Philosophers accuse Socrates of advancing unfair, if not fallacious, arguments in Plato’s Hippias Minor more than in most other dialogues. In Hippias Minor, Socrates appears to defend the trickster Odysseus, and in the course of doing so he argues for outrageous claims: the honest person and the liar are no different, and the good person is one who does wrong voluntarily. In Plato’s Hippias Minor: The Play of Ambiguity, Zenon Culverhouse argues that Socrates’ questionable behavior is no coincidence in a dialogue about deception and that Socrates is examining what counts as deception and how it reflects one’s excellence. More broadly, the dialogue is about the relationship between the speaker and what is said, between agent and action. Thus, the dialogue marks an important contribution not only to Socrates’ thinking about virtue and voluntary action but also to Plato’s portrait of Socrates. For the latter, Culverhouse argues that the dialogue further defines the sometimes thin line between Socrates and his contemporaries, the sophists. Rather than exploiting ambiguity in key terms of the argument to trip up his opponent, Socrates playfully explores these ambiguities to illuminate Hippias’—and perhaps our own—serious commitments about human excellence.
Zenon Culverhouse is associate professor of philosophy at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
Chapter 1: Socrates on Homer, Part 1: 364b3-365d5
Chapter 2: Δύναμις in Action: 365d6-366c4
Chapter 3: Calculated Deception: 366c5-369c2
Chapter 4: Socrates on Homer, Part 2: 369b8-371e5
Chapter 5: “If in fact there is such a person”; 372b-End
Epilogue: The Influence of the Hippias Minor on Aristotle’s Ethics
"This is an invaluable commentary on Plato’s Hippias Minor that every student of the dialogue will want by her side."
"Zenon Culverhouse has done an exemplary job of scholarship in this book, engaging not only with the very diverse scholarly treatments of the Hippias Minor but also with the nuances of both argument and humor in the text itself. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this important, but also in many ways puzzling, Platonic dialogue."
"By concentrating on Plato’s use of two different words for 'better,' one applied in a moral sense, the other confined to a superior capacity to do something whether or not doing it is immoral, Zenon Culverhouse offers an elegant solution to Plato’s problematic little dialogue Hippias Minor."
"A well-argued and elucidating treatment of one of Plato’s most puzzling dialogues. Culverhouse successfully establishes Hippias Minor as a foundational text for understanding Socratic philosophy."