Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Plato's Apology from an Aesthetic Point of View

Most people who read the Apology think about the ethical issues involved.  However, there are some points relevant for aesthetics that are worth considering.  I will only consider one here.  It comes at the beginning of the dialogue.  Socrates begins by making a big distinction between the way that he will speak in court and the way an orator would.  Presumably, an orator would be an artist of speech.  Socrates insists that he will only speak the truth.  His sayings will not be "expressed in elegant language like theirs [the orators], arranged in fine words and phrases," which style he also refers to as "polished" and "artificial"  (I will be using the Reeve translation as found in Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, Hackett, 2015).  By contrast, he will be speaking "extemporaneously in whatever words come to mind" with a view to what is "just" or true.  Again, he wants his judges not to pay attention to his "manner of speaking" but to what is true.  So he is not claiming just that he has a different style than the orators, but that his style is irrelevant:  only the truth is relevant.  This of course assumes that truth value of a statement is radically other than its style, and that the second feature may be ignored in favor of the first.  It is implied that there is something wrong about elegant language, fine words, the polished and the artificial.  Aesthetically pleasurable language is likely to disguise the truth.  This is not to say that he is opposed to the orator's art:  it is just that that art lies in "telling the truth." 

I am not convinced that Socrates is without style, that his "spontaneous" style is not a style, or that there is such as thing as simply telling the truth in a way that radically separates manner from content.  What we love about Socrates is in part his ironic style.  Can we separate his style from the truth value of what he says?  


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