Just a very quick post on The Rival Lovers (Erastai), which is short and, like the Theages, of disputed authenticity.  Socrates himself narrates, and the subject of the dialogue is philosophy itself. 

Socrates is in a “school,” watching two beautiful youths earnestly discuss astronomy.  One of these youths has two rivals for his affection: an athlete, and — what to call him?  He studies mousike, which certainly includes poetry as well as music.  So, an English major and a jock.  When Socrates asks what the youths are discussing so intently, the jock says that they are “babbling philosophy.”  This initiates a discussion about what philosophy is.

The first proposal is that it is much learning, but Socrates enlists the help of the athlete to convince the English major that moderation is necessary in all things.  A doctor or trainer can advise someone just how much food or exercise will be conducive to health. Who is to advise us how much learning is the right amount?  I love this question (graduation requirements, anyone?), but it is one that, as Socrates says, fills all of them with aporia, so much that he has to change the subject so as to keep them talking to him.

Because they failed to figure out how much learning is optimal, Socrates shifts over and asks what sort of learning philosophy is.  This time the proposal is all the arts (technai): the philosopher as renaissance man.  But of course because he is learning all of them, he can learn none of them well, and Socrates points out that this would make him “useless” in any crisis.  You would always want the doctor, not the philosopher, if you were sick, and the pilot, not the philosopher, if your ship was in a storm.  So much for liberal arts — or perhaps just distribution requirements.

Socrates finally suggests that the province of philosophy is justice and temperance (dikaiosyne and sophrosyne — in a surprise move he asserts that these are the same thing); one needs to know good from bad, and know how to punish bad people to make them good.  This is what all who govern — politicians, kings, household managers — need to do, and this, Socrates seems to assert, the philosopher must be expert in.  And thus the dialogue ends, with everyone in agreement.

Socrates’ strong assertion at the end, that philosophers should be in a position to lead on issues of justice, feels somewhat at odds with his contention in the Apology that a man who cares about justice cannot survive in public life, although I suppose the propositions aren’t necessarily contradictory.  But the author of this dialogue, whether Plato or someone else, seems to imply that the philosopher has some obligations in matters of justice: “whether his friends entrust him with an arbitration, or the state charges him to determine or judge any matter, it is disgraceful for him, my good friend, in such cases, to be found in the second or third place, and not to lead” (139a).

Advertisements