Midcoast Senior College Fall 2017

Introduction to Philosophy

Bruce Hauptli

Fridays 9:30-11:30 on Fridays, September 11-October 30  SNHU-Maine in Brunswick

Copyright © 2017 Bruce W. Hauptli

Course Information:

Plato’s early dialogues provide an excellent introduction to the philosophic activity, and in this course we will read and discuss Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.  These three short dialogues (approximately 55 pages in total) are so accessible that they require no prior study of philosophy, yet they provide the reader with an outstanding picture of the Socratic activity and its importance according to Plato.  They also provide an excellent picture of one view of liberal education at its formative stage.  These dialogues are so rich that even the most serious scholars have critically discussed them for more than two millennia, and our discussions will also devote time to some of their criticisms.  In addition to providing the opportunity for interested individuals to learn about the philosophical activity, discussion will show students how to actually engage in it, as we seek an answer the question "What is this thing called philosophy?"  I previously taught this course for MSC in the Fall of 2016. 

Brief Biography: I earned a BA in mathematics from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI (1970); and an MA and PhD in philosophy from Washington University in St Louis, MO (1973 & 1974).  I am an Emeritus Professor of philosophy at Florida International University in Miami, FL (The State University of Florida in Miami) where I taught for thirty-nine years.  Almost every semester I enjoyed teaching a historically-themed introductory philosophy course to undergraduates as part of the University’s core curriculum, and I used these dialogues to get the ball rolling.  Having retired to Bath in 2015, I would like to continue to introduce interested individuals to philosophy. 

Text: Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, and Phaedo (Second Edition) trans. G.M.A. Grube, revised by John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2002).  ISBN: 978-0-87220-633-5.  The book is covered by the course registration fee and will be available for enrolled students before the semester begins.  Students will be notified by email when it is available. 

Anticipated Course Schedule: (I anticipate that this section will be up-dated each week during the course)

Week 1: Introduction to Philosophy, and to Plato and to his society.  We will not fully cover the materials in either the "What Is Philosophy" or the "Introduction to Plato" supplements below, and what is not covered in this class will be discussed in the second week. 

In class reading of a one-page passage in Plato’s Meno (in text). 

Discussion of the ancient Greek’s and Plato’s views of the role and importance of education in contrast to our own. 

How to read philosophy. 

Assignment for next session: read Plato’s Euthyphro (pp. 1-20 of text). 

Supplementary materials and readings--these are not assigned, but may be helpful to students (they may be read before or after the class):

My “What Is Philosophy?” 

My Supplement to Selection from Plato's Meno.  

My “Introduction to Plato.”   

My “Supplement to Plato’s Euthyphro.” 

Week 2: Plato’s Euthyphro—discussion of what Euthyphro is doing, what Socrates is doing (and why he is doing it), and why Socrates cares about what Euthyphro is doing?  Discussion of the Greeks’ views regarding religion and of Plato’s differing view. 

We will also finish the discussions remaining from "What Is Philosophy?" and "Introduction to Plato." 

Assignment for next session: re-read Plato’s Euthyphro, read his Apology (pp. 21-44 of the text). 

Supplementary materials and readings--these are not assigned, but may be helpful to students (they may be read before or after the class):

My “Supplement to Plato’s Euthyphro.” 

Week 3: Finish discussing Plato’s Euthyphro and begin discussing his Apology—discussion of Socrates’ trial and his defense. 

Again, we want to ask, and try out various answers as to, what he is doing, why is he doing it, and why does Plato care about what his fellow citizens are doing?  

Assignment for next session: re-read Plato’s Apology. 

Supplementary materials and readings--these are not assigned, but may be helpful to students (they may be read before or after the class):

My “Supplement on Plato’s Apology.” 

Week 4: Plato’s Apology. 

Why does he think philosophizing is important for him, for his fellow citizens and for Athens?  Is Socrates on a “divine mission,” is he “completely ignorant,” and why are these important questions? 

Assignment for next session: Read Plato’s Crito. 

Supplementary materials and readings--these are not assigned, but may be helpful to students (they may be read before or after the class):

My “Supplement to Plato’s Crito.”   

Week 5: Plato’s Apology and Crito. 

The verdict, penalty, and general discussion.  Introduction to the Crito, How do Crito and Euthyphro different? 

Assignment for next session: re-read Plato’s Crito. 

Supplementary materials and readings--these are not assigned, but may be helpful to students (they may be read before or after the class):

My “Supplement to Plato’s Crito.”   

Week 6: Plato’s Crito.  Why not escape—what is his argument; and is it, really, any good?  Does Socrates have a “death wish,” is he on a religious quest…? 

Discussion Questions for next several classes--these were paper topics from the Induction to Philosophy Class I taught for many years which covered the materials we have read, and we will be considering how to respond to them: 

Topic A:

Suppose Meletus overheard the discussion in the Crito and went to Plato’s Socrates saying “In your discussion with Crito you indicated you were able to propose and defend substantive theses—you claimed to know whether escape would be just, that it is never right to return a wrong for a wrong, and you claimed to know what sort of life is worth living.  In making such claims you show you do not really believe that human wisdom amounts to little.  That is, you lied during the trial when you professed ignorance.  It seems to me your sentence is just!”  How would you respond to this charge?  Is Plato’s Socrates inconsistent?  Can Plato’s Socrates both claim to be ignorant and to know? 

An alternative way of raising the same question would be to address the notion of “Socratic Ignorance”—to write a paper which answers the question “Is it really true that Plato, Socrates, and other people are on the “same level” in terms of their knowledge?”  Here you would refer to (at least) the Apology and the Crito and would explain what Plato’s Socrates does, and does not, know.  You would also clarify and explain any (apparent) contradictions between his claims in these works. 

Topic B:

In his Apology Plato’s Socrates clearly indicates he would continue to philosophize even if the court ordered him not to—clearly he does not believe one must obey the laws of the state.  In his Crito, however, he accepts a death sentence and refuses to escape from an unjust conviction—he chooses to obey the state’s laws.  It seems there is an inconsistency or contradiction here—either one has to obey the laws or one doesn’t!  Which is Plato’s real view?  If Plato’s Socrates is willing to disobey a bad law which says “Don’t philosophize,” why won’t he disobey the state when it comes to life and death? 

Topic C:

In the Apology, Plato’s Socrates says: "to do this [pursue his dialectical activities] has, as I say, been enjoined upon me by the god, by means of oracles and dreams, and in every other way that a divine manifestation has ever ordered a man to do anything.  This is true, gentleman, and can easily be established." [33c][1] 

 In the Crito, on the other hand, he says: "we must therefore examine whether we should act in this way or not [that is escape], as not only now but at all times I am the kind of man who listens only to the argument that on reflection seems best to me." [46b][2] 

There seems to be a fundamental inconsistency here however.  Either he follows the dictates of the god(s), or he follows the dictates of reason.  Which view truly represents Plato’s “true view,” and how is the other contention to be explained? 

Topic D:

Suppose you encountered someone who maintained:

much of what Socrates went through at the end of his life could have been easily avoided if he had only taken his own advice and lived a private life (Apology, 32a).  He would not have offended the rich and powerful, he would not have been put on trial, and he would not have had to reason with Crito about the appropriateness of escaping. 

How would you reply?  Would “being private” in this sense mean giving up anything that he holds to be important?  If so, clarify what would have to be forsaken, and why you think he would not be willing to do so. 

 Topic E:  

In their “Socratic Method,” Thomas Brickhouse and Nicholas Smith ask: “if the god’s own gift, Socrates himself, a man who has lead an exemplary life of examination, continues to be ignorant of (for example) the nature of justice, it seems most unlikely that anyone could become wise in the way Socrates claims not to be.”[3]  So, one wonders, what is, really, the point of his inquiry with Euthyphro—if neither of them has full knowledge, in what sense is Socrates better off, and what does his “examined life” offer to someone like Euthyphro (since “knowledge” doesn’t seem to really be promised)? 

Notes for discussion Questions: [click on note number below to return to that question]

[1] The citation is from G.M.A. Grube’s translation of Plato’s Apology, from his The Trial and Death of Socrates [1975], as reprinted in Classics of Western Philosophy (sixth edition), ed. Steven Cahn (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002), pp. 29-41, p. 37. 

[2] The citation is from G.M.A. Grube’s translation of Plato’s Crito, from his The Trial and Death of Socrates [1975], as reprinted in Classics of Western Philosophy (sixth edition), op., cit., pp. 42-48, p. 43. 

[3] Thomas Brickhouse and Nicholas Smith, “Socratic Method,” in their Plato’s Socrates (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 1994), pp. 3-29, p. 23.  This work is available from the Library’s collection of electronic books. 

Assignment for next session: read my Socrates: Listening to Divine Voices, Listening Only to Reason, and Tragedy."

Week 7: Contradictions—do these dialogues fit together, or does Socrates deserve his sentence?  We will address the discussion questions listed above. 

Assignment for next session: re-read My “What Is Philosophy?”) and read the supplement for the last class

Week 8: Well, What Is Philosophy: supplement for the last class

For those interested in further reading:

Rebecca Goldstein, Plato At the Gooleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (N.Y.: Pantheon, 2015). 

Return to my webpage for the course. 

Midcoast Senior College Website

The Midcoast Senior College Page for My Course

Bruce Hauptli Home Page

Email: hauptli@fiu.edu 

Last revised: 07/08/17.