Defective similarities between Joshua Katz and Socrates (letter)

To the Editor:

Nadya Williams’s opinion article argues that the characteristic judgments of public intellectuals have embarrassed me. I find Williams’ suggestion particularly flawed and unpleasant that there is a useful similarity between the recent dismissal of Joshua Katz from Princeton and the trial and execution of Socrates in Athens – in the sense that there is one or two things we can learn from Athenians. The four aspects of the similarity make me particularly annoyed.

First, in order for the analogy to work, Williams must misrepresent the historical reality of classical Athens. He called Socrates a “scholar” who was in the business of “developing students as thoughtful and engaged citizens” (by the way, citizens should No. Be thoughtful and engaged?) And even slept with one of his students, Alcibiads. But there was no university in ancient Athens, and Socrates was not a permanent professor with formal authority over the students enrolled in his course and relying on his grading (and Socrates’ obsolete publication record does not qualify him as a permanent professor anyway). If anything, Alcibiads were socially and economically superior to Socrates. It is not enlightened to distort the past and adapt to the present; It’s just bad history.

Second, according to our ancient sources, Socrates was condemned in court for “not worshiping the gods recognized by the city, bringing in new gods, and defiling the youth.” Although there has been much scholarly debate as to the exact meaning of these allegations, in order to maintain, like Williams, the fact that Socrates was condemned for his ‘flawed character’ grossly simplifies certain behaviors and actions. Indeed, if there is a point of similarity, it should probably be that the Athenians already understood that those who behaved in an unacceptable manner should be judged by a recognized authority and their conduct was shown to have violated established rules and regulations. (Scholars have often noticed that during actual trials, perhaps including Socrates, Athenian litigants often attempted character assassination – but this is a different story, and one that I have never heard Athenians discuss before as an interesting or inspiring feature of society. Society).

Third, it is not correct to say that Socrates was condemned by “Athenians” several times in his essay: in fact, he was condemned only by a jury consisting of white, male adult citizens, many of whom were slaves in their homes. It focuses on an important question that Williams’ article raises, but to which he does not answer: Who will be the judge in the character judgment that he supports? Surely, he will not maintain that, even in this case, the analogy with Socrates’ judgment is good?

Finally, and most worryingly, when Williams wrote that “Socrates’ defense in the process, to make Athenians think more deeply about the high quality of his erudition as a ‘godfly’, sounded deaf to the Athenians who voted to condemn him. Katz’s own words now It is almost as if he is referring to the death penalty দ্বারা by Hemlock?? As convicted for exceeding the mark. Once again, the question arises as to whether Williams thinks we should push the analogy with the ancient Athenians, whom he seems to believe so much in judging “character decency.” It would be good to hear if he and its editor IHE Sorry for the implication.

After all, the article is an example of how No. To use the past to guide the present: It is historically incorrect, conceptually inadequate, inconsistent in tone and ominous in its effect. Some of its argumentative tactics are analogous to the antiquated stories told by certain groups on the far right of the political spectrum. It would work pretty well as a hoax to such a story, but as it stands, it contributes to a vulnerable এবং and potentially even harmful একটি a sensitive debate.

–Look Whitink
Assistant Professor of Ancient Greek
University of Amsterdam

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