Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Socrates on the "Greatest Things" in the APOLOGY


Philosophy Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Social and Behavioral Sciences


Platos Socrates says in the Apology that he himself knows nothing important. In the Republic, Theaetetus, and Phaedo, however, Socrates presents radical and grandiose theories about the greatest things--topics of which he professes ignorance in the Apology. Sandra Peterson in her recent Socrates and Philosophy in the Dialogues of Plato (Cambridge, 2011) offers an illuminating and original hypothesis which explains this puzzle of Socrates two contrasting ways of treating philosophy and the greatest things. She bases her hypothesis upon a reading of the Apology that takes Socrates avowals of ignorance about the greatest things as altogether sincere and straightforward. She argues that, in stretches of the latter three dialogues where Socrates appears to be confidently articulating his own doctrines, Plato really is depicting him as conducting the first steps of an examination in which he is eliciting or extracting what his interlocutors believe is the best way to live, constantly examining and always stopping short of endorsing any of the doctrines or suggestions he puts forward. This paper, by putting some aspects of her reading of the Apology into question, argues against two of her conclusions: (i) that there is a single Socrates whose conception and practice of philosophy, as centrally involving examining and as largely excluding the formulation of positive doctrines or the endorsement of particular conceptions, remains the same throughout the dialogues, and (ii) that Plato's conception and practice of philosophy in writing the dialogues is the same as his master's.

Conference Name

30th annual joint meeting of The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy with The Society for the Study of Islamic Philosophy and Science

Conference Location

New York City

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