Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues

Course No. 463
Professor Michael Sugrue, Ph.D.
Ave Maria University
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Course No. 463
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Course Overview

Socrates was driven by a love for truth so great that he suffered death rather than give up his search. Though he never wrote down his thoughts, he had a brilliant pupil in Plato, who immortalized his teacher's legacy in 35 timeless dialogues that laid the philosophical basis for Western civilization. In fact Alfred North Whitehead once famously remarked, all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato.

Professor Michael Sugrue of Princeton University brings the Socratic quest for truth alive in these lectures, which discuss ideas that are as vital today as they were 25 centuries ago. Ideas about truth, justice, love, beauty, courage, and wisdom. Ideas that can change lives and reveal the world in new ways to the true student.

An Indispensable Companion

Next to the Bible, the dialogues are perhaps the most studied and scrutinized work in Western literature.

Professor Sugrue reveals the inner structure, action, and meaning of 17 of Plato's greatest dialogues, making this course an indispensable companion for anyone interested in philosophy in general or Platonic thought in particular.

The dialogues share some general characteristics:

  • They are not a soliloquy, but rather a discussion.
  • They are not between equals (there is a teacher-student relationship).
  • Plato himself never speaks.
  • Each dialogue is a work of art, but all, taken together, constitute one huge artwork.
  • At the center of the form is irony.
  • The dialogues are very clearly intended to be a teaching tool.

Dr. Sugrue shows how each dialogue breathes with the feeling, the tension, and even the humor of great theater.

On a human level, they testify not only to the greatness of Plato's gifts, but to the loyalty, friendship, and dauntless love of learning that he shared with his beloved master.

Explore Questions at the Core of What it Means to be Human

"What is justice?" "How should I live my life?" "How can we know what is real and what is illusion?" "Can a perfect society ever be conceived or created?" "What is human excellence, and can it be taught?"

Socrates gave his life to the study of questions like these, questions that have seized the minds of thinking people down the ages and which drive straight to the core of what it means to be human. Unlike nearly anyone before or since, Socrates was driven by a passionate love for thinking and talking about such questions.

Indeed, why was this love so great that when his gentle but fearless quest for truth aroused opposition, he suffered death rather than give up the search?

As you begin listening to these tapes, you may find yourself wanting to read or re-read the dialogues. As Professor Sugrue observes, you can't really read Plato until you've read him three or four times.

But even if you don't have time to reacquaint yourself directly with Platonic texts, this course will benefit you enormously with its insight into the depths of reflection opened by Socrates and Plato—arguably the most important teacher-student pairing in history.

You will become engrossed in "the romance of the intellect" as Professor Sugrue opens a path for you into the inner structure and action of these selected dialogues, for millennia the objects of devoted study by the noblest minds.

He explores the dialogues' relations to one another, conveying the grandeur of the Platonic project in all its breadth and profundity.

Learning Not What but How to Think

This course offers no easy answers. What it gives instead is much better: an introduction to Platonic "meta-education," the art not of what to think but of how to think.

You see the stunning subtlety with which Plato weaves together the strengths of philosophy and poetry, dialectic and drama, word and action.

And you catch a glimpse of the "serious playfulness" that Socrates says the search for the good, the true, and the beautiful can inspire in the human soul.

Let the "Socratic Method" Come Alive for You

Plato, Dr. Sugrue maintains, is "the necessary starting point for any study of Western philosophy. In many of his dialogues, he speaks through the person of his revered teacher, Socrates, using the dialogic form that is still today termed the 'Socratic method.'

"These lectures analyze this form and then discuss certain key dialogues and other writings that address issues concerning governance, knowledge, reality, virtue and others that have engaged philosophers both before, but especially since, Plato."

There are 35 dialogues, plus letters, surviving. They may be divided into three general groupings, based on chronology and topic. The major dialogues, by group, include:

  1. Early (skeptical and ethical): Apology, Crito, Laches, Ion, Euthyphro, Hippias Minor, Protagoras, Gorgias, Euthydemus, Hippias Major, Lysis, Mexeneus. These dialogues end in an impasse ( aporia ) which invites further contemplation.
  2. Middle (dramatic): Meno, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Parmenides, Theaetetus. These deal with moral order, being (ontology) and knowledge (epistemology) and are generally, but not always, more dogmatic than skeptical.
  3. Late (less dramatic and poetical, more analytical and concerned with saving the moral and political order, less emphasis on Socrates): Timaeus, Critias, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Laws. 

 

The World to Which Plato was Heir

"This exploration of the thought of Plato necessarily makes us consider the Greek world of thought and literature, to which Plato was the heir," states Dr. Sugrue.

"In fact, in a play on the quote from Alfred North Whitehead, it has been suggested (half-seriously) that Plato is merely a footnote to Parmenides of Elea. Thus, we also consider other philosophers and their schools, as well as the world of 5th century B.C. Greece as we explore Plato's fascinating world of Greece and of the mind."

Thus Professor Sugrue introduces you to Plato's milieu, post-Periclean Athens, and explains how the failings evident in that city's social, civic, and intellectual life spurred Socrates and his pupil to do their work of searching and often painful criticism.

Before Socrates and Plato, Greek philosophy was primarily speculative about the nature of the universe and the world and mathematics. The philosophers before him are generally grouped together and termed the "presocratics." Their main concern was in the area of nature or "physics." Among the famous presocratics are Pythagoras (born c. 570 B.C.), Parmenides of Elea (c. 515 B.C.) and Heraclitus of Ephesus (died after c. 480 B.C.).

Closer to the time of Plato and Socrates a new school of thought developed, that of the Sophists. Perhaps the best-known Sophist is Protagoras (c. 490-c. 420 B.C.). They were a more skeptical group who did not focus on the natural (physical) world or speculative cosmologies.

Both Socrates and Plato were opposed to the Sophists, viewing Sophists as morally empty teachers who instructed young men to argue only for victory and sought money, rather than wisdom and truth, as the end for their techne (art of teaching rhetoric).

A New Kind of Hero

The dialogues, as Professor Sugrue shows you, are far from being dry treatises or bloodless catalogues of arguments.

You learn how Socrates speaks differently to different interlocutors, and how Plato intends him to be a new kind of hero, superior to any who had gone before.

You also reflect on the implications of Socrates's famed professions of ignorance, and the enigmas and ironies that shadow him and his enterprise.

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16 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    The Domain of the Dialogues
    This lecture describes the life and times of Plato and Socrates, the structure of the dialogues, the way the style of argument in the dialogues progresses, and the best ways to approach understanding this body of work. x
  • 2
    What Socratic Dialogue Is Not
    Professor Sugrue shows some of the methods used by Socrates to begin his caricature and demolition of the Sophists, and his long search to answer the question: "Can virtue be taught?" x
  • 3
    The Examined Life
    In the Timaeus, the origins and principles of the physical world are discussed. In the Theaetetus, Socrates engages a young wounded man in a discussion of knowledge, edifying the young man before he dies and before Socrates is taken away to be tried and executed by Athenian authorities as a corrupter of youth. x
  • 4
    Tragedy in the Philosophic Age of the Greeks
    The Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo are the stories of Socrates's trial and execution. Professor Sugrue explores the motif of heroic journey from this new type of Greek hero, who looks at his accusers with courage and resolve as he faces death. x
  • 5
    Republic I—Justice, Power, and Knowledge
    This lecture focuses on Plato's development of his political, ethical, and educational theories. Socrates and Thrasymachus, a cagey Sophist, struggle to define justice and to determine whether it is an art that can be practiced. x
  • 6
    Republic II–V—Soul and City
    Socrates continues his search for the meaning of justice; the Homeric virtues and heroes are discussed and dismissed as corrupt; and Plato describes the ideal city. x
  • 7
    Republic VI–X—The Architecture of Reality
    Here, Professor Sugrue explains Plato's myth of the cave, the hierarchies of human moral development and the political regimes that accompany each, and the criticism of tragedy and comedy. x
  • 8
    Laws—The Legacy of Cephalus
    Professor Sugrue argues that toward the end of his life, Plato recognized serious problems with his philosophical positions—so serious that he wrote very little for more than 10 years—and that the Laws is one of the dialogues designated to a "second best" philosophical position. x
  • 9
    Protagoras—The Dialectic of the Many and the One
    A comic dialogue in which Socrates develops his argument on the nature of virtue, concluding that virtue is knowledge and, therefore, can be taught. x
  • 10
    Gorgias—The Temptation to Speak
    Socrates engages Gorgias, one of the great Sophists, in discussions of virtue and education, and converts Gorgias to teach true virtue rather than the corrupt craft of rhetoric. x
  • 11
    Parmenides—"Most True"
    This dialogue prefigures Hegel for its baffling qualities; it is a protracted and very difficult discussion on the nature of being and the consequences of Plato's conclusions for the theory of the ideal forms of being. x
  • 12
    Sophist and Statesman—The Formal Disintegration of Justice
    This pair of dialogues continues Plato's later project to expose the weaknesses of his earlier works and to propose and defend a workable theory and practice for knowledge and politics. x
  • 13
    Phaedrus—Hymn to Love
    The great lyrical masterpiece of Platonic poetry. The main themes of love and rhetoric are bridged by related themes: identity, the soul, desire, and the longing for ultimate beauty. x
  • 14
    Symposium—The Pride of Love
    Plato's famous description of a drunken discussion among Socrates and other remarkable Greeks concerning the nature of love. x
  • 15
    The Platonic Achievement
    Professor Sugrue summarizes his view of the intended and actual effects of Plato's work. Platonic argument is usually appreciated as the origin of Western speculation, but it is at least as important, Sugrue argues, to view Plato form the perspective of the intellectual traditions he continued and transformed. x
  • 16
    The Living Voice
    Professor Sugrue attempts a summary and understanding of Plato's new hero, Socrates himself. This hero, as seen through the dialogues, is a deeply ironic character because his questions often lead to no conclusions; he is distrustful of the written work and yet that is how we come to know him. x

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  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

Michael Sugrue

About Your Professor

Michael Sugrue, Ph.D.
Ave Maria University
Dr. Michael Sugrue is Professor of History at Ave Maria University. A graduate of the Great Books Program, he earned his B.A. in History from the University of Chicago and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Prior to taking his position at Ave Maria University, Professor Sugrue taught at Princeton University, the City College of New York, Columbia University, Manhattan College, New York...
Learn More About This Professor

Reviews

Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dialectic hydration... "Go play with the Dialogues", says Professor Sugrue in the last lecture of this set. I think that just about sums up the other lectures as well...with Sugrue playing with Plato's dialogues in no particular order, with little or no context surrounding his one-sided dialectic with us. I jumped into these lectures after listening to Dr Roochnik's set on the 'Republic' (and reading the 'Republic' as well), expecting the same, thorough treatment of some pretty heavy-duty examinations of Plato's other works. What I got was a rapid-fire delivery (often interrupted by a pause for a drink...probably water, but who knows?) that skimmed over some pretty complex arguments/discussions with a great variety of Socrates' (Plato's) interlocutors. I found in the Roochnik 'Rupublic' lectures that the devil is in the details...or the meaning of the dialogue is not the conclusion, but the discourse in reaching that conclusion. I was somewhat off-put by the use of terms like 'stupid' and 'dumb' when referring to Socrates' interlocutors...this device may work well in a class room, but doesn't translate to audio lectures well. In the end, I recommend these lectures mostly as an introduction to one person's interpretation of Plato's dialogues...mostly because (as the good Dr Sugrue says), it urges you to think for yourself, and, of course, hydrate. As the great philosopher Master Yoda has observed, "...sale and coupon have you must "
Date published: 2018-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Epic! Very interesting and informative. The professor is a very good speaker and has very interesting analysis of the dialog used.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Useful Introduction This is a very useful introduction to the dialogues and Plato’s thought. Professor Sugrue is an eloquent and passionate advocate for the importance of Plato’s dialogues, not just historically but for us today in improving our thinking and understanding the world around us. Plato’s concerns for such matters as governance, knowledge, reality, and virtue are timeless, as is his concern about the prevailing relativism that is targeted in so many of the dialogues. For those without the time to read the dialogues, Professor Sugrue provides good summaries of the sixteen treated here. It is all done in an engaging style. This course is best used, however, as an introduction for those who will be reading them. Keep in mind that there is a lot more to Plato and his dialogues than is covered in this introductory course. For those interested in an in-depth treatment of Plato's 'Republic' , for instance, try the 24 lecture TC course by Professor David Roochnik. Though I have read several dialogues over the years, this course convinces me that I missed a lot: from not knowing much about the participants and/or what they represent (just some Greek names!), to not understanding the rich symbolism in the dialogues. I went on to read the ‘Phaedrus’ dialogue again, which Professor Sugrue recommends as a starting point, and found this course a very helpful orientation. It greatly increased my appreciation. While Professor Sugrue amply shows how we are indebted to Plato, he also significantly notes that Plato does not break with the ancient past, but rather represents the end of an archaic intellectual, religious, and political tradition (that includes Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indian subcontinent), enriching the Western intellectual tradition. Observations such as this, and so much more, make this course well worth revisiting. As this is a 1998 course, The Teaching Company would do well if it expanded beyond Professor Roochnik's 'Republic' to offer more in-depth treatment of Plato's other dialogues. The sixteen 45-minute lectures are accompanied by a fine 98-page course guidebook with a useful glossary, timeline, and biographical notes.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Didn't know Plato could be so much fun! Knowledgable professor. Enthusiastic. Fast paced. Inspiring.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Pleasures of Thirst While It may seem lacking in intellectual rigour to justify a five star rating with the term 'fun', this often under-rated quality here brings a potentially dry subject matter to life. Professor Sugrue is witty and engaging, but beneath all that, he is also insightful. There are many assertions that one might challenge but surely that is true of the Platonic Dialogues themselves, perhaps even their raison d'etre. For all its idiosyncrasies (and the gallons of water the Professor imbibes during the course of the 16 lectures), this is a course I am looking forward to revisiting. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best analysis I've heard I have been studying Plato for the past few years and have gotten many excellent insights from the notes on the Thomas Taylor translations. Professore Sugrue's analysis is a joy to listen to. He brings up so many excellent points that I am thrilled I purchased the audio set. It would be wonderful to have a video set as well. Thank you Professor Sugrue for sharing your knowledge on Plato, this is just what I have been searching for!.
Date published: 2017-02-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too advanced for me He assumes that the listener is very familiar with Plato and Socrates, and the Dialogues. After completing the course, I went back and listened to the first lecture again. He never says when Plato lived, or what the dialogues actually are. He just launches into his discussion of the dialogues. Several times during the course he says he hopes we have read the 1,600 pages of the dialogues, preferably in more than one translation. This is not a course for someone, like me, who wants to learn a subject just by listening to lectures. As another reviewer has noted, this professor and the Teaching Company use misleading marketing, by implying that he is a professor at Princeton. He is actually a professor at a little, new, unrated, Catholic college in south Florida.
Date published: 2016-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Plato, Socrates and the great dialogues A very important work. I have struggled to read it and my eyes get tired. Wonderful that someone has taken the time to narrate this work. Now I just close my eyes and listen. The BEST.
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Seemed Too Advanced To Me But Professor is Awesome This is the most unique review I have written for the Great Courses: I could only rate this course two stars and could not recommend it but I was mesmerized by the Professor's speaking style! I would've loved an opportunity to take one of his courses in person. This is the only series in which I've heard people in the audience laughing. He is very animated, passionate, contemporary, and must be a master at working a crowd. I just wish I could've gotten into the content better. Maybe because it felt too advanced a course for me but for specific content I would recommend "An Introduction to Greek Philosophy".
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing I was a philosophy major at Yale, and although I have seldom written reviews, I have taken approximately 70 teaching company courses, including some 18 other philosophy courses: three by Professor Solomon, two by Professor Robinson, two by Professor Grim, two by Professor Cary, two by Professor Dalton, two by Professor Goldman, one by Professor Garfield, one by Professor Gimbel, one by Professor Cahoone, one by Professor Johnson, and one by Professor Williams. While some of these courses were better than others, they all represented serious attempts to present philosophical arguments and counter-arguments. If I had submitted reviews, I would have given 5 starts to most of these courses and 4 stars to the others. Having now finished Professor Sugrue's course, I am utterly perplexed both (1) that the course has been so favorably reviewed by so many people and (2) that the teaching company has offered this course. In my opinion, Professor Sugrue fails at the most basic level as a philosophy teacher. Philosophy involves critical inquiry in which arguments are analyzed and refuted (or not) on their merits. That is what Socrates generally does in the dialogues, and it is why the dialogues are famous and influential. Yet in Sugrue's lectures, he almost uniformly refuses to engage with the arguments presented by the various sophists and other interlocutors. Instead, with rare exceptions, he commits the genetic fallacy by dismissing what the sophists say on the grounds that they are "stupid," "dumb," and the like and without discussing the merits of what they have said. It is an embarrassment to the teaching company that it would employ a lecturer who deals with issues at this level. Otherwise, Sugrue simply summarizes what the dialogues say, without offering any real philosophical analysis. In this regard, Sugrue is uncritical about much of what Socrates says in the dialogues. He also has misread them in some respects. For example, he offers the surprising conclusion that Plato uses myths in the dialogues as alternative means of explaining the same points established through the "dialectic," but any casual reader of Plato can see that myths are normally employed to reveal what were believed to be deeper truths that cannot be established by argument, and Socrates often expressly says that he is turning to myths for that reason. Indeed, a common criticism of Plato is that he excessively relies on myth, My suspicion is that much of what Sugrue said would not survive a peer review and given the high standards that the Teaching Company otherwise seems to follow, I am very surprised that it selected Sugrue to offer this course. I also note that the Teaching Company marketing materials caused me to believe that Sugrue was a professor at Princeton. But now that I have read the fine print, I can tell, he never had that title at Princeton, where he formerly had some kind of fellowship. To be sure, Sugrue conveys a lot of enthusiasm for the subject matter and believes that Plato's dialogues are among the greatest intellectual and artistic achievements of Western Civilization. But he repeats that assertion ad nauseum, which was irritating. The time would have been better spent on analysis. Sugrue also makes a few observations about literary and dramatic features of the dialogues -- such as the use of the motives of ascent and descent. and the devices that Socrates employs to curry favor with his interlocutors. But these are marginal features of the dialogues, at best. Plato's dialogues raised philosophical issues and established modes of philosophical analysis, and it is a disservice to have a course that refuses to engage with the dialogues as philosophical works, that offers bare bones and inaccurate summaries of them, and often relies on disparagement of the sophists and Socrates' other interlocutors in lieu of offering any analysis. So this course was very disappointing.
Date published: 2016-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Will Change How I Read Plato So, before listening to this course, I've read the Republic twice, but not the Laws, and also read about 10-15 of the shorter dialogues, including most of the "must-reads" like the Meno, the Apology, the Symposium, etc. In addition, I've read a number of books that covered Plato's philosophy, listened to a number of philosophy courses from companies like Knowledge Products and the Teaching Company (several a few several times), and read a few articles on sites like Aeon and even a few pieces in academic journals. I mention all of this because, before starting the course, I felt pretty comfortable reading Plato's philosophy, and, although I expected I'd pick up a few things from this course (he is the expert, after all), I didn't think I'd learn anything earth shattering. Boy, was I wrong! While I had (and continue to) struggle (in a good way) with Plato's philosophy proper, I had completely missed much of the symbolic significance tucked into the structure of the dialogues themselves. For instance, whenever a character in a dialogue is ascending or descending some structure in the physical world, or is coming into or out of the light, or is walking into or out of a city, it usually prefigures and adds symbolic significance to the philosophy that follows. The professor constantly points things like this out, telling you what to look for as you read, and carefully walks you through the relationships between the physical world Plato paints for you and the philosophy contained within it. In addition to pointing out Plato's symbolism, the professor does an admirable job of breaking down the structure of each of the dialogues he covers, revealing, for instance, how an seemingly decent argument is only thought to be decent until it is followed by an ostensibly great argument. That "great" argument, in turn, is only understood as such until it is bettered by a philosophically rich literary masterpiece rivaling anything in Shakespeare. All this, in turn, is linked up to the levels of truth we often attribute to a subject we are learning about in the "real world" (Lecture 13, Phaedrus). Although, with each speech, the reader is transplanted to a higher level of "truth", what is really being revealed by Plato is that the ultimate "Truth", with a capital "T", is ever elusive. Sort of reminds me of some of the amazing advances in physics in the 20th century, where Newtonian physics, which seemed to many to be the last word on physical reality, slowly gave way to quantum mechanics and relativity, which, perhaps, may give way to a unifying theory (string theory?) in the 21st century. This theory, if it is found, will perhaps seem like "truth" to many, but what Plato is telling us is that capital "T" will probably never be found. Finally, the professor made me realize just how funny some of the dialogues were designed to be. It is sometimes tough to realize that, although you are supposed to be taking this stuff seriously, Plato is actually encouraging you to pause here and there and let out a huge belly laugh. This laughter, in turn, besides just being an amusing interlude, is itself often intended to be laden with philosophical significance. For me, the best example of this was in lecture 11, when the very serious material constituting the Parmenides is concluded by the laconic "most true." What had before seemed to be an abrupt conclusion to the dialogue is now a laugh-out-loud moment of hilarity, where a completely outmatched philosopher really has nothing left to say about a subject he once thought he knew a lot about. There are a number of gems like this pointed out by the professor throughout the course. The biggest takeaway for me is that there is a level of richness to Plato I never fully appreciated, but have now been given a glimpse of. After finishing this course, I am now eager to go back and reread some of my favorite dialogues again. What more can you ask for from a course?
Date published: 2016-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from excellent material, incessant lip smacking. Halfway through the first lecture it became impossible to ignore his incessant lip smacking and swallowing. The content was very interesting, but it was extremely difficult to ignore the distraction of his presentation. For that reason it took me the better part of a year to finally get through the lecture. The fault is shared by Prof. Sugrue himself as well as the production crew. I appreciated his exuberance for the topic. I've tried to listen to certain chapters again it's become tedious. this is something that a professional production crew should be able to prevent.
Date published: 2016-01-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unscientific, Un-scholarly and Just Plain Annoying I have now listened to well over a hundred courses (though I am yet to do reviews for all) and have generally scored most courses as 4-5 stars, and a few with 2-3; and a couple of 1 star ratings. So I am not inclined to be too negative in my assessments. However, I can say without doubt that Sugrue's effort is certainly, in fact, easily, the worst course I have heard from the Great Courses. Really, the glowing reviews I read from so many others here I find totally perplexing - and it is not simply because I find Sugrue's bizarre "haw-hawing" incredibly annoying (he literally makes this honking sound over and over again). Rather it is because he thinks this juvenile put-down of the Sophists represents anything remotely like an adequate academic treatment of their positions in relation to Socrates (and Plato). The root of the problem becomes perfectly clear by the later lectures when Sugrue asks us to treat The Dialogues as if they were religious texts - indeed that as a collection they should be revered and read in a manner one might read the Bible or the Quran. He seems - no, he IS - totally oblivious to the fact that this is entirely at odds with the Socractic approach. Sugrue is also guilty of some quite appalling self-aggrandizement about what he tells us is his total command of the material. At one point he even tells us how fantastic it is that his copy of the dialogues is almost totally covered by the yellow highlighter markings he has made over the years. As if that demonstrates a discerning mind! Instead it serves to again highlight just what an uncritical, unscientific approach he employs. Put simply, Sugrue is engaged in a religious adoration, not in a philosophical analysis. His approach is an un-scholarly betrayal of Socrates. I challenge the Great Courses to have this course peer-reviewed, In my view it is totally unacceptable - or should be - for the Great Courses.
Date published: 2015-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sublime and profound Absolutely brilliant course, extremely rich and you feel your mental horizons expanding exponentially with each lecture you listen to.
Date published: 2015-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Professor Sugrue brings great depth, enthusiasm andn humor to this course on the Socratic dialogues. Rather than treat each dialogue as only a philosophical construct, he draws out their depths of irony, drama, humor, and aesthetic pleasure as well as their dialectical content. Socrates comes alive as a hero of the living word, encountering sophists, eleatic philosophers, impressionable young men, politicians, and engaging in the dialectic as journey toward self-knowledge and the good life. Plato emerges as a consummate artist and phiolsopher confronting real challenges to his theory of forms and to his commitment to moral and political reform. Professor Sugrue talks at a brisk pace but he is always interesting in his insights and interpretations. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sugrue Rocks I've been reading Plato since 1975 when I was introduced to him in a Great Books class at the Universityof Michigan in Ann Arbor. I took various other courses on Greek and Platonic philosophy over the next few years, and I later pursued my own course of readings, and more importantly, rereadings, of this material. The profs at U of M were good, but none of them match the depth of understanding, nuance, and incredible presentation that Sugrue achieves. Maybe the depth was there before, but I just wasn't ready for it, but somehow, I don't think so. I wish I had come across Sugrue long before I did, which was in 2012 via this course. I have re-listened to this course four or five time since 2012, and so far I keep getting more and more out of it. Listening to Sugrue, follow by a reread of the material is an adventure, which is amazing given that you've passed over this ground before. I think the difference is that Sugrue is prepared to acknowledge the religious component of Platonic philosophy that was lacking in the other professors I was exposed to at U of M. Those presentations were quite secular, and pretty technical and dry. Sugrue allowed me to see that there is so much more here. I looked for other TC courses by Sugrue. Can't find any. It seems that he would be really good at giving a course in Hellenistic philosophy, that is a history and analysis of where all this went. I bet he would deliver really well on that topic too.
Date published: 2015-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A rare view of one great mind on another This course in a genuine phenomenon. I speak from considerable experience. I have had 4 classes on Plato, and none of them even approached the profundity of these lectures. For instance, I just took a class at Stanford on the Republic, and the professor had a Ph.D. in ancient phil from the Claremont school, and he had no real understanding of the larger ethical, aesthetic and psychological points Plato was trying to make. Sugrue beings them out perfectly. What is beautiful is that you get a tangible sense of how Plato was experienced through out much of history and how it formed our relatively virtuous personalities or our habit of virtue, though this is declining as our classical roots are cut off from us by our modern education system. You can regain a real education in these fantastic lectures. Robinson also does an excellent job of recovering ancient wisdom and when understood with Sugrue are a near complete understanding of Western ethics, aesthetics and politics, but you also have to read Plato himself to get complete understanding. Rootnic courses are also helpful in getting further background. Together, Sugrue, Robinson, Rootnic, and of course Plato himself, history and your personalities will come alive.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Life Long Journey out of the Cave Get ready for a thought provoking and delightfully engaging journey. The lectures model what it means to love a book and plumb its depths from many angles and perspectives. The description of the setting and context helps those meeting the dialogs for the first time to understand them. The questions are as fresh as yesterday even if the theories of ancient science might make us smile today. The dialogs encourage independent thinking, moderation in action, and a long view that in the vernacular says not to sweat the small stuff. Knowledge is a journey and not a destination, and a story in ways uniquely our own and in ways shared with all who ponder. Not a course for those in a hurry--but a treasure for those willing to dig diligently and deeply. Appreciate Socrates as one who talks with you and not at you or down to you.
Date published: 2014-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview I wanted to extend my knowledge of Plato's dialogues after listening to Professor David Roochnik's course on Plato's Republic. This course covers a lot more material and is therefore, by necessity, not as deep in its treatment. However, the presenter is very engaging and the course goes deep enough to give you an insight into the key dialogues and whet your appetite to read them in full. I really enjoyed this course
Date published: 2013-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New favorite course This course considers the Platonic dialogues as a single work that concerns all knowledge useful in pursuing the timeless end of deciding well (wisdom), hence all knowledge useful in pursuing the timeless ends of living well (the good), living and working together well (justice), believing well (the truth), and contemplating well (beauty). It is an excellent introduction not only to classical Greek philosophy (love of wisdom), but also the whole of philosophy. Sugrue’s enthusiasm for the dialogues as a work of literature as well as philosophy gave me a better understanding of what it must have been like to have taken George Lyman Kittredge’s famous Shakespeare course.
Date published: 2013-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent series This course is an excellent purchase for anyone with an interest in Plato's works, whether they know nothing of the philosopher except his name or they have spent a lifetime reflecting on all of the philosopher's works. Sugrue proves himself to be a talented, well and widely read, passionate scholar in his talmudic reading of Plato's most famous works. I wish the series were longer than the eleven hours that it stands at.
Date published: 2012-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Make it available in CD and DVD please Sugrue teaches an excellent course. I enjoyed it and find it an excellent complement to Roochnik's great courses on the Republic and Plato/Aristotle. Sugrue covers dialogues that many of us have not read, or in come cases, even heard of. What a bore to download it. I encourage Great Courses to make this available on CD and DVD
Date published: 2012-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Old but good. I first learned of the existence of the Teaching Company when I bought this course on cassette at a second hand book sale. I really enjoyed listening to these lectures I gave the cassettes to my father and I suspect they are now lost together with the equipment required to play them on. Anyway I purchased the download version and listened to it again. Since my first listen I have studied a lot more about philosophy and I am a lot more questioning about Professor Sugrues approach to the dialogues. Many of his ideas seem to have little factual basis and his whole approach seems extremely biased. However, this is perfectly legitimate for an academic course of this nature. It would be interesting if the Teaching Company would issue a newer course on the same material.
Date published: 2012-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A succint, great summary and intro to Socrates Teaching adults was a career I lucked into and have enjoyed ever since. I learned quickly that if you answer a student’s question with “the answer”, you deprive them of the ability to use their own creativity to come up with a solution that, while not necessarily your solution, is an answer nonetheless and as long as it answers the question or solves the problem, how it does that doesn’t really matter. Over time my teaching style became a game of figuring out what question or string of questions to ask that would help the student “discover” the answer on their own. I figured that type of learning and the eureka moments generated as a result would provide the best experience for the student. Along the way, if they did not learn subconsciously the method I was using, I explicitly told them what I was attempting to do with my sometimes annoying teaching style. I never really answered a question with anything than another question. I told them that they could do it to themselves to come up with answers to their questions; to become their own teacher and a qualified one at that. This would open up their ability to be self taught with whatever resources, internal and external, they would need or seek out. I told them that if they were able to solve their own problems and not need me anymore, then I had done the job I had set out to do. After teaching this way for many many years, I found out that there was a name for it: “The Socratic Method”. An excellent skill for anyone at any time in life, there are complimentary lessons to be learned by exploring critical thinking skills along with Socratic questioning to help with defining the questions to be asked and the direction in which to ask those questions for the desired effect. I did not invest in this course coming from a background of interest in or having read any Plato and Socrates. I felt I was at a point in life where it was about time I learned about Plato and Socrates in a summarized fashion because I was apparently using Socrates teaching style. Professor Sugrue is a good proxy for teaching about Socrates and Plato. He certainly knows his stuff and I was amazed at how he could say what he said with such unbroken continuity. You could tell that his lectures are the result of a lifetime of study. Although it was an audio lecture, the words flowed straight from his heart and mind without the use of lecture notes (if any) becoming noticeable. Reading the course guide before and after a lecture was highly beneficial to understanding and appreciating the material. At the end I felt a kinship with Socrates. I too am driven by a love for truth, justice and wisdom. I have suffered not death but the wrath of people having power over me. My strong virtues and desire for justice and truth were not always appreciated when those over me were abusing the privilege and responsibility given to them. Beginning with my adult life, I did begin to ask myself some of the core Socratic questions of what it means to be human such as: "What is justice?", "How should I live my life?", "Can a perfect society ever be conceived or created?" "What is human excellence?" Socrates gave his life to the study of questions like these, questions that have seized the minds of thinking people down the ages and which drive straight to the core of what it means to be human. Unlike nearly anyone before or since, Socrates was driven by a passionate love for thinking and talking about such questions. Though I may never read the dialogues, this lecture has satisfied my current level of interest. The words “Learning Not What but How to Think” were spoken by me to my students at every class. I so believed in the method I was using. It’s the old give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life time. Made sense to me. Sugrue defines this as Platonic "meta-education," the art not of what to think but of how to think. There is still more to be learned from Socrates beyond Socratic questioning. Socrates speaks differently to different interlocutors. I now need to follow this lecture with research, study and reflection on the implications of Socrates's famed use of professions of ignorance in his conversations and use of irony to make a point, one that was not always understood by the receiver; a joke commonly played by Socrates on a dialectic partner.
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gifted Professor Simply put, the TTC must find a way to persuade, cajole or strong arm Professor Sugrue into recording another series with them. His lectures in this series and in the 1st and 2nd editions of the "Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition" are, in terms of pathos, intellection and insight, nonpareil. A few years ago I discovered TTC quite fortuitously and within recent months decided to collect several of TTC''s courses produced in the 1990s. While I discovered several duds, the ones featuring Professor Sugrue, are, without exception, winners, as good as any produced in the new millennium. If you are a patron of TTC, I highly recommend this course and, for that matter, any of Sugrue's courses you can get your hands on. If you are Professor Sugrue , please spare us your valuable time to provide more of the wisdom and teaching excellence, which helped to make TTC what it is today.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Covers Plato like no other course [Audio] This is an older ‘90s course, and not to be missed. Sugrue is an original. I have always liked his courses from my very first TTC course, the 1st edition of the Great Minds Philosophy survey course which I bought in the early ‘90s. Courses with Sugrue are increasingly rare because many have come out in new editions in which he does not appear. He has strong opinions and offers up his interpretations without reluctance. He is passionate about Plato. He is incredibly and wonderfully spontaneous. He is not the cool, arms length distance, academic that most lecturers are. This may take the listener by surprise. He is clearly not on a TelePrompTer. Lecturers could get away with in ‘90s TTC courses. You can tell that he is speaking to an audience (in the old studio) - it is clear in his conversational style. In the early days of TTC company they sought out lecturers with charisma and pretty much gave them carte blanche. Not to dwell on stylistics, but this kind of course is not possible in the new studio and you really should seek it out. Note that this course covers 16 dialogues. It clearly doesn’t get into the same depth as the Roochnik course on the Republic. It spends three 45 minute lectures on that dialogue. However, if you are passionate about a careful reading of The Republic you really need both courses. Sugrue masterfully puts the dialogues into context, frequently reminding us of the subtle symbolism. When Socrates is leaving the city, or going up or going down, there is symbolism to be found. For Sugrue there are no accidents or incidental details in the Dialogues. In this sense it reminds me of Shakespeare. We often overestimate how much we “get” Shakespeare. One of the joys of the Dialogues is that they can a relatively easy read. However one can easily impose contemporary meanings to words or images that might have meant something quite different in Socrates’ Athens. He clearly loves the humor in the Dialogues, and his enjoyment of the Dialogues is infectious. His lectures are the result of a lifetime of study, and you get the sense he is still actively rereading them. Also worth emphasizing the variety of dialogues covered. The Phaedrus and Symposium, for instance, are both on the subject of love and friendship. They are short enough that you can read them, along with footnotes, introductions, outline, and two 45 lectures sessions, in a day each, perhaps before you tackle the Republic. They can be a fun way to get started, whereas the Republic is more of a commitment. I recommend this course highly, but not at the expense of the Roochnik course. If you are interested in the Dialogues you should get them both. At this writing, it is only available on audio. I would urge you to read along, but you could listen during a commute, and read before or after listening.
Date published: 2012-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Professor Sugrue Please! Since stumbling upon the Teaching Company a couple of years ago, I have had the good fortune to listen to perhaps three dozen courses. Almost all of them have been great, and none have been a waste of time. This one, however, stands out as a powerful experience that has not been equaled for me by any other lecturer, whether at TC or in the classroom. Professor Sugrue knows his Plato. His pace is almost frenetic, but easy to follow regardless. He engages the listener at every step, steering clear of the lingua academia so that even a neophyte like myself can follow along with ease. This is, to use the vernacular, good stuff. The lecture guide for this course indicates that Professor Sugrue taught another Teaching Company course entitled “The Bible and Western Culture”, but the Plato series is the only one listed on the website. If the other course was ever published, it would be wonderful to see it available again for download. If it was just a planned project that never came to fruition, then it’s time to see the job done, and to engage him for further lectures. Time spent listening to Professor Sugrue is time well spent indeed. Cheers! - Rod
Date published: 2011-11-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from High octane presentations! This was an unusual course. The professor spoke in a rushed manner rapidly and without any breaks. He has an unorthodox presentation style and certainly has no problem delivering his message (eg. in one lecture he states 'here we have Plato speaking to two idiots..".). However, does he ever know his subject. This is the first time I've heard someone connect the dialogues to each other as part of a grand narrative. I have read the Republic, Meno, and one other dialogue. I think the course would be much more valuable to someone who has read most of Plato's works. None-the-less, I have never heard Plato presented this way and I am glad I stuck with the course to the end. If I do come across the dialogues again, I will certainly use this course as my guide. I recommend taking this course after you've read some Plato, and the more you read, the better this course gets. Otherwise, the presentations will seem like a blur!
Date published: 2011-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Revived Plato in my life I read most of the dialogues many years ago, in the Great Books translation at first and then some in graduate school. But never until this course had anyone drawn them together for me as a whole, showing how ideas continue - and change - across the course of Plato's writing. Best of all, the teacher does not teach "academically" - he cares about the issues discussed, and not only admires Plato (and Socrates) but applies the discussions to the real (excuse the term) world. The result was that I found myself eagerly returning to the course for each lecture, and then opening Plato for the first time in many years to reread the dialogues with fresh ideas and insights that brought them to life in a way I had never experienced before.
Date published: 2011-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Trust Sugrue I have had this course for some time. In fact, at one point, I upgraded from the audiotape to the CD. The reason for that essentially explains how much I value this course, and expect to keep turning to it for many years. My reason for not having reviewed it earlier is that this is a course that must be sipped, not chugged. I have therefore taken my time to read a dialogue before (and sometimes even after) listening to Professor Sugrue's many takes on it. Some of you have already read reviews that seem to pick a lot of nits with Professor Sugrue--he's too fast, too thirsty, too this or too that. You all miss the point. As I see it, he can't wait to put you in a place where you can view Plato and Socrates at a level approximating his own. It is not easy work; it pays interest only if you make deposits. He is a scholar, yes, but he is, like Dante's Virgil, also your guide. As others have pointed out, he may not be the ideal "entry point," but with a little knowledge going in, he will build on it exponentially. I, like others, am also sorry that (except for this one course) he does not remain an active Teaching Company contributor. For those of you who would like more of him, I encourage you to go to your local library and seek some of the Teaching Company courses now out of print that feature Professor Sugrue. One is the earlier edition of Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition. Do not let Sugrue slip out of your grasp.
Date published: 2011-01-14
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