Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: "Arguing with Socrates: An Introduction to Plato's Shorter Dialogues" by Christopher Warne

Arguing with Socrates by Christopher Warne is a brief introduction to and overview of several of Plato's short dialogues. The book is divided into two parts. In Part One, Warne introduces the people in the dialogues and discusses the roles they play (both dramatic and philosophical). He also surveys the Socratic methods and means used in the dialogues to arrive at Socrates' (or Plato's) philosophical position. Part Two is a survey of nine short dialogues: The Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Hippias Major, Ion, Laches, Meno, Protagoras, and Symposium.

Overall, this book is a brief, well-written, and thoughtful overview of some of Plato's best known short works. Warne writes clearly and well, blending smoothly Plato's ancient ideas with examples and anecdotes drawn from contemporary society. He clearly has a grasp of both Plato and modern scholarship, as well as an understanding of the practical application of otherwise abstract ideas and problems.

And yet, I would hesitate to recommend this book to the intended audience. The claim is that Arguing with Socrates is an introductory work to the problems of Platonic philosophy, and that's true as far as it goes. The problem is that while Arguing with Socrates does not necessarily require an introductory knowledge of Plato or his writings, it does assume a base understanding of the discipline of philosophy. Werne's introductory material and language throughout the book are, I suspect, not intentionally targeted at those who already possess a basic understanding of the discipline, yet I couldn't help but think that someone who picked up this text who had not taken at least an Intro to Philosophy course would quickly be lost. (Chapter 2 is probably the worst offender here.) I was considering this book for a short course I'm teaching as an introduction to Plato, but I'm afraid that much of it will be over their heads. Perhaps not very far over their heads, but enough that it would be more trouble that it's worth.

Which is not to say that the book is without its merits. While I do not recommend Arguing with Socrates as an introductory book to those new to the study of Plato or philosophy, I am quite happy to endorse it as a useful refresher for those returning to the field. It would make a great book for the first week of a graduate course (possibly even a senior-level undergraduate course) that would serve to remind the students of the terms and ideas they may have forgotten over the summer or winter break.
And of course, it's an excellent book for those of us who just love the material. If you're a Plato junkie, I'm happy to recommend this book to you.

I received this book for free from the publisher. I was not required to give it a positive review. 


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