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In August of 1999, I started an eight-week lecture course called “What Socrates Knew: Plato on Art, Wisdom, and Happiness.”
The main texts were Plato’s Gorgias and Alcibiades I, but I also used excerpts from the Euthydemus, Apology, Theages, and Symposium. I have recordings of all eight lectures, and the sound quality of the first one, at least, is quite adequate — much better than my “Trial of Socrates” lectures. I will serialize this course at Counter-Currents in 16 parts.
The lectures were as follows:
- August 24: Introduction: Thirty Socratic Theses (Euthydemus, excerpt)
- August 31 : Socratic Ignorance, Eros, and the Daimonion (Apology, Theages, and Symposium, excerpts)
- September 7: Alcibiades I
- September 14: Gorgias, Introduction and Conversation with Gorgias (beginning-461b, pages 25-43)
- September 21: Gorgias, Conversation with Polus (461 b-481 b, pages 43-70)
- September 28: Gorgias, Callicles, I (481b-494b, pages 70-87)
- October 5: Gorgias, Callicles, II (494b-510a, pages 87-108)
- October 12: Gorgias, Callicles, III (510a-end, pages 108-129)
The readings for the class are:
- Plato, Gorgias, trans. James H. Nichols
- Plato, Alcibiades I, in The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues, ed. Thomas L. Pangle
- The excerpt from Plato’s Euthydemus is from: Plato, Euthydemus, trans. Rosamond Kent Sprague. An online version of a different translation is here.
- The excerpts from Plato’s Apology are from: Plato and Aristophanes, Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s “Euthyphro,” “Apology of Socrates,” “Crito,” and Aristophanes’ “Clouds”, ed. and trans. Thomas West and Grace Starry West
- The excerpts from Plato’s Theages are from: Plato, Theages, in The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues, ed. Thomas L. Pangle
- The excerpts from Plato’s Symposium are from The Symposium and the Phaedrus: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues, trans. William S. Cobb
The “Thirty Socratic Theses” covered in lecture #1 are:
- The primary philosophical question is: How should I live? What is the good life?
- All human action aims at happiness or well-being (eudaimonia).
- Well-being is not necessarily well-feeling, for well-being may require ill-feeling from time to time.
- Wisdom and luck are the two causes of well-being.
- Wisdom = the ability to make right use of all things.
- Wisdom is unconditionally and intrinsically good — all other things that contribute to the good life are merely conditionally and extrinsically good.
- Folly is the opposite of wisdom. It may not be unconditionally bad.
- Wisdom is not an art or technique. No technique is sufficient for the pursuit of happiness.
- Wisdom enlarges the realm of human power and efficacy, pushing back the frontiers of luck.
- All human beings intend the good; nobody intentionally does evil.
- Good action follows directly upon knowledge of the good.
- Evil action happens only out of ignorance of the good.
- Virtue is knowledge of the good; vice is ignorance of the good.
- The soul is susceptible of structural and dynamic analysis.
- The soul has parts (reason, spirit, desire) and these parts can function together in
harmony (spiritual health) and in disharmony (spiritual disease).
- The soul also has a dynamic power: eros. Eros is the soul’s longing for growth toward the good: for completion, self-actualization, and immortality. Eros is the desire for the good of the soul aroused by the beauty of the body.
- Each part of the soul has its appropriate erotic object–knowledge, ideals, the necessities of life.
- Wisdom produces the inner harmony of the parts of the soul and guides them to their completion.
- Philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom = the care of the soul.
- Happiness = the harmonious unfolding and actualization of the soul’s powers over time, just as physical health is the harmonious unfolding and actualization of the body’s powers over time.
- Wisdom is itself a kind of inner harmony and completion of the soul.
- Wisdom both leads to happiness and is part of happiness itself.
- Happiness is unconditionally good as well.
- Once achieved, happiness as health of the soul, can never be corrupted by external actors; external forces can kill us, but only we can corrupt our souls.
- It is better to suffer injustice than to do it.
- True politics and true friendship aid the soul in its striving for happiness.
- False politics and false friendship (flattery) retard the soul’s striving for happiness.
- Freedom is doing what one really wants to do (pursuing happiness).
- Doing what one really wants to do is not necessarily the same as doing what one thinks one wants. (We can be ignorant of the good, mistaken about our interests.)
- One can be forced to be free.
If anyone is interested in producing a transcript of this lecture, we will gladly publish it. Ideally, we would like one person to do a draft transcription and then place it online to allow other listeners to offer corrections. Please contact Greg Johnson at mailto://email@example.com before starting work, so we can prevent wasteful duplication of efforts.