Plato: The Collected Dialogues Including the Letters

The Collected Dialogues - Plato, Edith Hamilton, Huntington Cairns This book is my bible. I first read it for a college class as an undergrad. One of the first books I remember reading was the Symposium. I ended up dropping that first philosophy class for various reasons. When I came back to school at a different university, I decided to try philosophy again. Synchronicity must have been at work in my choice of professors, as the one I chose became my mentor and my friend. It was in his class that I delved back into Plato and fell in love with them. It would be a massive undertaking, and one I am not prepared to do, to summarize the contents of this book. Instead I will point out notable books, and perhaps a few the general or beginning reader should tackle first. It would be a very goo idea to start with the Apology. It will give you a sense of who Socrates is, what Athenian society is like at the time, and for the feel of Plato's style. I strongly recommend that readers stick with these translators: Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Their translations is lively and captures Socrates' wit and sometimes subtle humour. After the Apology, the Laches would be a good place to go, as it's centered around the single question of courage, and will give readers a feel for the structure and style of his argument. In general, there are six parts and then the release or conclusion. One interesting thing I've noticed is the importance of the middle section of any given book. This is especially noticeable in the Euthydemus and the Phaedrus. However, I would not recommend trying these two books until you have made it through several of his others. The Symposium is a beautiful book and pairs nicely with the Phaedrus. The Republic is fairly standard reading for many schools, but there is much to be discovered in this lengthy text besides what he says about philosopher kings. The Republic offers a fairly concise presentation of the Forms, or the eidos that are the central tenant of Plato's philosophy. Many people, including the other father of western philosophy, Aristotle, have mistakenly believed that Plato desired to separate the mind and the body, the ideal from the sensual. In the context of the Symposium and the Phaedo, I do not think this is the case at all. I will not however, try to tell you what to think. All I ask (if I can do such a thing) is that you read mindfully, carefully, and critically. The Euthydemus is perhaps one of my favorite books; it is also the most demanding and existentially terrifying. When reading this book, one must be very aware of language and the meaning of words, for the brother's arguments often turn on a single word. It is also in this text that you can find much of, if not all of the ideas presented in the later dialogues. Perhaps the most difficult book of all however, is the Phaedo because it is in this book that Socrates attempts to describe most directly his concept of the Good--what it is, how we reach it--and a proof for the Forms. This is where we find the argument that "each is in all, and always all." This was one of the last books we covered and it made me feel as if I had lost all the understanding I previously thought I had. It really brought home the other oft quoted piece of wisdom: "wisdom is knowledge of one's own ignorance." I would highly recommend the dialogues for people who are searching for answers to questions they don't know how to ask. The beautiful thing about Plato's philosophy is that it truly is a philosophy for living. While other philosophies or religions will tell you what steps to take at each and every turn on the path, Plato instead shows you the goal, the ultimate Good, and lets you find your own way there. For those who may think that eastern and western philosophies only and always oppose each other, I'd encourage you to consider Plato in light of Buddhism, and visa versa.