The discussion between Socrates and Phaedrus . . .

in Plato's dialogue occurs in a wooded grove on the edge of town (and it's both wonderful and a bit frightening to think that Plato intended the irony in that setting, as Jasper Neel [1988] believes he does). Phaedrus happens to have a copy of the written text of their colleague Lysias' speech, which he reads to Socrates. In responding to and then eventually presenting two alterantives to Lysias' speech, Socrates ostensibly addresses the question of the nature of love, but ranges widely over such topics as the nature of Truth, dialectic as a means to attaining Truth, the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, the nature of a "true" rhetoric, and eventually the inadequacies of the technology of writing. This last topic Socrates turns to near the end of the dialogue, directly addressing the question of whether writing is a suitable means of fostering the kind of genuine dialogue that he asserts is essential for attaining Truth. Here is a short excerpt from that passage:

Socrates: Then it shows great folly . . . to suppose that one can transmit or acquire clear and certain knowledge of an art through the medium of writing, or that written words can do more than remind the reader of what he already knows on any given subject. (97)

. . .

Socrates: It will simply be by way of pastime that [a person] will use the medium of writing to sow what may be styled gardens of literature. . . .

Phaedrus: And a very fine pastime too, Socrates . . . I mean the ability to amuse oneself with the composition of Discourses about justice and the other subjects you mention.

Socrates: Quite so, my dear Phaedrus. But finer still is the serious treatment of these subjects when a man [sic] employs the art of dialectic, and, fastening upon a suitable soul, plants and sows in it truths accompanied by knowledge. (99)

Note that Plato associates knowledge-making and truth-seeking with dialectic and assigns writing to the province of amusement and recording. That is a key binary in Plato's philosophy.

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