Course Website for Introduction to Plato

Midcoast Senior College Fall 2023

 Thursdays September 14-November 2 from 9:30-11:00 AM at the University of Maine Augusta Brunswick Center, Orion Hall, Room  119, 12 Sewall Street, Brunswick Landing, Brunswick, Maine. 

Copyright © 2023 Bruce W. Hauptli

This webpage is under construction and will be revised throughout the term, but it is fairly stable as the course has been taught twice before for MSC. 

Course Description: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito provide an excellent introduction to Plato and philosophy.  These dialogues (55 pages of reading) are so accessible that they require no prior study, yet they are so rich that even the most experienced scholars have critically discussed them for more than two millennia.  Our discussions will devote time to both the dialogues and some of the historical criticisms of them.  In addition to providing the opportunity for interested individuals to learn about Plato and philosophy, they are intended to engage students in topics such as “Does Socrates have substantive knowledge,” “Must one always obey the laws,” and “Is Socrates engaged in a religious quest?”  This course was first offered at  MSC in the Fall of 2016, and again in Spring of 2021. 

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.  I have taught this course twice before for MSC, as well as seven others.  Having retired to Bath in 2015, I enjoy continuing 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: 978-0872206335.  Available from Amazon: Kindle: $7.52, Paperback: $10.50.  

Anticipated Course Schedule:

September 14, 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. 

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 and they may be read before and/or after the class:

My “What Is Philosophy?” 

My “Introduction to Plato.”   

My Supplement to Selection from Plato's Meno.  

My “Supplement to Plato’s Euthyphro.” 

September 21, 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, also read his Apology (pp. 21-44 of the text). 

Supplementary materials and readings:

My “Supplement to Plato’s Euthyphro.” 

September 27, 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:

My “Supplement on Plato’s Apology.” 

October 5, 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: Re-read Plato’s Apology

Supplementary materials and readings:

 My “Supplement on Plato’s Apology.” 

October 12, Week 5: Plato’s Apology.  The verdict, penalty, and general discussion.  Introduction to the Crito, How do Crito and Euthyphro differ? 

Additional Material Introduced In Class: In his The Student: A Shot History, Michael Roth maintains that: “in prior sections of this book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Socrates has talked with a painter, a craftsman, and a maker of armor.  Now it’s the beautiful Theodote, who offers men pleasure in return for financial support.  And she is very well supported.  When Socrates hears from one of his students that Theodote’s beauty surpasses many things, including speech, he responds playfully, “We must go to behold her, for surely it is not possible for those who have merely heard to learn what surpasses speech.” 
  Once in Theodote’s presence, Socrates begins discussing her with the young men he has brought with him: does she benefit more from being adored, or do the men benefit more from the pleasure of adoring her?  Living quite modestly himself, Socrates takes note of her wealth—her fine clothes, her well-appointed entourage.  “How does she come by her wealth?” he inquires.  And she responds, “If someone who has become my friend wants to treat me well, he is my livelihood.”  Well, then, says the master teacher, how does she go about getting men to become her friends—how does she get them to follow her and support her?  Spiders weave webs to get what they need for sustenance, and hunters make elaborate preparations to catch their prey.  “And what sort of nets,” she responds, “have I?””  [Michael Roth The Student: A Short History (New Haven, Yale UP, 2023), pp. 37-38 of Kindle Edition].  Roth is citing Xenophon, Memorabilia, Book III, Chapter 11. 

Roth relates that Theodote then invites Socrates to bring her young men as he is able to attract followers, and

Socrates replies to Theodote that he does indeed have love charms, and then, underscoring the main point of their exchange, adds that it makes no sense to try to attract those who have no need of what one is offering.  It makes no sense, in other words, to try to attract those who have no desire.  People who are fully satiated will turn away from even delectable food.  Whether one is in the business of philosophy or of bodily pleasure, one must wait until the right moment when the potential friend feels desire: “You neither approach nor offer any reminder to those who are satiated until they stop being full and are in need again.  Then, . . . you offer reminders to those who are in need by means of the most decorous intimacy possible and by visibly wishing to gratify . . . [but then] flee until they are desirous. For it makes a big difference to give the same gifts at that point, rather than before they desire them.”  [Ibid,  p. 39, Book III Chapter 1. 

Click for an online edition of Xenophon's Memorabilia

Note both how the picture here is both similar and distinct from Plato' portrayal of Socrates! 

Assignment for next session: Read Plato’s Crito. 

Supplementary materials and readings:

My “Supplement to Plato’s Crito.”   

October 19, Week 6: Plato's Crito.  What is the escape plan?  Why won't Socrates escape?  Who would be harmed by the escape?  Why does Crito have trouble agreeing with Socrates' argument? 

Assignment for next session: re-read the Crito and read my Socrates: Listening to Divine Voices, Listening Only to Reason, and Tragedy" and my "Regarding "Singular" Conceptions of The Good/The Good Life"

Discussion Questions for next two 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]  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]  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.”  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)? 

October 26, Week 7: Finish The Crito.  Is Socrates' argument airtight?  Contradictions—do these dialogues fit together, or does Socrates deserve his sentence?  We may begin to address the discussion questions listed above. 

Assignment for final session: re-read my “What Is Philosophy?”), "Regarding "Singular" Conceptions of The Good/The Good Life," and Supplement for the last class. 

November 2, Week 8: Continue discussion of above Discussion Questions, consider criticisms of Plato's views, and re-consider the question "What Is Philosophy?" 

For those interested in further reading:

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

Thomas C. Brickhouse and Nicholas D. Smith, The Trial and Execution of Socrates: Sources and Controversies (NY: Oxford U.P., 2002).  Includes selections from: Aristophanes' Clouds; Xenophon's Apology of Socrates and Memorabilia; Diogenes' On The Lives and Opinions of Persons in Philosophy;  and contemporary essays on "Why Was Socrates Prosecuted," "Socrates and Obedience to the Law; and "Did Plato Tell the Truth About the Death of Socrates?"  

Bruce Hauptli Home Page


Last revised: 10/24/23