Socrates: A Conference in Honor of Nicholas D. Smith,

October 17-19, 2014

Lewis & Clark College


Friday, October 17, 2014

Albany 218

Coffee service

1:30 - 3:00 Rusty Jones, Harvard University

Socrates on Value and Welfare

In “Felix Socrates?”, I argued that Socrates didn’t take his life to be a happy one. That claim was based on the “death is one of two things” argument in the Apology, one part of which implies that Socrates takes himself to be better off not existing. I explained his bleak view of his life by appeal to a combination of his philosophical commitments and his self-conception in light of those commitments. Specifically, Socrates thinks that virtue is necessary for happiness, and that he himself lacks virtue. Nick Smith, in a forthcoming paper “Socrates on the Human Condition”, disputes every important aspect of my account. My task in the present paper is, on the one hand, to resist some of Smith’s criticisms, and on the other, to demonstrate how a more nuanced commitment to the necessity of virtue for happiness than I previously articulated nevertheless leads to similar conclusions.

3:30 - 5:00 William J. Prior, Santa Clara University

On Socratic Studies

Tom Brickhouse and Nick Smith begin their 2010 book Socratic Moral Psychology with a chapter entitled “Apology of Socratic Studies.” In this chapter they outline a research program for the discovery of the philosophy of Socrates in certain Platonic dialogues. In this paper I offer a critique of this paradigm and of Tom and Nick’s specific version of it, and present an alternative conception of Socratic studies. In their defense of Socratic studies Tom and Nick present what they regard as “the two main principles shared by Socratic scholars … that constitute the foundations of Socratic studies.” My critique centers on these two principles. The alternative that I propose is based on principles that are in some respects similar to theirs, but that yield a different picture of Socrates.

In this paper is to deal with five specific areas in which the research program I propose differs from that defended by Tom and Nick. These areas concern:
1) The Socrates we are looking for
2) The dialogues in which we hope to find him
3) The consistency of the Socrates we hope to find
4) The method we follow in searching for him
5) The general paradigm under which we search.


5:00 Reception in honor of Nicholas D. Smith

Armstrong Lounge, Manor House



Saturday, October 18, 2014

John R. Howard Hall 202

8:00 - 9:00 Continental breakfast

9:00 - 10:30 Hugh H. Benson, University of Oklahoma

Plato’s Socrates in the Theaetetus

Plato’s Theaetetus was apparently written late in Plato’s middle period and yet it depicts Socrates as engaging in the same practice Socrates is depicted as practicing in the earlier so-called Socratic dialogues. Various explanations have been offered for this return to Socratic practice compatible, but they all concede that Plato reverts to a depiction of Socratic practice in the Theaetetus. It is this concession that I want to challenge in this essay. I maintain that Socrates’ practice in the Theaetetus is subtly, but importantly, different from the practice Plato typically depicts in the earlier so-called Socratic dialogues.

11:00 - 12:30 Emily Austin, Wake Forest University

The Moral Psychology of Patriotism in the Protagoras

In this paper, I consider the ramifications of an overlooked passage in the lengthy and bizarre interpretive interlude of the Protagoras. Socrates makes a comic show of bending a Simonides poem to his own will, but his emendations of the text also shed non-comedic light on his own philosophical commitments. In particular, Socrates charitably attributes to Simonides the claim that a person must force herself to praise those who harm her (345d-346c). I argue that this moral imperative to overcome one’s desire for retaliation in order to praise one’s family or country informs standing debates about Socrates’ submission to authority, his conception of the value of false praise, and his views about the relationship between virtue and self-control.

12:30 - 2:00


Lunch may be purchased in the Fields Dining Room in the Templeton Student Center.


Coffee Service


2:00 - 3:30 Naomi Reshotko, University of Denver

Target vs. Object: Knowledge, Belief and Ignorance in Plato’s Republic V


I examine the three-part distinction among the epistemological capacities found at Republic 476e4-479d5, knowledge, belief and ignorance, and what they are epi. In order to do so, I bring forward four elements of the passage that require close attention in order to clarify what we are told about these capacities. Many scholars take this discussion of three capacities and what they are epi in the Republic to be a template for Plato’s understanding of epistemological capacities and their objects throughout the dialogues. I conclude that Plato did not intend this discussion of these capacities as a paradigm concerning the objects of these three epistemological states. Rather, it is an analysis of what is wrong with the ontology of the Lover of Sights and Sounds (LSS), to whom this speech is directed in absentia. The passage explains why being an LSS is worse than being a philosopher but better than being ignorant. Following Nicholas Smith, I make the clarification that, in the Republic passage, it is the target (that at which a capacity is aimed) rather than the object (that which a capacity is about) of belief and ignorance that each capacity is epi. I argue that, despite being aimed by their subjects at very different kinds of things, knowledge, belief and ignorance all have the same object: the Forms. Not only do I show that this thesis is consistent with Republic 476e4-479d5, but also that this very passage contains textual evidence for it. I depart strongly from interpreters who believe that Plato is, herein, proposing a second world other than—and distinct from—the Forms.

4:00 - 5:30 Keith McPartland, Williams College

Pleasure, Belief and Desire in Plato’s Protagoras


Nicholas Smith, in collaboration with Thomas Brickhouse, has argued in favor of two theses about Socratic moral psychology. The first is that Socrates is a psychological egoist in the sense that he takes it to be impossible for a person to choose to act in a way that she does not take to be best for herself. The second is that bestness for oneself can be understood in terms of happiness or eudaimonia—what is best for a person is what conduces to her own happiness. In this talk, I want to examine each of these theses in light of Plato’s Protagoras. I take the Protagoras to give us the most powerful and direct argument for psychological egoism to be found in Plato’s Socratic works. However, there are two things that strike me as, at least prima facie, worrisome for Smith’s position. First, the egoism that is supported in the Protagoras seems to be purely hedonistic. It is questionable whether eudaimonia can be cashed out entirely in terms of pleasure and pain, however. The second problem is that psychological egoism when combined with any maximalist and consequentialist theory about bestness for an agent puts an implausibly extreme doxastic demand on agents. It is unlikely that an agent must believe that a certain course of action will bring about the very best consequences for her life taken as a whole in order to pursue that course of action. I explore some alternative ways that the Protagoras might supply for thinking about the relation between beliefs about bestness and voluntary action.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

John R. Howard Hall 202


8:00 - 9:00 Continental breakfast

9:00 - 10:30 David Ebrey, Northwestern University

Teaching, Recollection, and Divine Inspiration in the Meno


What should we make of Socrates’ claims at the end of the Meno that virtue is based on true opinions and a gift from the gods? These claims are so contrary to what Socrates says in other dialogues that they commonly are viewed as a sign that Plato wants us to think that there is some mistake in the arguments up to that point. It is thought that the mistake was his flawed model of teaching, which was revealed to be a mistake by his earlier discussion with the slave. I argue this line of reasoning both misunderstands the slave boy discussion and the lesson from the end of the Meno. First, the discussion with the slave boy does not require and is not supposed to provide a new model of teaching. It is simply supposed to support Socrates’ views about recollection and the possibility of inquiry. Second, the end of the Meno is meant to illustrate how, without knowledge of definitions, to think through conflicts between one’s arguments. Socrates’ conclusion at the end is conditional: if his arguments up to this point are correct, then virtue is based on true opinions and a gift from the gods. But the conclusion must remain a conditional because we cannot know what virtue is like until we know what it is.
11:00 - 12:30 George Rudebusch, Northern Arizona University

Brickhouse and Smith on the Unity of Virtue 

In the Protagoras, Socrates argues that all of the virtues consist in a single power: knowledge of human well-being. On this account the specific virtues must all be one and the same thing. But in the Laches and Meno, Socrates seemingly endorses and certainly encourages others to endorse that specific virtues are distinct parts of a single whole. This has been a problem for those seeking a coherent account of Socrates’ philosophy. In Socratic Moral Psychology, Brickhouse and Smith propose to solve the problem by finding a coherent account. Their solution rests on two distinctions. First is a distinction between a single power (dunamis) and its many products (erga). Second is a distinction between theoretical and applied expertise. I argue that neither distinction can help support their solution.