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Reviews Dialogue and Discovery: A Study in Socratic Method, by Kennern Seeskin; viii & 179 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987, $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. Socratic intellectualism is an awful worry. Socrates seems to have believed that human goodness consists in a cognitive state, the knowledge of good and evil. Anyone who is in that state will be a good person. Hence human wickedness is met by refuting the false beliefs on which it is based, and the cause of human goodness advanced by helping people to acquire true beliefs. How could anyone spend his life in the single-minded pursuit of ethical wisdom yet not know that the sentiments and passions must be implicated in human goodness? The Socraticconversation, according to Seeskin, is a form oftherapy practiced upon moral agents. The elenchus is an examination of lives, a process notjust of examining and refuting opinions, but of putting persons to shame (p. 1). Socrates challenges his respondents to examine dieir own lives. He tries to shame mem into a condition of moral humility, a condition in which they will become truly honest with themselves. The best witness to this is Alcibiades in the Symposium. Alcibiades does not respond to Socrates as he does to other good speakers: instead, his soul is thrown into confusion and dismay by die thought that his life in no better than a slave's (215e). Alcibiades has been brought to die point in self-knowledge where he cannot avoid admitting to himself that his own life displays qualities of moral cowardice of which he is ashamed. He knows mat he is neglecting his own true interests, and yet he cannot find the strength to renew his life. He flies from this humiliation back into the easy ways of self-indulgence (p. 14OfT). Socrates wants us to see that although our ethical lives are grounded on our ethical beliefs, it is a mistake to think diat ethical beliefs are nothing more than bits ofintellectual baggage. On the contrary, they are integrated with our cares and concerns, with our sense of self-respect and, accordingly, with our sense of shame. The worries we express about Socratic intellectualism, men, are a 302 Reviews303 product of our blindness to the large differences there are between ethical beliefs and beliefs about the weather (p. 144). To understand the Socratic equation of virtue with knowledge, we must integrate that thesis wim the therapeutic conception of the elenchus. That is what Seeskin does, and does very well. His account of Socrates is persuasive. It ameliorates the unhappy rigors of intellectualism while avoiding the mistake of supposing that Socrates is equating virtue with practical skills, with "knowing how" radier than "knowing that." Seeskin's analysis also offers an understanding of Socratic ethics which really does illuminate the question of why Plato wrote dialogues. Seeskin argues that what "is at stake in a Socratic dialogue is not, at least not primarily, the logical relations between propositions but the interaction of moral agents" (p. 3). Conversation is integral to the Socratic method. Socrates can guide and goad, but he cannot putwisdom into the soul. At most, he canbring people to the condition in which they can make dieir own ethical discoveries. Nothing else will do: to have ethical wisdom, each person must discover good and evil for himself. It follows for Plato that exposition ofthe views ofSocrates cannot insert knowledge into the soul of the reader. The most useful thing that a text in ethics can do is to engage, arouse, alert, amuse, or shock the reader into growing in understanding . Plato's texts continue Socrates' work. Far too much of the secondary literature on Socrates assumes that his philosophical interestconsists almost wholly in his aptness for producing arguments. If this were true, then real interest in Socrates as a philosopher could hardly survive the discovery that most of his arguments are not especially good. Fortunately , the assumption is not true. Seeskin's work is a clear, attractive, and valuable witness to the real interest of Socrates the philosopher. University of Canterbury, New ZealandDerek Browne Celine's Imaginative Space, byJane Carson; 200 pp. American University Studies, Series II (Romance Languages and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 302-303
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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