Plato Assignments



For the last week. Read the Symposium and (for Thursday) "The Definition of Love in Plato's Symposium," by Donald Levy, and Vlastos article on love in the Symposium.

Paper for Tuesday (Wiginton

  1. How does love for a particular beautiful body help one eventually ascend to a vision of Beautiful Itself, according to Diotima? Explain and evaluate her account.
  2. Why would one be completely happy (and virtuous) if one had a vision of the Beautiful Itself, according to Diotima? Explain and evaluate her account.
  3. Vlastos objects to the sort of regard that one has for the beloved on the Symposium account of love nad its role in attaining happiness. Explain and evaluate his objection (and/or part of Levy's response).

11/18. Reading: Timaeus, 27c-56c. paper (Walk).

Pretty wide open; explain and evaluate something from the readong. Possible topics include:

11/16. Reading: the rest of the Theateteus. Papers (Upchurch, Vega)
  1. Explain and evaluate some part of Socrates' refutation of the doctrine that everything is in flux in all ways. (Note: Burnyeat helps a lot with making sense of this part of the dialogue!)
  2. Explain and evaluate Socrates' argument for the distinction between reason and perception, and how this relates to his final refutation of the thesis that knowledge is perception.
  3. Evaluate something in the 'digression' about the philosopher vs. the practical man.
  4. How does Socrates refute the definition that knowledge is true belief? Explain and evaluate.
  5. Explain and evaluate Socrates' attempted resolution of the puzzle of false judgment.
  6. Explain and evaluate Socrates

11/11. Read Theaetetus up through 187a, plus associated parts of Burnyeat.Paper (Strickland)

Anything from the list below that we haven't yet covered in class. Or:

  1. Explain and evaluate some part of Socrates' refutation of the doctrine that everything is in flux in all ways. (Note: Burnyeat helps a lot with making sense of this part of the dialogue!)
  2. Explain and evaluate Socrates' argument for the distinction between reason and perception, and how this relates to his final refutation of the thesis that knowledge is perception.

For 11/9. Read up to 179b, plus associated parts of Burnyeat.

Paper (Brooks, Kenealy).

  1. Reading: Th. 170a-171d. Protagoras says that "man is the measure of all things," and this Protagorean position eventually gets fleshed out as"things are for every man what they seem to him to be." Why does Socrates think that this position contradicts itself? Do you agree with Socrates? Why, or why not?
  2. Set out and evaluate Socrates' refutation of the Protagorean 'man-measure' doctrine, based upon predictions about the future.
  3. Set out and evaluate Socrates' comparison (in the digression) of the two types of lives.

For 11/4. Read the Theatetus up until 171d, plus Burnyeat's paper on the Theatetus.

Paper topics (Fellows Gray)

  1. Briefly explain why Protagoras' position seems to deny that any person is wiser than another. How does Protagoras respond to this charge (in his 'defense'), and how does Socrates try to rebut this defense? Do you think that this charge againstProtagoras (that his position entails that there are not differences in wisdom) is cogent, or not?

  2. Reading: Th. 170a-171d. Protagoras says that "man is the measure of all things," and this Protagorean position eventually gets fleshed out as"things are for every man what they seem to him to be." Why does Socrates think that this position contradicts itself? Do you agree with Socrates? Why, or why not?


For 11/2. Read book 10 of the Republic and Annas' paper "Plato's Myths of Judgement." Papers (Cadle Carter) One of the topics below if we haven't already covered that material in class on Monday. Or write about the Myth of Er and/or Annas' paper on Plato's myths of judgement. Some questions regarding this that you may wish to address:



For 10/26 and 10/28.

Reading: Books 8 and 9 of the Republic, plus the article by Richard Kraut. We'll also be discussing the Cave and the philosophers' education on Tuesday.

Papers (Tuesday Walk, Wiginton; Thursday Bailey Batson):

  1. (519d ff.) Socrates says that the philosophers must be made to return to 'the cave,' even though they don't want to. Consider some of the following questions in relation to this passage (whichever you'd like): why don't the philosophers want to return? Why do they return nonetheless? Does having the philosophers 'return to the cave' introduce problems for Socrates' account of justice, since it seems that it isn't in the interest of the philosopher, in this case, to do what is just?
  2. Explain some part of Socrates' educational program for the philosophers (521c ff.) and why he proposes it, and then evaluate his arguments for setting up this part of the curriculum as he does.
  3. (537d ff.) Why does Socrates restrict 'dialectic' only to a few people, and then only for those at least 30 years old? What are the dangers of dialectic, as described by Socrates? Do you agree with him?
  4. Pick one of the states, or one of the corresponding types of soul that Socrates talks about. Describe his account of what that type of soul/state is like, and why that type of soul (or state) is bad (and why, in the case of the souls, it's bad for you to be that sort of person). Then ask: is this a psychologically/politically plausible portrait, and does he show that the ideal soul/state is better than the one he describes?
  5. Pick one of the transitions from one of the sorts of soul (or state) to the next. Describe how and why it happens, according to Socrates. Is the account convincing?
  6. Justice and happiness in the individual. Explain and evaluate one the proofs that the just person is the happiest, or that the just person?s life is more pleasant than the unjust person?s life.
  7. Richard Kraut. According to Kraut, why is the Form of the Good really crucial to Plato's defense of justice? Is he right?
  8. Something else (your choice).

For 10/19 and 10/21.

Read book 5 of the Republic 471c to the end, Book 6, and book 7 of the Republic to 519b. Paper

  1. Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?
  2. Why does Sachs think that Plato's argument is fallacious? Is he right?
  3. Why should philosophers rule, according to Socrates? Do you agree? Why, or why not? (NB: keep in mind what Socrates says about who are the true philosophers, vs. those who are presently called philosophers.)

  4. What is the difference between the 'lovers of sights and sounds' and the philosophers? Why do the lovers and sights and sounds have only opinion and not knowledge?

  5. Why does Socrates think that knowledge of the 'form of the good' is the highest sort of knowledge?


For 10/14. Read book 4 of the Republic and David Sach's article, "A Fallacy in Plato's Republic."

Possible papers, Gray, Kenealy (earlier topics would be better, as we're more likely to get to that material, but write on any you wish):

  1. Are the people of the ideal Republic happy? Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments for why they are.
  2. Is the ideal Republic just? Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments for why it is. What is justice (in the city), according to Socrates? (Alternative topic: give and evaluate Socrates' argument for why it has one of the other virtues.)
  3. Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments why there are distinct parts of the soul.
  4. What is justice (in the individual), according to Socrates, and why does he say this? Is he right?
  5. Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?
  6. Why does Sachs think that Plato's argument is fallacious? Is he right?

For 10/12.Read the rest of Book 2 of the Republic, and all of book 3. Also, C.C.W. Taylor's article, "Plato's Totalitarianism."

Papers (Carter, Fellows; Rogasner for 6010 session):

  1. (376ff.)Why does Socrates advocate censoring the stories of Hesiod and Homer, and how does his proposed censorship relate to his educational proposals? Do you agree with his proposal? Why, or why not?
  2. 378ff: Why does Socrates' say that the stories of Hesiod and Homer are harmful lies? What argument does he give for his own conception of the gods, at 379b ff? Do you agree with his arguments? Why, or why not?
  3. (412 b ff.) How are the rulers of the cities chosen, and why? Do you agree with this method (and rationale) for choosing the rulers? Why, or why not?
  4. (414c ff.) Explain the myth of the metals. Why does Socrates propose promulgating it? Is it justified? Why, or why not?
  5. What kind of totalitarian state does Taylor say the Republic is, and why? Do you think he's right to classify the Republic in this way?
  6. Taylor says that an important problem with Plato's theory of the ideal state is that it does not include any substantial measure of autonomy in its specification of the good life. Explain what he measn by this and why he thinks it. Then say whether you agree with him on this.

For 10/7. Read Book 2 of the Republic, up to 369b.

Possible paper topics (Batson Cadle):

  1. What would you do if you had the Ring of Gyges, and why would you do it? (I'm looking for a justification here, not an explanation.) If you'd choose to do something that would be considered unjust, what do you think Socrates' strongest argument against you doing so would be, based on what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Socrates? If you would not do something unjust, what do you think Thrasymachus would say against you, based upon what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Thrasymachus?
  2. What is Glaucon's explanation of the origin of justice, and why does he thinks that a consequence of this explanation is that justice is only a 'second best'? Is he right about how and why people invented justice, and is he right about the implications of his position?


For 10/5. Read the Clitophon and my notes on it. (If you'd prefer, I also have a version of the notes as a word document if you want to download that.)

Paper (if one were assigned, Pelham for grad session this or Republic book I):

  1. Explain and evaluate one of Clitophon's arguments against one of the definitions of justice (or of its product) offered by the companions of Socrates.
  2. Do you think that Clitophon is right that Socrates is a hindrance to the pursuit of virtue (for those who are already eager to obtain it)? Why do you think he says this? Is he right?
  3. Anything else that strikes your fancy.

For 9/30. Read Book 1 of the Republic and Annas' article on it (on u:earn). Also helpful is this entry on Callicles and Thrasymachus.

Possible papers (Wooke, Bailey):

  1. Briefly summarize one of Socrates' objections to either the definition of justice given by Cephalus or by Polemarchus. Do you believe that Socrates' refutation is convincing? Why, or why not?

  2. Briefly summarize one of the arguments that Thrasymachus gives for injustice being more profitable, or one of Socrates' arguments for justice being more profitable. Do you find the argument cogent? Why, or why not? If you wish to, you can also give your own views about which (if either) is more profitable, and why.
  3. Pretty wide open: if anything that Annas brought up strikes your fancy, feel free to write on it.

For 9/28. Read the rest pf the Protagoras and Annas' piece "Hedonism in the Protagoras." Paper (Vega, Wiginton; grad session Montello):

  1. Look at some of the dramatic back and forth between Socrates, Protagoras, and the assembled audience (and other sophists)? Do you think it's making some philosophical point, and if so, what? Do you think that that point is correct? (Related to this: there is a lot of discussion between Socrates and Protogoras about how to conduct discussions, and a lot of pushing and pulling about how their discussion proceeds. What you do make of it?)
  2. Explain and analyze some of Socrates' argumentation contained in his questioning of Protogoras after Protagoras' great speech, concerning whether the virtues are separate things or not.
  3. Annas argues that Socrates' hedonism is not advanced in propria persona. Explain why not, and analyze her argument.
  4. Annas argues that Protagoras is a poor philosophical interlocutir, and part of the point of the dialog is illustarte that (and the differencs between Socrates and Protagoras). Explain her position and evaluate it.
  5. Explain and evaluate some part of Socrates' argumetation in his denial that people are ever really overcome by pleasure, that courage is wisdom, and that we need a 'measuring art' to secure happiness.

For 9/23. Read the Protagoras through 33e. Paper (Vega, Walk):

  1. Explain some part of Protagoras' mythical story of what virtue is, and why it's teachable. Then analyze it: does the point you're explaining seem, or not, and why or why not?
  2. Look at some of the dramatic back and forth between Socrates, Protagoras, and the assembled audience (and other sophists)? Do you think it's making some philosophical point, and if so, what? Do you think that that point is correct? (Related to this: there is a lot of discussion between Socrates and Protogoras about how to conduct discussions, and a lot of pushing and pulling about how their discussion proceeds. What you do make of it?)
  3. Explain and analyze some of Socrates' argumentation contained in his questioning of Protogoras after Protagoras' great speech, concerning whether the virtues are separate things or not.
    For 9/21. Read Vlastos' article on the moral theory of Socrates. No paper, but think: is Vlastos' description of Socrates' theory adequate (or not) both as (i) an interpretation of the texts, and (ii) as a free-standing theory on its own right?

For 9/16. Read Gentzler's article, and re-read the Gorgias if you wish.

Papers (Thomas, Upchurch)

  1. Why does S say that he is one of the few Atenians who takes up the 'true political craft' and practices the ?true? politics? Explain and evaluate what he says.
  2. Some possible topics relating to the Gentzler article:
    1. Explain and evaluate the distinction Gentzler makes between Socratic and sophistic cross-examination.
    2. Are Socrates' arguments against Callicles really sophistic, as Gentzler claims? If you wish, you can concentrate on one argument in particular.
    3. Is there good reason to portray Socrates as being sophistical in order to illustrate the superiority of the philosophical life? What are Gentzler's reasons for thinking this? IS he right?
For 9/14. Read the rest of the Gorgias.

Papers (Ordway, Strickland, grad session Joyce)

  1. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in yourown words and give your own evaluation of some part ofwhat Callicles says.here.
  2. Explain and evaluate one or more of Socrates' objections to hedonism. If you wish you also explore the question of whether these objections refute Callicles position.
  3. In the Gorgias, Socrates gives his positive views on what the good life is and how to achieve it. Explain and evaluate some part of his position and/or his arguments for it.

For 9/9.

Please read Gorgias from the beginning through 486e (theend of Callicles' long speech).

Reading response papers Cole Just Christopher Kenealy)

  1. Explain the distinction between a 'knack' and a'craft.' Why does Socrates say that oratory is only aknack and not a craft, and why is it shameful? Explainand evaluate what assumptions about human flourishingyou think are behind what Socrates says about oratoryhere.
  2. Why does Polus think that a tyrant like Archelaus ishappy? How does Socrates object to Polus' position (andeventually get Polus to recant his position)? Evaluate.
  3. On what grounds does Socrates argue that it's betterto be caught and punished if one does wrong rather thangetting away scott-free? Evaluate.
  4. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in yourown words and give your own evaluation of some part ofwhat Callicles says.

For 9/7.Continue the Apology, and re-read Burnyeat's article, "The Impiety of Socrates."

Reading response papers: (Robert Fellows, David Gray, grad session Patrick Cox)

Any of the 9/2 papers that deal with a part of the dialogue we haven't yet covered.


For 9/2. Read the Apology, and Burnyeat's article, "The Impiety of Socrates." (on uLearn):

Reading response papers (Courtney Cadle, Bailey Carter)

  1. Why does Socrates claim (in 29e-30b and in 36b-37a) that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens? What is his argument (or what are his arguments) for this? What assumptions does he make? Give and analyze the cogency of Socrates' argument.

  2. In 30b and following, Socrates makes the following claims: "If they kill me, they will harm themselves more than if they harm me," "A better man cannot harm a worse man," and "I am defending myself not for my own sake but for theirs." These claims seem incredible, as Socrates well knew, and would have seemed so to the members of the jury also. Give Socrates' reasons for one of these claims (put this in your own words, as much as possible). Evaluate his arguments and his claim. (NOTE: he doesn't produce a simple argument for these claims when he makes them, but evidence for why he says these things can be found elsewhere in the dialogue, e.g., 39a-b is especially relevant.)

  3. What is Socrates' argument for why there is good reason to think that death is a blessing (in 40c and following)? Give it (in the form of a numbered argument is OK) and evaluate it.

  4. Burnyeat argues that there is some reason to find Socrates guilty of the charges against him. Give and analyze one of his argumetns in favor of this (and discuss something else he says).

For 8/31. Re-read the Euthyphro, and read Vlastos' article, "Socratic Piety" (on uLearn).

Response paper topics (Elise Bailey, Amanda Batson):

  1. Look at one the definitions of piety that Euthyphro offers, or that Socrates offers on his behalf, that we have not yet covered: Explain on what grounds Socrates objects to this definition. Do you find the objection convincing? Why, or why not?
  2. Consider Socrates' objection to the following definition of piety: "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d) Does his objection show that a Divine Command theory of ethics is false: that is, a theory according to which morally wrong actions are wrong because God prohibits them, and morally obligatory actions are obligatory because God commands them? Why, or why not? Defend your answer against objections.
  3. Vlastos claims that if we look, we can discern a positive Socratic version of piety in the Euthyphro, whereas the introduction to the dialogue says that Socrates ?has in advance no answer of his own to test out or to advocate.? Either write about which view seems to be the proper understanding/interpretation of the text, and why, or about the cogency of 'Socratic piety' as an understanding of what piety is, apart from issues of its adequacy as an interpretation of the Euthyphro (and related dialogues).


For 8/26. Read the Euthyphro. Also read also read the Euthyphro objection to the divine command theory.. Paper:

(1) Look at the definitions of piety that Euthyphrooffers, or that Socrates offers on his behalf:

Explain on what grounds Socrates objects to this definition. Do you find the objection convincing? Why, or why not?

We will probably discuss this second topic more next week, but you may write on it if you wish.

(2) Consider Socrates' objection to the following definition of piety: "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d) Does his objection show that a Divine Command theory of ethics is false: that is, a theory according to which morally wrong actions are wrong because God prohibits them, and morally obligatory actions are obligatory because God commands them? Why, or why not? Defend your answer against objections.



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