Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reasoning: A Review of Gregory Vlastos' Essays

While I was proctoring an exam today, I finished Socratic Studies (one of the books I received for Christmas). The book is made up of a collection of four essays by Gregory Vlastos, one of the preeminent Plato scholars of the last century (from the philosophical standpoint). One of Vlastos' main interests is uncovering the historical Socrates and Socratic (rather than Platonic) philosophy from Plato's texts. This second part is the focus of the four essays and post-script in Socratic Studies. In general, I think the latter enterprise is both extremely difficult and not necessarily worthwhile, but Vlastos' essays are, as always, insightful and shed light on Plato's thought at the very least, even if they do not achieve his intended goal of discovering the philosophy of the historical Socrates.
Socratic Studies Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher
I will review each of the essays from the book over the next few days (I will put off my commentary on marriage vows in Μήδεια). I found each essay engaging and clearly written and I believe that Vlastos' ideas deserve attention, even if I do not agree with them.

Part of this, as I mentioned before, is due to Vlastos providing my first favorable introduction to Plato. In my general humanities class on the ancient world, my discussion section was lead by a visiting professor named Edward. When I first saw Edward, I thought I must be dreaming. He was tall and muscular lean with shoulders far too broad for the rest of his body. He had enormous watery-blue eyes set into a long, tanned face with a highly-defined rectangular jaw. His hair was dark and short; it was parted at the side and slicked down in a 1950s style. The first day that I met him he was wearing a grayscale football jersey of some kind that was oddly short-- almost as though it had been altered-- and showed off his muscular shoulders on one end and tapered toward his small waist. below that he wore skin-tight cigarette jeans and enormous black books with a bright orange stripe up the side. His voice was deep and quiet and although his presence was commanding, it was clear from the way he spoke that he did not like the spotlight. He was a philosophy professor to whom I took an immediate shine. When I spent my time raging about how much I hated Plato, Edward asked me to look up the work of Gregory Vlastos and write my Plato paper using Vlastos' work as a resource. In the last four days before the paper was due, I finally picked up Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. My life changed. In the next 48 hours, I read the entirety of the Republic, which I had not been able to finish due to my fury at Plato. In the 24 hours following that, I wrote a 20 page paper into which I poured every remaining ounce of my being. Through the texts of Gregory Vlastos and the encouragement of a philosophy professor, in less than 4 days I had gone from hating Plato to knowing that if I became a classics major, I would write my thesis on Plato.

Oddly enough, I never finished Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. The first few essays were enough to propel me into a love of Plato and Plato scholarship. I have put it on my reading list.

Update 03/20/11: I spend much of today reading Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher and I should finish it within the week.

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