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(4th tetralogy : The Soul - 1st dialogue of trilogy)

Plan of Socrates' Dialogue on Rhetoric

A. From false rhetoric to true dialectic 258d-266b (258)
The monistic soul limited to logos
1.1. Pure pleasure in logos - the myth of the cicadas
The dualistic soul in judicial courts and political assemblies
2.1. Truth and opinion of the crowd
         Might rhetoric be a "psychagogy through speech" ?
2.2. The scope of rhetoric

The threefold soul in the real world of speech
3.1. The previous speeches as a matter at hand and the subject-matter of the speeches
3.2. Judgment of Lysias' speech - its lack of order
3.3. Socrates measured speeches and the methods of true dialectic
The dialectician and the rhetorician 266b-c (14)
3.3. Prodicus' speech on measure and the books on rhetoric
3.2. Judgment of Eryximachus and Sophocles - the order of tragedy
3.1. The pesudo-dialectic of Pericles and his materilaistics views on nature
The upside-down soul of false rhetoric
2.2. From Hippocrates to rhetoric : the scope of the whole
         "The power of speech is a psychagogy"
2.1. The method of true rhetoric
The dualistic world of body and soul

1.1. The "myth" of Tysias the teacher - there is hardship ahead
The tyrannical "logos" of the crowd
B. From false dialectic to true rhetoric 266d-274b (268)

(back to overall plan of the dialogue, or to plan of first or second speech)

Note : the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate number of full lines of text in each section or subsection, in the Greek text of the Budé edition. It is only intended to give an indication on the relative size of the sections with regard to one another.

To unveil the nature of logos, the highest part of man's soul, Socrates inquires into the materiality of logos, speech, spoken and written. And this will lead him to show that there is no way a logos can reach truth unless it is rooted in nature. Not the materialistic nature that Anaxagoras taught Pericles (Phædrus, 270a) and that Socrates had to flee away from, as he will soon tell us in the Phædo (Phædo, 97b-99d), but a nature that is seen as a whole as the word of god to men, a word that will be deciphered in the Timæus : hence the superiority of "Pan (the god of nature whose name means "whole"), son of Hermes (the messenger of the gods)", who inspired Socrates' first speech, over "Lysias, son of Cephalus (whose name means "head", the location of the brain, the "natural" source of speech)", when it comes to logous (Phædrus, 263d). This nature doesn't stop at the body healed by Hippocrates, but centers, as far as man is concerned, on the soul, a soul that may be moved by Sophocles' or Euripides' tragedies --and the Republic will soon tell us what to think about that (see Republic, X, 595a-608b, especially 605c-606d)--, or by Socrates' love.

The dialogue opposes Phædrus, who tries to fill in his head with logos from books and written speeches, and Socrates, who tries, with little success, to instill logos into Phædrus' soul through live dialogue. Indeed, Socrates' task is a tremendous one with a Phædrus who is so fond of logoi that he enthusiastically states his pleasure even before knowing what logos is (Phædrus, 258e), starting where he should end (1) ; who hardly remembers toward the end of the discussion what he himself stated toward the beginning, or doesn't dare to stand by it after Socrates' case, because these are not his own opinions but, as he himself says, only hearsay or unassimilated read doctrines (see 272c-273a compared with 259e-260a) (2) ; who has been so entranced by Socrates' earlier speeches that he now agrees with whatever Socrates says and doesn't even see the irony when he praises Pericles as a consummate dialectician, has him play teacher punishing bad pupils (269b) (3), spouts Isocratean commonplaces about the need of a gifted nature to become a good speaker (269d) --so much so that, in the end, Phædrus is led to believe that Socrates is in love with Isocrates (see 278e)--, and goes so far as to recommend "looking at the stars and idly talking about nature" (270a), the very things attributed to him by Aristophanes in the Clouds, that got him into trouble with the Athenians !...

To set the stage right from the start, in answer to Phædrus' enthusiasm for the pleasures of logos, Socrates tells a myth, probably of his--or Plato's--own making, about the cicadas, whose purpose is to graphically depict what might happen to men who try to live by logos only, forgetting the requirements of the lower parts of the soul and of the epithumiai that speak for the body. Such people, far from winning their ticket for the isles of the blessed after death, end up moving deeper into nature, being downgraded to the state of animals (4). Their logos is but a materialistic one, a meaningless sound that may at best please the Muses if the speaker has a nice voice -- this is the meaning of "Calliope", the name of the eldest Muse-- and sends his listeners dreaming in the stars --in the sky which gave its name to Urania, her younger sister-- : they are buzzing with speeches and feeding on words.

But this is only the first step in a two part trip that leads us, in two perfectly balanced legs that answer each other as in a mirror, from the pseudo-unity of this soulless logos to the real unity behind the multiplicity of speeches that can only be found by the true dialectician and his dual method of synthesis and analysis, and then, from the multiplicity of pseudo-dialecticians headed by Pericles to the one single path that can make us true rhetoricians in allowing us to master the multiplicity of souls and speeches. Answering the myth of the cicadas reporting to the Muses at the start of the trip, is Socrates' report to the Muse of Lysias, his teacher Tisias, at the end of the trip, denouncing the "myth" of a short path to rhetoric and true logos, that short path which transforms men into buzzing cicadas...

Immediately after the myth that speaks to our feelings, Socrates, with the help of Phædrus, goes to the heart of the matter and confronts the decision-making part of our soul with the moment of truth : does the logos find its own relative truth within itself, within the opinion it elicits in the minds of men, or should he seek a truth that is outside itself, grounded in the nature of things ? Is a good speech a speech that pleases the crowd or a speech that tells the truth ? Are we free to use the words as we please and to call a donkey a horse because we don't know the difference or think that's what the crowd wants to hear and is the world of speech so disconnected from the "real" world that it won't make a difference once we move from words to action ? Is it possible to teach the rules of speech without reference to the truth, by simply taking it for granted, if words are no more than "images" of things (visible or intelligible) and the meaning of speech only comes from the fact that relations between words properly match the relations between the things they are images of ?...

Socrates is fully aware that the power of speech can match the charm of the cicadas' song to put our will to sleep in the heat of the day. That's why he describes rhetoric as a psychagogy, that is, a soul's driving by way of words, a first time, at the exact center of the second section of the first part, under the form of a question, and a second time, at the center of the corresponding section of the second part, under the form of a statement (5). Soul's driving, maybe. But what kind of driving and where does it lead ? Each part gives a different answer to these questions. In the first part, where the word is introduced only tentatively in the interrogative form, the section that follows shows us the wrong direction, the wrong answer, in playing with the original meaning of the word, that is, evocation of the souls of the dead. In order to investigate the true scope of rhetoric, Socrates plays a game that consists in using the names of people of the past to talk of people of the present. And who is he evoking ? Heroes from the Trojan war : Nestor, Ulysses and Palamedes. At the same time he is telling us that the power of rhetoric should not be limited to speeches in courts and in assemblies, that is, to judicial and political activities, the main job of the two upper parts of the soul, Socrates is showing us where is leading the rhetoric of those who see in the soul a residue of the dead haunting an underworld rather than a driving force to haul the living toward the upper world of the divine : it is leading backward toward death through the politics of leaders who can't tell good from evil and are willing to put a whole country at war in defense of their own personal interest (an unfaithful wife or a disputed captive).

But though we have moved one step down in gathering parts of the soul, adding the judging to the "leading" part, we have not yet caught sight of the whole of the soul and are still floating in the air with no roots in the ground. This is what Socrates is trying to show Phædrus in referring to "a single art covering all forms of speech", not only political and judicial speeches (261d-e). And this lack of foundation in "matter" is "staged" in Phædrus' reply to Socrates suggestion that they consider the speeches at hand to "illustrate" the theory : "Nothing would please me more, as we have been so far talking somehow nakedly, for lack of appropriate examples (paradeigmata)" (262c). This reply marks the turn from the second section of the first part of the dialogue, divided in two subsections to talk of a two part soul, to the third section, divided in three subsections to talk of a threefold soul. And while we move deeper and deeper into the "nature" of the soul and the "matter" of speeches, we move higher and higher toward the theory of dialectic that is the foundation of true rhetoric as seen by Socrates.

The third section, assuming at last a complete soul, can lead us from the matter of speech found in the speech on matter (the agreed upon understanding of words such as iron or silver, 263a) at the level of the feeling soul, to the judgment on the previously heard speeches at the level of the judging soul and ultimately to the "theory of dialectic" illustrated by the paradeigmata of Socrates' two speeches, at the level of true logos. It opposes the "materialized" speech of Lysias (materialized because written) that turns out to be devoid of worthy meaning if taken literally, but full of hidden meaning if, instructed by a proper knowledge of eros, we read between the lines what is not written in it, to the "immaterial" speeches of Socrates (kept only by memory in the soul) that are full of meaning both literally and symbolically, by themselves and in relationship with one another. It contrasts the monotonous repetition of Lysias' single speech, whose opening section is read twice verbatim by Phædrus for no profit, at the beginning of the first and second subsections, to the fruitful evocation of Socrates' two speeches in the third subsection, which provides illustrations of both methods of dialectic. And it compares any logos to a "living being, having a body (sôma) of its own, so as not to be either without a head or without feet, but having a middle and extremities written so as to fit with one another and with the whole" (264c).

Once again, we can only admire the mastery of Plato, who is able to show us the way through the intricacies of a complex structure without ever losing sight of the whole, and who introduces that part of the soul that is most remote from the body, the logos, by comparing it, or at least its productions, to a body ! Now, the message of this first part is clear, though it is summarized cryptically in a formula already mentioned at the beginning of this presentation, and found at the start of the second subsection of the third section (263d) : there is no way a logos can be meaningful unless it takes into account the whole of man, body and soul ; there is no hope of liberation from the world of becoming for man (the name of Lysias, as that of Lysis in the first tetralogy, means "liberation"), no escape from the death that awaits us like the men turned cicadas, through a discourse that comes only from the head (the name of Cephalus, Lysias' father, means "head"), but only through a logos that acknowledges the whole (Pan) of nature as a gift of god to men (Pan is son of Hermes), starting with life-giving water, impersonated in Achelous and the Nymphs, the god and goddesses that Phædrus overlooked when taking his pledge to force Socrates to start the flow of his logoi (see the introduction to the overall plan) and culminating in that very logos that might prove eternal to a man who knows how to use it.

But now, from the heights we have reached to uncover the methods of dialectic, we must get back down to earth and find out that there is no shortcut to a true logos, and that we must accept the long path through the whole of the dialogues, rather than give in to the softening song of the cicadas and believe in Tisias' easy way. And falling back deep down into "matter" is not hard for Phædrus, who won't readily throw away "all the books that have been written about the art of speech" (266d) and brings them back into the picture as soon as Socrates has disposed of Lysias' speech and exposed, both theoretically and through examples, his dual method of synthesis and analysis. Not only that, but Phædrus doesn't care so much for methods and oratory techniques, that Socrates starts listing for him, as for the masters themselves that he wants to quote by name, as if to better show that all this logos is not his and never will be. This provides Socrates with the starting point of a descent from what little logos he can find in all these books down to the pseudo-dialectic of Pericles grounded in Anaxagoras' materialism, in symmetry with the ascent just completed from Lysias' speech to the principles of true dialectic illustrated by his own speeches.

The first subsection of this three part section offers another list of rhetors and sophists of the time, called by their own names this time, along with the techniques they pioneered, and looks like an award ceremony where each new name outdoes the previous one with more wondrous tricks. But if we look more closely at the list and remember what we have found earlier in the tetralogy of the Sophists about the "part" that various people play in the dialogues--parts in the "play" that happen to picture parts of the soul--, we come to realize that what starts like an ascent toward better and better rhetoric (and may be seen as such by Phædrus) is indeed a descent in the depths of the materialistic soul of the Sophists. Before the middle of this roll call (starting at 266d and ending at 267d), we have reached Gorgias, who played logos in the dialogue that bears his name, and is seemingly praised here, along with Tisias, Lysias' teacher, for having done something that looks like what Socrates was calling for a moment ago, that is, use a single type of logos for both great and small things (but, as we know from that earlier dialogue, not in the way Socrates means it). Then, Gorgias gives way to Prodicus, the logos player in the Protagoras, a logos whose description at the time was more reminiscent of the song of the cicadas than of the speech of an articulate speaker (see Protagoras, 315d and my comment in the introduction to the second tetralogy). From here, we keep moving down the "soul" of sophistry, to Hippias and Polus, the thumos players in the Protagoras and Gorgias respectively, and then to Protagoras himself, who played epithumiai in the dialogue that bears his name, and to Thrasymachus, "the mighty man from Chalcedon" (267c), who will soon replace the Callicles of the Gorgias in the role of epithumiai in the first book of the Republic.

Yet, as always with Plato, there is something to be saved from this downfall, and that something is to be found right in the middle of the subsection, in the mouth of Prodicus-logos. It is a quotation that doesn't come from a book in the midst of all these references to books, but from Socrates' memory of a live discussion with him. In it, Prodicus declared that he was "the only one to have found the method that must apply to speeches : they must be neither long nor short, but of a right measure (metriôn)" (267b). If that could look like a joke to Prodicus himself, who is said by Socrates to have burst in laughter while stating it, it is not for Socrates. It introduces the concept of metron, measure, that we will find, among other, at the center of the Statesman, and that was already used by Socrates, at the center of the symmetric subsection in the first part of the dialogue, to qualify his second speech, "some sort of mythic hymn, measured and auspicious (metriôs the kai euphèmôs)" (265c). Here, we are surreptitiously moving from the "material" meaning of metron in speech, that designates verse as opposed to prose (6), to a metaphysical meaning that will become central in Plato's theories, especially in politics. The measure that must be put in logos (all forms of logos : words, speeches, reason) is what leads to kosmos (order) in the city of men.

Having displayed the mechanical devices used by those who fake logos at all levels of the soul, from the replacement of truth by likeliness at the level of reason (by Tisias and Gorgias) down to the manipulation of a crowd's feelings when it comes to passions (by Thrasymachus, named only after his birthplace, that is, his "physical", natural, origin, Chalcedon, as if to better show that he has no logos, no name of his own, only a phusis), Socrates now moves to judging the products of such rhetoric. In the middle subsection of the first section of the second part of the dialogue on rhetoric, we move down to the level of the intermediate part of the soul, the judging one. This is the level of duality, and duality is not lacking here ! Our (and Phædrus') judgment is called for in the double field of healing body and soul. In each case, we are asked to compare the works of one who more or less knows the building blocks of an art (medicine or poetry), who claims to possess the technical vocabulary of the trade, the logoi in the sense of "words", and even the recipes behind them, the "what" and "how", but not the key ingredient, the "why", the logos in the sense of "reason", to those of, not one, but two masters of the art chosen as example.

In the case of the body, the two professionals called upon are physicians : Eryximachus and his father Acumenus (7). In the case of the soul, they are Sophocles and Euripides, two tragedians. If we don't know what kind of physicians Eryximachus and his father were, considering Sophocles and Euripides as masters of their art doesn't raise problem, even for us nowadays, the real question here is in my calling them "healers of souls". In fact, "healers" might be the proper term from the standpoint of Aristotle, who talks of a cathartic effect of tragedy on the soul (see Poetics, 1449b24-28), but is not the proper term from Plato's standpoint, if we are to judge by what he says about tragedy in the Republic (Republic, X, 605c-606b). "Caretakers" might be a more appropriate term (appropriate for physicians too, as regards the body), as both agree that tragedy does have an effect on the soul, and a lasting effect. But, for Plato, this effect is a kind of "education" in the wrong direction. Yet, tragedy is written in verse, that is, with "measure" (en metrô, see 258d), and, as Phædrus is quick to say, in a phrase that almost echoes word per word what Socrates says of any logon in the symmetric subsection of the first part (see above), the gist of it lies in "the arrangement [of the parts], put together so that they fit with one another and with the whole" (268d). Exhibiting measure and order, mimicking action and talking to the feelings of the spectator, tragedy is thus a prime candidate to the title of "true" logos taking into account the whole of human soul. So we must be all the more careful not to assume too quickly that, just because Socrates opposes the would-be tragedian to real ones and thinks badly of the pale imitator, he is praising Sophocles and Euripides and sees in their plays models of worthy logoi. We are expected to use our judgment and should not jump too hastily to conclusions. Indeed, no more than all the rhetors quoted in the previous subsection are commendable people despite the superlative formulas used to talk about them, are Sophocles and Euripides models of educators, leaders of souls, even if they may serve a purpose as "positive" elements in a comparison.

And, in keeping with this warning, we should be even more careful not to take at face value the positive appraisal of Pericles that comes in the third subsection, immediately after the one we have been dealing with. The higher the praise, the more suspicious it should look to us, once we realize what Socrates is after, namely, discarding all those who might pretend to the role of true logos without mastering true dialectic. And the fact that Socrates simulates the speech of a Pericles turned school teacher rebuking Phædrus and him as bad pupils, and has him refer to "those who don't master the methods of dialectic" (269b), should not fool us, precisely because Socrates is improvising a kind of "comedy", a mere imitation, and because we should know by now that the ultimate trick of rhetoricians is to tell their listeners what they want to hear ! If Pericles is presented as the one who "of all, most likely reached the greatest perfection in the art of rhetoric" (269e) and is at the outset associated with "honey-sweet-voiced Adrastus" (269a), we should be on guard not to get caught in a trap and come glued in honey !...

If the reading of the three subsections gives the impression of a climb from the trifles of rhetoric for the sake of it all the way up to the heights of politics, it in effect is a downfall from what little logos there was in Prodicus all the way down to the materialistic roots of Pericles' rhetoric and the echoes of Isocrates' teaching that can be heard beneath Socrates' hyperbolic praise of him. How could we possibly think Socrates is serious when he says that "if it belongs to your nature (phusei) to be that of a rhetorician, you will be a rhetor of high repute" (269d) (8) ; or that, to succeed in any kind of worthy art, "we need also idle talk and considerations about the nature of the stars (adoleschias kai meteôrologias phuseôs peri)" (269e-270a) ?!.. How can we not see the irony when Socrates puts the reason for Pericles' success in his encounter with Anaxagoras and his "nous" while we read in the Phædo that Socrates himself had to flee away from Anaxagoras' theories in order to reach true logos (Phædo, 97b-99d) ?... The fact, that Phædrus is unable to see, is that Pericles was only slightly smarter than most of his contemporaries, maybe also a little more ahead of his time, and was quicker to see the benefits he could gain for his political purpose from a pretense of "scientific" knowledge that would give his speeches an added flavor of seriousness. But, as far as Socrates is concerned, that doesn't make him in the least a better politician than the others, quite the contrary ! He only roots his politics deeper into a materialistic nature that takes the guise of a rational behavior through empty words like Anaxagoras' nous. He ends up at best rationalist, not reasonable...

Thus, we are shown in this first section of the second part, provided we read it properly, that, even if you take into account the whole of man's soul, and no matter whether you put the stress on logos itself (the rhetoricians), on action (the physicians and poets) or on phusis (Pericles and Anaxagoras), there is no way you may reach true logos without recourse to dialectic.

So what should we do ? The next section, bringing us back to the intermediate level of action, answers that question and shows how we can move from the theory of dialectic presented at the end of the first part to its applications in real life. Being at the intermediate level, the section is divided in two subsections centered on the affirmation (answering the question that was put at the same place in the symmetric section in the first part) that "the power of logos is indeed a soul-driving (psuchagôgia)" (271c). And the psychagogy envisioned here is no longer an evocation of the souls of the dead, or rather of dead souls, searched in written books, and leading us backward toward raw nature, war and death, but an education that leads those who are willing to go all the way forward to the perfection of true logos through knowledge of the soul and the ways to talk to it.

Once again, this section is no exception to the rule that, no matter where we are and what the stress is on, we never lose sight of the whole. Socrates grounds the elucidation of the rules of true rhetoric, the speech from the soul and on the soul, into Hippocrates' principles for the healing of the body, but not without letting Phædrus know that he will follow Hippocrates only if he agrees with logos, with reason (270c) (9). And what Hippocrates (and reason) tell us is that the starting point of any scientific or technical activity is the knowledge of the nature of what it wants to act upon. Not only that nature, but that of the whole it is a part of. As far as rhetoric and the soul are concerned (and the comparison with medicine shows that, even for Socrates/Plato, rhetoric, properly understood, may indeed be viewed as a form of, if not healing, at least caring for the soul in the same way medicine is caring for the body), what that means is that we must first know the nature of the soul and whether it is simple or composite (the lower plane of the phusis), then understand how it acts and suffers (the intermediate plane of action and decision), and ultimately figure out the relationship (we might say the ratio, another meaning of logos in Greek) between the various kinds of souls and of logôn (the upper plane of the logos).

Aside from the opposition between body and soul, the middle section plays on the opposition between theory and practice, between what we learn in school and how we use it in real life, the second subsection showing how to put to practical use the educational program the first subsection has sketched. And it ultimately falls back to where we started in the first part, that is, the opposition between truth and likeliness. But now, in the last section, it is possible for Socrates to show the path of persuasion through pseudo-rhetoric for what it is, a misleading short path for those who are reluctant to embark in the long journey through education in dialectic, a path that will never lead to truth and proper use of the logos. The true cicadas that might put Phædrus' and Socrates' will to sleep and their reason to rest in the heat of the day are not so much those they are now hearing in the countryside near the creek, but the honey-sweet-voiced rhetors they hear humming on the marketplace in the city, in courts and in the assembly, those who, like Isocrates, try to lure students away from the hardship of dialectical training as practiced in Plato's Academy, and into the short path that might make them new Pericleses, if only they have the right phusis... No more will is needed, no real logos, only a "good" nature and the gift of imitation to mimic your master, to follow in his footsteps. We are back to a monistic nature, but it is a phusis, not a logos... The speech lovers who thought they could do without grounding their speeches in truth have truly become cicadas...

(1) Phædrus' statement at 258e is a partial summary of Socrates' theses in the Philebus about pleasures of the mind that, unlike most pleasures of the body, don't come as a relief from pain. But the Philebus is the introduction to the last trilogy, while Phædrus' statement is the introduction to Socrates' dialogue on rhetoric. Besides, this statement on Phædrus' lips sounds quite tedious, sort of a recitation of some earlier reading, or the naive answer of the "good student" eager to show that he is ahead of the lesson in his schoolbook... (back)

(2) And we may anticipate that he won't stand much longer by Socrates' theories once he has gone and some Lysias is back with a different opinion ! Phædrus is unable even to play devil's advocate (or "to speak for the wolf", to use Socrates' own words at 272c), unlike Socrates/Plato who is a master at expounding quite fairly someone else's theories before unraveling the inconsistencies in them from the inside (as he does for instance with Protagoras' theories in the Theætetus, and here with those of Tisias and his likes). (back)

(3) Phædrus is not alone in his blindness to Socrates' irony in this part of the dialogue, if we are to judge by the many commentators who take Plato at his word on Pericles here and only point at his supposed change of attitude since the Gorgias and Meno !... But most people are more eager to reconcile Plato with their own views on Pericles at the cost of inconsistencies between dialogues than to accept from him a consistent and harsh judgment on Pericles at the cost of their own admiration for the champion of democracy who gave his name to the greatest century in Greek history. (back)

(4) For those men who move to the isles of the blessed, see Gorgias, 523a-b, and, for men becoming animals, see Timæus, 91d, ssq. (back)

(5) It is worth noting that the word psuchagôgia is used only in these two places in the whole corpus of the dialogues. This combined with the perfectly symmetrical position of these two uses at the center of the central section of each part of the dialogue on rhetoric should give all the more weight to the word. (back)

(6) The word metron is used several times with this meaning in the Phædrus : at 258d and 277e, that is, at the beginning and end of the dialogue on rhetoric. But the adjective metrion is used again by Socrates with its more loaded meaning in the conclusion, at 278b, to indicate that the discussion about logôn has reached the appropriate measure, and in one of his last words, at 279c, to qualify the final prayer he just made. (back)

(7) Eryximachus is the one we saw in the Protagoras (Protagoras, 315c) at Hippias' feet with Phædrus, when Hippias was playing thumos, the middle part, to the Sophists' soul, and again, teaming up with Phædrus in the Symposium (Symposium, 176b-177e) to bring about the topic and protocol of the speeches on eros. In both instances, he was already associated with the middle part of the soul. Indeed, a close scrutiny into the structure of the Symposium in the perspective that has been mine all along shows that, once again, the speakers may be associated with parts of the soul, along the lines drawn in the Protagoras. Four of the first five speakers make up two partial "souls". On the one hand, Phædrus, listener of Hippias-thumos in the Protagoras, and Pausanias, listener of Prodicus-would-be-logos, make up two of the three parts of a soul of dilettantes, well-to-do Athenians raised to the tune of the sophists and rhetoricians. Their "professional" counterpart, the physician and tragedian (the same pair of trades as here in the Phædrus), is made up of Eryximachus, another listener of Hippias, and Agathon, who is shown in the Protagoras in Pausanias' arms listening to Prodicus. But these professionals, despite their nice words about love, turn out to be unable to heal either the bodies or souls of the Athenians infected by the "virus" instilled by Aristophanes' play about Socrates. And that same Aristophanes is seen in the Symposium looking for a place in one of these souls, where, as third speaker, he might have played epithumiai, the missing part in both of them, that is, their common nature (phusis), the phusis he is reverting back to in his speech, were it not for his hiccup that moves him from third to fourth place, and has him involuntarily forcing Eryximachus back to the place that is truly his, that of a phusis-ian, and gives him in exchange the place of the judging professional, the one whose judgment on Socrates was eventually cause of his death... (back)

(8) Sure enough, Socrates adds "provided you add to it knowledge and exercise" ! But, even if there is, for Socrates as well, a share of truth in this statement, the stress is not where he would put it, were he to talk seriously. Yes ! Socrates and Plato want us to understand that we cannot ignore nature, but they would never put nature, phusis, at least the kind of nature Isocrates and his likes have in mind, first and foremost, and make it a precondition of true logos. They don't see nature as a potentiality that conditions all that is to come, but as one component among several in the mix that makes a man, a starting point we have to do with, but one that cannot alone prevent proper education from getting us closer to what we should be in the end. In fact, the whole statement is vitiated right from the start, as Socrates purports to provides Phædrus with the recipe to "become an accomplished fighter (agônistèn teleon)" : the word "agônistès" may mean several things, fighter, but also pleader, debater, champion, actor, master, yet what's common to all these meanings is the idea of fight, of competition ; and this is certainly not the idea that Plato would put forth when talking about true logos. (back)

(9) It is time for Phædrus to understand that things are not true because they happen to be written in the books of some famous writer, but that they are worth writing in books (if books are worth anything) only if they happen to be true ; that we should listen to reason to judge of the worth of what's written in books, and not let indiscriminately what's written in books fill our reason. But it is not clear the message gets through... Rather, it is almost certain that it doesn't. (back)

Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
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First published September 29, 1996 - Last updated November 22, 1998
© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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