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How Philosophy Became Socratic: A Study of Plato's "Protagoras," "Charmides," and "Republic" Hardcover – July 15, 2010
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This is the first book in a Nietzschean history, where the forthcoming second book, How Socrates Became Socrates, will explore Socrates' youthful coming-to-being as a philosopher, in the books Phaedo, Parmenides, and Symposium, through his understanding of Eros.
Chronologically, Laurence Lampert, in How Philosophy Became Socratic, places Plato's Protagoras, Charmides, and Republic into a framework in order to explore the development of Socrates mature teachings (formed through understanding Eros) to those Athenian youths molded by Socrates, whose political and philosophical flaws (formed when he cast them as his students) he failed to see, led to Socrates' fateful draught from the hemlock cup.
Ostensibly, this is a book about and informed by the chronology of Plato's dialogues. Lampert provides ample support for his chronology; however, this is the "exoteric," or superficial dressing. Esoterically, the author, in his own words, "profanes" the mysteries of Socrates' teachings, culminating in a brief observation that these set the stage for the later rise of the Platonic West (and the loss of Greekness in this preservation, as the shift from Athens to Jerusalem kept the Plato without the Hellenic world of Plato framing his dialogues).
The author's trajectory is this: prior to the opening of Protagoras, the traditional Greek culture that was molded by the great poet Homer, and the equally great historian Hesiod, has slipped into a pessimistic contempt for the traditional Greek gods among the youth in Athens, who at this time have been enjoying the fruits of the fledgling democracy and a fresh Greek enlightenment, led by for-hire Sophists, men willing to teach the hungry, disillusioned youths how to exploit the superstitions of the Many in order to rule the whole beneficially. At the same time, democratic Athens has become confident in its military might and entered into a series of losing wars, whose losses continue to mystify the Athenians, and while coincidentally multiple plagues have riddled the city-state; both of these added to the tears at the seams of Athenian culture.
Socrates mounts the public stage gloriously in Athens as a 30+year old man by way of a man named Protagoras. While at the same time seeking an alliance with the great speaker and founder of the new Greek enlightenment, the foreign Sophist Protagoras (in order to quell suspicion of Sophistry and philosophers by the Many/mob, and win for all the reward of good rule) Socrates bests the man in debate. Two of the rising political stars among the Athenian youths, later most associated with the complaints of Socrates' corruption of the youth, are present: Alcibiades and Critias, who later famously become two of the democracy's overlords in the aptly named Thirty Tyrants. Socrates, always interested in the education of the Athenian youth, takes the two ambitious men under his tutelage, hoping to transmit his philosophy to those most likely to rule. Specifically, Socrates hopes to instill political philosophy into the best young statesman, Alcibiades. Socrates, as a hoplite (foot-soldier), leaves Athens to fight in a foreign land, at Potideia.
Returning from the siege in Potideia, Socrates begins to inquire about the state of philosophy in Athens during his absence: has it been safely acquired, ready for application in the state, and assuring a good legacy? To Critias, Socrates focused less on the political aspect and more on philosophy itself. Socrates tests Critias' acquisition by way of the pupil of Critias, the young man Charmides. Charmides is another promising young Athenian, and if Socrates has trained the mentor as a philosopher well, his own pupil's student should be wise and well-tempered. Unfortunately, it appears that Socrates, in explaining the true nature of things, has, instead of teaching Critias how to see through error (especially the superstitions of the Many in believing the religion of Greekness posited by Homer and Hesiod) and thus reason well, led Critias into how to see through error, and believe himself well-reasoned, and better enabled to rule others by ruling their beliefs. Now grasping that the enormous potential as a philosopher in Critias has been blinded by the full light of the sun shined in his eyes by Socrates, as Alcibiades had been blinded, Socrates promises to teach Critias' student Chardmides a "true" teaching that he learned while away at Potideia that he claims his pre-Potideian protégés have no knowledge of.
Athens, admitting a foreign god into their city's official pantheon for the first time in living memory, holds a festival for this admission shortly after the events in Charmides (named for Critias' intelligent and wise but not prudently-temperate philosophical student youth). At the house of a resident alien following the celebration, Socrates shares his "new" post-Potideian knowledge to another two Athenian youths who show immense potential: Ademantius and Gloucon. This time, Socrates has determined not to inform minds not -prepared for the enormity of the truth, but rather to teach them something close to it, and more importantly, instill in them a loyalty to philosophy. What Socrates aims to do, in fact, is not teach the truth (it did, after all, ruin those who had been exposed to it under his care, youth he loved and cared for, but who were blinded by it much as the eyes are disfigured by staring directly at the sun), but rather to teach _belief_ in the truths he had led men to by an inquisition into things - a belief in philosophy. While the Many/mob in Athens hope to find their salvation in new, foreign gods, and the host of their discussion sacrifices to his own foreign god, Socrates shifts *inquisition* into *belief,* and frames the truths of philosophy into what amounts to a new religion. It would be as if Socrates' previous instructions leading his students through mathematical computations gave a product that corrupted the students, and the teacher decided to teach instead belief in the correctness of the product and skip the computations themselves, while the new students still believed themselves to be learning math. Athens, and their host, attempt to alleviate their misfortunes by bringing in other gods to replace the ones the Athenians no longer feel effective (Homer's/Hesiod's), while Socrates, parallel to this, surreptitiously does the same with philosophical students in the Republic, hoping that this belief in the power of philosophy by the up-and-coming youths will benefit the Many that they will ultimately come to rule. The upshot of all this is that the belief in justice that Ademantius and Glaucon so desperately wish for necessitates the creation of a god above all other gods, who rewards or punishes mankind (now imbued with immortal souls) after death, which informs the Zoroastrian religion, and later the Hellenic world, and ultimately the Jewish zeitgeist that spawns Christianity. Socrates founds monotheistic salvific religion.
Lampert does an excellent job establishing his chronology, only to blind his readers with the same esoteric sun that Socrates blinded his own students with. In essence, the world's foremost philosopher who corrupts his students by piercing the Homeric veil of religion, founds for a new set of students a new religion that endorses reason and philosophy (while being neither) and relying on belief, and is revived by Lampert, who in effect explains why Nietzsche understood the Platonic West's god to be "dead:" our age has come to the same crossroads that the Athens of the Peloponnesian Wars had, a crisis with its god(s). Lampert - Plato to Nietzsche's Socrates - hopes to bring Nietzsche's Zarathustrian new-age religion into being by slaying the old regime of Socrates, as Socrates slew Homer's. This book does what none of the pop-historical fiction in the vein of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code could: set the world on its head. Hopefully Plato-Lampert will find the audience that historical-Plato did. Students of historical-Plato's Republic (Masonic lodges) will be interested in Lampert-Plato's new iteration. /G\
It appears that this book will be controversial by the nature of his interpretation. I personally am not competent to judge because of the level of scholarship needed to do justice to the work. I do note that the comments made about Catherine Zuckert's book are somewhat unfair because she attempts to tackle all the Platonic dialogues based upon their dramatic settings; whereas, Laurence Lampert focuses on the first three.
Since I am not competent to judge the work, let me tell you a story that I think sums it up.
Socrates and Nietzsche walk into a bar. They have never met before. They both go to the counter and order a drink, something intoxicating. They are both sitting side by side. After each has been served and they begin to drink quietly, they each pull out the same copy of Plato's dialogues in the original Greek. Surprised, they begin a far ranging conversation about the dialogues.
One wonders whether Socrates and Nietzsche recognize one another as like through their conversation of the diaes. Or does Socrates see the need to teach Nietzsche as he did Critias and Charmides so many years ago.
Oh, by the way, sitting in the corner of the bar at a separate table is Plato in disguise. His teacher and his student cannot recognize him. He sits silently listening to the conversation and keeps his opinion to himself.
My review is based on how exciting and thought provoking I found the text.