Introductory thoughts on the philosophical conversation of Plato’s Socrates:

Plato’s early dialogues are characterized by the way how Socrates conducts conversations (Socratic maieutics). They aim to clarify a simple but encompassing question: τί ἐστι;

His early dialogues serve to define virtues but often end in aporia. This primordial question (in the form of „τί ἐστι;”) is the foundation of Plato’s Theory of Ideas. In this respect, his philosophy may be understood as a development of this Socratic question. It is the philosophical question per se with which Socrates relentlessly pursues to probe himself and others (Apol. 28e5-6: φιλοσοφοῦντάμεδεῖνζῆνκαὶ ἐξετάζοντα ἐμαυτὸν καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους). According to Socrates, to philosophize means to have critical conversations (Phaedo 59a3-4) without any elitist pretension.

When I was watching my niece recently, who despite being exhausted didn’t want to take an afternoon nap, the following conversation emerged between us:

Niece: „I don’t want to sleep!“ Spoken with a determined expression on her little face.

Aunt: „You don’t have to. There is nobody who could force you to fall asleep, not even yourself.“

Niece: „Why?“

Aunt: „This is due to the fact that your body, heart and soul decide whether you’re sleeping or not. You can’t force it.“

Niece: „What is the soul?“1. She was visibly surprised by this new word.

Aunt: That is your inner being. Your inner sanctum.

Niece: „Where is the soul, auntie?“. She asked in an intriguing manner while maintaining eye contact.

Aunt: „That’s a good question. Some say in the head, some say in your heart2.“ I pointed to my left chest while speaking.

Niece: „Even in my feet?“ She touched her leg with her hand and pointed to it.

Aunt: „Could be possible“.

Niece: „Or in the bum?“

I had to laugh hereupon and answered: „Theoretically, yes. However, some people wouldn’t say so“. At this moment, I was thinking of Cicero who states in De Officiis I, 126 that the less honorable parts of anatomy are hidden on the backside of the human body where they cannot take umbrage.

Obviously pleased with my reaction to her suggestions and the fact that she had to decide for herself whether she would sleep or not, I left her to the game for now. Only a short time later she took a cuddly toy, laid down on the sofa with a soft blanket and promptly fell asleep.

1 See Plato’s dialogues Phaedrus (245c), Laws (896a), Sophist (263e), Phaedo (66a1-6) and Sophia Vallbracht: Die normative Kraft des Decorum. S. 124ff.

2 Aristotle: Juv. 2 f., 468a20-469a27 / 3, 469a6 / ἀρχή: Mot. an. 10, 703a37/ An I 4, 408b15-18.