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Published in Journal of the Philosophy of Education 37:1 (2003): 89-99.
Hippias Major, Version 1.0: software for post-colonial, multicultural information technology systems
The first half of Plato’s Hippias Major exhibits the interfacing of the first teacher (Socrates) with the first version of a post-colonial, multi-cultural information technology system (Hippias). In this interface the purposes, results, and values of two contradictory types of operating system for educational servicing units are exhibited to, and can be discovered by, anyone who is not an information technologist.
Hippias Major exhibits the logic of post-colonial multi-cultural information technology (this last may be read ‘educational’) systems. As Hippias is the first version, or prototype, of the machinery and software of the wisdom dispersal sciences, he exhibits most clearly the logic of their ever-advancing technology. The dialogue in which he appears is structured as a chiasmus on its opening sentence: ‘Here comes Hippias fine and wise’ (Plato, 1982, 281a). The dialogue breaks into two unequal halves—the first being a comparison of modern Hippiate wisdom with that of the ancients and the uneducated Spartans, and the second being the discussion of the fine (286a3-304e), which is usually taken as the philosophical meat of the work—such as it is.[i] This structural point has not been noticed in scholarly discussions of the dialogue, and noticing it opens up some interesting literary as well as philosophical issues, and presents a number of questions to the usual interpretation of the dialogue. Paul Woodruff, for instance, considers 281a-286c3 is given over to the ‘exiguous subject’ of ‘discussion and display of Hippias' talents’ (p. 35) and, like previous commentators, considers its main task to be the presentation of Hippias' arrogant stupidity.[ii] While Socrates is undoubtedly being ironic it is perfectly clear that his irony largely goes right by Hippias. Hippias would see that he and Socrates have come to some large areas of agreement on the dialogue's first half set of issues—Spartan ignorance, the progress of wisdom; he reasonably expects that they will quickly do so in the matter of the fine as well. Instead, the wise Hippias slips on banana peel after banana peel in that discussion. So the dialogue, while extremely funny, exhibits the parabolic structure we have come to associate with tragedy, in which the hero at the zenith of his fame, power, and wisdom begins the slide which will take him under those he presently lords it over. That it happens to someone as full of himself as Hippias—a miles gloriosus of dialectics—is the reason we call the dialogue comic despite a plot structure more familiar to the opposite form of literature. While I do not disagree that the discussion of the fine in the second half of the dialogue possesses its interest, and while I do not want to imply that the two paths of the chiasmus are philosophically independent, I do wish to investigate the question of wisdom raised by the second epithet and brought to the bar in the opening half of the discussion. We will see that the larger chiasmic design of the dialogue as a whole is repeated in the logical structure of the arguments within the dialogue: they must be crossed over and reversed in order to get to the truth.
In the opening discussion the wisdom of the ancient sages and of Spartan law is called into question by the modern wisdom of the visitor from Elis. And it is Socrates, in both cases, who sets up Hippias to make the judgment upon his competitors for the title of wise. Early on he praises Hippias:
In private you are able to make a lot of money from young people (and to give still greater benefits to those from whom you take it); while in public you are able to provide your own city with good service (as is proper for one who expects not to be despised, but admired by ordinary people).
But that praise leads immediately to the question:
How in the world do you explain this: in the old days people who are still famous for wisdom—Pittacus and Bias . . . down to Anaxagoras—all or most of those people, we see, kept away from affairs of state? (281b6-c7)
Hippias' judgment is quick and sure:
Isn't it that they were weak and unable to carry their good sense successfully into both areas, the public and private? (281d).
Socrates seconds him, affirming that the improvements in the techne of wisdom (sofistwn tecnhn, 281d5) by Hippias and his ilk are just like the improvements in other skills, where the ancient technai have been far surpassed by our modern technological systems.
Though they agree there was a lot of ignorance back then, particularly with regard to the value of money (282d, 283a), Hippias says that he usually praises the ancients, ‘for while I take care to avoid the envy of the living, I fear the wrath of the dead’ (282c8-10). Now, if this dialogue (or this part of it) is at best merely comic pulling of Hippias' eager-to-be-praised beard in order to set up the fall of pride in the second half of the play we might wonder why such a fine, appropriate and sensible sentiment is put so early into his mouth. Perhaps his conscience is not entirely clear on this matter of ancient wisdom, or perhaps Plato has here come across Polonius' great great grandfather—a man who can mouth the appropriate moral sentiment, being full of wise maxim but devoid of truth. The case is not entirely clear.
According to Hippias and Socrates the case for the new wisdom against that of the ancient sages rests on the following points:
1. None of the early thinkers saw fit to charge a monetary fee or give displays of wisdom for all comers (282d1).
2. They did not know that one needs to be wise primarily for one's own sake, the criterion of which is making money (283b3).
3. They kept away from the affairs of state (281c8).
The first point seems to claim a kind of shyness in those ancients—as if display were a kind of vice. The first two points show the ancients did not know much about money; that is to say, they didn't make much of their wisdom (282b2, 283b3). The third point would seem to indicate that they did not know much about politics, and that Hippias' evaluation of them not being able to turn personal wisdom into public benefit is correct. If all three are the case, we might wonder why Hippias is willing to give them the credit of having any good sense in either the public or the private area to carry over into the other. Anaxagoras, for example, lost a large sum of money he had inherited—so did other wise men (283a8)—and since he kept away from affairs of state he could have had no political impact. Why does Hippias call such a man wise at all, what could his private wisdom amount to (if not money) and why does he fear the post-mortem wrath of such an idiot savant?
As Paul Woodruff notes[iii],history tells us that the evidence appealed to here is false of Pittacus and Bias, and probably of Anaxagoras as well. Hippias, who is only allowed to talk of ancient history at Sparta and so has become quite well versed in it (285e), does not see fit to correct Socrates on the matter. So besides the fact that Hippias' ‘marks of the ancient lack of wisdom’ exactly indict the well-known practices of Plato's protagonist, Socrates (who also fulfills all three of the ancient conditions), the poet also shows the antagonist,Hippias,the historian, and Socrates, the presumably wiser, agreeing on blatant historical falsities. The only sensible reason for an author to do this is in order to signal to the reader that we should try to figure out exactly how foolish Hippias is, and in the course of that, in what his foolishness consists. I do not think it consists in making mistakes about ancient history; foolishness, like wisdom, is always deeper than historical fact. And history, it will turn out, is just gossip.
Perhaps then, as in Aristophanes, there is a serious point in the clever servant (Socrates) making the braggart (Hippias) walk through the particular cloud castles this first half of the dialogue tours[OK?.]. Perhaps it is not just a ‘preliminary skirmish’. As an experiment in taking this part of the dialogue seriously, let us hypothesize that the case against the ancients is turned on its head (just as the first sentence of the dialogue—fine and wise—is inverted by the course of the discussion—wise, then fine). Each of the three points marked against the ancients is, then, a sign of their wisdom, and since Hippias does the opposite, they are marks of his lack of wisdom. Preliminarily, then, let the following stand for us as marks of wisdom:
1'. Not to charge a monetary fee or give displays of wisdom for all comers.
2'. To know one does not need to be wise primarily for one's own sake, (when ‘one's own sake’ is measured by making the most money).
3'. To keep away from the affairs of state.
Let us see which of these sets of three distinguishing marks really hold up as marks of wisdom in the course of the discussion. Being (or playing) fools, the two dialogees turn to affairs of state—and affairs of a state in which neither of them has either power or citizenship. Aristotle thought that matters of other states' laws were not deliberable (Nicomachean Ethics, 1112a 29-30), but Hippias and Socrates are more liberal. In Sparta, where Hippias spends most of his public time, he unfortunately makes no money because the Spartans have a law against foreign education. With regard to Sparta's law and application thereof, Socrates gets Hippias to agree to the following argument:
Lawmakers make the law to be the greatest good to the city (284d5).
When people who are trying to make laws fail to make them good, they have failed to make them lawful (284d8-10).
What is more beneficial is more lawful in truth for all men (284e5).
It would be more beneficial for the Spartans to be educated by Hippias' teaching, even though it is foreign (285a).
Then the Spartans are breaking the law by not giving Hippias money and entrusting their sons to him (285b2).
Perhaps fearing that we are likely not to believe the premise about Hippias' teaching being beneficial, and thereby skip through this entire section as being such froth as situation-comedy is made of, Plato immediately lets us hear that the Spartans can't stand to hear about either astronomy, or harmonies and rhythms, and that most of them can't even count (285c-285d), so Hippias' skills in mathematics and geometry go unenjoyed—and unlearned by the youth.
Whether Plato's story about Sparta's niggardly provision for the education of its citizens is true or not, it seems clear that, under any usual workaday idea of benefit, Hippias would indeed be quite a benefit; arithmetic, geometry and astronomy are useful skills for businessmen, farmers or soldiers to have. The ordinary duties of citizenship and household economy seem impossible without them. Both Aristotle (in Politics 8) and Plato (in Republic 4, and throughout the Laws) make music an important element of education. The amicus curiae brief Socrates gives on Hippias' behalf, then, is sound unless we can discover that there is a greater benefit delivered by the Spartan law than that deliverable by mathematics and astronomy (or other sciences) gained through the fornication of young minds with educators from Elis et al. [DOES THIS BELAY THE CONFUSING?] If we cannot find such an argument, then Socrates must be serious in this first half of the dialogue in the matter of his praise of Hippias, and it must be true that Hippias is wise, or at least wiser than xenophobic Sparta.
We might upgrade the argument here using Hippias as a figure of a permanent question in education: is there a greater benefit to be found in education than the world-wide dissemination of scientific knowledge? Hippias is the first version of universal Information Technology. Scientific (and cultural) information is something Hippias can provide; he has a prodigious memory (285e)—especially for such an early version of the technology, and he plugs into a multitude of politeai with easy adaptability (281ab, b-e). If such informationalism is the greatest benefit of education, then Sparta is foolish and Hippias and Socrates her legitimate (though distant and powerless) lawmakers.
Prima facie, the Spartan law looks silly[iv], for it keeps the culture behind the times and without the advantages of the more cosmopolitan Athens; after Socrates' argument it looks considerably worse than silly. However, there are several possible reasons for considering it worthwhile rather than senseless. I present them in the manner of the schools:
1. Sparta is a traditionalist society; any change in the traditions is likely to be devastating for the unity of communal life; any technological gains in various newly introduced fields would be more than offset by losses in authoritative organization and smooth social interaction. (This is the historical-critical sociological reason). A new historicist might offer this explanation of the Spartan law; such a one would probably add that this partly explains why Plato has Spartan sympathies: he is a traditionalist.[v] But this argument has some deep seriousness in it: the coherence of the society across generations is clearly broken; not only the cohesion of the present generation with its distant ancestors, but also the agreement and unity of the present generation with its own children who will shortly be enthralled to the more modern and ever-advancing versions of I.T. (say Hippias, Version 2003.1).
2. Sparta is a militaristic society; to entrust education to foreigners is dangerous since if they do have any new and useful knowledge they are unlikely to teach the whole truth of the matter, which thereby leaves Sparta at their mercy; further, the state cannot depend on a constant influx of honest teachers and technicians to keep the new science up and running. (This is the paranoid militarist reason). But this too has a serious point: to invite the foreigners in and allow their innovative education is to offer oneself up as a colony. This version of colonialism will not be material, but cultural and spiritual. Let us call it post-colonialism to indicate an advance upon the simple materialism of olden times.
3. The Spartans know that wisdom is only achieved through one's own efforts and practice at the tasks which one must learn to assign oneself, not through the passing on of information. Technical knowledge necessary and helpful for the tasks at hand will be worked up and improved upon by the persons who are involved in the tasks, for purposes which the whole community involved in those tasks can ascertain. The knowledge gained in that way will be neither esoteric nor create unnecessary luxury or hardship, for it will be invented only by someone strong enough to invent it, in circumstances capable of supporting its practice, and also invented because someone thoughtfully involved in the task had need of it. Science is (the Spartans tell us) not only taken up as a part of the moral purpose of the community as a whole, but is itself a moral practice for each individual in the community—or else the community has no science (and deserves none); it is also probably not a community and deserves a larger name as is mentioned in the Republic (422e). Following this law will insure that the community's technical skill will never overreach the moral growth or economic and intellectual capacity of its citizenry. (This is the true philosophical reason for the Spartan law). It should be clear that this reasoning will lead to actions which also produce benefits like those sought under the first two dispensations, but a closed up traditionalism and xenophobic militarism offer only partial understandings (more accurately, partial misunderstandings) of what a society's purposes are.
Socrates had said that the law is made to be the greatest good to the city and that ‘without that, law-abiding civilized life is impossible’ (284d5). It is clear that if the third reason is the real reason for the Spartan law, that law is trying to make the continuing life of the Spartan community not only possible but the necessary and sufficient impetus behind scientific, industrial or artistic improvements, and all education.[vi] Values are not put into the curriculum (as some present day sophistic programs claim); the curriculum is the practice of the communal virtues or their lack. Information systems are valueless. It is clear under this explanation that although Hippias does have knowledge of many things Spartans apparently are ignorant of, he is utterly incorrect when he claims that his wisdom is ‘the sort that makes those who study and learn it stronger in virtue’ (283c5). In fact, insofar as he takes money for telling them things, Hippias is robbing his students of practising the virtues required in investigation and discovery; he is polluting the society with luxury by providing it with technai and information, which its own activities are not obviously in need of for success and which do not arise out of the society's own perception of its needs; and he is robbing it again because these new gifts are not likely to be able to be supported on the society's terms; besides that he is quite literally taking their money out of town. It is no wonder Hippias makes ‘more money than any other two sophists you like put together’ (283a). Under such conditions as Hippias induces, the society and its individual members are more likely to be ‘overstepping the bounds of the necessary’, which the Republic (373e) argues is the beginning of injustice, and leads necessarily to war. It is hard to tell if Hippias is ‘a ridiculous friend or a clever enemy’ (Phaedrus 260c), but if these arguments are correct I conclude that Hippias is not a simple fool. Rather he is very deeply dangerous, and current post-colonial education and I.T. theory and practice are his direct descendants. I shall however make a joke of this danger: Hippias is the dead white male at the secret heart of postmodern web-based education. We should beware of Geeks bearing gifts.
Medicine teaches that an influx of foreigners may bring diverse strains of disease for which the native immune systems may not be prepared, but foreign education necessarily brings new and more serious diseases into the body politic. Whoever makes the most money at such endeavours is therefore least virtuous—and most dangerous to the society. The irony in this section runs far deeper than the fact that Socrates gets Hippias to agree to historical falsehoods (about the ancient sages) or mouth agreement to arguments the historical Hippias would have disdained.[vii] The irony is personal only by accident; Hippias is the figure of a type of educational fish—and that's what Plato is frying. Far from ‘lacking the Socratic ethos’ (Wilamowitz), the irony of this dialogue is exactly on ethos. And it is Socratic. It is not personal, but universally directed toward a certain ethos actually embodied by Hippias, and other famous lecturers or learning systems—past, present and to come. Plato is also exhibiting something ironic about the human situation, for who would think that knowledge itself could be dangerous[viii]—destructive of an entire civilization when not developed by and in that civilization? Everyone in the new world order will be like Hippias—mouthing the appropriately agreeable information randomly accessible in their memories.
This is a very serious philosophical and political problem, and it ought at least to be raised by a colonizing power (Athens or us), which considers its own life that which is to be emulated, or unquestioningly accepts multi-cultural education as an unconditional good. A nation's labour is (not just the expression of, but the actualization of) its way of humanizing nature. Therefore, insofar as the culture merely takes up or is given the technology of other peoples and cultures its labor is alienated—en masse. The culture is thereby permanently colonized even if the foreign teachers are perfectly willing to tell their native students everything and don't hide the firing pin, or fail to explain the intricacies of carburation: there is no need for an army of occupation.[ix] The 'less advanced' Spartan culture is now exactly like the visiting Elisian, and incapable of thinking otherwise since its way of dealing with (= working on) reality is exactly the same. Hollywood and McDonald's are everywhere. The idea that we are in a post-colonial age is a great lie, and Plato knew it. In the Information Age Hippias is the universal colonizer. His connection with capital is his self-advertisement (282e), and his fetishisation of wisdom (making it an ownable, alienable thing) is his method's conditio sine qua non.
Having investigated the details of what might lie behind the Spartan case, we can now see that our hypothesis about the ancients being more virtuous than Hippias, and in particular more wise, has good grounds.
First, they never took money for their displays of wisdom, probably because they never gave displays of wisdom for all comers. They knew that such displays could cause the ordinary folk to wonder at them, but by doing so it would take those folk (as well as the wise?) away from working out for themselves whatever they were capable of working. Showmanship is not an intellectual virtue, and display is not teaching. In fact, to use the newspeak of post-colonial post-modernism, such displays disempower the audience: under this condition the students (at best) watch, rather than practice, virtue. This is the aestheticisation of education, it is a form of softness (NE 1150b16-19). One begins to wonder if such a creature as Hippias might not do better service to his city by being away from it.[x]
Second, the ancient sages were probably well aware that such a disempowering would be detrimental to the growth and practice of virtue in any community, and no wise man would consent to take part in such a task or practice it upon his own or another city. In fact, he would make a law against it. He would refrain from such a thing both for his own sake (which does not mean in order ‘to make more money’—but does mean in order to practise virtue) and for the sake of the whole community. By so refraining from making money in this way the ancient sage exhibits his virtue; and it is quite a democratic virtue: he refuses the practices of tyranny and spiritual colonization. It is hard to say which of these aspects (communal or individual) is more important, since there is no individual life apart from a community, and the only lasting as well as the most worthwhile community is the community of virtue.[xi] It is probable that treason will pay better—in one way.
Third, the wise man would, in addition, stay out of politics in the sense that he knows that the most important thing is to become perfect in virtue himself, and because he knows that he cannot make any one else become more perfect in virtue in any case.[xii] He also is cognizant that he himself is not yet perfect enough in virtue to have time to spend on such a vanity and chase after wind as making someone else so. At least these wise men would have the sense to stay out of politics outside their own state, though some of them, as was well known in Plato's day, were very important figures in the framing of their own cities' laws. Such laws no doubt aimed at requiring the practices of virtue of all citizens. Plato may in fact be lying about some of those famous sages just in order to get his students to see the difference between the way jet-setting busybodies like Hippias are involved in politics (in every other state but their own, from which they are invariably absent), and the way in which the ancient sages—less well traveled—engaged in lawmaking for their own country, but did not attempt to tell the Spartans what to do in theirs.
It is now possible to expand on my suggestion about interpreting such open falsities as Socrates' remark about Pittacus and Bias not being involved in politics. The Hippiate position—which presumes that wisdom is a commodity and therefore has a price, that it both can and ought to be used to enrich oneself, and that applying it in private is an entirely different skill than applying it in public—provides the only conditions, and the sufficient conditions, logically to ground Hippias' claim to possession of the quality in question on the evidence of his exceptional wealth and busyness. If these grounds are false, then both the title truly wise, which Hippias claims, and the alleged historical connection between public and private wisdom are false.
But the alleged historical conclusion is false, therefore (by modus tollens) the premisses must be incorrect. Rather than being a commodity, wisdom has an intrinsic connection to the continuing life of the community; we might say that wisdom is the practice of what is good for the whole city (Republic 428d). It is the very life of a tradition, without which ‘law-abiding civilized life is impossible’ (284d). Such wisdom is both private in that each must practise it, and public in that the practices unite the generations of the city; while such wisdom enriches both realms, it will never produce the wealth, much less the wealth for its own sake, that Hippias understands as the mark of success. The ancient sages knew all this and Hippias does not.
Hippias is never at home because it is impossible for him to have one. He is the original nowhere man. Hippias' later attempts to define the fine apart from all connection to workaday, social, moral and political contexts are merely a symptom of the social disease he exhibits in this first half of the dialogue. One should expect the same effect—an incapacity for any judgment of the fine—from his more advanced versions: Hippias 2.0 or 2001.3. He prefers the view from nowhere—which exists wherever he is. He carries this negative along with him and it infects everything he casts his eye upon. Plato's argument against Hippias (for Socrates makes none, Socrates speaks in his favor) in this first half is the strongest possible argument for the unity of virtue and for the necessity of its being learned by practice. As in the Meno, Plato makes this argument without Socrates ever stating it.[xiii]
The point is reiterated by the closing picture of this half of the chiasmus. Hippias has a speech set after the Trojan war, in which Neoptolemus asks Nestor ‘what sort of actions . . . would make someone famous if he adopted them while young’ (286b). Neoptolemus is, of course, already famous—or should we say infamous? He is no longer young and what he gets is a speech about practices. Clearly he wasn't practicing fine things when he was young, for if he had been, he would be neither infamous for his savagery nor in need of advice on the matter of fine practices at so late a date. Should we praise such a one for having the wisdom to ask? Should we give praise to a Nestor, or a Hippias, who treats such a question from such a one under such a circumstance (say, after wiping the blood of Polyxena from his sword) as a serious question—and think it can be answered by speech? Suppose he was well paid for it? Or cheered by a virtual stadium of onlookers?
Hippias, like other dialogues, is constructed perfectly for the education of the young (or even the old); everyone in Athens with what would count these days as minimal historical literacy would have known that the ancient sages' history Socrates refers to is false. But knowledge of the facts is not wisdom and the teacher would require the students to discover (a) the argument that underlies the historically anomalous conclusion, (b) what is wrong with the argument, and (c) that the true argument is about the relation of wisdom and information technology. That argument would give the grounds for distinguishing Bias and Socrates as wise—though one participated in politics and one did not—from Gorgias and Hippias who are not wise and did. It follows that a true teacher would never write an article or give a lecture telling his students about such things; he would know that the only motive for such an act would be desire for fame or money and that acting on this desire would separate members of his community from achieving the good for themselves. He could, perhaps, by asking the right questions, get a student to figure out what the first half of this dialogue argues for, as a theatre-goer might figure out (perhaps more quickly) the political point of an Aristophanic comedy. In neither case—Aristophanic or Platonic—is the comedy merely froth. It is not the gossipy historical entertainment the Spartans find Hippias worthy of providing (286a).
As a final note, one must conclude in this particular case that no fine, wise, or honest man could have written this explanatory article. Such is, as Hippias might say, the price of doing business in the world of scholarship. Be that as it may, we can see that the second of the epithets Socrates had attached to Hippias is attached backwards—or rather that Hippias is backwards and this story about wisdom is true. In that case, while Hippias is not wise, Hippias is wisely constructed, and fine.
Correspondence: Gene Fendt, Department of Philosophy, University of Nebraska, Kearney, NE 68849, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aristotle (1962) Nicomachean Ethics, trans. with an introduction by M. Ostwald (Indianapolis, IN: Library of the Liberal Arts).
Fendt, G. and Rozema, D. (1998) Platonic Errors: Plato, A Kind of Poet (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press).
Plato (1982) Hippias Major, trans. with a commentary by P. Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett).
[i]While Hippias is frequently mined for insight into Plato's aesthetic theory, and not always treated as a serious effort in that regard, I have been able to find no secondary literature at all on the dialogue's discussion of wisdom, or wisdom's relation to the Spartan laws—the first structural half of the dialogue. Paul Woodruff, in fact, in his recent translation and commentary, Hippias Major (Plato, 1982), calls this part—one structural half of the dialogue on my reading—‘Preliminary Skirmish’ (p. xiii, 35-42), and does not include it in his analysis of ‘The Argument’, which starts thereafter. That short discussion is not expanded upon in taking up any of the later topics in his analysis or commentary. Such a treatment of the dialogue seems universal.
[ii]Woodruff notes Schleiermacher, Ast, Horneffer and Tarrant questioning why Plato would spend so much time doing this (pp. 94-103); that it has been read as a personal attack is one of the main reasons for thinking the dialogue is not Platonic (Schleiermacher, Thesleff, Wilamowitz; cf. Woodruff 97 and notes).
[iii] See Hippias Major, p. 37, n. 6, and p. 39, n. 23. Woodruff makes much of the fact that Socrates gets Hippias to agree to an outrageous historical falsehood (the political incapacity of the ancients) and then ‘‘pretends (with a quibble) to accept a theory of law that must have been anathema to him’’ (p. 36, also pp. 41, 129)—a theory of law that is more than the mere positivism associated with the Sophists. But besides exhibiting the versatility of Hippias' backbone (his ability to bend to whatever wind he is talking—despite his knowledge), the introduction of the historical error by Socrates doesn't make Socrates look very intelligent either. In a fencing match we should count this as nothing either way.
[iv]That Socrates is supposed to have had Spartan sympathies (e.g., Woodruff 39, note 27) and so cannot be serious about the argument he gives is to think that an opinion about historical fact can negate a deductive argument's necessary conclusion. This is a frequently reiterated flaw in historical scholarship. That ‘‘Socrates probably approved of Sparta's restrictions in teaching’’ (Woodruff 39) is a matter of no importance and for two reasons: —(i) it is at best only Socrates' opinion; (ii) such historical knowledge itself is only a matter of plausible pistis. Socrates here gives an argument against the validity of Spartan laws, and the argument looks deductive. One is not allowed to have opinions in the face of such arguments, nor is history a court of appeal; one must find the flaw in the argument or submit to its truth.
[v]That Plato has Spartan sympathies is a familiar scholarly claim. I think, however, that Megillus—the Spartan in the Laws—would probably not think so given the very serious difficulties the Athenian Stranger exhibits to be the case with Spartan society.
[vi]This argument would agree with that of the Athenian Stranger, who says that only ‘education from childhood in virtue’ should be called education. ‘As for an upbringing that aims at money, or some sort of strength, or some other sort of wisdom without intelligence and justice, the argument proclaims it to be vulgar, illiberal, and wholly unworthy to be called education’ (Laws 644a). The virtues, and the upbringing that aims at them, have an intrinsic, necessary and inescapable social reference; money, strength, and wisdom without justice (i.e., mere information) do not. Education aiming at such things is not worthy of the name, for it provides the impetus to the two greatest dangers of a society—poverty and wealth.
[vii]See note 3 above.
[viii]I think there is a myth about this connection in some culture I used to be familiar with, but I have forgotten it. Was it a king in North Africa?
[ix]It will no doubt be thought that someone who does not go to Hippias' presentations (or, say, own a t.v. or surf the web) will be thought very weird and bear watching: as if he is the spy of a foreign power.
[x]Since Hippias is ‘often on missions to other cities’ (281b), perhaps Elis is wiser than its supposed leading citizen. This would also explain why Hippias is sent so frequently to Sparta—his city keeps on hoping it will lead to his reformation: that he will think about the purpose of the Spartan law and its implications.
[xi]This matter is familiar to Aristotelians—’for bad men cannot be unanimous (i.e., form a community) except to a small extent . . . and if people do not watch it carefully the common weal is soon destroyed’ (Nicomachean Ethics, 1167b9-11).
[xii]Again Aristotle: ‘For justice exists only between men whose mutual relations are governed by law; and law exists for men between whom there is injustice’ (1134a30). Thanks to Carla Chapman for reminding me of this remark.
[xiii]See my ‘Forgetfulness in Meno: Plato Invents the Art of the Fugue’ (in Fendt and Rozema, 1998).
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