A Socratic Gathering at Brockwood

One of the mature students needed to read the Symposium and the Republic for her external degree, and was looking for people who were interested in reading with her. One of the students had never read any of Plato’s dialogues, and was very interested in doing so. In fact, I think he said he had not read any original text from the Greek philosophers. I had done a seminar a few years ago which covered some of the dialogues, so I thought that it would be a good idea to read them using the contents of that seminar’s program. Long story short, we ended up meeting every Wednesday with one of us in charge of making the photocopies of what we were supposed to read each day.

So, what is it that we want to get out of reading? Leaving aside the obvious academic interest of the mature student referred before, I think there are three pillars that hold our decision of reading the dialogues.

socratic_gathering
Diego {Mexico}, Karuna {India}, Pedro {Chile}

In the first place, there is an enormous joy in the very fact of reading them. Plato’s ability to construct and develop a dialogue can hardly be reached, and his ability to ironically criticize his society (a society that in many aspects resembles our own) is simply marvellous.

The second thing that I consider important is the possibility to see from the primary text the way the Socratic Method works. This method –called Maieutics, a word derived from the Greek meaning “the midwife job”—consists in helping the inquirer to find the truth within themselves, helping them to “give birth” to the truth. The way the method works is by making the individual agree with certain propositions that they would hold as truth, and later making them realize that the different propositions are in contradiction with the others. This would produce the state of emptiness that is necessary for the truth to take place.

Finally, the core of the program we are following is analyzing both Socrates’ and Plato’s[1] approach to one philosophical problem in particular, which is the problem known as Akrasia (literally, without government). This problem is also known in English philosophical circles as the Weakness of the Will, and is the search for an explanation of the fact that someone decides to take a course of action knowing that is not the best of all the possible courses of action.

In the Socratic view, as exposed in Protagoras, “no one willingly goes to meet evil or what he thinks to be evil”. Does this proposition have any foundations at all? Should we be more willing to believe in Plato’s different parts of the mind, and solve the problem by accepting that whenever there is akrasia there is an irrational mind operating? Well, we are analyzing the arguments.

Pedro Lopez, Mature Student from Chile


[1] Even though the dialogues were all (with a few exceptions in discussion about their authenticity) written by Plato, historians of philosophy have come to a general agreement that the system proposed by Socrates is contained in the early and transitional dialogues (such as the Symposium), and Plato’s own ideas in the later ones (such as the Republic).

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