Notes based on the IoT broadcast, Sep 07 also published in the book In our Time edited by Melvyn Bragg (2009)
1. What do we know about Socrates? Did you learn anything about him or about philosophy at school? If not, do you think you should have done?
2. Why didn’t he write anything down?
‘… there are dangers in the art of writing. Because you can’t discuss with a book, it can’t answer you back.
Basically, he thought once it was written down it wasn’t malleable, it wasn’t plastic, it was set in a stone no idea should be set in… He…claimed he didn’t know anything – he didn’t have any understanding, he was still working on it. And, therefore, he wasn’t in a position to write a book… his philosophical activity was essentially an oral, interpersonal, interactive one.’
3. What was ‘the Socratic method’?
‘His method has come to be known as the elenchus, which means cross-examination or interrogation or quizzing. Plato regarded him as the founder of dialectic, which is really the science of working towards truth.’
4. Fundamentals? He ‘…took the view that the most fundamental question you could ask people about anything is - what is it? Take for example ‘Is virtue teachable?’ … first of all we need to know what ‘virtue’ is?’ Let’s try this out: is virtue teachable?
5. There had been earlier philosophers… what was radical and new about Socrates?
‘Cicero put it well… he says that Socrates was the first to bring philosophy down from the heavens and into the towns and people’s homes…. He starts off with what he believes should be the fundamental question of life - how should it be lived?’
5. His own answer is maybe more controversial - ‘life should be lived flourishingly… and the virtuous life is the flourishing life… the Greek word is audaimonia and there is an element of subjective happiness and feeling good in it… but it’s also a more objective concept… actualising your potential as a human being.’
6. ‘… if virtue is knowledge, then we get to his most radical claim of all, which is that vice is ignorance.’
7 ‘It is interesting how much he was mixed up in war, he was deeply mixed up in politics, he was deeply mixed up in philosophy…’ Readings and comment on this.
8. The trial of Socrates and his death sentence - short readings, then comment on this.
9. Socrates’ philosophical influence: ‘… the only important good is wisdom…
‘all philosophical questions must admit to opposed points of view, they can never be closed down… you can never rest content with your beliefs… every question must be re-opened and re-examined…. That was invariably the message of Socrates and that was what made Socrates’ life an exemplary life.’
10. ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’.