Monday, May 23, 2016

Bertrand Russell on Socrates

In the introductory paragraph of his Chapter entitled ‘Socrates’ Russell mentions that Socrates was unquestionably a well-known figure in Athens, since Aristophanes caricatured him in The Clouds. He says that two of his pupils, Xenophon and Plato ‘wrote voluminously about him, but they said very different things. Even where they agree, it has been suggested by Burnet that Xenophon is copying Plato. Where they disagree, some believe the one, some the other, some neither. In such a dangerous dispute, I shall not venture to take sides.’

The second paragraph he opens as follows: ‘Let us begin with Xenophon, a military man, not very liberally endowed with brains, and on the whole conventional in his outlook.’ (Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Routledge Classics, 1996, p. 89). Reading Russell’s words, I can’t help thinking of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Symposium, Cyropaedia, Hellenica, and Anabasis

Passing on to Plato, Russell concentrates his attention to Plato’s Apology. He says that Socrates points out ‘that he is not a man of science, that he is not a teacher, and does not make money for teaching. He goes on to make fun of the Sophists, and to disclaim knowledge that they profess to have.’ (p. 92)

Russell does not elaborate on ‘knowledge the Sophists profess to have’; he devoted to them the preceding chapter entitled ‘Protagoras’ in which he wrote that what the Sophists ‘had to teach was not, in their minds, connected with religion or virtue. They taught the art of arguing, and as much knowledge as would help in this art.’ The passage in the Apology, which Russell in ‘Socrates’ characterizes with the words ‘He goes on to make fun of the Sophists, and to disclaim knowledge that they profess to have’ is the following:

‘If a man were really able to instruct mankind (ei tis hoios t’ eiȇ paideuein anthrȏpous) … there is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of cities, and are able to persuade the young men to leave their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing, and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be allowed to pay them … I came across a man who has spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias … I asked him … Is there any one who understands human and political virtue (tis tȇs toiautȇs aretȇs, tȇs anthrȏpinȇs te kai politikȇs, epistȇmȏn estin)? … “There is … Evenus the Parian … and his charge is five minae.” Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge.’ (19e2-20c1, tr. Jowett)

Russell writes: ‘The indictment had said that Socrates not only denied the gods of the State, but introduced other gods of his own; Meletus [Socrates’ official accuser], however, says that Socrates is a complete atheist, and adds: “He says that the sun is stone and the moon earth.” Socrates replies that Meletus seems to think he is prosecuting Anaxagoras, whose views may be heard in the theatre for one drachma (presumably in the plays of Euripides).’ (p. 93)

I wondered, how it happened to Russell that he understood Socrates as saying that ‘Anaxagoras’ views may be heard in the theatre for one drachma’, when in fact Socrates maintained that Anaxagoras’ books could be bought for one drachma. Luckily, I have got Jowett’s original translation of Plato, published in Hutchins’ Great Books of the Western World, which explains Russell’s mistake. Jowett’s original translation is as follows: ‘Friend Meletus (ȏ phile Melȇte), you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras (Anaxagorou oiei katȇgorein): and you have but a bad opinion of the judges (kai houtȏ kataphroneis tȏnde), if you fancy them illiterate to such a degree (kai oieis autous apeirous grammatȏn einai) as not to know (hȏste ouk eidenai) that these doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian (hoti ta Anaxagorou biblia tou Klazomeniou gemei toutȏn tȏn logȏn) … when there are not unfrequently exhibitions of them at the theatre (price of admission one drachma at the most) (ha exestin eniote ei panu pollou drachmȇs ek tȇs orchȇstras priamenois).’ (26d6-e1)

In Jowett’s translation published by Jowett Copyright Trustees in 1970 the relevant words are given as follows: ‘when they can be bought in the book-market for one drachma at most’. J. Burnet in his edition of the Apology explains in his note on ek tȇs orchȇstras at 26e1 that the name orchȇstra was given ‘not only to the orchestra in the Dionysiac theatre, but also to the part of the Agora where the statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton stood … There is no evidence that the book-market was there, but it is hardly possible to understand the words of the text otherwise.’ (Plato, Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito, edited with notes by John Burnet, Oxford University Press, 1924)

Russell writes in the ‘Socrates’: ‘Dialectic, that is to say, the method of seeking knowledge by question and answer, was not invented by Socrates. It seems to have been first practised systematically by Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides; in Plato’s dialogue Parmenides, Zeno subjects Socrates to the same kind of treatment to which, elsewhere in Plato, Socrates subjects others.’ (p. 97)

Diogenes Laertius says in his ‘Life of Zeno’ that ‘Aristotle says that Zeno was the inventor of dialectic’ (IX. 25). But in Plato’s Parmenides it is Parmenides who subjects Socrates to questioning, not Zeno. Zeno is subjected to questioning by the young Socrates and Parmenides chastises the latter for getting engaged in such activities before being properly trained (Pl. Parm. 135c-d).

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