Plato Posting Assignments

At a Glance

Day / Author / Topic / Reading Material / Assignment Deadline
R 1/17 / Plato / Intro to Plato and Aristotle; What is Philosophy? / 1. introductions post
M 1/21 / Plato / Allegory of the Cave / 2. enlightenment post
R 1/24 / Plato / Euthyphro / 3. holiness (piety) post
M 1/28 / Plato / Apology, M.L. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” / 4. wisdom post
R 1/31 / Plato / Crito, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience / 5. disobedience post

General Assignment: For each of the posting assignments below, respond to the prompts, sending to all members of the class your thoughts on the assigned topic, using the assigned reading material. All deadlines are for before midnight on the date indicated. These assignments are pass/fail. Posts that are on time, meet length requirements and are done conscientiously will received full credit. If you do not meet the requirements, I will notify you in a private response. Original Posts will require 200+ words each; Commentary Posts 150+ words each.


  • Post your Original Response Posts to the group by hitting ‘Reply All’ on the original post by the instructor.
  • Post your Commentary Posts to the group by hitting ‘Reply All’ to the Original Response Post sent by the classmate to which you’re responding. (Note: You must use ‘reply all’ here as well, or I will not see it and not be able to give you credit for the post.)
  • If you want to make a comment to someone “off-list” making a private response (and not for credit), use ‘Reply’ (not “reply all’). You can use this feature to chat or get to know someone in the class more, but please keep this sort of communication in line with course objectives and decorum (don’t use it to harass).

On this Posting Assignment: You may elect to post your answers to the exercise prompts as an “Original Response Post”, or simply do it on your own as preparation for your paper assignment at the end of the unit. Keep in mind, however, that you must post answers to three of these next four Original Posting Assignments, so if you skip one, you must do the remaining three. Original Posts should be around 200+ words each.

On Commentary Posts (Replies to Classmate Posts): You are required to reply to one of your classmate’s postings on each of the three assignments you choose to complete for this author. In making your Commentary Post, make sure you offer reasoned and substantive comments to what your classmate has said. These can be a criticism or disagreement, or a supporting argument. In any case, make sure you offer reasons for what you are saying; and make sure you stay on the topic thread. Responses to classmate posts should come no later than a day after the Original Post was due, and be 150+ words each. They should come as a separate posting to the group.

Please note that what follows is the actual assignment described in brief. I will also be sending these to you individually as messages and will supply additional background and content in the message.

All must post a reply to #1 Assignment (this tells me you want to stay on the class roll!)

  1. Introductions Post (due before midnight on deadline day)

a. Intros: Please start off by saying a few things about yourself—

name or nickname you prefer,

where you are from (and/or logging in from)

why you are here (what brings you to this course?)

Where you are going (future plans?)

b. What is Philosophy—Take 1: Keeping in mind the ‘philosophy’ literally means ‘the love (pursuit) of wisdom,’ describe in a few sentences what you think philosophy is.

For #’s 2-5, Students must post responses to 3 of the 4 remaining (skipping one)

  1. Enlightenment Post (due before midnight on deadline day) Read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; see Santas Notes on Plato’s Cave

Background: The work of Plato and Aristotle drew on the theories and debates on those who came before them. In the tradition, they were called the “philosophers”[1] (literally, lovers/pursuers of wisdom). Today they are called “Pre-Socratic Philosophers” because they were before Socrates, and he marks a significant development in the history of the enterprise. Plato was the famous student of Socrates, and he features prominently in almost all of his works.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is from Book VII of his Republic. In this work, Plato begins with the question, “What is Justice?” and ends up laying out the foundations of a just society. The story of the cave is supposed to illustrate at least two things:

  1. The relationship between appearance and reality (between the Forms and ordinary things)
  2. Why it is that people who are in touch with the Forms are misunderstood

The first point concerns metaphysics; the second point touches on epistemology, but also on the sociology of philosophizing.

Assignment: Consider the images in the story of the cave and what they stand for. Now answer these questions:

a) What is the cave supposed to represent in the “Allegory of the Cave”? What is the outside supposed to stand for? Explain the main images and their meaning. In what ways would Plato say that most humans are in such a cave? Explain.

b) Why is the escaped prisoner persecuted when he returns to the cave? Explain what Plato might mean here about the path of enlightenment.

c) If you were the escaped prisoner who had found enlightenment, would you return to the cave and help your old friends escape? If not, why not? If so, why? Supposing you did return, how would you break the chains? What if one of them your best friend didn’t want to go? Would you force her/him as you had been? How would you break the chains?

  1. Holiness (Piety) Post (due before midnight on deadline day) Read Plato’s Euthyphro; see Santas Notes on Euthyphro

Background: Socrates and Euthyphro meet at the steps of the city court. Socrates has been indicted on two charges: 1) impiety (unholiness); 2) corruption of the youth. Euthyphro is prosecuting his father for murder. Socrates, like everyone else, is shocked and wonders how Euthyphro can be so sure of himself. Euthyphro says he knows he’s right and acting piously (in a holy manner) because he has accurate knowledge of these things. Socrates asks him in that case to teach him about piety (holiness). The rest of the dialogue is an investigation of “What is piety (holiness)”?

The Euthyphro is famous for at least three things: 1) illustrating Socrates’ preoccupations with definitions; 2) discussing the relation between morality and religion; and 3) introducing the style of questioning known as Socratic Method.

As they attempt to define piety/holiness, they come to a number of definitions, ultimately rejecting each of them. One can outline Euthyphro’s attempts into four formulations:

1) piety/holiness is doing what I’m doing now: prosecuting a wrongdoer

2) piety/holiness is what the gods love; impiety is what the gods hate

3) piety/holiness is what all the gods love; impiety is what all the gods hate

4) piety/holiness is a part of moral rightness/justice--the part that attends to the gods


A. Pick one of the above listed definition attempts # 2, 3, or 4 and explain what is meant by it.

B. Then discuss the following:

  1. What critical questions Socrates asks of Euthyphro, and what they find wrong with the attempt.
  2. What does the discussion tell us about piety/holiness? About the relation between morality and religion?
  3. What does the discussion tell us about good definitions and why they might be important?

Make sure your word count is 200+ words. Commentary Posts should be 150+ words.

  1. Wisdom Post (due before midnight on deadline day) Read Plato’s Apology; see Santas Notes on The Apology

Background: ‘Apology’ derives from the Greek word apologia, which means defense. He’s not sorry! This work professes to be a transcription of Socrates’ actual defense at the trial. It’s supposed to be the most faithful to the ideas of Socrates of all of Plato’s dialogues. He has been charged by Meletus, along with Anytus and Lycon of two wrongdoings: Impiety (unholiness--innovating with deities); and Corruption of the youth. His defense has three main parts:

  • Fold I—slanders of the Past
  • Fold II—slanders of the Present
  • His Duty: A Promise for the Future

Assignment: Discuss one of the following question prompt:

1) What is Socrates’ definition of wisdom? How did he arrive at this definition? Discuss his mission. What does this notion of wisdom have to do with his method? Explain, illustrating with examples.

2) What did Socrates mean when he said that he's like a gadfly? Whom did he sting? Why did he sting them? Explain. Whom would he sting if he were walking around here? Compare his role to that of ML King as discussed in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Make sure your word count is 200+ words. Commentary Posts should be 150+ words.

  1. Disobedience Post (due before midnight on deadline day) Read Plato’s Crito; see Santas Notes on Crito

Background: As the dialogue begins, Socrates’ sentence has been delayed for about a month. During this time his friends made repeated attempts to convince him he should escape into exile. The practice was common, and the Athenians would not mind, since they just wanted him to leave town anyway. This dialogue probably has some basis in fact, and it may reflect the last attempt by Crito, a long-time friend, to convince Socrates to leave. Crito gives three different kinds of argument:

  • Selfish  I’ll lose a friend. / What will they think?
  • Practical  We have the means. / There’s a place to go.
  • Moral  It’s wrong to forsake a life. / It’s wrong to abandon your sons. / It’s cowardly to not fight back.

Socrates replies to all three and then develops his own argument in an imaginary dialogue with the laws of the state (personified). In this dialogue he discusses the idea of a social contract (that there is an agreement between citizen and state), the importance of obedience to authority, and the destructive consequences of ignoring the dictates of law (“destroying” the laws).

Assignment: Answer one of the following discussion prompts:

1. Should Socrates have escaped prison? What would you have done if put in Socrates position? Would you have chosen to escape? If not, why not? If so, what would you have said to the Laws when they confronted you at the city gates? Is your case different than that of Socrates? Explain. Compare to Thoreau’s reasoning in Civil Disobedience.

2. At his trial, Socrates made it quite clear that he would not obey the court if it asked him to discontinue his mission. But while in prison, he argued to Crito that one must never "destroy the laws" by disobeying them. This appears to be inconsistent. Why obey some laws and not others? Throughout history, civil rights activists like Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are accused of a similar inconsistency; and they answer by making a distinction between just and unjust laws. Compare Socrates' mission, his conception of wisdom, his basic moral principles, to the concept of law and Civil Disobedience in ML King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Make sure your word count is 200+ words. Commentary Posts should be 150+ words.

[1] ‘Philosophy’ derives from the Greek ‘Φιλοσοφία.’