Triple Major in Philosophy, Communication Studies, and Political Science; Minors in Ancient Greek and in Rhetoric: Theory & Practice
Socrates; exemplar; Ancient Philosophy; Phaedo; Plato; Socrates as teacher; Classics
In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates famously denied being a teacher. Nonetheless, others took him to be a teacher, and there is no doubt that his attempts to encourage people to philosophy are pedagogical. So, we are presented with a puzzle—one that is still with interpreters today, despite important work on the issues (e.g., Nehamas 1985, 1992). In this project, I approach these issues from a different angle, asking not whether Socrates is a teacher (or whether philosophy can be taught) but considering Socrates as a philosophical exemplar. I contend that this question will help us to understand not only Socrates but also Platonic philosophy.
In her work on exemplars (2017), Linda Zagzebski introduces an exemplar as an individual to whom we are drawn “because we admire something easily observable about them”, particularly the performance of admirable acts. She defines exemplars as: “those persons whom we see, on close observation and with reflection, to be admirable in all or most of their acquired traits.” Following Zagzebski, my project will work to define what a philosophical exemplar is, and I will map this concept onto the character of Socrates. My primary texts are Phaedo and Republic, where we see Socrates priming his interlocutors to do philosophy, for sake of philosophy, authentically. This is distinct from the concept of ‘teaching’, and I argue it falls under the concept of philosophical exemplarship, because it includes an element of camaraderie and empathetic connection that is authoritative yet still akin to friendship. For example, Plato emphasizes that Socrates is among friends in Phaedo, that those friends chose to spend time with him before he dies, and that those with whom Socrates shared is final hours were all philosophers.
The exemplar, thus, offers tools ‘students’ can use to open their mind, and a sounding board upon which they can test and challenge themselves. This is above all active, not passive— built upon cooperativeness and conversation, such that the exemplar, too, betters themselves through interactions with their peers and students. A large part of the exemplar’s role is filled through conversation and discourse—which we see Socrates practicing in Phaedo, on death’s door, engaging with his friends.