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Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher 1st Edition
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"This is the best book available on its subject. No other book written by someone with such deep knowledge can speak with so much authority to scholars and still be so enjoyable for general readers. Philosophical writing now tends to be excessively technical and academic. Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher is not; it can take many different kinds of people to the heart of the most puzzling and important features of Socrates."―Julia Annas, New York Times Book Review
"Gregory Vlastos's book begins from the conviction that Socrates' strangeness is 'the key to his philosophy.' It is a marvelous book, in which no major aspect of Socrates' career is eclipsed. The rigor of his arguments, the depth of his moral commitment and understanding, his complex relationship to Athenian ethical traditions, his rational religion: all this comes to life in writing whose vigor and lucidity put the challenge of Socrates squarely before the reader. . . . It deserves as much honor as any work of scholarship in Greek philosophy in this century."―Martha C. Nussbaum, The New Republic
"What can be surmised about this extraordinary and arresting figure has been brilliantly presented and argued in this closely reasoned book, for which we are all greatly in Gregory Vlastas's debt."―Charles Taylor, Times Literary Supplement
From the Back Cover
Gregory's new book begins from the conviction that Socrates strangeness is the key to his philosophy. It is a marvelous book, in which no major aspect of Socrates career is eclipsed. The rigor of his arguments, the depth of his moral commitment and understanding, his complex relationship to Athenian ethical traditions, his rational religion: all this comes to life in writing whose vigor and lucidity put the challenge of Socrates squarely before the reader.
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In my opinion, it is unfair to accuse Prof. Vlastos of "special pleading", that is, presenting only evidence that supports his own arguments. Vlastos spent his life studying Socrates, and no doubt developed strong feelings for the object of his study, but it seems to me that he goes to great lengths to acknowledge evidence contradicting his own conclusions. But Vlastos makes his points very thoroughly, so if you want to quibble with him you have to have your own ducks in a row.
Vlastos covers the following topics:
- Socratic Irony.
- The "Socratic problem" - what we can know about Socrates as an actual historical figure, as opposed to the various impressions handed down to us by Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon, and others.
- The shift from the Socratic method ("elenchus") to mathematics in Plato's middle dialogues.
- Does Socrates cheat? (Yes, but only in jest.)
- Socrates' religious beliefs. (He believed in his "daimonion", but was not a mystic.)
- Socrates' rejection of the "lex talionis". (I found this to be by far the most interesting chapter, Socrates articulating the "Golden Rule" 400 years before Christ.)
- An explication of Socrates' theory that Happiness and Virtue are identical.
Vlastos concludes that Socrates, believing what he believed, died a happy man.
Anyone interested in philosophy will benefit from spending a few hours with Professor Gregory Vlastos and his friend, Socrates.
i was wondering about the different socrates in the early dialogs - a very satisfying and entertaining answer
The legend of Socrates is one of the oldest and most enduring tropes of Western culture; though many may not know the actual works of Plato were hardly read outside of the Byzantine Empire for a thousand years, the powerful example of an ordinary man with extraordinary gifts for debate and bent on impressing the importance of moral clarity on his fellow citizens -- who rewarded him with a cup of poison he drank "cheerfully" -- obviously resonates with the larger story of Christendom and forms the basis for philosophical argument even today. However, if a philosophy tyro gets into the Platonic texts it is difficult to relate the "established" conclusions to anything recognizable as contemporary conventional wisdom, and if one gets initiated into the question of the "philosophy of Socrates" -- how the actual man's thinking differed from that of the Plato of eternal Forms -- matters become almost impossible.
Vlastos helps clear up many confusions a Greek-less philosophy fan will have about Socrates' "irony", the different stories about Socrates in Plato and Xenophon (and Aristotle too), how tenable famous principles like "virtue is knowledge" are if cast in modern analytic dress and other such topics. He opts wholeheartedly for distinguishing the Socrates of Plato's "early" dialogues, who focuses solely on morality, from the polymathic Socrates in later dialogues; though obviously some of this is anyone's guess, it is still the standard approach today. Finally, like all Platonists he insists on the singular contribution of Socrates to a Greek culture fixated on the showy and overpowering; if there was a "Greek miracle" that set the stage for Western Civilization, it certainly could not have occurred without the raising of objective truth to the standard of a beautiful ideal in Socrates' *Lebenspraxis* and the teachings of Plato inspired by him.
Anyone with a basic philosophical education will be able to follow this book and ought to read it.