Socrates’ Warning Against Misology (Plato, Phaedo 88c-91c)

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In the Phaedo, Socrates warns his listeners, discouraged by the objections of Simmias and Cebes, against becoming haters of logoi. I argue that the ‘misologists’ are presented as a type of proto-skeptic and that Socrates in fact shows covert sympathy for their position. The difference between them is revealed by the pragmatic argument for trust in the immortality of the soul that Socrates offers near the end of the passage: the misologists reject such therapeutic uses of logos. I conclude by assessing the relationship of the positions of Socrates and the misologists in the Phaedo to those of later ancient skeptics.

Socrates’ Warning Against Misology (Plato, Phaedo 88c-91c)

in Phronesis



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Αs Burnet 191189 remarks ad loc. the use of the plural λόγους here rules out the interpretation of μισολογία as ‘hatred of reason’. I can find no advocate for this interpretation besides Moses Mendelssohn who uses Vernunfthasser in his adaptation of Plato’s dialogue Phädon oder über die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (published 1767).


Gallop 1975153-4.


As Burnet 191190 notes ad loc. the subordinate clause beginning with ἐπειδάν in 90b6 is never followed by a main clause giving the consequence of the misologists’ experience.


So Hackforth 1955107 n. 2; Rowe 1993 213; Ebert 2004 302.


Cf. Faust 200874-6who pays particular attention to arguments in the philosophy of religion.


As is shown by Kerferd 198162-7who calls the question of ‘the true nature of antilogic . . . in many ways the key to the problem of understanding the true nature of the sophistic movement’ (62). Kerferd emphasizes that the technique of antilogic must be distinguished from eristic (ἐριστική) roughly the practice of doing anything to win an argument which does have a negative connotation in Plato.


Kerferd 198167.


As Ebert 2004304 points out.


Cf. Hackforth 1955110 and Frede 1999 89-90. The latter writes: ‘Bei dieser Kunst der Prüfung von Argumenten auf die hier nur angespielt wird handelt es sich zweifellos um die Dialektik.’ Gallop 1975 translates ‘skill in arguments’. Burnet 1911 90 ad loc. speaks of ‘Logic’.


Anscombe 195817.


Rowe 1993215 sees οἱ πάνυ ἀπαίδευτοι instead as the eristics.


As is done by Hackforth 1955109; Rowe 1993 215-16; and Frede 1999 88 (Socrates speaks ‘mit einer im Phaidon sonst seltenen Ironie’).


Cf. LaBarge 2012.


Frede 199989 sees this as the basic message of the passage: ‘Leser sollen sich dazu auf gefordert fühlen den Dialog kritisch zu lesen statt sich von der Atmosphäre am Todestag des Sokrates gefangennehmen zu lassen und seinen Worten die Autorität seiner Person zu verleihen die allein den Argumenten selbst zukommen darf.’ But this raises the question of why Plato included the many admired elements of the dialogue’s dramatic setting at all.


Woolf 200712. Here Woolf also briefly draws a critical comparison with the Pyrrhonians.


Cf. Sextus EmpiricusPyrrhonian Outlines 1.230 Against the Mathematicians 7.173-5.


Cf. Sextus EmpiricusAgainst the Mathematicians 7.187; Cicero Academica 2.100; and Thorsrud 2009 80-1.


Bett 2000114-15 seems to think of Pyrrho as having been most impressed by contradictions in the qualities of things rather than by contradictions between arguments. Admittedly the emphasis on logoi may have been a later development; Diogenes in 9.106 says that he is following Aenesidemus and also refers to a friend of Aenesidemus named Zeuxis who wrote a work called Περὶ διττῶν λόγων possibly a commentary on the sophistic Dissoi Logoi. But note Pausanias’ characterization of Pyrrho (in the course of describing a monument to him in his hometown) as a ‘sophist who never came to stable agreement (βέβαιον ὁμολογίαν) on any logos’ (Description of Greece 6.24.5).


Bett 2000132-40183-6 argues for a link between Pyrrho and the Heraclitean views developed in Plato’s texts in particular the Republic and the Theaetetus.


Burnyeat 198028.


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