[PBP2013] A: Aristotle on Aristippus of Cyrene

“Or again as Aristippus said in reply to Plato when he spoke somewhat too dogmatically, as Aristippus thought: ‘Well, anyhow, our friend’, meaning Socrates, ‘never spoke like that’.”

—Aristotle, Rhetoric

When speaking of things as they happened, there is always a minimum of three versions: Your side, Their side, and What Really Happened. The reason so many so-called “Socratic” schools existed is because he never wrote anything down; we only have the words of his disciples, who often differed on at least some matters, to tell us what he taught. The fact that Plato, who in later works was clearly inserting his own philosophies into the mouth of a Socrates that was no longer based on his departed teacher, but a Socrates of his own invention, missed several points in clear on a number of counts: Where Plato largely ignores Socrates’ ascetic life, the Cynics —especially Diogenes of Sinope— used it to set themselves apart from the other Socratic schools. Where Plato ignores the respect for the common citizen that Socrates clearly maintained, Epicurus —a later Hedonist, though largely a student of the pre-Socratic Democritus, not Socrates’ own student, Aristippus—made use of it, and even became a primary influence on Marxism. Where Plato and Xenophon gave no clear practical application for the respect that Socrates clearly had for women —indeed, all of Socrates’ teachers were women— the Cynics and Hedonists, in practise, gave women equal ground, even if that legacy is largely ignored in academia.

There can only be so many divergent thoughts on what a man taught before one really should sit down and realise that everybody, including the man’s students are missing something; and honestly, the more I learn of Socrates, whose life is primarily written about by Plato, the more I realise how much Plato missed, and how much only the Hedonists and Cynics really understood of that wisdom.

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