Stone Washington
Plato's 5 dialogues vs. America's political debates
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By Stone Washington
February 29, 2016


The Death of Socrates (1787) by Jacques-Louis David. The final moments before Socrates drinks the poison hemlock, surrounded by his grief-stricken philosophy students. *Note the particularly profound grief of Plato at the foot of the bed – It is though entire weight of the world is on his shoulders at that moment.

"The State is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the State and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me."

~ Socrates

I'm very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. Obamacare, we're going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry. I'm angry because our country is a mess.

~ Donald J. Trump

Background

My father, Professor Ellis Washington, has for years written many Socratic Dialogues in a series he collectively calls "Symposium" which begins with the following background information –
    "Socrates (470-399 B.C.) was a famous Greek philosopher from Athens, who taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Socrates used a simple but cleverly profound method of teaching by asking revelatory, piercing questions. The Greeks called this form "dialectic" – starting from a thesis or question, then discussing ideas and moving back and forth between points of view to determine how well ideas stand up to critical review, with the ultimate principle of the dialogue being Veritas – Truth."
The following comparative essay analyzes the similarities between Plato's Five Dialogues and the 2016 Republican Presidential debates.

Euthyphro

The first dialogue begins with Socrates and the prophet Euthyphro meeting outside the law courts in Athens to exchange details on their respective law suits. Socrates is on trial based on trumped up charges allegedly for his 'impiety' (religious behavior deemed unsuitable by the gods and society), and for corrupting the morals of the youth (by teaching them to think critically and independently). The narrative of Euthyphro also concerns his conducting a legal case seeking to prosecute his own father for an alleged murder. His father had accidently killed one of his servants, but Euthyphro argues that a murder is a murder – whether the murderer is one's father or a stranger. By bringing the case to order Euthyphro will fulfil his place in society as a citizen and will be free from his impiety, since the law states: "not to prosecute... is impiety." Socrates is perplexed in how Euthyphro believes that the prosecution of his father is pious (holy). Socrates asks him to explain what piety is and thus the dialogue of Euthyphro begins in earnest.

To validate the piousness of his actions, Euthyphro refers to Zeus, the chief god and god of thunder in Greek myth, who disposed of his father, Cronus, to become king of the gods, explaining that if humans are pious then they will do what the gods do. Euthyphro defines piety as, "that which is dear to the gods" and defines impiety as "that which is not dear to them." Socrates argues that different gods may like or hate different things; that which is pious to one god may be impious to another. Through the synthesis of the argument, the men come to the conclusion that though gods disagree on some matters, they agree on many which establishes piety.

However, Socrates observes that the reason behind someone loving an object is because the object is loveable (objective choice), not because that person happens to love it (subjective choice). Things are defined by their own nature, not by people's reaction to them. The gods love piety because it is holy by nature, not because of the fact that it is loved by the gods. In other words, Socrates seems to place a higher level of philosophical thought on objective interpretations over subjective ones.

Socrates seeks to know if people who are pious are also just. Euthyphro agrees but adds that not all just people are pious. Euthyphro agrees that piety is the type of justice that "cares for" or "attends to" the gods, whereas other aspects of justice relate to humans. Socrates then asks if humans caring for gods make the gods better, just as humans care for an animal which improves it. Euthyphro replies that you cannot improve a god by caring for him; you are only limited to serving one. Socrates questions what will come from serving the gods? He wonders if it will possibly establish universal harmony. Euthyphro replies that it is gratifying to them. Socrates observes that they have come full circle to Euthyphro's first unsatisfactory definition of piety (that which is loved by the gods). While Socrates is willing to continue the inquiry, Euthyphro claims to have an appointment elsewhere and leaves the question unresolved.

Apology

The dialogue begins with Socrates being accused in court claiming inexperience in legal matters. From the statement by the Oracle of the Greek god Apollo, Socrates is being tried for corruption through being called the wisest man alive. Socrates attempted to prove the prophecy of Apollo wrong by finding someone wiser than himself, but when he questioned various poets, politicians, and craftsmen, he found that their limited expertise made them think mistakenly that they were clever at everything. Socrates is wiser because he acknowledges his ignorance. The others are ignorant but didn't realize it which made them dislike Socrates because his questioning made them look foolish. Socrates cross-examines his accuser, Meletos who claims that Socrates is the only one in Athens who corrupts young people (clearly untrue). Socrates rebukes this by questioning how he could corrupt young people when he is associating and forming strong and enduring teacher/student relationships with them?

Meletos initially accused Socrates for believing in a daimon (semi-divine spirit), but now accuses Socrates of believing in no gods at all. Both accusations are a conflict of interest and Meletos is proven illogical and false. Socrates questions if he should risk death (like he did for Athens during the Peloponnesian War 432–404 B.C) by questioning the people's belief, and wonders if death is actually a bad thing. He decides that he must continue to provoke controversy in Athens, as a gadfly stings a lazy horse. Socrates wants the people of Athens to think and not to be uncritical and intellectually lazy, self-satisfied and passive. He states that he did not seek to make a career from his teachings, people just wanted to learn from his method.

Socrates ends his speech without moral appeals. The jury votes 281 guilty, 220 innocent. His accusers argue the death penalty for his punishment. Socrates suggests that since he has helped the city over the years that he should be punished by providing him with free board at the public's expense. Socrates refuses to advocate any harsh punishments since that would not suit his innocence in the matter. Socrates then questions the death penalty as he believes the after-life may be pleasurable. The jury votes the death penalty.

Socrates holds Athens accountable for his death because they have warped the truth and wrongfully accused him. Socrates believes that his death will not stop the method of questioning in Athens, yet the opposite is likely to occur, inspiring more to question and seek greater understanding. Since the daimon did not counsel Socrates that anything bad was going to happen, he deduced that death is either a peaceful sleep, or the soul visits another world meeting the heroes of the past. Socrates states that only the gods know whether he or the jury will have a better fate afterwards.


Crito

The dialogue begins with Crito visiting his friend Socrates in prison, delivering bad news to him. Athens sacred ship (rumored to have been the ship of Theseus the slayer of the half man half bull Minotaur) is returning from Delos meaning Socrates has a good chance of being executed the next day (when the sacred ship is away no one is allowed to be executed). Since Socrates has already dreamed he will die in two days, he is not upset. Crito wants to bribe the guards and save Socrates for the sake of his family, friends, and beloved city of Athens.

Socrates however does not care about the opinion of others and feels that he should remain true to his established principles and how it is better to live well and justly than merely to stay alive. He also believes it is morally wrong to escape since it is illegal. Crito believes public opinion is more important since it shows the great evil people show towards those who lose their favor. Socrates adds that in reality they can do neither good nor evil stating, "For they cannot make a man wise or foolish, and whatever they do is a result of chance." He states that if he were to escape, people (and History) would view him as a criminal and would lose respect for him, causing him to be morally worse because of this injustice. Crito understands his logic and accepts Socrates' death as the will of the gods.

Meno

Meno is one of the leading aristocratic families of Thessaly, whose capital is Larissa, traditionally friendly to Athens and Athenian interests. Meno is a young military solider soon to embark to enlist in various wars against the Persian Empire. His host is Anytus, one of Socrates' accusers at his trial. Meno seeks to know the answer to the highly debated question –
    "Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught? [= Nurture]

    Or is it not teachable but the result of practice? [= Education]

    Or is it neither of these, but men possess it by nature? [= Nature]

    Or in some other way?" [= A Mystery]
Socrates and Meno debate back and forth on whether this question can be solved, with Meno brazenly seeking direct answers from Socrates, who continues his method of dialectical reasoning through a series of ever-more complex questioning in order to arrive at an educated understanding of the question. Anytus joins the conversation briefly stating his disbelief on how virtue can be taught (Anti-Education view). Socrates points to the failure of famous Athenian leaders to pass their own virtue on to their sons (Anti-Nurture view), causing Anytus to issue a veiled threat to Socrates of such "slanderous" attacks.

Meno becomes frustrated on the lack of definite answers on the subject and begins to lose all hope toward seeking knowledge, posing a paradox that one logically cannot inquire productively into what one does not already know-nor into what one already does – "How will you look for it (virtue), Socrates, when you do not know at all what it is? How will you aim to search for something you do not know at all? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing you do not know?"

From this misologistic assertion Socrates disproves this theory by questioning Meno's slave with a geometry problem, which the boy answers, even without any prior knowledge of math. Socrates ascertains this to his proposed Theory of Recollection, that every human being's soul is immortal and that at birth we already possess theoretical knowledge over morality and forms. Socrates states that the boy was recollecting knowledge, not drawing new conclusions from the data being presented. He asserts that if we rightly question ourselves, "recollection" can steadily improve our understanding of moral truths over time, until we reach enlightenment.

Meno is reassured through Socrates' deductive theory, and works with him on deciphering the meaning of virtue. Rejecting Meno's previous argument, Socrates composes multiple hypotheses to explain what virtue is including, how virtue is knowledge (in which case it must be teachable), and an alternative hypothesis, that virtue is a god-given right (not teachable). Socrates emerges anew, taking on different methods of argumentation and inquiry not seen in the previous dialogues.

Phaedo

The dialogue begins with philosopher Echecrates asking Plato's old friend, Phaedo, also a philosopher, to describe Socrates' last day before his execution. Phaedo begins by stating how there were 14 of Socrates' friends surrounding him the moment of his death (See David's painting above). One of them suggested suicide for Socrates, but he replies that suicide is unforgivable and illegal in the eyes of the gods, since everyone belongs to the gods and suicide would be damaging their "property." Two men from Thebes, Simmias and Cebes ask why Socrates is so willing to confront death, and Socrates replies that death is merely the separation of the soul from the body.


He says that philosophers imitate this when they suppress hunger and fatigue; the physical desires of the body sidetrack the soul. He states that philosophers do not fear death for the reason that they seek to gain enlightened understanding of all things in the after-life. Socrates argues that one's soul does not die and how everything must arise from its opposite, "Something bigger must have once been something smaller. If you die, you must once have been alive. If everything died and nothing was reborn, then the earth would be so empty." He continues in his teaching by explaining the Theory of Forms and Recollection (previously stated in Meno).

Socrates states that a body is a compound structure and can change, visible to the human eye; but invisible things like the soul are absolute eternal concepts ("Forms"). According to Socrates, while a soul can be corrupted by bodily desires, a philosopher's soul has good incarnations. Despite Socrates' wisdom, the two men from Thebes disagree and Simmias suggest that the body is like a harp and the soul is like a harmony, the soul directs the body and if the harp is destroyed so is the harmony. Socrates disagrees and explains how there is no such thing as bad harmony and harmony can't direct the harp. Cebes believes the soul is like a cloak that survives the person who made it but eventually wears away. Divulging into a counter belief Socrates explains his and Plato's Theory of Forms, how everything on the earth are merely challenges, eternal patterns known as "Forms." Individual objects we give names are merely reflections of Forms, "three is an odd number, partaking both the forms 'three' and 'odd.' Three can never be even because the opposite of odd is even. The soul is both Soul and Life since it gives the body life. It cannot be the opposite of Life, which is Death." Socrates views the afterlife as a place where good souls are rewarded, while bad souls are punished.

In his final moments he assures his grieving friend Crito that his body has died, not his soul. Socrates then bids farewell to his wife, friends, three sons, and the friendly jailer, whom considers Socrates the noblest and gentlest person to ever have been in the place. Socrates then drinks the poison hemlock given to him and quietly dies.

Plato in Connection to Modern Day Politics

There are many similarities between Plato's Five Dialogues and modern day America. Specifically in the recent 2015-16 Republican Presidential debates, many characters in Plato's work possess certain demonstrative traits and roles similar to many of the Republican contenders for the Presidency. First and foremost Socrates represents Donald J. Trump, who is the Republican frontrunner leading in all the polls and winning the majority of the caucuses in the Presidential race. Socrates' unrivaled wisdom is equivalent to Trump's unrivaled success in this election cycle. Both men stand strong by their principles and are respective geniuses in their own fields (Trump in business and politics and Socrates in philosophy and logic). Both men bear a revolutionary ideology that has shaken the political realm around them and boundless complexities of their mind and logic leaves their political enemies frustrated and intellectually bankrupt.


The CBS Republican National Debate, February 13th 2016.

In Euthyphro, Euthyphro, one of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of Socrates' day, represents Senator Ted Cruz, who although possess superior intelligence and rhetorical gifts as a U.S Senator and doctrinaire Conservative in Congress, his arrogance and self-righteous fails to attain the level of dominance and decisive victory in the Presidential race that Donald Trump has.

The difference between Trump and Cruz has been evident in the recent Republican debates, specifically the sixth debate in South Carolina held by Fox Business Network, where Trump and Cruz bashed each other hard on subjects of the legitimacy of Ted Cruz's citizenship and criticism of Trump being a New Yorker with 'liberal values.' Trump proved his worth and defeated Cruz in the debate when he represented his conservatism, defending the reputation of his city when mentioning the hardship of helping many tough New Yorkers overcome the tragedy of 9/11.

"I've had more calls on that statement that Ted made, that New York is a great place, it's got great people, it's got loving people, wonderful people. When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York"

In Apology, the accuser Meletos represents the hypocritical Marxist moderators of the Fourth Column or the Media – seen throughout the majority of the debates. Like Meletos twisting the truth and throwing false accusations at Socrates, debate moderators try to appear neutral, but all Socialists-Progressives with an axe to grind. The most notorious examples is Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly, who in the very first GOP Debate tried to sandbag Trump with a cravenly deceptive, under-handed, and irrelevant attacks, including a misguided belief that Trump hates all women simply because he had good reasons for insulting a few, in specific, Rosy O'Donnell.

This treachery which Fox News inspires by its moderators to attack certain candidates instead of promoting profitable debate topics, compelled Trump to skip the most recent Fox debate in disgust. In Crito, Crito represents Dr. Ben Carson (my favorite candidate), who although stands strong behind many of the powerful Conservative principles and holds a profound love for America like Trump does, he fails to echo a similar triumphant voice upon various topics (such skill in foreign policy) which after the Muslim terrorists bombings in Paris, France and San Bernandino, CA, Carson saw his poll numbers plummet to below 5 percent.

In Meno, Meno represents Governor Jeb Bush, who like Meno, boasts of being knowledgeable, but in reality stands behind a fool-hardy ideology inferior to Socrates/Trump's superior logical tactics. Meno's misologistic demeanor mirrors Jeb Bush's "low energy" criticism as Trump repeatedly called. This refrain against Jeb and now Trump's refrain of Rubio as a "liar" and "a lightweight" and "chocker" exposes Senator Marco Rubio as a neophyte not up to the task of the presidency and thus fails to share the vision of greatness Trump holds for the country's future. Trump schooling Bush in the debates is symbolic of Socrates' Theory of Recollection, making Meno/Bush have to re-learn their place in the presence of true master of Philosophy/Conservatism.

Lastly Simmias and Cebes represents Marco Rubio and Governor John Kasich. Like Simmias's failed vision of the soul representing harmony and the body representing a harp, Rubio speaks like he's a conservative (harmony), but his Progressive record and actions in the Senate show otherwise (broken harp). Cebes falls into the same failed theory trap, as does Kasich into the failed Progressive establishment stance.


For the 2016 election we as a nation must vote wisely toward the next President of the United States. Just as We the People of today, Socrates was weary of the continual collective ignorance of his fellow Athenians and their corrupt Republic in the fifth century B.C. Greece. Likewise Trump is furious at the track record of incompetent Presidencies on both sides of the aisle since Reagan left office Jan. 20th 1989 – Bush-41, Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama) and is channeling the rage of voters who are waking up to realization of the corrupt tyrannical rule of the Obama administration and his predecessors.

Trump seeks to revive the long-lost greatness of America's moral Republic bequeathed to U.S. by the Constitutional Framers, yet over the centuries trampled over and deconstructed by the Socialist-Progressive Left. Trump's motto and singular vision is to "Make America Great Again" by returning to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Rule of Law that made this nation the most powerful and exceptional country in the History of the world.

Find wisdom from studying the ancient Greek Philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and study the writings of America's Constitutional Framers and use their genius to help reclaim our once great nation from the clutches of the Socialist-Progressive politicians who have all but killed America's Great Republic – Vote for Donald Trump, America's political salvation!

This essay is based in part on a synopsis of Plato's Five Dialogues contained in, Dr. W. John Campbell, Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics (Fall River, 2000), pp. 233-242

© Stone Washington

 

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Stone Washington

Stone Washington is a JM student at Emory University School of Law and a recent graduate of Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Minor in Political Science. Stone is the website administrator for Ellis Washington Report and a contributing writer. He recently completed a journalism fellowship at The Daily Caller, is an alumnus of the Young Leader's Program at The Heritage Foundation, and a former intern/Editor-in-chief for Decipher Magazine. Many of Stone's articles can also be found at EllisWashingtonReport.com, which offer a critical analysis on prominent works of classical literature and its correlations to American history and politics. Some of Stone's most popular articles include: 1915-2015-100th Anniversary of Booker T. Washington, Atlas Shrugged, America Slouched-The Galt/Trump Revolution, and Justice Clarence Thomas, Generation Z, and Me. Stone also wrote for his school newspaper, the Tiger Town Observer, and the higher education news websites: Campus Reform, The College Fix, and Red Alert Politics. Friend him on his Facebook page, also Twitter: @StoneWashingto2 and Instagram. Contact Stone at his email: Stonebone20@att.net.

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