Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Socrates

From: Todd Pratum <>
Date: Tue Apr 5 18:04:01 2005
"I haven't read Popper yet. Is there a simple way to 
summarize his arguments?

OK, here is my take on Popper:

Scott David Gray puts forward, in a muscular way, the Aristotelian view as opposed to the Platonist view, as Popper does (I have read both Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, and the primary work of his chief critic, G. J. deVries' Antisthenes Redivivus, (Amsterdam 1952).  As many of you must know, much of this argument, (that of democracy versus kingship), is well mirrored in the lives of Plato and Aristotle, and Popper explored this in a very comprehensive way, but from an oppositional point of view.  You could, if needed, boil it all down to this: Whether you believe that some people in society are more advanced than others, (either intellectually, culturally, or psychologically for example), and that there are fair ways that can be found in society and culture to identify them from the pretenders. 

Some historians, for example the great religious scholar Huston Smith, would say that there are ways to do this but that they have been lost for the most part.  In any case, the rape and ruin that has been rained down upon mankind by royalty, dictators, and power grabbers has led to the modernist belief--first put into action in modern times during the French Revolution--that there are no "superior" people, and if there are, there is no workable way to put them in places of power, and even if there was a way, it eventually leads to corruption, and that the only hope for mankind is democracy.  Plato tried to codify a way to make it possible to avoid these pitfalls (see especially The Republic, but the Thomas Taylor translation, or perhaps Jowett's, not translations by his critics if you want the other perspective for a change), and thus to make available to society the great benefits of having great leaders in charge, wise kings.  He saw this as man's greatest engine for evolution.  In my view the best way to understand this philosophy is to read about King Arthur and his Galahad Quest, (it is interesting to note that kids love this story, the story of a wise king who rules the land with grace and respect!).  (A good simple version for those who don't have time to plow through the complete Arthurian corpus is T. H. White's The Once and Future King, cheap on the internet at

I suspect there is not a single Platonist on this Sudbury list, and there will be those who wonder how can somebody like myself talk of democratic education while being a Platonist, (answer: authentic democracy really is our only hope right now in education).  I would also like to plead patience and open mindedness when thinking of ideas that contradict your dominant paradigm.  When the modern dominant paradigm is democracy, it is easy to defend it when you are in the majority, but when you are in the minority, it is not so easy! 

But this is all so interesting, and I am glad to meet online some people like Scott who have spent time trying to understand the roots of our civilization.   One of the most fascinating books on the subject is Julius Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World.  If you have only read the defenders of democracy (like Popper), then I would suggest this defense of Plato, very well written and quite edifying.  The subject is of course vast and I have only outlined it a tiny bit,  from my own limited perspective!  Todd Pratum.

Scott David Gray wrote:
On Tue, 5 Apr 2005, Woty wrote:

On Apr 5, 2005, at 11:04, Scott David Gray wrote:

The Socratic Method?  Do people actually think that this
showed any sincere respect for the 'student?'
Certainly it doesn't as practiced now.

Popper argues in _The Open Society and Its Enemies_  that Socrates 
genuinely respected young people and thought of them as friends, but 
that Plato misrepresented him in later works. He argues that Socrates 
was not authoritarian but that Plato was. I haven't studied the period 
much, so I don't know how credible this line of argument is.

Several writers besides Plato spoke about Socrates. The
humorist, Aristophanes, shows his understanding of Socrates
(as an arrogant buffoon) in 'the Clouds.' Plato was perhaps 
the most sycophantic.

The most balanced picture (in my opinion) comes from
Xenophon -- a man who counted himself a friend, but a friend
who was critical of Sorcates' lifestyle and opinions. That's 
why I suggested Xenophon as a source.

But you're absolutely right to draw a distinction between
Plato and Socrates. Plato was to Socrates as Paul was to
Jesus of Nazareth...  One popularized the other, and each
stressed his own particular spin and opinions in doing so.

Have you read _Open Society_? If so, do you have an opinion on the 
arguments Popper raises?

I haven't read Popper yet. Is there a simple way to 
summarize his arguments?



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Received on Tue Apr 05 2005 - 18:03:08 EDT

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