Socrates essay


In contrast to many prominent thinkers, who see letters as a symbol of wisdom, Socrates believes them to be a controversial issue. In his dialogue with Phaedrus he expresses his doubts concerning this issue. In his story about noble Egyptian king Thamus and his opponent Theuth Socrates starts the discussion about true meaning of letters.

Theuth is proud of his gift of letters. He believes that this gift can help people to train their memory and brain.

Thamus expresses   opposing opinion. He believes that letters can make people lazy and forgetful. Socrates uses Thamus in order to express his opinion about the use of letters.


Socrates believes that  writing, which was originally designed as an art which would make things clear for people, does not fulfill this purpose. Socrates believes that written words can not always be the source of wisdom. Same as painted objects, which only look real but are not, written words can make only a reflection of the truth, but not the truth itself. This way for those, who possess real knowledge, written words can serve a good service and remind people about important things. At the same time for people, who do not posses true knowledge, written letters will not replace it. As states Socrates, written word “has no power to defend itself.” This way it may become an object of misuse and speculation.


Socrates also speaks about another kind of written word, “which shows itself to be the legitimate brother of this bastard one, both in the manner of its begetting and it its better and more powerful nature” (Plato).  According to Socrates this word can pass true wisdom to those who are ready to understand it. He states that this word is written by intelligent people who truly realize meaning they put in what they write. Only this way written word can become a source of wisdom and thus fulfill its true meaning. Socrates compares a wise man to careful gardener who spends much time choosing necessary conditions in order for his plants to have all necessary conditions to grow. Same like this gardener truly wise man chooses correct words in order to express his ideas. Same like gardener he chooses the right time and right means for putting his thought into written words.  Socrates believes that only this way truly wise people who really love wisdom   pass it to other people.


Socrates and Phaedrus started their discussion aiming to define the purpose of rhetorical speeches and their meaning. In this dialogue they try to approach the nature of language and thinking. They make an attempt to find the function of language and its meaning. During his speech Socrates very vividly illustrates that language itself does not have meaning. It possesses meaning only when people use it correctly and put certain symbols and meaning in it.

This way rhetoric and speaking just for speaking becomes senseless because it does not pass any meaning to the audience. People who hear nice and beautiful phrases will not get the main message of the author if these words do not possess true meaning. Words and letters do not posses their personal meaning. They can only become symbols which discover this meaning to those, who possess true wisdom and can read these symbols. This way Socrates underlines that words and letters must exist only as a mean for wise men to pass their wisdom to others.

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