Socrates in the Marketplace

Citation with persistent identifier:

Collins, James. “Socrates in the Marketplace.” CHS Research Bulletin 2, no. 1 (2013).

§1  This paper is part of a larger project on the ways in which professional philosophers of fourth-century Athens compete with other occupations and lifestyles. I am trying to determine the broader pragmatics of a ‘marketplace of ideas’ in the larger context of traditional and competing systems of social and economic exchange. Philosophers in this period had to compete not only with one another in the marketplace of philosophical ways of life (which they were busy defining), but in the bustling marketplace of “ways of life” in the city as a whole. They transform the language of that marketplace into discursive knowledge, but they also learn to translate practices of social commerce into new activities and practices designed to mark out the elite. The founders of professional philosophy and higher learning transformed the practical and mundane talk of commerce, occupation, and livelihood into new, competitive kinds of discursive knowledge (that is, the knowledge of how to talk about the “right” modes of trade, exchange, and occupation; of how to talk about the benefits of “productions” and “transactions” of virtue).

§2  I begin simply with the observation that Socrates “talks incessantly,” as an exasperated Callicles puts it, “of shoemakers, cleaners, cooks, and doctors” (Gorgias 491a). Why does Socrates frequent, and often use the language of, the marketplace? Why, when so many of his elite interlocutors vehemently express disgust for craftsmen and merchants, does Socrates feature them and their products in his arguments? Elites express tremendous anxiety about the ‘banausic’ nature of workers and their corrupting influence in politics. And Socrates himself is sometimes represented and understood as an oligarchic elitist who shares in contempt for commerce and commercial people. By other accounts, however, he can be found seeking the company of cobblers and painters.

§3  To account for this commercial language and a tradition that represents Socrates as a regular visitor of workshops and studios, I will begin with other philosophical accounts that not only vilify craftsmen and commercial interactions but imagine and promote their exclusion from politics and elite spaces. I will then turn briefly to portraits of Socrates as contemptuous of workers and technicians, and the motivations or misunderstandings behind these representations. In contrast with these elite utopic designs and their shared contempt, I will reconstruct a portrait of Socrates who observes and engages with the marketplace in ungrudging ways that contribute directly both to the objectives and methods of his philosophical activity and ideally to political concord. This Socrates uses the language, relationships, and transactions of the marketplace to define and promote new intellectual and moral “products”. I argue that he makes the study of the production, advertising, acquisition, and use of market goods crucial to understanding the production and promotion, acquisition and value of moral good.

§4  By situating himself between the marketplace and elite spheres and cultivating relationships in both, this Socrates creates new opportunities for learning. The relationships of commerce (dominated by so-called “weak ties”) can be more conducive to innovation and learning than the stronger homophilous ties of kinship and friendship. Put simply, the values and habits of our friends tend to overlap with our own; acquaintances, by contrast, run in different circles and thus have more novel information to offer.[1] By associating with and interrogating anyone he runs into (Apology 29d)—citizen or alien, elite or craftsman of any trade—and chasing after purveyors of goods and good, not only can Socrates recast the experiences and concerns of elites in unfamiliar and unsettling terms, but he can also draw attention to the ways in which they unwittingly participate in the market though they disparage it. His interlocutors should in this manner learn to assess the claims of merchants of all kinds, including sophists who eulogize technê without aiming or being able to teach one.

Philosophy apart from the marketplace

§5  I will begin by working backwards to Socrates from later Platonic and Aristotelian moralizing and proscriptive accounts of the relationships and transactions of the broader marketplace. These accounts will throw into relief some peculiar and unexpected features of Socrates. Let us begin with a condensed form of arguments for the ideal separation of politics from commerce in the Laws[2]: none of the citizens that belong to the land-holding families of Magnesia, that is, one “who holds one of the five-thousand and forty hearths must ever, willingly or unwillingly, become a retailer (κάπηλος) or merchant (ἔμπορος), or perform any service (διακονία) for any private individuals who are not his equals in status, except for… all free persons older than himself, they being free and the service having been performed freely” (XI 919d-920a).  Before adding that anyone who participates in illiberal retailing through some craft (καπηλείας τῆς ἀνελευθέρου τέχνῃ τινὶ μετάσχῃ) should be indicted for disgracing (αἰσχύνης) his family before those judged first in virtue (πρὸς τοὺς ἀρετῇ πρώτους κεκριμένους), Clinias admits the difficulty of fixing in law precisely (ἀκριβῶς… νομοθετεῖν) what does and does not belong to a free person. The distinction, he says, ought to be made by those who themselves have achieved renown (from within this well-ordered city, among its citizens) for embracing the former and despising the latter.[3] Clinias goes so far as to fix the punishments for citizens who not once but repeatedly engage in unworthy pursuits (ἀναξίῳ ἐπιτηδεύματι) even after imprisonment. This provision that liberal or worthy activities are difficult to determine should not be taken too broadly: ἔμπορος and κάπηλος are clearly forbidden roles for citizens. But, at least in this context, citizens themselves generally deem roles illiberal and unworthy because of relative status—the degree to which one acts a διάκονος.[4] Participation in the market—indeed, as a general rule, any activity that is performed either for subordinates or in subordinate ways—can bring disgrace to a citizen family. The citizens who judge the liberality of a pursuit do so by assessing whether an act of participation has reflected badly on the family of the participant, and their assessments are based on their own shared preferences.

§6  While transactions that are performed between people of equal status and neither by compulsion nor necessity (i.e. ἐλευθέρως) do not pose problems, Clinias observes that (1) this class of transactions is difficult to fix precisely in law and appears to require, as I have noted, assessment after the fact, and (2) that illiberal pursuits like καπηλεία take many forms, i.e. are ubiquitous, and are very strong inducements (τὸ προτρέπειν) to vice (XI 920b), so strong, in fact, that the problem of repeat offenders (and even permissive consumers and passers-by) among citizens must be addressed by law. These vices appear not to arise from retailing or other illiberal pursuits like trading and inn-keeping per se, but the pursuits do provide opportunities for profiteering (918a-d). Clinias asks us to imagine something he finds impossible and absurd but instructive: a wholly virtuous person forced (προσαναγκάσειεν) into inn-keeping. In this instance, we would honor (τιμῷτο) the trade, says Clinias, as much we would our mother or nurse, for the virtuous inn-keeper would conduct business according to incorruptible standards (κατὰ λόγον ἀδιάφθορον) and seek not profit but to preserve the reciprocal bonds of φιλία and ξενία. The absurdity lies in the perverse reversal of status, in forcing virtuous people into businesses that seem to some in Athens so irredeemably corrupt (cf. 918d), in compelling citizens in Magnesia to pursue anything other than the higher political art for their own welfare and the welfare of the city (cf. VIII 846d-e). Nevertheless, it is the desire for profit that easily corrupts lesser people through luxury (διεφθαρκότα τρυφῇ, 919b), ancient ties of friendship, and even the name of the trade itself which we might otherwise regard a venerable institution.

§7  Thus when we are asked to imagine the virtuous inn-keeper, we are really forced to imagine basic commercial transactions without motive for profit, and the strict measures and vigilance required to keep that motive from easily arising. And again, to be safe, the laws bar everyone but foreigners from retail trading, and even prevent these from doing their business directly with a citizen or his slave (VIII 849d). But even were profiteering smothered entirely, and consumers and retailers to meet as friends with mutual aid, there would still be another threat to free citizens—the productive craftsman or manual laborer (δημιουργός, βάναυσος). This assessment is even more prejudicial than that of traders, but elite condemnation involves here more than disgust of what was perceived to be sedentary, debilitating labor.[5] While strict measures and vigilance (or a little bit of imagination) could redeem retailing and trading, the manual crafts—themselves a kind of profiteering, according to the Athenian—irredeemably turn a free soul into its opposite (ἀποτρέπει, V 741e).[6] The Athenian effectively gives two reasons for this: the work which a citizen is obliged to perform requires much time and effort, and that work is the most important work imaginable.

A citizen has enough work (τέχνην) to do, which demands a great deal of practice and study—to establish and maintain good order in the community, and this is not a job for part-timers (ἐν παρέργῳ). Laboring (διαπονεῖσθαι) at two trades or two callings thoroughly (ἀκριβῶς)—or even practicing one and supervising (ἐπιτροπεύειν) one practicing another—is almost always too much for human nature.[7] So this must be a fundamental rule in the State: no one who is a smith shall act as a carpenter… (VIII 846d-e)

§8  As Morrow (1960) puts it, “Citizenship is by itself a profession.”[8] The Athenian elaborates that this time-consuming craft of a citizen must be neither banausic labor nor the management (ἐπιμελεῖται) of laborers, but the management or cultivation of virtue (τὴν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐπιμέλειαν, 847a)—here likened to hard labor (διαπόνημα) and plainly synonymous with the maintenance of political order. The tremendous demands and necessity of cultivating virtue have been sufficiently outlined in the Laws by this point. A round-the-clock education in choral performance is more grueling and essential to the livelihood of the city than making shoes. Any labor or supervision of labor apart from a citizen’s daily regimen for cultivating virtue of body and soul through proper food, exercise, learning, and moral training are and must be recognized as subordinate (πάρεργος)[9] and left to others who lack the talents and mandate. By making choreia and paideia the “work” of citizens, it seems even they now lack leisure-time which if they otherwise possessed we are to imagine them using to manage inns and build houses.

§9  In sum, the laws of Magnesia strictly forbid profiteering of any kind.  They forbid citizens from participating in any transactions that require or induce them to serve subordinates or anyone in subordinate ways, although the determination of subordination in every case is difficult to prescribe. They forbid citizens from engaging in any pursuits apart from those that cultivate virtue, i.e. choral training and maintenance of the state, which can be prescribed more easily. Any other kind of work is secondary (πάρεργος); there is not time enough in the day or a human life for any other care (ἐπιμέλεια). Young citizens study and train in virtue, as do older, well-formed citizens who are tasked with “knowing how to rule and be ruled as justice demands” (I 643e). Citizens undertake this study, training, and care for justice apart from commerce and other crafts; in fact, the Athenian discourages trade by situating the land-holding families of Magnesia far from the sea (IV 704d-705b). Aristotle confirms these divisions when he recognizes the Thessalians for establishing a “free agora” (ἐλευθέραν) for the leisurely and virtuous activities of citizens apart from a “necessary agora” (ἀναγκαίαν ἀγοράν) of merchandise and laborers (Politics VII 1331a31-b13).[10] He also notes that the best state will forbid laborers from citizenship, or else grant virtue not to all citizens but only to citizens “released from necessary labor” (τῶν ἔργων εἰσὶν ἀφειμένοι τῶν ἀναγκαίων, III 1278a7-25). In the event a state has adulterated its ranks, the leisurely and virtuous activities of philosophy should rightly belong only to those who truly have leisure to pursue them. Aristotle describes a worse malady than the debilitation of a laboring, wage-earning body: necessary labors “make the mind preoccupied and degraded” (ἄσχολον γὰρ ποιοῦσι τὴν διάνοιαν καὶ ταπεινήν, VIII 1337b14-15). A busied (ἄσχολον) mind not only lacks leisure, but is incapable of making good use of leisure. Citizens laboring at necessary tasks seem a scourge—altogether not up to the task of philosophy, and the “free labor” of cultivating virtue and governance is once again not a part-time job.

§10  We thus find Aristotle and Plato constructing the rhetoric of a φιλόσοφος—βάναυσος opposition not only in terms of freedom and leisure,[11] i.e. the possessions of aristocratic citizens, but also, given the terms I have outlined above, in terms of work (ἔργον, πόνος), i.e. the domain of everyone else. The rhetoric not only prescribes work to those who have to do it, but it transforms their work into side-work (πάρεργον) and makes real work of leisurely activity. There is no dignified work left in the marketplace. The management (ἐπιμέλεια) of labor becomes the “management” of virtue.[12] The regimen for that management is hard work—all that physical, mental, and moral exercise and training. There simply is not enough time in the day and night together, as the Athenian says, to do this “work” and benefit from it:

And, we assert, that for men living this [leisurely] life, there does remain work (ἔργον) that is by no means small or menial (φαυλότατον), but rather one that a just law imposes upon them as the greatest. For as compared with the life that grasps at (ὀρεγομένου) a Pythian or Olympian victory and is wholly lacking in leisure for all other kinds of work (τῶν ἄλλων πάντων ἔργων), that life we speak of (the only life worth the name) is doubly and far more than doubly lacking in leisure (ἀσχολίας), seeing that it is weighed down (γέμων) with attention (ἐπιμέλειαν) to every physical perfection and every moral virtue (VII 807c-d).[13]

§11  In a strange turn, the life of leisure lacks leisure more than the life of an athlete who has no leisure for any other work. The physical work of the athlete (reaching resolutely for his victory) and the menial, back-breaking work of the laborer (forever busy for his wages) both look like vacations compared to the burdens of the now un-leisured leisured class. And time spent on those vacations is, worse yet, time spent living something less than life.

§12  Xenophon’s Socrates uses much simpler rhetoric that also demonstrates his preference for oligarchy over democracy, for the leisured few over the mass of twisted and insatiable workers. Laborers are the “feeblest and most stupid (ἀφρονεστάτοις)” in Athens and “consider (φροντίζοντας) nothing but buying cheap and selling dear” (Memorabilia III 7.5-6). We do see a similar dynamic in this rhetoric: they are thoughtless but at the same time think a great deal about commerce; they are weak, but of course capable craftsmen including builders and farmers. This Socrates urges Charmides, who speaks with ease to eminent men, to feel no reverence (αἰδῶ) or fear when addressing the rabble. Xenophon’s Socrates also argues that manual labor busies citizens so much that it makes them unfit to do their part to manage (συνεπιμελεῖσθαι) friends and the city; laboring (ἐργαζομένων) and supervision (ἐπιμελομένων) softens the body in a way that weakens the mind (Oeconomicus IV 2-3). Vlastos (1983) argues that this rhetoric places Xenophon’s Socrates in a position diametrically opposed to Plato’s.[14] A Socrates who recommends showing no reverence but only contempt for laborers is surely incompatible with a Socrates who believes moral virtue must belong to everyone.[15] The customs and laws of Athens were set against Xenophon’s Socrates too.[16] We learn from Demosthenes that anyone who, against the laws (παρὰ τοὺς νόμους), reproached a citizen for any kind of business in the marketplace (τὴν ἐργασίαν τὴν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ) was liable to the penalties for slander (57.30). A citizen could work at almost any craft or retailing with impunity in Athens, and by the end of the fifth-century, it seems that many of them did.[17]

§13  The position of Xenophon’s Socrates is made clear by the way he disparages the marketplace and laborers; that is, his political doctrine is made clear by his rhetoric. But is Plato’s Socrates—that “street philosopher” and ardent democrat, as Vlastos has it—a friend of commerce? Vlastos does not examine any of the ways in which Plato rhetorically or ideologically positions Socrates relative to the marketplace. He must feel that the ways in which Plato’s Socrates also uses the language of the marketplace are subordinate concerns; after all, Plato’s Socrates indiscriminately accosts anyone—young or old, alien or citizen (Apology 30d), and his moral doctrine defines the political or royal art effectively as “the inalienable privilege of our pursuit of the life of virtue.”[18] If this Socrates speaks of the marketplace with anyone, it must be in the service of his moral doctrine. But what if we were to begin not with a Socratic moral doctrine, but rather with his rhetoric and rhetorical strategies in Platonic dialogue, and specifically rhetoric about labor and commerce? Might a different Socrates and even different Socratic moral doctrine emerge? More to the point, and this is a concern we all must share about Xenophon and the Athenian’s views on profiteering and the ways in which labor (or lack of leisure in general) makes us unfit for philosophy, if we begin with Socratic talk about market labor, relationships, and transactions in the Platonic dialogues, might we find a philosophical method and moral doctrine that is compatible with if not integral to a life of labor.

Socrates in the workshop

§14  Let me skip ahead here briefly to a tradition of Socrates that is perhaps not familiar to most scholars of philosophy. Diogenes Laertius reports that Socrates often visited and conversed with a cobbler named Simon in his workshop, and this Simon took notes from what he remembered of their conversations, and included in one book thirty-three of them with titles like Περὶ θεῶν, Τί τὸ καλόν, and Περὶ ἀρετῆς ὅτι οὐ διδακτόν (2.122-123)—the sorts of things you find Socrates discussing with his aristocratic companions as well. However, also included in this list are titles like Περὶ εὐπαθείας, Περὶ ἐπιμελείας, Περὶ τοῦ ἐργάζεσθαι, Περὶ φιλοκερδοῦς, and Περὶ κακουργίας. In an aristocratic context, these titles might very well be translated as conversations on luxuries, diligence, practice and persistence, greed, and ill-doing. But for a cobbler, these would at least begin as conversations on security, attention to craft, labor, profit or perhaps just plain success, and poor craftsmanship; Socrates would first have to meet Simon where he was (and worked).[19] If it was ever his intent to lead Simon to the aristocratic appropriations of these terms akin to what we find in the Laws, and to the new “employment” of ἐπιμέλεια τῆς ψυχῆς, we would have to wonder, first of all, why Simon tolerated him over so many visits. Or more importantly, since Socrates plainly could not use the prejudicial rhetoric in this context, what would he say on labor and success in business—what logical arguments would he use—to lead Simon either to abandon his trade and adopt the technê of a philosophical life or to work and live in such a way as to adopt the technê of a philosophical life? Another delightful possibility is that Simon took it on himself to reclaim this language from the aristocrats through his own workshop literary creations rather than remembrances; having visited with Socrates or not, this Simon may have sought to address anti-democratic prejudice and to demonstrate how labor and commerce can be wholly compatible with philosophical investigation.[20]

§15  It is not clear that any of this tradition of Socrates and Simon philosophizing in the workshop is contemporaneous with Socrates himself.[21] It may all be a fiction cooked up later by the Cynics who imagine Simon and Antisthenes inheriting the true spirit of Socrates.[22] Hence Diogenes Laertius’ final comment: “When Pericles promised to support him and urged him to come to him, he replied, ‘I will not surrender my free speech (παρρησίαν).’”[23] But we do know that Phaedo of Elis wrote a dialogue entitled Simon, so there may have been a genre of cobbler dialogues (σκυτικοὺς) written by non-cobbler Socratics. And we certainly find other accounts of Socrates frequenting workshops. Xenophon reports the sophist Euthydemus in his youth did not enter the marketplace due to his age, but would sit in a leather-worker’s shop (Simon’s?[24]) and do his thing. Socrates and his friends would find Euthydemus there and discuss such things as mastery in the “insignificant crafts” (ὀλίγου ἀξίας τέχνας, Memorabilia IV 2.1-2). What an accommodating cobbler! The later Cynic epistles, perhaps under the influence of Phaedo’s Simon, have the cobbler rebuking Aristippus for his contempt of labor and poverty (Socratic Epistle 12). And Aristippus responds that Simon’s poverty and obscurity must indeed be so great with the likes of Socrates, Alcibiades, Phaedrus, Euthydemus, Epicrates, and even Pericles in his regular company (13.1). Additionally, we find Socrates in regular conference with Parrhasius the painter, Cleiton the sculptor, and Pistias the armorer discussing the representation of human form and character in the plastic crafts (Memorabilia III 10.1-15). Additionally, by some accounts, Socrates himself was a craftsman—a sculptor, son of a sculptor, and descendant of Daedalus and Hephaestus.[25] It seems that when these anecdotes are taken together, Socrates is mixing it up with aristocrats, sophists, and manual laborers, citizens and foreigners, young and old alike on the topic of technai and their relations to virtue.

Going between patrons and clients

§16  It is to this knack of bringing people from different walks (and talks) together that I would like to turn now. Social network analysts call this “brokerage”.[26] But Socrates calls it “pimping” (προαγωγεία, Symposium IV 56-64; μαστροπεία, III 10). When asked about the most valuable knowledge he possessed, Socrates named a hilariously unseemly skill (ἀδόξῳ οὔσῃ τέχνῃ, IV 56). Even pimping is transformed into an aristocratic occupation. He explains that the work (ἔργον) of a good pimp is to make the person whom he is serving attractive to his associates and indeed to as many as possible if not his whole community. His skill produces (ἐξεργάζεσθαι) attractive people out of those for whom he is a guardian and advocate (ὧν προστατοίη), like a potter over a lump of clay.  The pimp not only arranges the hair and clothes of his charge, but also teaches him to be expressive in the right ways with his eyes and through the modulation of his voice. More importantly, he teaches the logoi that produce pleasure and lead to friendship (πρὸς φιλίαν ἄγουσι, 58).[27] That is, as προαγωγός, he instills something in his charge that does his work for him. The well-formed charge has the capacity to cultivate bonds of mutual recognition not only with others but between others and throughout the whole community. The pimp engenders other pimps, which is perhaps why Socrates suggests he might resign his craft (παραδίδως… τὴν τέχνην) to Antisthenes. This is all a joke, of course, though one that incenses Antisthenes; but it is funny, for a time, because of similar rhetorical strategies that we have examined of framing aristocratic social practices in terms of market professions and transactions.

§17  Antisthenes—that constant companion of Socrates (Memorabilia III 11.17)—comes around to accepting the role of προαγωγός as soon as Socrates has further ‘aristocracized’ and added to the craft.[28] He explains that Antisthenes has often played the part of matchmaker between skilled technicians and patrons.[29] Ludicrously wealthy Callias was in love with philosophy, and Prodicus and Hippias needed money. Antisthenes made Socrates desirous (ἐποίησας ἐπιθυμεῖν) of the painter Zeuxippus with praise and recommendations, and then brought them together. And he so much recommended a Phleiasian to Socrates, and Socrates to him, that impassioned by his words (διὰ τοὺς σοὺς λόγους ἐρῶντες), they searched high and low for one another (63-4). Socrates concludes that someone “who can recognize who might be mutually beneficial to one another and can make them desirous of one another seems to me to be someone capable of creating friendship between cities and suitable marriages, and would be a most valuable acquisition (κεκτῆσθαι) as friend and ally for both cities and individuals.”[30] We see that Socrates is not yet ready to retire: one προαγωγός is recommending another. Cities and individuals ought to acquire as friends and allies people who can create friendships and alliances. The insertion of political language here perhaps seems odd until we note that all of the mutually beneficial unions that Antisthenes formed are between foreign sophists and citizen patrons.[31] There is a distinct difference, however, between Antisthenes and Socrates in this account—a difference that is perhaps irrelevant to Xenophon but would not be, we can imagine, to Plato. Socrates teaches the logoi that lead to friendship (πρὸς φιλίαν ἄγουσι), while Antisthenes stirs up erotic desire through his enticements (διὰ τοὺς σοὺς λόγους ἐρῶντες). Antisthenes might be able to match individuals with others, but the language that Socrates uses here makes clear that only one προαγωγός has been busy creating φιλία that can further engender φιλία.

Market analogs and oversight

§18  Why does Socrates play at this art of προαγωγεία? Why does he, for instance, entreat Crito to rush off with him in pursuit of an instruction in eristic discourse that will not prevent profiteering (χρηματίζεσθαι, Euthydemus 304c)? How does he prepare Hippocrates for his debut with Protagoras? And why in these encounters and in many others does he bring market relationships and transactions into the discussion of virtue and its acquisition? He begins his own defense in the Assembly with the claim that he is accustomed to the language of the marketplace, i.e., the language of technai, and unskilled (ἀτεχνῶς) in the language of other public spaces (Apology17c-d). There are many possibilities, perhaps as many as the instances of his use of this rhetoric. I will make a couple of suggestions in closing by way of specific examples.

§19  (a) Observations of the production, marketing, acquisition, and consumption or use in the marketplace afford Socrates the ability to distinguish different kinds of knowledge that each of these stages require. The special knowledge of the δημιουργός or βάναυσος is of special interest for its capacity to produce concrete things and to produce them well.[32] The study of the technê for production of non-moral goods offers an analog to the less distinct skills for the teaching, marketing, acquisition, and use of non-moral goods as well as skills for the production, promotion, acquisition, and use of unconventional “products” like virtue. Technical knowledge is akin to ethical knowledge though of another order. This analogy is fundamental to protreptic discourse, the arguments of which often run thus: all people desire to do well and be happy; doing well requires goods; goods must be not only possessed but also used well; goods can only be used well by wisdom.  Therefore, it is necessary to pursue wisdom above all else (Euthydemus 278e-282d).[33] Observing transactions in the marketplace also affords Socrates special insight into the ways in which consumers of conventional goods are satisfied (or more importantly dissatisfied or thwarted in fundamental ways) with their purchases.

§20  Consider the talk of commerce, livelihood, and commodities in the Gorgias, Plato’s dramatic dialogue about how the growing profession of rhetoric and the new discourse of philosophy variously aim to “produce” persuasion (452a2). Despite vehement objections to his “incessant talk of shoemakers, cleaners, cooks, and doctors” (491a), Socrates regularly uses examples of what he calls, on the one hand, “crafts” (technai) which are activities that require knowledge of underlying principles in order to produce benefits and, on the other hand, “knacks” (empeiriai) or “routine” (tribê) which seem like crafts but do not require knowledge of principles, are based on guesswork, and aim merely to produce pleasure (463b-465d). Socrates argues that while the crafts of medicine, gymnastics, justice, and legislation produce real benefits, the knacks (which correspond respectively to these crafts in appearance alone) of pastry-baking, cosmetics, rhetoric, and sophistry aim to flatter. Knacks thereby put the relatively unpleasant but beneficial crafts in the difficult position of having to win over an indiscriminating consumer (521d-522a). Moreover, it even turns out that some crafts are not what they seem. While the craft of justice should benefit the soul through correction just as medicine benefits the body by removing sickness, Socrates notes that the courts of his day are routinely susceptible to flattery—in fact, they require it—and they do more harm than good. By regularly likening his own activity to the corrective craft of medicine, Socrates suggests both that he is the true craftsman of justice and benefactor of Athens, and that his interlocutors ought to pursue the truly productive and beneficial craft of philosophy.

§21  (b) By identifying vulnerabilities in the market of external goods, Socrates suggests both vulnerabilities in the relationships and transactions with pedagogues and ‘proprietors’ of wisdom, and ways of addressing those vulnerabilities through regulation and oversight. Put simply, a prospective consumer needs one kind of wisdom before entering the marketplace of wisdom. Consider how Socrates attempts to prepare Hippocrates before entering Callias’ house. He warns,

Beware, or the sophist might deceive us in advertising what he sells (ἐπαινῶν ἃ πωλεῖ), the way merchants who market food for the body do… If you are a knowledgeable consumer, you can safely buy teachings (μαθήματα) safely from Protagoras or anyone else. But if you are not, please do no risk what is most dear to you on a roll of the dice, for there is a far greater risk in buying teachings than in buying food. When you buy food and drink from a retailer or merchant (καπήλου καὶ ἐμπόρου), you can take each item back home from the store in its own container and before you ingest it into your body, you can lay it all out at home and seek consultation as to what should be eaten or drunk and what not, and how much and when. So there’s not much risk in your purchase. But you cannot carry teachings away in a separate container. You put down your money and take the teaching away in your soul by having learned it, and off you go, either helped or injured (Protagoras 313c-314b).

§22  Before purchasing μαθήματα, a prospective consumer must be able to assess the value of what he will learn. Hippocrates had better steel himself and be vigilant. Socrates tries to contain the merchants of μαθήματα by getting at what lies behind their demonstrations with the elenchus. The dialogue ends with the suggestion that our salvation depends on applying a science of measurement (ἡ μετρητικὴ τέχνη) to pleasures and pains in order to prevent being overcome (356d-357e). Before possessing this vital technê, Hippocrates had been prepared to empty his own pockets and the pockets of his friends (310d-e). Socrates has effectively not only inserted himself into the transactions between elites and sophists, but has suggested the existence and necessity of a new technê that enables one to assess the claims of merchants of all kinds.[34]

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[1] Granovetter 1983; McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Cook 2001; Burt 2004; Martin 2009.

[2] Meyer 2003; Wolfsdorf 2008; Millett 1998:218-224 for survey of attitudes on trade and labor.

[3] Thus the judgment against traders is prejudicial. Cf. Nightingale 2004 on “the prejudices of the leisured elite” entailed by the term βάναυσος in Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon (120).

[4] Cf. Statesman 289e.

[5] See Meyer 2003:210n10 for debate on the merits of this claim. Cf. Republic II 371c; Xenophon Oeconomicus 6.4-9. Republic VI 495d-e makes the craft of sophists who are defective (ἀτελεῖς) in nature a banausic work that mangles and crushes the soul.

[6] Ibid.:210. Meyer is right to point out the potential for a business owner who employs many craftsmen to amass wealth, and even for an unemployed but productive craftsman to do the same given the right conditions, but these conjectures miss the fact that, as Clinias says, both wealth and poverty motivate the desire for profit (XI 919b), even if the former has an easier time of profiteering than the latter.

[7] The limit of talents and time allotted to human beings is a recurring them in the Laws (cf. VII 803a-804) and elsewhere; for instance, Socrates notes how human nature lacks the capacity to imitate many things well (Republic III 395b), i.e., to multi-task efficiently, and ought rather to pursue the principle of ἁπλότης which Socrates describes as what arises when character develops in accordance with a purpose (τὸ ἦθος κατεσκευασμένην διάνοιαν, 400e). In addition to not possessing sufficient time or talent for mimetic multi-tasking, Socrates explains that he lacks the time and talents to wonder about anything other than what sort of creature he is (Phaedrus 229e-230a); cf. Apology 23b, Xenophon Memorabilia 1.1.12.

[8] Morrow 1960:143.

[9] Cf. VII 807c-d.

[10] Cf. VI 1319a19-30; and VII 1328b34-40 on the “market mob” (ἀγοραῖος ὄχλος).

[11] See Nightingale 2004:118-126.

[12] This historical transformation of ἐπιμέλεια from ‘supervision’ and ‘management’ to ‘care’ for virtue or the soul requires a more thorough study at another time.

[13] Meyer uses this passage to define ἔργον in the aristocratic context as citizen ‘function’ or ‘capacity’ (213); this misses the art of the rhetorical strategy.

[14] Vlastos 1983:504-505.

[15] Ibid., 508. Cf. Memorabilia I 3.1-3, IV 3.16, IV 6.2–4.

[16] See Xenophon Oeconomicus 8.22 on the disorder and confusion of the marketplace.

[17] Harris 2002 puts the number of citizens in the non-agricultural sector at ten thousand (70). See Kurke 1992 and Johnstone 1994 for elite responses to this economic and political upheaval.

[18] Vlastos 1983:509.

[19] Φιλοκέρδεια is negative and synonymous with φιλοχρηματία at Republic IX 581a: both belong to the multiform (πολυειδίαν) and lowest part of the soul that is appetitive. Money satisfies (ἀποτελοῦνται) this part most easily. Cf. Theognis 199. But Odysseus yearns for advantage (κέρδος) while undercover among the insatiable suitors (xxiii.140). In any event, it is difficult to imagine a cobbler suffering from an immoderate expectation of profit. On κακοεργία as poor craftsmanship brought on by poverty, see Republic IV 422a.

[20] The compatibility of manual labor and philosophy is suggested to a busy cobbler Philiscus by the Cynic Crates upon reading Aristotle’s Protrepticus, newly published and dedicated to a Cypriot king Themison. While kings are saddled with wealth and the responsibilities of kingship, the cobbler is relatively free to pursue philosophy given his poverty and relative leisure. Here, manual labor provides more advantages for philosophy (from a third-century epitome of the Cynic Teles, quoted by Stobaeus 4.32.21).

[21] Hock 1976; Sellars 2003; Nails 2002:261-262; Merlan 1972.

[22] And a spirit not so tolerant of criticism of labor: see Simon’s response to Aristippus in Epistle 12.

[23] ἐπαγγειλαμένου δὲ Περικλέους θρέψειν αὐτὸν καὶ κελεύοντος ἀπιέναι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὐκ ἂν ἔφη τὴν παρρησίαν ἀποδόσθαι. Note also that Pericles plays the part of a market retailer—making promises and hawking wares which includes apotreptic (ἀπιέναι) and protreptic (κελεύοντος… πρὸς).

[24] See Nails 2002:262.

[25] Diogenes Laertius 2.19-21, First Alcibiades 121a. The reference to prototypical craftsmen may serve here to connect banausic skill with the uniquely skilled but humble craftsmanship of Socrates’ speech—an Aesopic skill; see Kurke 2011:325-360. The reference to Daedalus kicks off a monologue that comprises the large part of  a section recognized by Olympiodorus as especially protreptic (119a-124b), and determined by Tarrant and Johnson 2012 to be stylometrically different from the rest of the dialogue and to consist of “something other than Socrates’ usual dialectical voice” (230).

[26] See n.1 above.

[27] Of course, at issue in Socrates’ account of this art even in Xenophon is the question of what is pleasing (τὸ ἀρέσκειν). But in the Platonic dialogues, this question takes on special significance.

[28] Antisthenes even identifies the technê as the source of his greatest possession—wealth. Note here too how much Antisthenes himself uses the language of commerce and commodity; e.g., Symposium IV 41-43, III 4, IV 2, IV 4.

[29] Cf. Theaetetus 150a on how the midwife might practice προαγωγεία.

[30] Accepting Finckh’s emendation.

[31] In truth, we don’t know the professional identity of Aeschylus the Phleiasian, but the previous examples make a clear trajectory. Zeuxippus is interchangeable with Protagoras; both promise improvement and progress (βελτίων ἔσται καὶ ἐπιδώσει, Protagoras 318b-c)

[32] Cf. Sellars 2003:213; Memorabilia 3.9.10.

[33] Right use, and indeed the very question of a useful application of theoretical knowledge in general, is a common theme that runs throughout protreptic discourse. These arguments from Socrates’ protreptic paradeigma (i.e. the first and second Socratic scenes at Euthydemus 278e-282d, 288d-289b) appear abridged and altered (if not corrupted; cf. Flashar 1965:60) in Iamblichus’ Protrepticus Book 5, Pistelli 24.22-27 as part of a division or type (διαίρεσις) of exhortation. But other διαιρέσεις in Book 5 also concern right use, as do the contents of Books 6-12 which preserve blocks of Aristotle’s popular Protrepticus.

[34] I am grateful to Gregory Nagy and the Senior Fellows for giving me this wonderful opportunity and valuable feedback. I am also grateful to my fellow Fellows and the Staff at the CHS for their friendship and regular inspiration.