Favre and Socrates: If They Give Up Things Are Bad (Summer in the Republic 57)

Favre and Socrates: If They Give Up Things Are Bad (Summer in the Republic 57) August 4, 2018
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Brett Favre always wanted to play or so it seemed watching him. He seemed never to come out of a game, so when the quarterback every announcer called a “gunslinger” announced that he would not want his children or grandchildren to play the game and that he was afraid for his own health, the news was stunning to this Packer fan. Something must be wrong with tackle football.


The man loved the game, but Favre is done with football, at least as it now exists. After all, we can live without tackle football, if we must, so if sad, the loss is limited. We do not want to be entertained at the cost of lives: football must change when Brett Favre is done with football. Favre rightly fears for his mental health and is trying to help others avoid the risk he did not know he was taking as a young man.

That’s sad, but when Socrates, the father of philosophy, is done with the discussion, with the “logos” that was his life, that is fearful. If Socrates can give up, what hope do we have to persist? “Logos” is hard to translate: word, logic, discussion, dialectic. Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus had associated the word with Divinity that undergirded all things. Socrates was a man immersed in the logos, a disciple of the logos, in search of the Logos.

Book II of Republic begins with a fearful statement from Socrates: “All this having been said, I thought the discussion was at an end.” I prefer to translate the phrase more forcefully: “After this, I thought I was done with the logos.”

What has gone wrong?

Socrates had just defeated the friend of tyrants, the sophist Thrasymachus in discussion. He was the winner, but the victory  left him done with the discussion. He had glutted on words, snatched for victory, but he was left less than himself. Thrasymachus praised injustice, frightening Socrates for the morals of the young men observing their conversation. He shut Thrasymachus down by being better at rhetoric than Thrasymachus.

Was he just to Thrasymachus?

He was not, but at least he had kept the younger men from being harmed by the evil ideas Thrasymachus promoted.

Or did he?

In Book II, we discover that the young men were not persuaded. They wanted to agree with Socrates, but Socrates had not made persuasive arguments. Why? A man cannot save a village by destroying it. He cannot lie to defend the universal necessity of truth.

Socrates was truthful enough to know something had gone wrong. He admits this at the end of Book I. The root cause is that Socrates began the discussion out of fear of Thrasymachus. This original error poisoned all he said. Socrates had a discussion, the methods were all intact, but his beginning was in fear and his end was merely victory.

Favre probably is right that we should change the game: it hurts too many. Socrates was right that  what he had done in Book I was not worth continuing: it wasn’t really the logos. The logos persuades the opponent or at least fails trying, but Socrates silenced Thrasymachus.

The logos is lost when any goal but wisdom is pursued using the methods of the logos. God help me, I wish never to be done with the Logos.


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36. Part 37. Part 38. Part 39. Part 40. Part 41. Part 42. Part 43. Part 44. Part 45. Part 45.5. Part 46. Part 47. Part 48. Part 49. Part 50. Part 51. Part 52. Part 52.5. Part 53. Part 54. Part 55. Part 56. Part 57.

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