CFCC Library Book: “Socrates” by Paul Johnson (2011)

I cannot recommend this book because of the author’s approach to using Plato’s dialogues to inform us about the historical Socrates.

Here is a crucial quote about Plato’s dialogues: “More than a score have survived, plus two companion documents: Socrates’ verbatim defense when on trial for his life, and a record of his last hours before his death sentence was carried out. These two documents, plus the earliest dialogues, are authentic records of Socrates the man, the historical seer at work.” (pp. 9-10)

In short, this is nonsense.  First, the Apology and the Phaedo are dialogues by Plato like the other dialogues.  There is no special distinction to be made between them and the others.  Second, there is no evidence that the Apology is a verbatim record of his trial.  Third, the Phaedo clearly introduces many Platonic, not Socratic, views about the immortality of the soul.  It is not consistent with the Socratic views expressed in the Apology.  Regarding immortality, it is highly unlikely that the views of the actual Socrates are being expressed in both dialogues.  Fourth, I don’t know of any serious classicist or philosopher specializing in ancient philosophy who takes these two dialogues or any others as 100% reliable guides to the real Socrates.  Even in the Apology we are still viewing the historical Socrates through the literary, philosophical, and political lenses provided by Plato.

Here are two books about Socrates in the CFCC library that I do recommend:

Why Socrates died : dispelling the myths / Robin Waterfield. / Robin WaterfieldBook Book | 2009 Available at Wilm Circulating Books (B 316 .W38 2009)

Socrates in the Apology : an essay on Plato’s Apology of Socrates / C.D.C. Reeve.   Book Book | 1989 Available at Wilm Circulating Books (B 365 .R44 1989)