate two distinct forms of engagement between enemies. On the one hand, a lot of battles on land and sea were fought formally, with arranged battlefields and times to fight (mostly in the summer); on the other hand, when one state besieged another one the attackers would subject everyone within the city walls to the deprivations that were intended to drive the city to surrender. Soldiers frequently distinguished between civilians and members of an army, but there were plenty of instances in which they did not. (See the Athenian attack on the island of Melos, as described in Book 5 of Thucydides, chapters 85-113.) You seem to have something else in mind,...

A question about Plato's theory of Forms. From what I've read, a Form is said to be something that is 'ideal' and 'perfect' due to being unchanging and that no object in the physical world (of mimes) can absolutely mimic it to the nth degree. If a Form is 'ideal' or 'perfect' does that mean 'ideal' or 'perfect' in the normative, value-laden sense of those words, or does it mean ideal as in 'abstract' and perfect as in 'precise'? With this in mind, would a person who commits immoral acts have any less of the Form 'humanness' than a person with a good moral compass? Would this apply to other attributes such as intelligence?

This question is on to something important. The language is a bit inexact, as people’s language tends to get when they discuss Platonic Forms, but that is partly because Plato himself uses broad and sometimes shifting terminology to capture the essence of the Forms. To say the Forms are “ideal” could mean too many things; and Plato doesn’t often say they are “perfect.” More often he’ll talk about “the beautiful itself,” “the large itself.” This absolute character of Forms does not follow from their unchanging nature – although you are quite right that Plato thinks they are unchanging. If anything, their quality of being unchanging follows from their “perfect” possession of whatever attributes they have. If the Form of the Large is large, and it’s absolutely large, then it can’t change, for change might make it larger or smaller. And if it became larger, then it hadn’t been abs0lutely large to begin with; if it became smaller, it would cease to be largeness as such. Objects we can perceive are...

Would Plato have supported fascism in its twentieth century incarnations? Isn't his fascism implied in his strong support of the idea of the nation state and the rule of philosopher kings?

This is an old question about Plato’s Republic, and it’s something of an evergreen, because every serious contemporary reader who goes through the Republic’s proposal for a better state will notice the similarity between some features of that proposal and features of modern totalitarian states. The guardians are subjected to a life without property or privacy that calls communism to mind. The organic unity of the state, which your question alludes to, might sound like modern fascism. But the question is a complex one, with too many elements to be handled in this space. Let me say a few words and then direct you to a place where I consider more aspects of the issue, chapter 10 of the third edition of my Guidebook to Plato’s Republic. There I ask about paternalism, individual autonomy, and other features of the Platonic state that are relevant to the question you have raised. The trickiest part of your question is the first word: “Would.” You aren’t asking whether Plato did describe fascism, but...

Suppose we are to believe that the soul exists. If the body is extinguished upon death, then is any type of afterlife in which the soul survives impossible? To me, the body is the soul's material basis; the soul is the functioning of the body. Consequently they cannot be regarded as separate since they are but separate names referring to a single object. For example, the soul is to the material basis as sharpness is to a knife; the body is to its functioning as knife is to sharpness. "Sharpness" does not name knife nor "knife" sharpness. Nevertheless, without sharpness, there is no knife; and without a knife, there is no sharpness. I have never heard of sharpness surviving the destruction of a knife; how then can we accept that the soul survives after the body has died? Or is soul something else?

This is a terrific question, even though you must admit that you are assuming all sorts of things: above all that the soul is the functioning of the body, and that the body is extinguished with death. One important tradition in thinking about immortality of the soul refuses to accept the former of these. That is the Platonic tradition, which believes that it can conceive of and define the soul independently of this material functioning. On that tradition, the puzzle you are raising does not come up. However, the tradition that begins with Aristotle does indeed understand the soul as your question assumes, and there are even strains within Platonic philosophy that do the same. Certainly Christianity, with its belief in the resurrection of the body, proceeds with the thought that immortality must be grounded in the body's continued existence. So let's acknowledge that your assumptions are not shared by all theorists on the subject and press on. One question the defender of immortality might...

I recently saw "Gone Girl" (spoiler alert!) and have been reading articles about the portrayal of its female antagonist, who is manipulative and psychotic. Some argue that this portrayal is problematic, since it plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women. In response, others argue that while such pernicious stereotypes do exist, it must surely be permissible to create a character who is both female and psychotic--indeed, to insist that this character type just can't exist would be sexist itself. Both arguments seem plausible to me, but I'm not sure how to reconcile them. Yes, it's bad to perpetuate negative stereotypes. At the same time, we must have some freedom to create characters that exemplify such stereotypes. Women are sometimes psychotic--we should be able to write about that. But then it seems like we never have justification to criticize any fiction at all, since this kind of defense may always be invoked in any particular case.

I think it's hard to answer this question without going into the details of particular narrative or representational works. It's an important question, but maybe not one for which a decisive philosophical answer is possible. Let me point to one step in your message. You write of creating "characters that exemplify such stereotypes. Women are sometimes psychotic"; and so on. Now, in the step from the first of these sentences to the next, you show that you are using "stereotypes" as identical with "generalizations." It's true that many general statements one could say about women (or about any other group you choose to think about) are sometimes instantiated. Philosophy professors are sometimes self-obsessed; therefore, someone writing a screenplay about a philosophy professor (not as glamorous as the screenplay to "Gone Girl," I grant you) should be free to make that character self-obsessed. But these feel like different cases, don't they? I think the reason is that a stereotype is not...

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