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Alcibiades Major: A Failure in Socratic Education Alcibiades is a prominent figure in Platonic corpus, making an appearance in the Symposium and

two dialogues (Alcibiades Major and Minor). He is the only person that Socrates ever claims to love, reference Gorgias 281d; Protagoras 309a-b and the Symposium 213c, as well as, the only person Socrates assiduously attempts to educate. Also, near the end of the Symposium, Alcibiades gives one of the most memorable speeches on the Socratic way of life. Alcibiades Major, because of its historical date of 430 B.C., Socrates would have been in his early thirties and Alcibiades in his teens; seems to be Socrates first dialogue as a mature dialectical philosopher. Yet, despite the numerous considerations, Alcibiades embodies the failure to Socratic education. I am not the first to assert the fact, but nonetheless warrants mention, that is was Socrates enduring passion for Alcibiades that Socrates was condemned to death, in part, of the charge against Socrates of corrupting the youth. Platos Socrates is not acquitted from the corruption charges by his association because Plato made Alcibiades out to appears as though passionately seeking noble things such as glory and virtue, also very eager to follow Socrates, yet failed to become virtuous. Socrates dealing with Alcibiades was not of kindness or even of responsibility. Socrates convinces Alcibiades that he needs Socrates help by arousing Alcibiades ambition to rule not just Athens, but the world. Socrates failure to educate Alcibiades maybe as much Alcibiades fault as it is Socrates. Yet, even if this proves to be the case, Alcibiades failure to absorb a Socratic education calls into question whether those who passionately desire the noble things in fact require a philosophic education and if Socrates knows human nature and its virtue(s). Alcibiades existence in the dialogues points to a problem, in either case, of Socrates claim that, by nature, philosophy is the means to genuine nobility and goodness. Socrates problematic relationship with Alcibiades highlights an insurmountable gulf in philosophy and human affairs. Socrates lacks the ability to communicate to nonphilosophic youths, like Alcibiades, because Socrates had reached such great heights in philosophic matters. In fact, the two represent opposite ways of understanding and life. Socrates demonstrates the vulgarity and harshness of superrationalism. Alcibiades exemplifies the healthy

aristocrat. Additionally, Socrates fled the emotions and devoted himself to contemplating the abstract; opposing that view, Alcibiades was moved by emotions and loved Socrates as a whole person and is therefore concerned with the natural realm. But in doing so, Socrates loses touch with the character of contingent things and becomes not only unwilling, but also unable to provide Alcibiades with the human guidance he needs. The dialogue of Alcibiades Major proves to be important in two facets: a careful reading of the dialogue demonstrates why this has been one the most important in the Platonic canon and, although it may not have been written by Plato himself, Alcibiades Major reflects an understanding of Platonic Philosophy that helps us recognize the importance of Socrates convincing Alcibiades to become his student. The reason that Socrates gives for entering into dialogue with Alcibiades is that Socrates is Alcibiades first and most faithful lover and hopes to win his love by teaching Alcibiades what he needs to know to rule Athens and barbarians (103a). At 105, Socrates states that he is not intrigued by what Alcibiades previous lovers were interested in (family, good looks, wealth). Socrates knows that Alcibiades longing to rule the world is why he is dissatisfied with himself. The hypothesis Socrates puts forth to win Alcibiades loves is: because Alcibiades is ambitious, he must be moved by an unrecognized but powerful erotic desire, suggesting there to be more at stake than Socrates romantic success. If Socrates arguments can undermine Alcibiades apparent self-satisfaction and can reveal a deeper need to know how to be noble and good, then Socrates will have taken an important step in verifying human nature is erotic, but if not then it suggest that we are moved by instinct. At 105e, Socrates states that he can provide Alcibiades with the education he needs to accomplish his goals and the he hopes to be to Alcibiades what Alcibiades is to Athens, meaning Socrates hopes to impart his educational beauty upon Alcibiades similar to how Alcibiades aristocratic beauty has upon Athens. From this point the dialogue commences with Socrates asking what kind of advice would Alcibiades give to Athens. Alcibiades will advise them on war and peace and what is just and what is unjust (106-110). Further, at 110b, Alcibiades continued indignation, as a boy, with his playmates supposes that justice is following the rules verbatim, casting a light on his view of justice. Even furthermore, Alcibiades view

of justice conveys a deeper purpose: by following the rules, honor is advised to all participants, shows respect for others, and obedience to the rules makes for orderly operation. Thus, this respect is a common good and those who cheat accept this common good but do not give it in return. This deeper purpose is important to the dialogue because were Alcibiades to deny this mutual justice relationship then he would be far less attached to justice and less restrained in pursuing his advantage. Alcibiades at 110e states that he absorbed the knowledge of justice from people in the polis analogous to how one learns language. Socrates suggests that if the meaning of X is contested by the polis, then X is ~teachable by the polis (111b-112b) and Alcibiades admits to his ignorance of justice, but on the grounds that although Athenians talk about what is just and unjust they really only care about their advantage. Not only does Alcibiades dismiss his ignorance on others, but retracts by asking Socrates how he learned what was advantageous, thus deflecting the question and showing that Alcibiades was unaffected by his ignorance of justice. This is evidence to support the claim of the opposing paradigms that Alcibiades and Socrates represent. Alcibiades is meeting every expectation of a healthy aristocrat to this point in the text. His aristocratic like responses have produced almost nothing of substance. Socrates will have to earn his love from Alcibiades. The chasm between philosophy and human affairs is starting to look even wider than before. (Aside: The Alcibiades Major dialogue is claimed to be a quintessential Socratic Dialogue, wherein, Socrates employs the method, but if you look back to my previous entry on Elenchus, this seems to be the only part of the method that is methodical.) And so Socrates after some hurried, at best, arguments offers the argument that noble things are good, which will eventually lead Alcibiades to admit he was confused about his prior position. Starting at 116b-d Socrates makes use of dialectic to elicit answers from Alcibiades about what he thinks is admirable and good to show that: Socrates: Well then, are good things advantageous, or not? Alcibiades: Advantageous S: Do you remember what we agreed about doing just things?

A: I think we agreed that someone who does whats just must also be doing what is admirable. S: And didnt we also agree that someone who does whats admirable must also be doing what is good? A: Yes S: So just things are advantageous. So if someone who believed that he knew what is just and unjust were to stand up to advise the Athenians and said that sometimes just things are bad, what could you do but laugh at him? After all, as you yourself say, the same things are just and also advantageous. A: I swear by the gods, Socrates, I have no idea what I mean- I must be in some absolutely bizarre condition! When you ask me questions, first I think one thing and then I think another. This exchange from 116d-e shows not only elenchus (the confusion/perplexing state of the interlocutor upon realization of his own contradicting beliefs, an essential part to the Socratic Method and education), but how Alcibiades is unperturbed by this confusion. At 119b-c Alcibiades believes he will prevail over his competition in the senate because of his natural abilities being far superior to that of theirs. As the reader we are used to seeing Socrates interlocutors squirm under his dialectical thumb, yet Alcibiades is able to abstain from the pressures of Socrates. This seems to contradict the earlier accusation that Socrates must show that human nature is fundamentally erotic. The dialogue has proven that it is the opposite of that, since Socrates cannot move Alcibiades, then men are driven by instinct. Socrates does not give up at this point and stops asking short questions rather he launches into a speech about the grandeur of Spartans and Persians monarchies. This is a point to remind Alcibiades that his true competition is if in fact he is to rule Athens and subsequently the world. When Socrates compares Alcibiades to them it is Socrates intentions to show Alcibiades that he is quite undistinguished and is in need of compensatory education. Upon hearing this Alcibiades is won over to the idea that he must cultivate himself affirming Socrates speaks the truth. By this shift is then reaffirms what was stated about human nature being erotic because it is grounded on the belief that we are deficient in something we need to be noble and

good. Additionally, this affirms Alcibiades education to the virtues. Socrates, having finally elicited Alcibiades to feel erotically (passionate, emotionally invested) about his lack of knowledge of the virtues proves two things: firstly, confirming that erotic love depends on belief that we lack in something. Alcibiades, in this case, loves what he believes he needs but lacks. Secondly, Alcibiades is welcoming his education to virtue by awakening his ignorance and need. Alcibiades can now begin to desire to learn what the virtues are. It should be mentioned here that Socrates argument of arousing Alcibiades education to virtue is flawed. Starting at 121d Socrates goes through exactly why it is that the Persians and the Spartans are endowed by nature or birth with genuine virtue. Socrates mentions these things in hope to demonstrate to Alcibiades why exactly it is important for him to become educated in the virtues because his rivals are superior. One of the reasons (122e-123b) Socrates gives is of Alcibiades rivals vast wealth. The fact that Alcibiades believes that wealth reflects virtue raises new concern for the character of Socrates love for him. In the beginning of the dialogue Socrates love for Alcibiades was because he sought rivals beyond Athens and wealth was not anything great (103b-104ce). Alcibiades confidence is now shown to have been resting on the belief that his wealth was superior and thus he was superior to the citizens of Athens. This does not slow or dissipate Socrates eros for Alcibiades, but raises the possibility that Socrates continues to pursue Alcibiades because talking with Alcibiades gratifies Socrates erotic desire to move human beings such as Alcibiades. The undermining of Alcibiades helps to shed light on the roots for our eros to be noble and good, despite how dubious Socrates argument may be. Gregory Vlastos writes in Plato 2 that Socrates is guilty of intellectualism and focusing entirely too much on the argument and not on the deeds or actions of individuals (54). Again, this is displaying the gulf of philosophy and human affairs that exists by way of Socrates and Alcibiades. At any rate, Alcibiades is now alarmed at his lack of education about the virtues of justice and nobility and goodness. Now Socrates and Alcibiades must deliberate this matter

together. Socrates never makes the positive knowledge claim of knowing what Alcibiades needs. Rather, Socrates guides Alcibiades quest for knowledge. Socrates asks Alcibiades what virtue it is that they should aspire to. Alcibiades responds that they should have the virtue of those who are noble and good or simply perfect gentlemen (124d-125d). This statement casts light on Alcibiades life ambition; it tells us that he has all along wanted to rule because he believes it will show that he is noble and good. Prior to the statement aforementioned, Alcibiades believed it was by his nature to be noble and good but had yet to display it. By exposing the sense of need that animates Alcibiades desire to rule Socrates raises the possibility that Alcibiades wants to rule to answer his own doubts about virtue. Socrates continues to weaken this conviction of Alcibiades at 127b-d, Socrates make Alcibiades feel even needier than before. Socrates: So neither are cities well governed when the different groups each do their own work. Alcibiades: But I think they are, Socrates. S: What do you mean? In that case there is no friendship in cities, but we said friendship was present when cities are well governed, and not otherwise. A: But I think its when each person does his own work that mutual friendship results. S: Youve just changed your mind. What do you mean now? Can there be friendship without agreement? Can there be any agreement when some know about the matter and others dont? A: There cant possibly. S: But when everyone does his own work, is everyone being just, or unjust? A: Just. S: So when citizens do what is just in the city, there is no friendship between them. A: I think there must be. S: Then what do you mean by this friendship and agreement that we must be wise and good advisers in if we are to be good

men? According to your argument, it seems that sometimes certain people have it and sometimes they dont. A: Well, Socrates, swear by the gods that I dont even know what I mean. I think I must have been in an appalling state for a long times, without being aware of it. Socrates arguments demonstrate how willful ignorance of what is just, noble and good inflames the desire to learn and points to the problematic assumption of Alcibiades that he can acquire virtue by learning only about justice. The city is based on a division of labor in which each citizen specializes in a specific art to provide for his own needs. If the citizens friendship and agreement is derived from specializing in different arts and learning how to bring about different goods, then to be just is to become an expert of a fraction of the whole of human virtue. Thus, one cannot become a good human being solely through being just. In Aristotles Politics he suggests that rulers require a special education. But this special education is incomplete because if one seeks knowledge of the whole good, one must look beyond what one learns through justice alone and as Socrates tells Alcibiades at 134c it is only after completing political education to virtue can one responsibly enter politics and then and only then can attempt to lead others to virtue. Socrates concludes by arguing that those who lack self-knowledge should not even rule themselves, but should be ruled by those who know (135d). Alcibiades in turn makes a final vow to follow Socrates to learn. Yet, Alcibiades is far from becoming educated in the virtues. The shift in Alcibiades soul is evidence to support Socrates understanding of the soul, but Socrates apparent understanding of the soul needs supplementing by proving that the philosophical life is imperative to learning the virtues. Socrates interlocutors experience and understanding of the virtues is different from his belief that wisdom is the preeminent virtue of the soul. Thus, failing to educate Alcibiades to the virtues While Socrates fails to educate Alcibiades to virtue, this initial conversation exposes much of Socrates knowledge of the love of the virtues and produces much to consider about education overall. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of this dialogue as a guide to, or rather a lamp into, Socrates cave of education to virtue. The dialogue

explores what occurs when Socrates troubles his interlocutors, how Socrates exposes ones ignorance and the need to seek Socratic education. When the reader is grabbed by any one of the three points, he will undoubtedly find the others with it. Ultimately, this discovery will lead to a life of examination and a striving towards education of the virtues. I am encouraged by the failure of Alcibiades to become educated in the virtues for the reason that the writer of Alcibiades Major understood the esoteric nature of Socratic education and the heavy leaning of Socrates of self-knowledge required in education to virtue. We also saw that Alcibiades was welcoming the education to virtue, again giving us more help in navigating our education to virtue, by acknowledging his ignorance in matters of justice, nobility, and goodness. A crucial facet to education arises from Alcibiades acknowledgement; once an awareness of what is not known arises in the individual, there must be a longing to come to know that thing that is unknown. Then it follows if the individual/Alcibiades is cognizant of his unknowing-ness, then it was shown that consulting with one who knows is necessary. Socrates shows that he does understand the human soul in his shifting of Alcibiades boyishly indifference of his self-contradictions to Alcibiades devotion to cultivate and seek the virtues for as long as he lives (135e)