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November 3rd, 2007, 11:37
magerette, there are free English translations all over the net, just google them if you don't feel like buying a book. I have to disagree with PJ, there is no real need to start with a commentary. I've been studying Plato as well as other ancient philosophers since I was 14 (they teach them at school here, or at least they used to), and in my experience it is a never-ending trip. You can never hope to fully understand them and your interpetration is bound to be highly subjective, I found myself giving different interpretations at different stages of my life. People are trying to interpret them for more than two thousand years with no final conclusion yet. On the other hand you will be surprised to see how many very simple things that today most people are taking for granted without giving as much as a second thought, were actually a subject of debate back then, this was an age that the very basis of our modern way of thinking was forming.

Regarding Plato in particular, the good news is that he is particularly pleasant to read. His works are written as theatrical plays, so instead of being confronted with difficult to understand text as is the case with many other philosophers, you will only be reading dialogues and you will be expected to make your own parallelisms as to what is really meant or discussed and then draw your own conclusions. I would suggest however to start with "Socrates' Apology" and leave "The Symposium" until much later on as many of the more complex matters are discussed in the latter.

Other things to keep in mind:

- Plato lived in an age that slavery was the basis of all economy and monarchy was the most common type of government. Some of what he writes might seem at a first glance as an effort to justify this state of affairs.
- Although Socrates will appear as a main character in many dialogues, Plato simply honours his teacher. This is not the real Socrates speaking, and Plato's works are not historical accounts of the lives and beliefs of the people presented in his works. They are mostly 'fictional' in this regard.

Other than that, should you decide to go on, happy reading!

“Of all the journeys you will undertake in this life, uncovering the secrets you hide from yourself is the most dangerous voyage of all.” – Shyha Tuhlwin, Therish Philosopher
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November 4th, 2007, 22:29
Lethal Weapon wrote:

Regarding Plato in particular, the good news is that he is particularly pleasant to read. His works are written as theatrical plays, so instead of being confronted with difficult to understand text as is the case with many other philosophers, you will only be reading dialogues and you will be expected to make your own parallelisms as to what is really meant or discussed and then draw your own conclusions.
That answers my question about fictional treatment, which I find much easier to digest, though I realize drama of Plato's time is not going to be a Broadway musical
We did get some background in Greek authors in school, but not much. We studied Medea and read about Socrates drinking hemlock and so forth, but that was all very long ago for me. I appreciate you taking the time to point out a place to start refreshing my memory, Lethal Weapon.

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November 4th, 2007, 22:55
Is there anyone else who's longing to get a grip on sadly still unfinished "Dance of Dragons" ?
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November 5th, 2007, 15:29
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
- Although Socrates will appear as a main character in many dialogues, Plato simply honours his teacher. This is not the real Socrates speaking, and Plato's works are not historical accounts of the lives and beliefs of the people presented in his works. They are mostly 'fictional' in this regard.
That's right, as far as I know.

We know basically very few of the *real* Socrates. Mostly through Platon and one book by another Philosopher (whose name I've forgotten, sorry).

Since they have written from their memories, their memories about Socrates might be distorted to some extend.

Evben more, with Platon we can suspectz that he sort of "utilizes" the *real* Socrates to help him, Platon, in explaining his - Platons - beliefs.

So, we can't really tell which of the things we know about Socrates is *really* him …

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November 6th, 2007, 10:31
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
That answers my question about fictional treatment, which I find much easier to digest, though I realize drama of Plato's time is not going to be a Broadway musical
This is the Socratic method of philosophizing. Not real drama actually, the idea being that it is not a philosopher's job to provide you with new truths, but rather help you to give birth to what you already know (the truth lies inside us).

BTW, your new avatar reminds me of a … Bruxa!!! (no offense intended)

Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
We know basically very few of the *real* Socrates.
Socrates spoke through his actions and lifestyle. He's known to have been a fierce warrior during the Persian Wars and risked his life several times rather than conform with the Thirty Tyrrants (the ancient equivalent of a dictatorship). On the other hand, when he was confronted with either death or excile by the Athenian Democracy, he chose death. Although married and with three sons he never seemed to particularly care about his family. Instead he would prefer the company of other people's wives (Aspasia being his favourite), when he was not visiting the local priestesses (read: ancient prostitutes, held in high esteem back then). He would regularly debate philosophical matters with youngsters but never accept to have a student. Although poor, he probably didn't work a single day. A very controversial figure indeed.

“Of all the journeys you will undertake in this life, uncovering the secrets you hide from yourself is the most dangerous voyage of all.” – Shyha Tuhlwin, Therish Philosopher
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November 6th, 2007, 10:59
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Rather than follow Corwin's red herring any further off topic in the Witcher thread, thought I'd ask if you had any particular commentary in mind here. There's no doubt in my mind that I could easily "completely misunderstand" or just plain fail to understand Greek philosophy, so it would have to be on the primer level, I'm afraid.
Actually, fiction would be even better, but I don't know if any exists.
The philosophy isn't the problem; the problem is that basic concepts meant different things for him than they do for us. For example, if Plato writes that young men should practice music and philosophy in order to maintain their virtue, he does not mean that playing the harp and talking about metaphysics keeps them away from loose women.

Far and away the best commentary on Plato that I've read is one I've recommended here before — The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 1, by Karl R. Popper. It's considered one of the seminal works of 20th century philosophy too, but to my recollection it's pretty accessible… even if it's not exactly light bedtime reading. (He also completely shreds the poor old Greek.)

If you want fiction, the best fictionalized approach to philosophy I've read is Sophie's World by Joostein Gaarder. It does cut a quite a few corners, is a bit naive, and has a bit of a political agenda too, so I'm not sure I can recommended it completely whole-heartedly, but it's not all bad either.

But if you want a quick overview, you could do worse than the pretty good Wikipedia article [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato ] — or just about any introduction to Western philosophy.

(Oh, and I would avoid Bertrand Russell. He's heavy, turgid, and way overrated IMO.)
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November 6th, 2007, 11:02
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
Socrates spoke through his actions and lifestyle. He's known to have been a fierce warrior during the Persian Wars and risked his life several times rather than conform with the Thirty Tyrrants (the ancient equivalent of a dictatorship). On the other hand, when he was confronted with either death or excile by the Athenian Democracy, he chose death. Although married and with three sons he never seemed to particularly care about his family. Instead he would prefer the company of other people's wives (Aspasia being his favourite), when he was not visiting the local priestesses (read: ancient prostitutes, held in high esteem back then). He would regularly debate philosophical matters with youngsters but never accept to have a student. Although poor, he probably didn't work a single day. A very controversial figure indeed.
…according to Plato.

Again, a quick reminder: everything we know about Socrates, we know through Plato, and it's pretty clear that Plato used Socrates a sock puppet when it suited him.

In other words, treat any account about who Socrates was and what he stood for with a certain amount of skepticism. He's a bit like the historical Christ — fascinating but frustratingly difficult to discern behind the accumulated layers of myths, meanings, misinterpretations, and outright lies.
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November 6th, 2007, 11:09
PJ, Popper is one of Plato's most fierce critics (along with Nietzsche), so reading him before Plato would create a bias. As for the wikipedia thing, I tend not to take them too seriously, but the article you linked doesn't read that bad. I agree with you with not taking Plato's descriptions as historical accounts, see my posts above. There is also the mouth-to-mouth tradition, however unreliable (much like many other historical figures).

“Of all the journeys you will undertake in this life, uncovering the secrets you hide from yourself is the most dangerous voyage of all.” – Shyha Tuhlwin, Therish Philosopher
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November 6th, 2007, 11:59
Re Eragon: did anyone else notice that the plot is point-for-point identical with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope?
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November 6th, 2007, 12:05
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
PJ, Popper is one of Plato's most fierce critics (along with Nietzsche), so reading him before Plato would create a bias. As for the wikipedia thing, I tend not to take them too seriously, but the article you linked doesn't read that bad. I agree with you with not taking Plato's descriptions as historical accounts, see my posts above. There is also the mouth-to-mouth tradition, however unreliable (much like many other historical figures).
I wouldn't recommend that you end your study of Plato with Popper, even if you start with it — but I would strongly recommend that your study of Plato includes Popper, never mind whether you start with it, end with it, or include it somewhere in the middle.

As to bias, that's something we have to live with anyway. We have to make up our own mind about who's got it right and who's got it wrong — but the middle of the road, the apparently neutral, apparently unbiased point of view isn't always it. Personally, I much, much prefer reading someone who isn't shy about stating their opinion: stuff that's written in an apparently neutral tone to keep the preconceptions hidden is much more insidious, as well as dishonest.
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November 6th, 2007, 12:32
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Re Eragon: did anyone else notice that the plot is point-for-point identical with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope?
Absolutely, but for kids that is OK … and the fact that it was a kid that wrote it. My older son loved the books when he was ~9, and we all went (incl. wife's sister's family) to see the fun but very flawed movie. It was even more evident there.

Edit - not saying it is acceptable to have such a thinly veiled rip-off for kids, but rather I have found that kids are more forgiving of it. They are OK seeing the same story in a different setting, as it is similar to their own sense of imaginative play in many ways.

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November 6th, 2007, 13:16
I wasn't complaining; I just found it amusing when I read it. What's more, the entire Star Wars saga is a "rip-off" of mythoi from just about everywhere, so I can't see how anyone could really seriously object.

And yeah, it was a good enough read.
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November 7th, 2007, 21:24
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
This is the Socratic method of philosophizing. Not real drama actually, the idea being that it is not a philosopher's job to provide you with new truths, but rather help you to give birth to what you already know (the truth lies inside us).
Quite a good way of phrasing it, LW.

BTW, your new avatar reminds me of a … Bruxa!!! (no offense intended)
Perhaps because she is one? And I can see why you might not want to offend her

… Although married and with three sons he never seemed to particularly care about his family. Instead he would prefer the company of other people's wives (Aspasia being his favourite), when he was not visiting the local priestesses (read: ancient prostitutes, held in high esteem back then). He would regularly debate philosophical matters with youngsters but never accept to have a student. Although poor, he probably didn't work a single day. A very controversial figure indeed.
I have a feeling I might become a bit antipathic concerning Socrates then—if you substitute "hippy girls" for priestesses, he sounds exactly like my first husband.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
The philosophy isn't the problem; the problem is that basic concepts meant different things for him than they do for us…
Understood. When you look at thoughts or events in the distant past, you have to refrain from superimposing current definitions, values and conventions or you can only jump to the wrong conclusions.

*snip* Far and away the best commentary on Plato that I've read is one I've recommended here before — The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 1, by Karl R. Popper…
If you want fiction, the best fictionalized approach to philosophy I've read is Sophie's World by Joostein Gaarder. /*snip*.

But if you want a quick overview, you could do worse than the pretty good Wikipedia article [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato ] — or just about any introduction to Western philosophy.
Thanks for the recommendations. They've gone on my ever-lengthening booklist. After reading the Wikipedia entry, I was reminded of what fiction I had vaguely been thinking of and it dealt with Aristotle not Plato, that being Mary Renault's trilogy about Alexander the Great. Great author and particularly vivid in her treatment of Ancient Greece, though somewhat romantic, of course.

(Oh, and I would avoid Bertrand Russell. He's heavy, turgid, and way overrated IMO.)
I've managed to do that so far in life, and now will feel better about continuing to do so.

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November 7th, 2007, 23:14
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post

- Plato lived in an age that slavery was the basis of all economy and monarchy was the most common type of government. Some of what he writes might seem at a first glance as an effort to justify this state of affairs.
I wouldn't necessarily say that. The Greek cities did a lot of experimenting with Governments and much of his writing is a reaction to Athenian Democracy. His ideal state of government of Philosopher kings appears a lot like Sparta's government at the time.

However, I don't want to say too much as I've only read bits and pieces of it and I'm walking into the middle of your conversation. I've read more about it than actually read it which can be a bit dangerous. I also read a lot of history so I tend to know no more about the context these people live in their daily lives.

—-

Right now I'm reading Dracula. I enjoy how Stoker takes great liberties with perspectives to tell the story. Its not just one persons view point. He jumps from diary entries and journals to dialogues of letters to newspaper clippings and even a ship's log so far. This is not something you can bring to the movies. Other fascinating things he has is Drac's long bushy mustache and him sitting out in the sun. Plus, his aversion to water. Stoker is trying to get the feel of a Bronte novel by setting part of it in dreary Yorkshire and the quaint folk that live there. I'm starting to see how it rises above the vampire stories that came before him.

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November 8th, 2007, 20:47
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
The Greek cities did a lot of experimenting with Governments and much of his writing is a reaction to Athenian Democracy.
Not 'Greek cities', just Athens, take Athens out of the picture and you're left with monarchies everywhere else (with the occasional odd exception). And even Athenians had slaves.

Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
His ideal state of government of Philosopher kings appears a lot like Sparta's government at the time.
Not really. Spartan kings were not philosophers, certainly not in the Platonic sense, and the Spartan state was far from what Plato would consider ideal. Sparta is well known because of Thermopylae, but in reality contributed next to nothing to the ancient Greek culture.

Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
However, I don't want to say too much as I've only read bits and pieces of it and I'm walking into the middle of your conversation. I've read more about it than actually read it which can be a bit dangerous. I also read a lot of history so I tend to know no more about the context these people live in their daily lives.
I don't really feel like going into much depth, but the key point to understand is that Plato judges every political system relative to the quality of its citizens. So that there can be 'bad democracies', 'good tyrranies' and vice versa. If Plato were to judge today's modern democracies he would no doubt describe them as oligarchies (we elect our rulers) and then he would go on to argue that most people are slaves (we have to work to earn a living).

@magerette I was preparing a longer answer, but instead I'll say if you are staying
away from Russel, the father of modern mathematical logic, you might just as well stay away from Plato, he's about 1000x 'worse'.

“Of all the journeys you will undertake in this life, uncovering the secrets you hide from yourself is the most dangerous voyage of all.” – Shyha Tuhlwin, Therish Philosopher
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November 10th, 2007, 02:11
Lethal Weapon wrote:
I was preparing a longer answer, but instead I'll say if you are staying
away from Russel, the father of modern mathematical logic, you might just as well stay away from Plato, he's about 1000x 'worse'.
I wasn't trying to be overly flippant earlier, Lethal Weapon, but it would be wrong for me to project myself as being terribly interested in ( or capable of!) mathematical logic. I requested "primer level" for a reason …Insofar as I am interested in purely academic topics, I would probably prefer to read a botanical text.

I find your discussion,your enthusiasm and your explanations far more interesting because they are part of a dialogue between people than I would if I read them in a book-because I enjoy learning about myself and others through people speaking and stating their ideas and beliefs, and much of what interests me about the discussion is the personality of the participants; IOW, I'm interested in your opinions about Plato (or whatever you choose to discuss) because I'm interested in people and how they think far more than I am in any interpretation I could make on my own of the same ideas stated on a page.

I did have my curiosity piqued, and I do intend to explore the topic, but I am not the kind of abstract reasoner that can crack open a volume of Keirkegaard or Nietzsche and find pure enjoyment in the process. Actually, what would engage me most might be similar to what I conceive as the approach Plato might have used in his Academy, being part of an attentive audience as he verbally propounded his ideas and others responded.

I do apologize if you thought I was making light of your kind attempts to fill in the yawning gaps in my knowledge of the subject.

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November 10th, 2007, 02:25
Actually, philosophy shouldn't be 'read', it needs to be experienced. The 'value' of philosophy comes from the process, not the product!! IMHO

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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November 11th, 2007, 22:59
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
I do apologize if you thought I was making light of your kind attempts to fill in the yawning gaps in my knowledge of the subject.
No need to, you never did or say anything wrong as far as I am concerned.

Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Actually, what would engage me most might be similar to what I conceive as the approach Plato might have used in his Academy, being part of an attentive audience as he verbally propounded his ideas and others responded.
Agreed, the way I see it, it is a failure of our educational systems that they don't convey knowledge in any interesting way.

Originally Posted by magerette View Post
I wasn't trying to be overly flippant earlier, Lethal Weapon, but it would be wrong for me to project myself as being terribly interested in ( or capable of!) mathematical logic.
Never suggested that you should, Russel was a philosopher as well as a mathematician and most of his works can be read without any prior knowledge required. Even his Principia Mathematica only requires some knowledge on basic arithmetic. My reference to him was because I was somewhat disturbed to see one of the greatest philosophers of our time being so easily dismissed as 'overated'.

“Of all the journeys you will undertake in this life, uncovering the secrets you hide from yourself is the most dangerous voyage of all.” – Shyha Tuhlwin, Therish Philosopher
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Wink A few things.

November 12th, 2007, 17:20
I am reading Schulz and Peanuts, a biography of Charles Schulz. It is very thick reading, but a lot of fun. Even though Schulz was very religious, never drank, never smoked, and was straight as an arrow, his life is still pretty interesting. There is a lot of the cartoon strip in it.

I also like to read from http://www.baen.com/library/ — the Baen Free Library of science fiction books.

I also just started a blog which lists most of the things I had been reading during the last year. This might be spam to some of you so close your eyes.

http://www.bookcalendar.blogspot.com
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November 12th, 2007, 17:35
Nice link. I know I will get some use out of that one. Thanks.

Bart and Corwin should just admit that when it gets down to it, I will have the final say.
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