Dr. G's Introduction to Plato's "Euthyphro"
Plato (428? - 347 BCE ) was the world's first academic. He founded the original Academy near Athens (modern day Greece) in about 387 BCE, and he ran this new kind of think tank for some forty years until his death. The school attracted many of the best young students in the ancient Greek world, including the famous Aristotle who stayed for about twenty years until, after Plato's death, he spun off his own rival school in Athens. Aristotle's school was the first known clone of the Academy; tens of thousands of other clones have followed.
Plato promoted his educational ideals by writing more than twenty dialogues, or short dramatic scenes, about his own famous teacher, Socrates (469-399 BCE ). Four of these Socratic dialogues, often collected under the modern title of The Last Days of Socrates, provide glimpses of the master's indictment, trial, imprisonment, and death;
The essence of this story is very simple. Socrates finds meaning and happiness on death row. He teaches us how to make constructive use of our minds, regardless of our circumstances. He is a model of positive thinking.
Beyond this general moral about using our brains, Socrates has special meaning for academics. He's not only the hero of the original Academy, historically; he's also the guiding spirit in the academic imagination today. As the founder-figure, he is to academic life what Jesus is to Christianity, what Abraham is to Judaism, what Mohammad is to Islam, but of course he's a different sort of character, a skeptic who treasures ideas but doubts the truthfulness of thinking, even including his own speculations. Obviously, knowledge has advanced considerably since Socrates' time, but Socrates' intense curiosity remains alive today in academic research, and his examination technique (known as the Socratic method) is widely practiced by college and university teachers.
The quest for knowledge is seldom unopposed. In every age, there are those who benefit
from the current state of ignorance. Socrates'
tireless questioning disturbed some of his fellow Athenians to the point that
they took legal action to silence him. They accused him of impiety
or un-holiness, and they summoned him to answer their charges in court of the
Athenian high priest (known as the king-archon).