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I.F. Stone’s Socrates

In response to:

'Cultural Philistine' from the May 12, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

M.F. Burnyeat’s rejoinder to my letter [NYR, May 12] misstates both Stone’s thesis and my criticism of it. Stone’s thesis is that Socrates’ association and purported sympathy with the anti-democratic, Sparta-loving faction of Athens, together with Socrates’ sustained criticism of the theory and practice of democracy, legitimately antagonized his fellow citizens. Right or wrong, to hold this view is not an expression of cultural philistinism. But to mock and jeer at Plato’s ideas as “stratospheric nonsense” and worse is certainly to be guilty of cultural philistinism. With respect to these ideas, Socrates was a figure of fun, as Aristophanes indicates, not a dangerous subversive.

Burnyeat flatly calls my reference to Stone’s contemptuous treatment of Plato’s complex ideas as an expression of cultural philistinism, “a grave mistake.” But the mistake is his in assuming that I was referring to Stone’s thesis.

Sidney Hook

Hoover Institution

on War, Revolution and Peace

Stanford, California

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