ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Discussion for Lesson 3
Student E. The book on the five Dialogues is hard to read. I am not used to reading books like theses it has been. awile so I am just takeing it slow
Student C. I am not to good at reading comprehension. I get side tracked very easily. If I sit there and read and nothing else is going on I can get a lot more done. I also remember what I read a little better.
Student T. Advice to those who need help with reading comp is if you don't understand what you just read, take a break and reread it. Take notes.
Dr. G. Something makes nearly all of us poor readers. Evolutionary biologists would say that reading was not part of humankind's environment until quite recently, so natural selection has not had time to favor readers over non-readers--assuming that there is some kind of biological advantage in reading. Hence we are all primitive readers.
Whatever the true explanation for it may be, we are better at doing almost anything besides reading. We remember things that we do much better than we remember what we read. The physical act of making notes plants an idea much more firmly in mind than if we simply hear or read it. One way to really learn the Platonic dialogues, if you ever had to do such a thing, would be to paraphrase them (or paraphrase English translations of them). Putting them into your own words makes them your own. Scientific studies have shown that students learn Shakespeare's plays with far more retention if the class methodology is to perform the plays, not simply to read them and hear lectures.
Discussing the reading is a good way to do something with it, to help make it stick in our minds. It doesn't matter whether the discussion item that we post is brilliant or obvious; it matters only that we post it. Discussion is an important technique for learning. Socrates learned through discussion.
Student V. I really had to read the story over and over to get a full understanding of it, but the more I read it, the more I understood it. I just found it comical that they went through that whole discussion to end up not deciding what "pious" really is.
Student M. I completely agree. The reading was hard to understand and I also had to read several times to get the idea but, I enjoyed it as you did it.
G. In great classic literature--Plato or the Bible or Shakespeare, for example--there's difficulty getting oriented. No doubt about that. But once you begin to "get it," there's tremendous depth so that something new occurs to you almost each time that you re-read. I'm still gaining understanding of Plato on maybe the 12th or 15th reading over the course of 40 years!
Student C. The language in the book does not seem like ordinary talk. The words appear unnatural.
G. Whenever you use translations that are more than a generation old, you will face problems with the language. You are using an old edition of the dialogues that was translated more than 100 years ago. The Grube translation that I have recommended as the course textbook uses modern language that is much easier to understand. My online version of the dialogues is even more contemporary in its language, so you may want to try it.
The Character of Socrates in "Euthyphro"
Dr. G. How is Socrates characterized in the dialogue "Euthyphro?" Any ideas? For anybody interested, the following web site has a lot of detail about this dialogue: http://www.friesian.com/euthyph.htm
Student K. It seems as though Socrates is a very low-key, curious person. He seems to be a little condescending but in a non-confrontational way. He's not willing to just accept what is said. His opinion is that there is a specific reason and meaning for everything and he won't accept what he doesn't fully understand. He wants people to expand their minds and ask questions.
G. Yes, I sometimes wonder in reading this scene whether Socrates is a wise man or a wise guy, whether he wants to figure out what holiness means or whether he just wants to criticize Euthyphro. Is his mission to know or to point out that others don't know?
Student T. I think that Socrates had an extremely curious and sometimes almost passive aggressive personality. When reading Plato's first dialogue, I began to wonder if Socrates was trying to drive Euthyphro crazy!
G. Some of Socrates' speeches seem to be fast talk designed to confuse.
Maybe Socrates does not really want Euthyphro to come up with the answer?
Student J. I believe that Socrates is playing what I have heard referred to as "Devils Advocate." Where, even though you may agree with what the person is saying, you ask questions, trying to make them think it through, why they believe what they believe. While this can be very frustrating for the person itís being done to, it can make help them grow in their learning. Sometimes the person playing the Devils Advocate also learns a thing or two in the process.
G. Good point. In "Euthyphro" we don't really get to know much about what Socrates personally thinks. Instead we see him forcing Euthyphro to think. This is called "Socratic method," where the teacher actually plays student and asks the student to do the teaching. It's a common method in higher education still today. It's often used in law school, for example, where teachers spend little time lecturing or explaining, and the students are expected to respond to questions. The idea is to force students to begin thinking independently. I'll bet you will have college teachers who will use Socratic method to some extent.
Student L. I do agree with using the Socratic Method. The problem with it is that it becomes sort of annoying once in awhile. I mean, if people are constantly asking you what to do or how you did it and all of that. Personally, it would come to the point that I decide that I don't want to participate anymore, either because I am way to annoyed or because I do not trust what I am saying. I don't know if this happens to everyone, but when people start criticizing what I say I become insecure and don't want to say anything. So, how effective is this method. Also, how do teachers really implement the method? Are they like Socrates, finding contradictions in whatever you said (if you contradicted yourself, of course) or just so that what you say is wrong or always incorrect?
G. You make a great point. Obviously Socrates annoyed people, and he knew that he annoyed people. In "The Apology," as we will read soon, he describes himself as a stinging "gadfly." Few of us like to be shown up in public as the fools that we are. We lose face. Our dignity is threatened. We become angry.
Socratic method really works best in an academic setting, where everybody understands that the object is to discover the truth and that nobody has a personal monopoly on truth. In other settings, Socratic method can be out of place. For example, imagine Socrates attending Bible school and grilling the teacher in front of a group of converts or young initiates. That Bible study group is trying to build faith--which is an entirely different group task than the pursuit of truth in the academy. Socrates might be welcome in a group of theologians who are trying to make sophisticated arguments about God, but the church school group of insecure novices is likely to regard him as a menace.
Socratic method works particularly well where people are trying to learn how to argue. That's why it's the common method of law school teachers. The object is to force students to learn to think and speak persuasively. As a law student, you read a few cases for homework, and then in class you're told to stand up and represent one of the parties in one of the cases. The teacher takes the opposite side and attempts to demolish every argument that you make. And the teacher usually wins all of the arguments very easily. The student's first reaction is to feel humiliated or personally affronted, but then the lesson begins to sink in--if I don't improve my ability to argue, I won't be able to protect my clients' interests.
In this course, when we write the research report, we will understand that the research paper must make a central claim (we call it a "thesis"), that the claim must be supported by reasoned arguments, and that the arguments must be backed up with evidence. I will try to take your paper apart. I will criticize the reasoning and the evidence that you rely on--not because I hate you but because, if I can, I want to help you to grow in strength. This is how academic writing goes back to Socrates.
Student O. I really liked this short reading about Socrates and Euthyphro. Piety and impiety seemed to be so easy to understand for Euthyphro but Socrates clearly questioned and examined all the statements that Euthyphro made. Socrates analyzes every single word and even expands into making his "teacher" agree to his semi-conclusions. Socrates analysis of piety and impiety actually forced Euthyphro into questioning his knowledge about the subject. Socrates is king of thinking.
G. Let's all be "kings of thinking." When you find a source that seems to answer your research question, ask yourself whether it really does. Analyze it. Think of objections to it. Don't crown it as king over you unless it's deserving.
Other Comments on "Euthyphro"
Student E. It seemed to me like Euthyphro was more annoyed with Socrates than embarassed. He didn't seem to be into the discussion at all.
Dr. G. Too busy prosecuting his father for murder, maybe? I've always wondered what Euthy would inherit, if his father were out of the way. From his story about the death of the slave, it sounds as if he's got a serious plantation or estate of some kind.
Student K. Trying to pronounce Euthyphro is driving me nuts! How exactly is it pronounced?
G. Online it's pronounced "Euthyphro." But seriously, in the classroom I say YOU-THEE-FROO, with emphasis on THEE, and with long E and O sounds. It was apparently an uncommon name; from what I understand, no Euthyphro is mentioned anywhere in Greek literature, except in this one Platonic dialogue. So it's probably OK to pronounce the name any way that you want to, and nobody will be able to prove that you are wrong.
The dialogue titles are interesting. They may have originated in the Middle Ages, many centuries after Plato. Medieval manuscript writers often gave titles to plays and dialogues solely on the basis of the character's name who speaks first or who speaks most in the piece. In any case, most of Plato's dialogues involving Socrates are named for the person that Socrates talks to (the technical term is "interlocutor"): "Euthyphro," "Crito." Where Socrates does all or nearly all of the talking, however, the title indicates the subject of the dialogue: "The Apology" (Socrates' defense), "The Republic" (Socrates' account of a utopian state).