In the Phaedrus Socrates refers to Polemarchus in his prayer to Eros that crowns his Palinode (Recantation): ‘This, dear god of love, is offered and paid to you as the finest and best palinode of which I am capable (Hautȇ soi, ȏ phile Erȏs, eis hȇmeteran dunamin hoti kallistȇ kai aristȇ dedotai te kai ekteteistai palinȏidia … If in our earlier speech Phaedrus and I said anything harsh against you (en tȏi prosthen ei ti logȏi soi apȇches eipomen Phaidros te kai egȏ), blame Lysias as the instigator of the speech (Lusian ton tou logou patera aitiȏmenos), and make him cease from speeches of that kind (paue tȏn toioutȏn logȏn), turning him instead, as his brother Polemarchus has been turned, to philosophy (epi philosophian de, hȏsper h’adelphos autou Polemarchos tetraptai, trepson), so that his lover here (hina kai ho erastȇs hode autou) may no longer waver as he does now between two choices (mȇketi epamphoterizȇi kathaper nun), but may single-mindedly direct his life towards love accompanied by talk of a philosophic kind (all’ haplȏs pros Erȏta meta philosophȏn logȏn ton bion poiȇtai, 257a3-b6, tr. C. J. Rowe).’
Does this reference to Polemarchus mean that when Plato wrote the dialogue, he viewed him as a philosopher? If so, what did he mean by someone’s being a philosopher? For an answer to this question we must go to the closing section of the Phaedrus: ‘Then we may regard our literary pastime as having reached a satisfactory conclusion (Oukoun ȇdȇ pepaisthȏ metriȏs hȇmin ta peri logȏn). Do you now go and tell Lysias (kai su te elthȏn phraze Lusiai) that we two went down to the stream where is the holy place of the Nymphs (hoti nȏ katabante es to Numphȏn nama te kai mouseion), and there listened to the words (ȇkousamen logȏn) which charged us to deliver a message, first to Lysias and all other composers of discourses (hoi epestellon legein Lusiai te kai ei tis allos suntithȇsi logous) … that if any of them has done his work with a knowledge of the truth (ei men eidȏs hȇi to alȇthes echei sunethȇke tauta), can defend his statements (kai echȏn boȇthein) when challenged (eis elenchon iȏn) … to call him wise, Phaedrus, (to men sophon, ȏ Phaidre, kalein) would, I think, be going too far (emoige mega einai dokei): the epithet is proper only to a god (kai theȏi monȏi prepein); a name that would fit him better, and have more seemliness, would be “lover (philo) of wisdom (sophos)” (to de philosophon mallon te an autȏi kai harmottoi kai emmelesterȏs echoi).’ (278b7-d6, tr. R. Hackforth)
In the Phaedrus, only a man who speaks with a knowledge of truth and can defend his statements when challenged deserves the name of a philosopher. In Republic I, on both these accounts, Polemarchus is far from being a philosopher, and it is hard to imagine how he could become one. Does this then mean that on account of his performance in Republic I, and his presentation in the Phaedrus, the latter can’t be seen as following the former? What if, when Plato speaks of him in the Phaedrus as a man turned to philosophy, he means a man who just wants to become a philosopher? In other words, what if the ‘philosophic credentials’ ascribed to him in the Palinode are considerably lower than those ascribed to a fully-fledged philosopher at the end of the dialogue?
We can get clarity into Polemarchus’ philosophic status in the Phaedrus if we find out what are the ‘two choices’ between which Phaedrus ‘wavers’, and what means ‘a single-minded direction of one’s life towards love accompanied by talk of a philosophic kind’ – of which Socrates speaks in his prayer to Eros.