Gentle Elenchus and success : reexamining Socrates' pedagogical methods in Plato's Lysis and Alcibiades
Against scholars who interpret Socrates’ initial conversation with Lysis as primarily consisting of the refutative elenchus, I propose a new reading of this part of the Lysis in which I argue that Socrates briefly practices a gentle form of elenchus but is able to use maieusis and exhortation in much of the conversation because of Lysis’ notable responsiveness. I then look to Alcibiades’ lines in the Symposium as a challenge. Alcibiades, who had even greater potential in his youth than Lysis, knows he must change his ways whenever he is with Socrates, but as soon as he leaves Socrates, he reverts to his corrupt ways. With little historical information about Lysis and only one appearance in Plato’s dialogues, we face the concern that he too will fail to pursue virtue in the long term, despite apparent success in his conversation with Socrates. To settle this concern, I examine the Alcibiades and argue that Socrates’ pedagogical methods and Alcibiades’ responses reveal important character differences between Lysis and Alcibiades that explain why Socrates could have successfully turned Lysis, but not Alcibiades, toward virtue. In resolving Alcibiades’ challenge, I discuss broader implications for understanding Socrates’ pedagogical methods, especially as they relate to youth.
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