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Topic #B18

Xenophon, Memoirs of Socrates 4.2

 

19 October 2001
Scribe: Stefano Oliverio

 

These minutes were spoken on 22 October.

 

        

            The lecture started off by Professor Hutchinson mentioning how a figure like Socrates, in ancient society, could be seen as a corrupting, subversive influence on the young, which in turn could consequently compromise the existing order.  Before the point was elaborated on a question came from one of the students. The student wondered whether it was really appropriate to call Socrates a 'homosexual pedophile', in view of the fact that his interest in the young was apparently innocent of sexual exploitation.  Professor Hutchinson answered the question in respect to two different issues and demonstrated how in fact the term homosexual pedophile was appropriate for Socrates.  Socrates, although he did not actually consummate these relationships with his younger students, was for the most part seen as potentially dangerous amongst society.  This is because he was thought to be manipulating and corrupting the minds of the young.  We then went on to conclude that these behaviors of Socrates, his eccentricity, homosexuality, and his relations with young men, were an understandable cause for suspicion amongst society and this all constituted the relevance for classifying Socrates as a homosexual pedophile because this is the way in which he was viewed by society.

 

            We then moved on to the discussion of the day Xenophon 4.2, in which Socrates converses with a young fellow named Euthydemus.  We should acknowledge this conversation as another seduction, in which Socrates comes on to Euthydemus.  Euthydemus is a young fellow with a rather high opinion of himself, good looking, dynamic, and ambitious.  Socrates opens the conversation in an encouraging manner by apparently taking an interest in the book collection of Euthydemus; but he then challenges Euthydemus to answer a hard question: "What is it exactly that you want to become good at, Euthydemus, by collecting these books?"  This method is a reoccurring theme in all Socratic conversations, man has to answer question, after question, until he hits the wall and reveals his own ignorance in his answers and runs away with his tail between his legs.  This boy, however, does not and continues in the future to associate with Socrates because he felt that he needed to be taught a bitter lesson by him, in order to further improve his understanding of things.

 

         This narrative is typically the same as many others, in that it contains Socrates, the brilliant teacher, who charges no fees for his associations, which allows him the freedom to devote as much or as little time as he choose to each of his students, providing rare insight for the purpose of self-improvement and the improvement of his students.  What Socrates does, essentially, is takes a student to the point of confusion, in which he must concede to his own ignorance and this ultimately is beneficial to the student in making him a better thinker.

        

 Socrates does not seduce his students in a conventional or sexual way rather the seduction of Socrates involve the student opening up his mind for further learning.  It is a sensitive and educational experience for the student.  Socrates, also acknowledges that this type of relationship as not possible for all to participate in, rather it involves or requires a person with a certain kind of mind with the propensity for learning and understanding.  This is why the relationships of Socrates are very exclusive and depend on the intellectual capability of the student.  Socrates takes boys to the limit of their incompetence, which consequently causes the boys to develop a thirst or desire to master their zone of incompetence.  In his many discussions, Socrates spoke of many practical and ethical things, such as religion, relationships, business, politics exc.

 

            In the conversation between Socrates and Euthydemus, different concepts are contrasted and Euthydemus is asked whether they are right or wrong.  For this exercise Socrates creates two separate columns, one for the right and one for the wrong, and asks Euthydemus in which certain concepts should be classified.  In the exercise Euthydemus begins to realize the same concept changes columns when applied to different situations and circumstances.  This was also the case in the Double Argument, in which the author supports the same claim of there being double arguments about right and wrong and how a idea can become right or wrong in a different circumstance( The First Philosophers pg. 292).  There is a certain truth to this argument.  Professor Hutchinson then mentions that most people in society govern their lives without, without any conscious

consideration of rules, he used the example of people getting on the subway before allowing the people already on to get off.  People habitually make decisions, even complex ones, without any regard for rules.  Professor Hutchinson compares rules to crutches, in that they assist the incapable on making decisions they would otherwise make incorrectly, however at the same time can cause a hindrance to one that can function with out their help in that they will only slow them down.  This example helped to illustrate the type of student Socrates desired, one that did not rely on the rules, but rather able to improvise based on evaluating the overall picture, one that is able to transcend rules and find the correct path independent of crutches.

 

         Socrates aimed for a perfected apex, a young person fully mastering the skills to the highest degree.  Socrates, Professor Hutchinson suggest, paints an ideal picture, but not a very realistic one.  Socrates believed and impressed upon his students that a wise person should not concern themselves with the established rules that govern society, instead this person should exercise his own judgment, one that is able to transcend these rules.  This radical method of Socrates, created cause for concern amongst society that he was corrupting the youth and manipulating them into believing that there was no place for rules in society and encouraging them not disobey the law.  The parallel of a cult can be used to demonstrate how society perceived Socrates to be corrupting the youth by manipulating and negatively influencing their young and impressionable minds, a concern that is not unreasonable for these parents to have based on this inference.

 

             The focus then shifted to the main point in the conversation, the

importance of knowing the self.  Professor Hutchinson referred the class to page 187 in the text, where in Socrates implicitly speaks of the knowledge of competence and incompetence—the limitations of abilities.  In this passage many ideas are examined and are thus shown to be both bad and good when applied to different situations.  Health, wisdom, and happiness are among the three contrasted and are proved by Socrates to be both right and wrong, this further helps to re-enforce the previous argument of Socrates that one can not always and exclusively rely on a set of rules to govern ones actions correctly.  Professor Hutchinson then asks, what is the highest good.  In reply to this he gives two answers; a good that causes other things to be good, and a good that is always good.      

 

 Socrates criticized happiness on a weird ground, in that he suggests that it is composed of things that are not always good and any of these things can trigger an adverse consequence in a given scenario.  Professor Hutchinson did not agree with this argument, he found it weak and unconvincing.  He went on to state that often in the conversations of Socrates, one will find that Socrates goes off further than he should, missing the boat, when making an argument.  However, for the most part Socrates is successful in taking a reader or student down a clear and precise road that is easy to follow logically.  Socrates, does at times use, use weak arguments, however most people are guilty of the same habit, in them doctors, teachers, and politicians as well, even Professor Hutchinson.  Professor Hutchinson confessed to the class that there were times in his life when he would argue one way with a student, and with another, argue the exact contrary.  This method employed by teachers is a successful one in the improvement of a student, by showing them the other side of the argument, which consequently helps to strengthen theirs by examining both sides.  The lecture concluded with the point that tenuous arguments made by teachers are not always conclusive, they are for the most part used to challenge their students to create better ones, or as a means to establishing a further and stronger argument.