ADVANTAGES

It does not follow, however, that Plato represented the views andmethods of Socrates (or anyone, for that matter) as he recalled them,much less as they were originally uttered. There are a number ofcautions and caveats that should be in place from the start. (i) Platomay have shaped the character Socrates (or other characters) to servehis own purposes, whether philosophical or literary or both. (ii) Thedialogues representing Socrates as a youth and young man took place,if they took place at all, before Plato was born and when he was asmall child. (iii) One should be cautious even about the dramaticdates of Plato’s dialogues because they are calculated withreference to characters whom we know primarily, though not only, fromthe dialogues. (iv) Exact dates should be treated with a measure ofskepticism for numerical precision can be misleading. Even when aspecific festival or other reference fixes the season or month of adialogue, or birth of a character, one should imagine a margin oferror. Although it becomes obnoxious to use circa orplus-minus everywhere, the ancients did not require or desirecontemporary precision in these matters. All the children born duringa full year, for example, had the same nominal birthday, accountingfor the conversation at Lysis 207b, odd by contemporarystandards, in which two boys disagree about who is theelder. Philosophers have often decided to bypass the historicalproblems altogether and to assume for the sake of argument thatPlato’s Socrates is the Socrates who is relevant to potentialprogress in philosophy. That strategy, as we shall soon see, givesrise to a new Socratic problem (§2.2).

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