Friday, July 26, 2013


I happened upon a gift while cleaning today that my Plato students gave me at the end of the year this year, and it made me miss them terribly. They are truly wonderful people. So I'm posting the short speech I gave in praise of them at the Banquet this year, hereby memorializing their greatness of soul:
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In Plato's dialogue Apology, Socrates defends himself in court where he has been accused of (among other things) corrupting the youth of Athens. In defense of his insistently engaging in difficult and often frustrating discussions on a daily basis with the people of Athens, Socrates explains: "the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue [...] the unexamined life is not worth living" (37e-38a). The people of Athens sentenced Socrates to death.

Students in the Plato class, many of them in addition to their Foundations of American Thought workload, read and discussed nine Platonic dialogues this year including the entirety of The Republic, which we spent the whole second semester studying in detail. Embracing Socrates' advice to choose the examined life, Plato students choose to take this class. They start, perhaps with a vague notion of the importance of reading the works of a famous Greek philosopher from over two millennia ago ("Lewis liked Plato, right?"), but what they come away with is a deeper understanding of themselves, of society, of existence in general. Plato is an optional class, and many students have graduated and will graduate from our program without taking it. I commend this year's Plato students for taking on more work than they needed to for the pure joy of learning, and their commitment to facing head-on some of the most difficult and most foundational questions of philosophy--for choosing to do the difficult thing because it is worthwhile.

This was my first time teaching the Plato class, and it was my first time returning to read Plato since I read it in college, and I have to say, I have learned a great deal this year. In discussions we talked about justice, piety, virtue, justice, art, the mechanism of inspiration, justice, the nature of reality and existence, epistemology, the nature of the human soul, justice (sensing a theme?), and not least of all, why the interlocutors insist on swearing "by the dog." "By the dog, Socrates!" What dog? No one seems to know for sure!

While the content of what we read provided ample food for the hungry mind, some of the best things that I learned this year were not from the books we read, but from the students in my class. I was constantly humbled by their excellence, their clarity of thought, their commitment to seeking out and discovering the truth, and the deep and abiding kindness and care that they showed toward one another. Furthermore, I have never seen a group of students more committed to understanding the implications of each new conviction in their daily lives, seeking not just head knowledge, but the education of their whole souls: head, heart, and hand. Plato students, I am honored to know you. You have made me a better person. It has been a truly magnificent year. By the dog, well done.