Today, we begin discussing the spirited and testy exchange between Socrates and Thrasymachus (336b – 342e). If you haven’t looked at the previous days of slow reading, catch up and come back. Same rules apply as before. Be sure to read the comments, since that is where the conversation is.
Be courageous and post a comment — participate in the conversation!
1. Thrasymachus was a notorious sophist from Chalcedon, located right on the Bosphorus straits in what is now Turkey. He is credited in ancient sources with having advanced rhetoric as a science. His name means something like “bold in battle.”
2. Sophists were itinerant teachers who professed to teach human wisdom and would charge a fee to do so. In many ways they were the first great innovators in the practice of education and so subsequent cultures owe them a great debt. Their primary subject was oratory/debate and they were notorious for teaching methods of persuasion that aimed not at the truth of a matter but on how to dupe juries, assemblies and audiences. They would usually attract students by performing speeches that made a case for something not otherwise easy to believe. They tended to scandalous, radical ideas and were often despised as enemies of tradition and decency. It is clear that Socrates was often understood to be a sophist by those traditionalists who knew what he did by reputation only.
3. Cleitophon, who has one short interchange with Polemarchus, was a student of Socrates who left him to become a student of Thrasymachus. Since the theme of cultural transmission seems so central to the Republic, pay attention to the way that Cleitophon represents Thrasymachus’ argument. Likewise with Polemarchus representing Socrates — how they are “fighting as partners”? (335e)
4. Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of his “usual irony” (337a) Is it clear that Socrates is being ironic in the exchange?
5. Notice that Socrates says that the “appropriate penalty for one who doesn’t know” is “to learn from the one who does know.” (337d) Does this have any relation to Socrates/Polemarchus’ agreement that the just man confers a benefit on both friend and foe? (335d)
6. Is justice the “advantage of the stronger”? Is there anything true in this conception or is it totally off base?
7. Is there merit in Thrasymachus’ distinction between “ruler in a loose sense” and “ruler in a strict sense”?
8. Thrasymachus says to Socrates that “it is easier to ask questions than to answer them.” Is that true?
I think I will stop there — that is enough to chew on!