72. Ion by Plato (c.399-387 BC)

Contents : Plato’s early Socratic dialogues consist of Ion, Laches, Lysis, Charmides, Hippias Major, Hippias Minor and Euthydemus ; each named after the second party in each dialogue who verbally duels with Socrates, aiming to define a particular moral  idea.

My version is part of the Penguin edition Early Socratic Dialogues, edited by Trevor Saunders. (ISBN 9780140455038)

My thoughts : So we enter the 4th century BC, but first a confession – I have never read philosophy before so this is a real step into the unknown.  Luckily, Plato reports each philosophical argument as a dialogue between Socrates and another debater so there is a strong level of drama to each argument – indeed some include a list of parties involved like a play’s Dramatis Personae. As Socrates left no writings to posterity, it is to Plato that we owe most of what we know about Socrates and his methods of investigating philosophy. The validity of these dialogues actually arising from Socrates is worth questioning, but as Plato was the best known of Socrates’s students, at least we know he knew Socrates and was directly exposed to his ideas and style of argument.

It seems that Socrates held to the belief that moral principles could be prescribed by a body of exact knowledge with its own fixed rules and standards and therefore should not differ from person to person or country to country. The aim for philosophers was to discover what that body of knowledge was, and the rules and procedures which apply to it.

I was intending to cover all the early Socratic dialogues in one post, but this would not do them or you justice, so we’ll start with Ion, which asks : can a poet, or in  this case a rhapsode (a minstrel-like performer who presents sections of epic poems to an audience) be a technical expert of a skill he has not performed but is described in the poems he recites?  Ion is an expert in Homer’s epics but cannot comment on other poets such as Hesiod even when they discuss the same topics in their poetry. Socrates argues that both poet and rhapsode are merely pawns under divine inspiration from God or Muse to pass messages to mankind. They are not only not proficient in the skills they read or write about such as medicine or chariot racing which they can only describe to their audiences and do not employ in real life (that seems fair enough) but neither are they themselves skilled  in writing and performing the stories at all as they are just vessels (a pretty harsh statement). Socrates argues Ion around to admitting being divine but not skilled in the art of warfare and generalship as he claimed. Not the deepest philosophical point to win, but it does introduce us to the style of dialogue Plato claims Socrates employs.

Diversions/digressions:  And as for the image at the head of this post, I would have reversed the names to have Socrates seemingly dictating to Plato.

Personal rating: 4
Kimmy’s rating:  Kimmy actually refutes Socrates’ claim that no one can be happy who knowingly does wrong, as she is the naughtiest dog in the world, knows it, and yet radiates pure happiness and contentment. Kimmy 1 – Socrates 0.
Also in that year : In 399 BC Socrates was accused of corrupting Athenian youth and aetheism. He was sentenced to death and required to drink poisonous hemlock, and this is discussed more fully in Plato’s later works. Also around this time, the Iron Age reaches England, and Xenophon’s “Ten Thousand” Greek mercenaries reach the Black Sea (more on this later also)
Next : Laches, a Socratic dialogue on bravery, by Plato

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