Online Course| Plato & His Predecessors| Susan Sauvé Meyer

Reading the Socratic dialogues one has the feeling: what a frightful waste of time! What’s the point of these arguments that prove nothing and clarify nothing.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Plato takes a rest on the beach of the Black sea © Valeriia Pampukha

Do I think Ludwig Wittgenstein is right about Socratic dialogues? Hmmm, in my modest opinion probably not, but there is a voice of reason in his words.

This summer I promised myself not to vaste it. My academic year ended on 18 of May and the next should start on 16 of September. That’s why I thought: “It seems like there are a lot of time!” (Oh, yes. Now it’s time to look back and cry a little)

In Ukrainian we have this verb “просрати” (prosraty). In Russian it is nearly the same — “просирать” (prasirat’). That is not a good word for your everyday vocabulary, but to this situation it suits the best. It comes from “ to shit” and means to waste time or miss an oppostunity or anything else that is possible to waste or miss. So, I said to myself: “I will not просрати this summer and will try to do something useful!”

Besides my everyday struggles with Ancient Greek and Latin about which everyone around me knows because all the time I go from “super excited” to “please, just kill me”, I’ve decided to start online courses on Coursera as well. Porque cómo no (yes, Duolingo says that I am already 51% fluent in Spanish, which I do not really beilive but nevertheless it makes me feel better :D).

The first course that I’ve chosen — “Ancient Philosophy: Plato & His Predecessors” by University of Pennsylvania.

I have a very bad memory. There are not so many things that I can recall from my childhood that is why it seems logic to me that I was brought on the planet Earth by Aliens at the age of 12 (from that time my memories are more or less clear).

Even though I do not remember my childhood, the memory about how I made acquaintance with Plato is very clear. One evening I have started reading Lysis and thought “Why not read it out loud?”. And you know what? That was great! Then I continued reading other dialogues, bought a little statue of him in Athens and things began to take off, you know.

One day I realized that even though I’ve read some information about Plato I know nearly nothing about him! That’s why I became feeling uncomfortable about the fact that I’ve told so many people that I like Plato, when in reality I know so little about this philosopher.

That was quite obvious to go on Coursera and look up if there is something that can help. Hopefully I found this course that is not only about Plato but also about the philosophers before him.

I subscribed to the course and the adventure began.

The course is only four weeks long and it VERY easy to go through because through out the course there are only quizzes and you need to actually write something only during the final week.

We started with the Presocratics, moved on to Plato’s Euthyphro and The Republic, and finished with Timaeus which I consider rereading because it was the hardest one.

If I summarize the whole content of the course it would be that when we talked about the Presocratic philosophers, we learned about the foundation of the world that we live in (of course their views of it can be considered as wrong, but still it is fascinating to find out how they saw life around them), and when we started Plato it was more about how the world functions and what is the best way for it to function if we take Republic, for instance.

What I loved the most about the course was the final task.We should have write a Platonic dialogue imagining that Euthyphro answered Socrates question differently or a letter to a friend about what is ‘just’ according to Plato’s Republic.

While reading other students’ submissions I was agreeably surprised! There were some good dialogues which made me feel happy for others and at the same time bad for myself, because my submission wasn’t that good.

For the first time Plato travels by Ukrainian train © Valeriia Pampukha

The more I read Plato, the more I agree with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Plato’s dialogues won’t give you any clear answer. In some of them there won’t be any answer at all. But was it really his mission to give you one?

P.S. This Monday another course about Plato has just started! It is “Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues By Plato” by the National University of Singapore. The way professor John Holbo gives the information and explans things is great. I’ve watched the first week and it was very informative and amusing at the same time :D

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