Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's my turn this year to do the introductory lectures to our 1A (mostly first year) Classics students on 'Socrates and Plato'.  We all have to distribute feedback forms to our audience and then take note of what is said.  This year, one reply complained that I spent the lectures talking about particular dialogues in turn, sometimes just bits of a particular dialogue (e.g. I did a lecture on Socrates and Polus in Gorgias) rather than giving an introduction to what Plato thought.

Now, this is a reasonably easy complaint to explain away and I can give a good defence of why I do things the way I do.  (There's one exception: for today's lecture I will talk generally about the various jobs that 'Forms' do in the dialogues and highlight some difficulties; but I do that only after I've spent a couple of weeks on e.g. the Phaedo and shown the way in which these ideas are in fact introduced in the dialogues themselves.)  But I wonder what is the best way to get students interested in ancient philosophy.  We used to start them off with Thales and co.  But I remember a number of students finding this all just too weird ('Everything comes from water, huh?  Idiot.') and the source critical stuff you really have to do is a bit challenging for an introductory course. So we start with Socrates, well Plato's Socrates...

I could do it by theme, I suppose, but jumping from work to work like that would get confusing.  So I do what I do in part because I want to encourage the students to look at an argument, react to that argument sensitively with regard to its context and the role it plays within the work as a whole.  We can then move off to more general questions (e.g. we had a talk about akrasia and whether cases like Leonteus in Republic do indeed occur).

And if that's no good we could always learn this dance routine:

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