BOOK REVIEW: Lysis by Plato

LysisLysis by Plato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This early Socratic dialogue addresses friendship and love — philia to the Greeks. In it, Socrates questions Lysis and Menexenus (two young friends) on the basis of friendship, whether it can be unrequited, and whether like or different individuals are better matched. The interrogation of Lysis illuminates Socrates view of the basis of friendship, wisdom. He questions Lysis about those things the boy’s parents won’t allow him to do, and those things for which they’d seek him out, ultimately suggesting that one’s wisdom is what attracts others to one, as friend or otherwise.

Later, Socrates questions Menexenus about whether the good befriend the good or are better suited to befriend the neutral individual. [The presumption that the bad are friends to no one takes them out all equations.] Socrates, with Menexenus’ consent, briefly concludes that friendships develop best between good and neutral individuals, but the dialogue ends with Socrates being skeptical of his own conclusion – perhaps feeling the weight of problems that a listener might contemplate (e.g. the idea that there are good, bad, and neutral people – rather than all of us being a melting pot of good, bad, and ugly.)

It’s not dissatisfying that the dialogue ends without an answer. Its value lies in triggering readers to contemplate the question. For my part, I considered the poor analogy between how people view relationships between doctor and patient, versus between friend and friend. The doctor isn’t put off by a patient seeking a practical benefit from them (improved health,) but many a friendship has died from one side seeking personal gains. [And yet, I still draw no conclusion because clearly there is some benefit each half of a friendship perceives, if not one as coldly rational a Socrates describes.)

This dialogue is worth a read to trigger contemplation of friendship.

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