Phronesis 51 (4):388-407 (2006)

Tim O'Keefe
Georgia State University
The few people familiar with the pseudo-Platonic dialogue Axiochus generally have a low opinion of it. It's easy to see why: the dialogue is a mish-mash of Platonic, Epicurean and Cynic arguments against the fear of death, seemingly tossed together with no regard whatsoever for their consistency. As Furley notes, the Axiochus appears to be horribly confused. Whereas in the Apology Socrates argues that death is either annihilation or a relocation of the soul, and is a blessing either way, "the Socrates of the Axiochus wants to have it both ways": death is both annihilation and a release of the soul from the body into a better realm. This may be used to construct a valid argument for the conclusion that death is not evil, but at the expense of having a contradiction as one of its premises. But D. S. Hutchinson has recently proposed that these inconsistencies shouldn't surprise us if we view the Axiochus as "an unconventional version of a very conventional genre--the consolation letter." In this paper I expand on Hutchinson's brief suggestion and argue that the Axiochus can be rehabilitated by paying attention to its genre. Although the Axiochus does display many similarities to the consolation letter, the shift from letter to dialogue does--pace Hutchinson--significantly affect what's going on. Within the dialogue, Socrates behaves toward Axiochus in a way similar to the way the author of a consolation letter behaves towards the letter's reader: he is willing to use inconsistent arguments, borrowed from any source, in order to soothe the patient. However, in depicting this type of consolatory relationship between Socrates and Axiochus, the dialogue itself is not aiming at consoling its readers. Instead, it should be seen as displaying for the reader's consideration a certain type of consolatory argumentative practice. Socrates notes that Axiochus is "very much in need of consolation" (365a), and he uses any means necessary to accomplish this task. Socrates exhibits many ways in which he is willing to sacrifice argumentative hygiene for the sake of therapeutic effectiveness. These include: * Use of arguments with inconsistent premises, presented in propria persona. * Appeals to emotion * Tailoring arguments to the audience. * Presenting invalid arguments so as to induce unjustified but comforting beliefs. * Evasion. In these respects, I think that Socrates' argumentative practice is best compared to PH III 280-1, where Sextus Empiricus says that the skeptic will deliberately use logically weak arguments as long as they work. Dorothy Tarrant claims that what links the Socrates of the Axiochus to Socrates as he appears elsewhere in the Platonic corpus is his evident care for the welfare of his interlocutor's psyche. But this concern takes a quite different form in the Axiochus than it usually does. As with Sextus, psychic therapy in the Axiochus involves relief from pain. The primary difference between them is that Socrates, unlike Sextus, is not aiming at producing epochê in his patient.
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DOI 10.1163/156852806778876583
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References found in this work BETA

Toward a Consistent Interpretation of the Protagoras.George Klosko - 1979 - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 61 (2):125-142.
The Pseudo-Platonic Socrates.Dorothy Tarrant - 1938 - Classical Quarterly 32 (3-4):167-.

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Socrates’ Warning Against Misology.Thomas Miller - 2015 - Phronesis 60 (2):145-179.

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