In Plato's second epistle appears the following line:

For this reason I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects, and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist, but those which now bear his name belong to a Socrates become fair and young.

What is meant by this? Is he trying to say that his corpus of work should be attributed to Socrates and not him?

How do you interpret this line?

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    What about Plato’s dialogues? Jul 4, 2021 at 7:57
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    How do you know Letter 2 is authentic? Only a few of the Letters, not including 2, are generally regarded as genuine by Classical scholars - some of whom reject the autheticity of the Letters wholesale.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 4, 2021 at 9:36
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Sure, but I personally thought that what was meant by this was that the Plato believes his works are just the written words of Socrates and that while on a surface level they are attributed to Plato, he means for them to be the works of Socrates.
    – dfish
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:17
  • @GeoffreyThomas Totally true. In light of this, I suppose what I mean to ask is that given a suspension of disbelief, what do others think of this excerpt? Or if anyone should think that the second epistle is indisputably spurious, what about it leads you to believe so?
    – dfish
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


Plato (like Socrates, as depicted in the Phaedrus) thought that philosophy should be an oral practice. Philosophy in dialog is a living thing: sensitive to context and nuance, and giving the philosopher the opportunity to correct misunderstandings and explain subtleties. Philosophy in writing is dead bones, which later readers then try putting flesh and life to, like intellectual paleontologists. In that spirit, Plato is saying that he does not (and never will) write philosophy. Instead, he is merely recounting the dialogs his own teacher had, trying to keep that oral spirit from fading away.

  • This is essentially what I thought of the excerpt, albeit much more articulate and developed! Thank you for the response :)
    – dfish
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:23

The myth of Plato, author of Socratic dialogues is tenacious and there are various reasons for it. Among them chiefly the propaganda of various moralists who did no like his turning in old age to purely epistemic and even naturalistic problems. No matter how disputable, the chronology of his texts shows just this and Charles H. Khan published in 2013 his Plato and the Post-socratic Dialogue.The Return to the Philosophy of Nature (CambridgeUP) and there stated in the preface:

The interpreter of Plato’s later work faces an entirely different task. To begin with, there are striking changes in literary form. We must take account of the replacement of Socrates as principal speaker, first by Parmenides, then by a visitor from Elea, and finally by the statesman scientist Timaeus from another western Greek city. (In the Laws Plato himself will make a masked appearance in the person of an anonymous Stranger from Athens.) Even the Socrates who does return as chief speaker in the Theaetetus and Philebus is a less dramatic figure..

No serious reader will consider the Timaeus to be really 'a dialogue' and some other late works (Philebus, Repblic) are just as easily rewritten as treatises (by omitting all the yes-es and no-s attributed to decorative interlocutors). So Kahn continues

What we have in these late dialogues is a new Platonic philosophy that can be seen as deliberately post-Socratic – an investigation in which Plato systematically returns to problems that were of primary concern for Socrates’ predecessors: the nature of knowledge and the nature of the physical world. The symbol for this return is the replacement of Socrates by Parmenides as chief speaker, and by his sequel, the Stranger from Elea. Plato’s return, then, is to a philosophical tradition that is independent of Socrates and directed towards the physical sciences, but founded now on the metaphysics of unchanging Being introduced byParmenides. Thus, the project of these later dialogues is to reclaim the study of nature within the framework of a Platonic-Eleatic philosophy of intelligible Form.

To sum it up: against the hundred quotes how the young Socrates was disappointed by Anaxagoras' use of Nous it is difficult to find somebody commenting that later he regressed to a rather secondary role.

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    "The myth of Plato, author of Socratic dialogues is tenacious" What is the specific content of the myth that you're referring to here? From the rest of your comment I would guess the "myth" refers to the notion that Plato was just reconstructing actual dialogues Socrates had engaged in, when in reality he used the dialogues to express his own ideas, especially in the later works. If that's not it, could you clarify? Also if you do mean something like this, are you saying that's reason to believe the 2nd epistle wasn't actually written by Plato?
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 4, 2021 at 19:59
  • @Hypnosifl. I do not believe EpII is authentic and even more I do not want to discuss what is meant by "these subjects". Also I think it is pointless to explain further why the Timaeus is neither 'Socratic' nor 'a dialogue'.
    – sand1
    Jul 4, 2021 at 21:32
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    I understood you were saying Timaeus is neither Socratic nor a dialogue, but does that mean the myth you were referring to was just the idea that he exclusively wrote Socratic dialogues, so that you would agree he mostly wrote Socratic dialogues? Or were you also arguing against the view that his dialogues with Socrates (which do make up the majority) are reasonably accurate representations of Socrates' own views and arguments, as opposed to Plato's own?
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 4, 2021 at 22:19

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