From: Jacques Du Pasquier (
Date: Thu Feb 28 2002 - 07:00:54 MST

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote (27.2.2002/11:57) :
> Of course historical information about Socrates is terribly spotty, and most
> of mine is secondhand, so I can't cite specific sources. Nonetheless, my
> secondhand understanding is that - for example - Socrates himself never
> claimed to know what happens after death (a reasonable belief in that age,
> when nobody knew what the heck was going on), while Plato makes him to
> argue, using various blatantly spurious analogies, for a knowable life after
> death. This is what I mean by pointing out the difference between Plato's
> "Socrates" and the real Socrates. I think I would have liked to meet the
> real Socrates, who argued for progress in knowledge through doubt and
> questioning, and defended objective truth against the assaults of the
> Sophists. A terrible pity that Plato stole his name and reputation.

Were it not for Plato, perhaps Socrates would only be a footnote in
Greek history...

You are doing what Plato did: pick someone who wrote nothing, and of
whom little is known, and safely inject in him your own values...

My own impression is that the real Socrates must have been, more than
anything else, someone who argues in a systematically corrosive way.

If you are mentally more agile than you interlocutor, and unafraid of
consequences, you can easily question his or her beliefs, ask "why"
endlessly, check for consistency, offer alternative at some points in
which he seems constrained to choose, etc.

Socrates would do that with young people of good families on the
agora, perhaps leveraging their typically adolescent curiosity and
tendency to question socially accepted beliefs, and have themselves
"demonstrate" the emptiness and lack of final justification of social
beliefs and behaviour, including the projects their parents had for

It's a rather manipulative business, with limited "knowledge value".
He routinely insisted he knew nothing, and apparently he didn't mind,
which is telling. Saying you don't know anything makes it impossible
for people to ask you questions, and to return your weapon onto
yourself. You're the one who asks, with that above-average command you
have of logical walking (but nothing else in your hands).

Socrates was known to be "very ugly", he walked barefoot, and he had
probably given up on traditional social integration. One could
speculate that having nothing to loose on that side, he rose his
status by provocation, and by making dubious (to their own eyes) what
people believed, through some rounds of justification asking,
leaving them with nothing but confusion -- and the impression that
Socrates was superiorly wise.

I offer as a wild speculation that Plato misunderstood Socrates'
attitude. He was fascinated by the power and purity of such thought
(that dispenses with the messy reality), and, unaware of the social
meaning of Socrates' attitude, adopted such purity as method. He thus
bore the pure fruit of logical reasonning, which is a metaphysics
echoing language, and the dismissal of reality (too messy).

When I read Phaedo, though very young, I was shocked at how *plain
bad* many arguments are (which is probably what you refer to,
Eliezer). So you have that man who is going to die, spending his last
moment with his friends, and they actually wander in the maze of
logical implication. There is something very pathetic in it.

If my speculation is right, by the way, while most other dialogs may
have happen in a somewhat similar way, this one is probably totally
invented, being meaningful to Plato, but not likely to be as
meaningful to Socrates. This is further confirmed by the fact that
contrary to most other dialogues, here Socrates seems the one
defending an opinion and being attacked.

About the people having attended the dialogue, the prologue has a
playful and mysterious remark :

  ECHECRATES. Who were present?
  PHAEDO. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus,
  Critobulus and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines,
  and Antisthenes; likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania,
  Menexenus, and some others; but Plato, if I am not mistaken, was



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