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Superior Socrates

Throughout The Republic, Socrates makes his arguments based on what is now termed as “the Socratic method.” Yet in his conversation with Adeimantus and Glaucon on the first and second cities, he very frequently condescends the two men—when Socrates ____ Adeimantus and when he dismisses Glaucon. While Socrates is the philosophical superior to the two, Glaucon and Adeimantus have been called “the son[s] of Ariston,” or “sons of the best” in Greek (Plato, 1, 327a). Socrates’ style of debate can be deemed as selfish because he leads the discussions to his own points instead of allowing the conversation room to expand. Through his use of the Socratic Method Socrates downplays the intellect of the two men; thus exemplifying his inability to see beyond his own ego.
At first glance Socrates sounds very straightforward and direct, but a closer reading of the text shows another layer to Socrates. As with The Odyssey, there is a question of narrator reliability. All the reader can gather from the interactions between Socrates, Adeimantus, and Glaucon is what Socrates says about their time together. As they transition the conversation from justice and injustice to the city/soul analogy, Socrates says “Glaucon and the others begged me in every way to help out and not to give up the argument, but rather to seek it out what each is and the truth about the benefit of both” (2, 368c). It is direct enough, yet Socrates’ language can be interpreted in a manner of false modesty. The collective’s “begging” gives the reader an image of a group of men groveling for enlightenment from their better to which Socrates says “So I spoke my opinion” (2, 368b). Socrates repeats “in my opinion” and rightly so (2, 368d). It is his opinion, yet his emphasis on the first person becomes repetitive and superior. It is easy to blindly follow Socrates in believing that the others are in great need of his opinion and guidance. Yet there is another way to interoperate Adeimantus’ affirmative answers. By making his point through obvious and rhetorical questions, Socrates undermines Adeimantus’ intellect. “Is a city bigger than a man?” Socrates asks (2, 368e). While Bloom’s note interprets “bigger” to mean “more important,” Socrates’ question is unnecessary (Bloom, Notes, p.448). It is obvious that when using a city as a metaphor, a city trumps a single man. Such a ridiculous question merely shows that Socrates undermines Adeimantus’ ability to think rationally. As Socrates completes his city and Adeimantus comments that perhaps the city is not as complete as Socrates believes it, he tells him “Perhaps what you say is fine” (Plato, 2, 372a). This further enlightens the reader to Socrates’ opinion on Adeimantus’ thoughts.
To Socrates, the other “son of the best,” Glaucon, is just as bad if not worse. Glaucon challenges Socrates and he in turn exploits the weaknesses in Glaucon’s argument. When in debate, finding the flaws in the opposing argument helps, yet this is meant to be a discussion, not a duel. Glaucon points out a missing component—feasts—and this embarrasses Socrates. “What you say is true…. I forgot that they’ll have relishes” (2, 371c). As Glaucon riddles holes in Socrates’ city, Socrates goes on the defense—“Well, how should it be, Glaucon?” (2, 371d). What seems to be a joke from Glaucon—“I suppose men who aren’t going to be wretched recline on couches”—is taken as a challenge by Socrates (2, 371d). Socrates exaggerates Glaucon’s comment to ridiculous proportions to the point that even Glaucon does not know where the second city has gone.

‘Now, my friend, the city must be still bigger, and not by a small, number but by a whole army, which will go out and do battle with invaders for all the wealth and all the things we were just now talking about.’
‘What,’ he [Glaucon] said, ‘aren’t they adequate by themselves?’
‘Not if that was a fine agreement you and all we others made when we were fashioning the city’ (2, 373e-374a).

Socrates has been shown to be a manipulator and a sore loser. Or is it perhaps that Adeimantus and Glaucon are just the sons of a man named Ariston and not “the best?” Adeimantus allows himself to be manipulated into following Socrates’ way of thinking where Glaucon cannot even keep up with Socrates’ mental abilities. Yet for all his mental ablities, he, just like Adeimantus and Glaucon, is human with flaws. For all his philosophical savvy, he too falls prey to even the most human traps—ego

20 Responses to “Superior Socrates”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    I am not sure Socrates is intending solely to win the argument. If so, surely he could just recount the story in a different way, right? That way, at least the auditors (us?) of the Republic would think he succeeded.

    Besides, he seems over and over to be hesitant about continuing, and, if we believe him, seems to think the conversation is basically over at the beginning of Book 2 and substantively over by the beginning of Book 5. This may not square with wanting to convince the others; he seems on the contrary to be continually trying to opt out of the conversation.

    However, I do think he is perhaps not as kind, in an argumentative sense, as he could be to some of the interlocutors. And he clearly is not just following the conversation “wherever it leads”–I think you are right to suggest he has something in mind. He admits that he has been avoiding certain points and that others will unleash a swarm of arguments, etc. So he is up to something, surely.

    That said, “sore loser” is probably harsh. At least in the Republic (not to mention other dialogues), he seems genuinely concerned with the best way of life. But this doesn’t mean he won’t come off as a jerk, especially if we believe the stuff re: the people who come back to the cave and appear ridiculous or even dangerous. This, to put it mildly, is a form of foreshadowing for the Apology.

    KH

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