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How Philosophy Became Socratic

A Study of Plato’s "Protagoras," "Charmides," and "Republic"

Plato’s dialogues show Socrates at different ages, beginning when he was about nineteen and already deeply immersed in philosophy and ending with his execution five decades later. By presenting his model philosopher across a fifty-year span of his life, Plato leads his readers to wonder: does that time period correspond to the development of Socrates’ thought? In this magisterial investigation of the evolution of Socrates’ philosophy, Laurence Lampert answers in the affirmative.

The chronological route that Plato maps for us, Lampert argues, reveals the enduring record of philosophy as it gradually took the form that came to dominate the life of the mind in the West. The reader accompanies Socrates as he breaks with the century-old tradition of philosophy, turns to his own path, gradually enters into a deeper understanding of nature and human nature, and discovers the successful way to transmit his wisdom to the wider world. Focusing on the final and most prominent step in that process and offering detailed textual analysis of Plato’s Protagoras, Charmides, and Republic, How Philosophy Became Socratic charts Socrates’ gradual discovery of a proper politics to shelter and advance philosophy.

452 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Philosophy: General Philosophy, History and Classic Works, Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Classic Political Thought


“This is an extraordinary piece of scholarship: in the scale of its interpretive thesis, in the depth and detail of its textual analysis, and in the extent of the author’s familiarity with relevant secondary material. Lampert’s transdialogical approach allows him to explain otherwise puzzling details and features of these dialogues and establishes a special relationship among them, while at the same time the very coherence of the resulting interpretations of each dialogue offers further validation of his interpretive principle—a kind of virtuous circle. Lampert opens up a whole new dimension of interpretive possibilities to ponder—and argue about—in considering any of Plato’s dialogues, not merely those which Lampert addresses. The payoff in attending to Lampert’s superb, challenging analysis, which builds item by item, is ample.”

Leon H. Craig, University of Alberta

“Laurence Lampert is a truly distinguished scholar whose many books have deepened our understanding of the history of philosophy immeasurably. This new book offers an extraordinarily rich, illuminating, thought-provoking, and original account of Protagoras, Charmides, and the Republic in particular and of Socrates’ thought as a whole. Even—and especially—when one disagrees with this stimulating and daring work, one learns a great deal from it. It is a remarkably ambitious book, one that attempts to put forth an interpretation of Plato’s entire corpus and its role in Western civilization.”

Peter Ahrensdorf, Davidson College

“This is a stimulating and thought-provoking book. Even if one disagrees with the author’s interpretative stance or philosophical positions, one cannot but be impressed by the freshness of his thinking. Scattered throughout are suggestions and thoughts that make the reader ponder matters anew.”

Zina Giannopoulou | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Lampert presents a Nietzschean reading of Plato in which a close relationship exists between a philosopher and his social experiences. As such, he offers an imaginative and completely plausible interpretation of three dialogues of Plato, which focuses on the ’dramatic dates’ of the works."


“teems with valuable observations about Plato’s dialogues.”

William Altman | Polis

“A fascinating book, consistently stimulating, full of insights. . . His approach enables Lampert to make some very intriguing suggestions. . . . I have learned a great deal from reading Lampert’s work, and others should find it equally rewarding.”

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of Contents


Philosophy in a Time of Splendor: Socrates in Periclean Athens before the War, c. 433

CHAPTER 1. Protagoras: Socrates and the Greek Enlightenment
Prologue: Great Protagoras
1. First Words
2. The Frame Conversation
3. Socrates with a Young Athenian
4. Socrates in Hades
5. Protagoras Introduces Himself
6. Socrates’ Challenge and Invitation: Can the Political Art Be Taught?
7. Protagoras’s Display Speech: Why the Political Art Is Teachable
8. Socrates’ Display Speech, Part I: The Wise Must Teach That Virtue Is Unitary
9. Socrates Stages a Crisis
10. Socrates’ Display Speech, Part II: A Wiser Stance toward the Wise
11. Alcibiades Presides
12. Socrates’ Display Speech, Part III: A Wiser Stance toward the Many
13. The Final Tribunal: Courage and Wisdom
14. Socrates the Victor
15. Last Words
16. Socrates’ Politics for Philosophy in 433
Note on the Dramatic Date of Protagoras and Alcibiades I

Philosophy in a Time of Crisis: Socrates’ Return to War-Ravaged, Plague-Ravaged Athens, Late Spring 429

CHAPTER 2. Charmides: Socrates’ Philosophy and Its Transmission
Prologue: The Return of Socrates
1. First Words
2. Socrates’ Intentions
3. The Spectacle of Charmides’ Entrance
4. Critias Scripts a Play but Socrates Takes It Over
5. Stripping Charmides’ Soul
6. What Critias Took from Socrates and What That Riddler Had in Mind
7. Should Each of the Beings Become Clearly Apparent Just As It Is?
8. The Final Definition of Sôphrosunê, Socrates’ Definition
9. The Possibility of Socrates’ Sôphrosunê
10. The Benefit of Socrates’ Sôphrosunê
11. Socrates Judges the Inquiry
12. Last Words
13. Who Might the Auditor of Plato’s Charmides Be?
Note on the Dramatic Date of Charmides
CHAPTER 3. The Republic: The Birth of Platonism
Prologue: Socrates’ Great Politics
One: The World to Which Socrates Goes Down
1. First Words
2. The Compelled and the Voluntary
3. Learning from Cephalus
4. Polemarchus and Socratic Justice
5. Gentling Thrasymachus
6. The State of the Young in Athens
Two: Socrates’ New Beginning
7. New Gods
8. New Philosophers
9. New Justice in a New Soul
10. Compulsion and Another Beginning
11. The Center of the Republic: The Philosopher Ruler
12. Glaucon, Ally of the Philosopher’s Rule
13. Platonism: Philosophy’s Political Defense and Introduction to Philosophy
14. Public Speakers for Philosophy
15. Images of the Greatest Study: Sun, Line, Cave
Three: The Last Act of the Returned Odysseus
16. Love and Reverence for Homer
17. Homer’s Deed
18. Homer’s Children
19. Rewards and Prizes for Socrates’ Children
20. Replacing Homer’s Hades
21. Last Words

Note on the Dramatic Date of the Republic
Works Cited

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