Previous Curricula

This page also offers some previous lesson plans and introductory material. For more recently designed material, please see the other pages on this blog, especially the Rainbow Curriculum pages

Winning Words instructors, students from the University of Chicago, work with younger students in elementary, middle and high schools on Chicago’s South Side to cover a curriculum that features an introduction to philosophy and Socratic dialogue, while also working on reading, writing, public speaking, drama, poetry and art. The curriculum uses the Socratic method to engage students in philosophical conversation and to encourage critical thinking, reasoning and expression. Such modes of thought and communication foster the sense of wonder that is at the root of serious introspection, intellectual growth, and ethical reflection.

Through Winning Words, younger students in (mostly underserved) local public schools are able to work with successful, enthusiastic, and civic-minded students at the University of Chicago. Although the Winning Words discussions are mostly held on site at the schools and other locations, the Winning Words groups are invited to come to the University of Chicago campus on a many occasions, both to visit our classes, galleries, and museums, and to perform their Socratic dialogues.  Winning Words is a program of the University’s Civic Knowledge Project, the community connections branch of the Humanities Division.

Civic Knowledge Project

The Civic Knowledge Project was founded in 2003 by Danielle Allen, former Dean of the Humanities at the University of Chicago.  The Director is Bart Schultz, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, who can be reached at or 773-834-3929.

The aim of the Civic Knowledge Project (CKP) is to develop and strengthen community connections, helping to overcome the social, economic, and racial divisions among the various knowledge communities on the South Side of Chicago. We believe that the free and reciprocal flow of knowledge is empowering. Working with our many local collaborators, we (1) Provide educational and humanities programming linking the University of Chicago to other knowledge communities surrounding it; (2) Develop institutional policy for the exchange of knowledge among different local knowledge communities; and (3) Serve as an educational and organizational resource for our community.

Texts and Resources

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Each and every Winning Words coach should take these works along to their sessions:

  1. The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues, Plato, trans. B. Jowett (free hard copy from CKP, free download for all Jowett translations of the Platonic dialogues can be found online at  )
  1. The Republic, Plato, trans. B. Jowett (free download available at;

3.      Aristotle’s Rhetoric, trans. R. Rhys (free hard copy from CKP, free download available at )

4.      Henry Sidgwick’s Outlines of the History of Ethics (free download available at

Other Important Resources

Coach planners will include the following essential background readings:

Danielle Allen, “Rhetoric: A Good Thing” (from Talking to Strangers)

Richard Kraut, “The Examined Life”*

M. Lipman et al, “Teaching Methodology: Value Considerations and Standards of Practice” (this work refers to a different curriculum but contains helpful guidelines for fostering philosophical conversation in the classroom).

James Miller, “Socrates” (from Examined Lives)

Alexander Nehamas, “Introduction” (from The Art of Living)

Martha Nussbaum, “Socratic Self-Examination” (from Cultivating Humanity)

Gregory Vlastos, “The Socratic Elenchus: Method is All”*

Bernard Williams, “Socrates’ Question” (from Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy)

Paul Woodruff, “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works” (free download here )

M. Lipman et al, “Teaching Methodology: Value Considerations and Standards of Practice” (this work refers to a different curriculum but contains helpful guidelines for fostering philosophical conversation in the classroom).

An * indicates a more advanced work.  Also, as a general, free resource, please use the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Additional fundamental texts include:

Allen, Danielle. Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006

Brickhouse, Thomas C., and Nicholas D. Smith. Plato’s Socrates. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.

Brown, Juanita and David Isaacs. The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2005.

Dewey, John. Moral Principles in Education (free hard copy from CKP, free download available at

Hadot, Pierre.  What is Ancient Philosophy?  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004, and

Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault.  London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995.

Isaacs, William. “A Conversation with a Center, Not Sides.” Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York: Currency, 1999.

Kenny, Anthony. A New History of Western Philosophy: In Four Parts. Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford UP, 2010.

Lipman, Matthew. Thinking in Education. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Matthews, Gareth. Dialogues with Children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984, and The Philosophy of Childhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Miller, James. Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011.

Mohr Lone, Jana. The Philosophical Child. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012.

Nehamas, Alexander. The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Nussbaum, Martha. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997, and Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 Payne, Charles M.  So Much Reform, So Little Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing Group, and

Teach Freedom: The African American Tradition of Education For Liberation. New York: Teachers College Press.

Plato, Complete Works, eds. J.M. Cooper and  D.S. Hutchinson. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1997.

Plato, Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube, rev. C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1992.

C. D. C. Reeve. Socrates in the Apology. Hackett Publishing Co., 1990

C. D. C. Reeve. Blindness and Reorientation: Problems in Plato’s Republic. Harvard University Press, 2012.

David A. Shapiro. Plato Was Wrong! Footnotes on Doing Philosophy with Young People. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2012

Shorris, Earl. The Art of Freedom: Teaching Humanities to the Poor.  New York: Norton, 2012.

Taylor, C. C. W. Socrates: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Toulmin, Stephen. “A Conversation with Stephen Toulmin,” The National Endowment for the Humanities,

Nancy Vansieleghem and David Kennedy, eds. Philosophy for Children in Transition: Problems and Prospects. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Vlastos, Gregory. “The Socratic Elenchus: Method is All.” Socratic Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994., and    Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1991.

Williams, Bernard.  “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline.”  Three Penny Review, 2001, , and Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Harvard University Press, 1985.

To learn more about the exciting growth of the pre-collegiate philosophy movement, of which Winning Words is a part, please visit the websites for the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization, at , and the Squire Family Foundation, at

The Winning Words program is deeply informed by the resources listed above, and by additional works listed in the various lesson plans.  All materials needed for successfully coaching a Winning Words team are available in the CKP’s Winning Words library in the CKP office, University of Chicago, Edelstone Bldg., Rm 133.


Lesson Plan 1: Introduction to Winning Words and Wisdom

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Students will become familiar with their teacher and the basic format of the class.

Discuss and share current understandings of the terms “philosophy” and “wisdom.”

Become acquainted with one sort of question with which philosophy concerns itself, and carefully consider a few such questions together.

Coach Preparation

Coaches should have reviewed the Winning Words Core Curriculum, both the lesson plans and the introductory statements (with the primer on the elenctic Socratic method and dialectic, noting how these differ from rhetoric, eristic, and sophism).  Ideally, the coaches will also have already spent some time reading one of the classic introductions to philosophy (for example, Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy or Thomas Nagel’s What Does It All Mean?) or a major work in philosophy (for example, Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy).  Copies of these works are available at the CKP office.  The more time spent perusing the works contained in the coach planner, the better.  Winning Words coaches are also expected to participate in some of the professional development opportunities offered through the Winning Words Initiative—for example, Steve Goldberg’s Teachers’ Workshops—and to participate in the regular coach meetings.

Essential Questions

What is philosophy? What is wisdom?  What is the Winning Words program?

The meanings of ‘wisdom’; student/teacher introductions (15-20 minutes)

Seat students around a large table if possible. If the classroom contains many desks and chairs facing the front of the room, have students arrange chairs into a large circle for discussion. Introduce yourself, and inform the students that you are yourself a student (at the University of Chicago) who studies and discusses something called “philosophy,” and that philosophy means, literally, “the love of wisdom.” Students may have heard these words before, but they will probably not be able to produce concrete definitions of them. Inform the students that, in order to see what they know, and to become acquainted with them personally, you would like to discuss the matter of ‘wisdom’ with them. Be certain to inform students that this activity requires that all be willing to listen carefully to one another without disruption, and that, before saying anything, each student must first carefully think about what he or she wishes to say, and raise his or her hand.[1]

Choose a student to begin, and proceed through all of the students, inquiring as to name, grade in school, and opinion regarding the question “what is wisdom?” Invite each student, after sharing his or her opinion, to write it on the board next to his or her name.


After sharing, begin a seminar-style discussion[2]. Point out which definitions agree with one another, and which conflict. Ask students with conservative definitions to elaborate, and attempt to cull clarification from students with vague ideas. Avoid constructing a consensus, and do not supplant even wacky student definitions with a dictionary definition, or your own definition. A further point: do not hesitate to steer students away from tedious hypotheticals. Remind them that they are discussing ideas and word definitions—not specific real-life situations, which will be discussed in due course.

Agree/Disagree (25 minutes)

The goal of this exercise is to see how students respond to questions that do not have easy answers, and to demonstrate why philosophers concern themselves with such questions.

Inform students that discussing what wisdom can be very difficult, and that such difficulty is experienced often by philosophers—people who think about it all the time. Now that the question “what is wisdom?” has been asked, the class will see how its definitions of wisdom work in practice. Place two signs at opposite ends of the room, one reading “agree,” the other reading “disagree.” Place a third sign in the center, “not sure.” Tell students that they should run to the sign expressing the opinion of a wise person in response to each of the statements that you put to them.

This school’s principal is named [insert name of principal].

           This school is in Toronto.

           Chicago is a city in Illinois.

           The floor of this room is [insert color of floor].

Are the answers to such questions easy or difficult to find? If somebody didn’t know whether these were true or false, how would they go about looking for that information—that is to say, what method of inquiry would they use? Continue with the statements, moving further from easily ascertainable claims and toward difficult ethical questions. Have students explain their positions.

It is the greatest good to a man…to converse and to test himself and others.

            A person who is wise will admit that his wisdom is in fact nothing.

           The noblest way is not to crush others but to improve yourself.

           The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.

Hopefully some students will have placed themselves in the “not sure” area. Encourage some discussion about this, and draw out their explanations for “not knowing” the answer. Explain that these statements were all made by Socrates, one of the founders of Western philosophy, who will be studied in classes to come. Is it bad to “not know,” or is it good? If we do not know the answer, do we have to find one, or should we be content not knowing?

Not knowing (15 minutes)

Distribute paper to students and ask them to choose a statement to which their response was “not sure,” or make up a statement or question to which “not sure” is the wisest response. What, according to their view of wisdom, makes this the wisest response, and why do they think this? Ask them to take their time and carefully explain why this is their opinion. Remind them that their spelling, writing quality, or eloquence is not of concern—that you are only trying to understand what they think about the question of wisdom, and that willingness to share is essential for the class to be successful.


Collect sheets and offer students thanks for attending the session of Winning Words. Ask for a show of hands to see how many students may wish to return. **Hand out permission slip forms to students who are considering returning. Inform students that with the next class, they will be starting notebooks and learning more about philosophy.


[1] In the case of elementary and middle school students, WW coaches have found hand-raising to be absolutely necessary in order to prevent repressive discourteousness. As time goes on this may become unneeded, and one may encounter a class small enough to not require it from the start.

[2] By this it is meant a seminar-style class discussion with the teacher as aggressive moderator. Do not hesitate to politely jump in and welcome the student to the class before raising a question or reservation about part of his or her definition. Invite students to address each other, etc., but do not permit tangential chatter to overtake the initial question. If this seems pesky to say, it is only because such distractions can be a problem in classes of this type. The goal is discussion-based classes for young people made possible by insistent and thoughtful guidance from a teacher.

Lesson Plan 2: Knowing and not knowing

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Discuss last week’s assignment, which required them to contrive questions without easy answers.

Inaugurate a class journal for each student in which students will record the first two words of the week.

Coach Preparation

Be sure to bring the notebooks and other required materials to class.  These will be available in the CKP office.  Do some more background reading of key introductions to the elenctic Socratic method, aporia, and uncertainty—for example, Martha Nussbaum’s chapter on “Socratic Self-Examination,” James Miller’s chapter on “Socrates,”  Bernard Williams’ chapter on “Socrates’ Question,” and the entry by Paul Woodruff on “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works,” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at .  Note carefully how the elenctic Socratic method involves testing lives and demands that speakers must mean what they say.   Gregory Vlastos’s essay on “The Socratic Elenchus: Method is All” is crucial, but more advanced reading, as is Richard Kraut’s essay on “The Examined Life.”  Henry Sidgwick’s Outlines of the History of Ethics, available , also offers a very helpful short overview of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, how they agree and how they differ.  Pierre Hadot’s What is Ancient Philosophy? is another excellent source, particularly for understanding how philosophy could be a way of life and how the “Socratic Dialogue” was a genre.  For more general background, the PBS series is also helpful.  This would also be a good time to familiarize yourself with John Dewey’s critique of “The Quest for Certainty.”  A brief but powerful introduction to this by Stephen Toulmin is available at

Essential Question

What is the relationship between wisdom and certainty/uncertainty?

Take a few minutes to arrange the room as before so that discussion can be carried out in a seminar-style. Welcome students back to Winning Words, addressing each by name when possible, and distribute handouts of the topics that will be discussed.

Recapitulation of wisdom; discussion of questions (10-15 minutes)

Again, seat students in a configuration that promotes discussion. Remind them that discussion, or conversation, is the most important part of the class, and that it is important for all to listen to others and to share their own ideas. Produce the result of last week’s assignment, and write particularly astute answer-less questions on the board. Ask their creators to explain them to the class, and foster a class discussion about why some questions are harder to answer than others. Is there something similar about all of these questions?

Know-it-all (15-20 minutes)

Select questions from those created by the students, and find one student willing to provide an answer. Have him or her come to the front of the class and offer an argument, attempting to convince other students that his or her answer is correct and is the sort of answer that a “wise” person would give. Act as an insistent moderator, telling students to sharpen various points or explain further insufficiently explicated arguments. Do not hesitate to tell students that they’ve made an illogical point or strayed too far into a specific story or anecdote. After the argument has been made, ask all students to take a vote: is the student’s argument perfect, or could it be proved wrong in some way? Pick one of the students voting in the negative and ask him or her to come to the front and highlight the problem with the first student’s argument. The point of this exercise is of course not to find answers—welcome as those would be—but to get students used to making serious arguments, being coached, advised, and corrected by a friendly and consistent teacher, and being politely proved wrong by their classmates.  The aim is not ultimately adversarial, but to encourage the students to work together in collaborative inquiry.

Starting a notebook; the first two “words of the day”: wisdom and aporia (20 minutes)

Distribute a notebook or notepad to each student. Remind students that they must bring their notebooks to each class. Students will use their notebooks to record noteworthy topics that the class discusses, and appealing or thought-provoking comments made by classmates. Remind students that another good use for notebooks is mapping or planning out complicated ideas while they prepare to say them out loud. Additionally, the notebooks provide a place for students to record two new philosophical vocabulary words taught each class period.  The purpose of this weekly practice is two-fold: First, to equip the students with a small reserve of words on which to draw when expressing philosophical ideas, and Second, to provide students with a working understanding of a number of abstract philosophical concepts on which they can build for their final presentation.

Wisdom. Compile a nice jumble of student definitions and tell students to record these as possible definitions for wisdom in their notebooks. Contemplate again, as a class, a few of the definitions’ merits. Why do they deserve a place in our class’s definition?  What are their shortcomings?

Aporia, or impasse, doubt.  If the discussion of wisdom has proceeded judiciously, this word will serve nicely to describe the circumstances in which the class finds itself. We seek an understanding of an idea, but are met with a range of only partly satisfactory answers. For younger students, describe aporia as a word for philosophical impasse, bewilderment, confusion, or lack of knowledge about a subject. Older, more capable students might benefit from a reading of Aristotle’s methodological statement in the Metaphysics:

“The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, we do not collectively fail, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.  Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this respect it must be easy, but the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it.”

Emphasize that, either way, some of the earliest people who practiced philosophy thought that aporia was the first step in “loving wisdom.” How could this be? Is aporia a good thing to feel, or a bad thing? Why would someone who “loves wisdom” accept being confused? Younger students might benefit from the chance to record in their notebooks times in their lives at which they were confused, and their response to those circumstances. Always permit and encourage discussion if it seems to assist in student understanding.

Students’ Goals (10-15 minutes)

Ask students to digest what has just been said and tell them to formulate the goals they have for the class. What do they hope to learn? What direction would they want the course to take? What do they expect? Once they have pondered these questions for a bit, have the students voice their ideas.


Collect all permission slips. Check in with students as to what they think of the class so far, and inform them that with next class, they will discuss conversations that they have had and make plans for future class conversation.

Lesson Plan 3: Heroes and Gods

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words


Introduce the ancient Greek background to the life and work of Socrates/Plato by facilitating Socratic discussions in which the students actively participate.

Establish class rules for conversation.

Discuss brief profiles of some of the main Greek gods and heroes.

Coach Preparation

Coaches are expected to familiarize themselves with some standard age appropriate introductory work to Greek religion and myth—for example, Bernard Evslin’s Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths, or Ingri d’Aulaire’s D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths—that can be used for select readings/storytelling. A more advanced, classic work is Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, and a relevant Platonic dialogue on the subject of courage is “Laches,” available at   Various project and coloring books on ancient Greece are also available at the CKP Office. With very young students, a more project oriented approach is often essential.

Essential Questions

What is a hero?  What is courage?

Recapitulation of wisdom and aporia (5-10 minutes)

Review last week’s concepts with students and ensure that they have remembered the key points or are able to refer to their notebooks in order to remember. Field any questions students have about the two words, keeping within their definitions as provided by the class discussion. Try, if possible, to get students to answer one another’s questions, and fill in the gaps for students who failed to record the last class’s main points.

Activity 1: Rules for conversation (15 minutes)

Remind students that the class is based primarily on conversation, which is what the Socratic method emphasizes. However, as they have no doubt experienced in many classes, there are certain kinds of conversation that are not enjoyable, and highly frustrating. Hopefully, the collective understanding of the students in the class regarding the definition and purpose of conversation can assist in the creation of class rules for conversation.

As a class, record ideas about “good conversation” on the board. Ask students to ponder the following questions: Why must all students agree on certain rules for conversation? Would class discussion work if a single student disagreed with these class rules? Why or why not? Have the students use the ideas on the board to generate a list of rules that will apply to conversation in the class. Assist students in the task of combining similar ideas into concrete rules that they can then record in their notebooks.

Activity 2: Heroes (20 minutes)

Invite students to name some heroes, especially ancient Greek ones with whom they might already be familiar—for example, Hercules (or Odysseus, if mentioned during the previous sessions). Discuss the concept of a “hero” by posing a Socratic style question “What is a hero?” and ask the group to list the chief characteristics of a hero and offer explanations of what makes those characteristics heroic. Invite discussion of the question of whether a hero must be brave and courageous, and what that means.  Mention the importance of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as sources for the Greeks. Tell students how the Winning Words program got its name from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, in which the character Odysseus is described as the “man of winning words” because of his rhetorical abilities: Odysseus was in part a word hero, known for his powers of persuasion and craftiness.  As a class, read one part of The Wanderings of Odysseus, by Rosemary Sutcliff (and illustrated by Alan Lee), which is an age appropriate work for WW purposes (copies are available in the CKP office).

Activity 3: Greek Gods (20 minutes)

Note how the ancient Greek conception typically cast the hero as a demi-god, which can serve as a lead in to the discussion of the Greek gods. Using picture books or videos (if students are familiar with the Percy Jackson stories, use those as a basis for some of the discussion), illustrate the Greek gods that are to be considered, perhaps bringing in a sculptural replica of a famous Greek statue (for example, of Zeus). Invite students to name the Greek gods and describe them, perhaps inviting them to color in pictures of the gods or read out brief descriptions of the gods. Discuss which gods they like best and why.  Note the importance of Mt. Olympus and the Oracle of Delphi.

Words of the Day: Hero, Courage, Gods

Remind students to write down the key words in their notebooks, along with their reflections on today’s discussion.  How, in the end, would they define a “hero”?


Remind students that the Greek gods and myths are important for understanding the historical context in which Socratic philosophy was born.  Ask them to try to remember these stories because they will be important for later sessions.

Lesson Plan 4: Prometheus, Sophism, and Rhetoric

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Understand the terms “rhetoric” and “sophism” as important initial contrasts to the Socratic elenctic method.

Learn about the story of Prometheus, which can be used both to illustrate rhetoric and sophism, and to raise in a preliminary way key Socratic questions about justice and piety.

Coach Preparation

Coaches should review the WW scholarly resources given in previous lesson plans—for example, Martha Nussbaum’s “Socratic Self-Examination” (from her book Cultivating Humanity)—and read Lucian’s “Prometheus on Caucasus,” which satirizes the Greek gods and rhetoric.  It is available here:   Coaches should also use the brief profiles of Prometheus given in the introductions to Greek religion and myth used for previous sessions.  For more detail on the very important subject of Plato on rhetoric and poetry, see the Stanford Encyclopedia, particularly Charles Griswold’s entry on that subject, available at  , and  the piece by Christof Rapp, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric,” available at  Be sure to understand how the Sophists were professional paid teachers who sometimes taught Rhetoric, along with other subjects.  Review Aristotle’s analysis of Rhetoric in terms of Logos, Pathos, and Ethos (see  ).

Essential Questions

What is rhetoric?  Who taught rhetoric in ancient Athens?  Who was Prometheus and what did he do? Was Zeus right to punish Prometheus?

Recapitulation (5-10 minutes)

Review the discussion of the Greek heroes and gods and introduce the titans, whom the gods overthrew.

Activity 1: Prometheus and Rhetoric (25 minutes)

Invite students to do a reading of part of Lucian’s “Prometheus,” and then invite discussion of the question “Was Zeus right to punish Prometheus?”  Fill in the story for them, so that they understand why Zeus sought to punish Prometheus, and explain how Lucian was showing how the use of rhetoric by Prometheus did not do any good.  Ask the students if Zeus was right to punish Prometheus—was Zeus being just or fair?  Invite them to share their thoughts on Prometheus and how he presented his case.  Here is a relevant excerpt:

“And now, with your permission, I will approach the subject of that stolen fire, of which we hear so much. I have a question to ask, which I beg you will answer frankly. Has there been one spark less fire in Heaven, since men shared it with us? Of course not. It is the nature of fire, that it does not become less by being imparted to others. A fire is not put out by kindling another from it. No, this is sheer envy: you cannot bear that men should have a share of this necessary, though you have suffered no harm thereby. For shame! Gods should be beneficent, ‘givers of good’; they should be above all envy. Had I taken away fire altogether, and left not a spark behind, it would have been no great loss. You have no use for it. You are never cold; you need no artificial light; nor is ambrosia improved by boiling. To man, on the other hand, fire is indispensable for many purposes, particularly for those of sacrifice; how else are they to fill their streets with the savour of burnt-offerings, and the fumes of frankincense I how else to burn fat thigh-pieces upon your altars? I observe that you take a particular pleasure in the steam arising therefrom, and think no feast more delicious than the smell of roast meat, as it mounts heavenwards

In eddying clouds of smoke.

Your present complaint, you see, is sadly at variance with this taste. I wonder you do not forbid the Sun to shine on mankind. He too is of fire, and fire of a purer and diviner quality. Has anything been said to him about his lavish expenditure of your property?

And now I have done. If there is any flaw in my defence, it is for you two to refute me. I shall answer your objections in due course.

Her. Nay, you are too hard for us, Prometheus; we will not attempt a sophist of your mettle. Well for you that Zeus is not within earshot, or you would have had a round dozen of hungry vultures to reckon with, for certain; in clearing your own character, you have grievously mishandled his. But one thing puzzles me: you are a prophet; you ought to have foreseen your sentence.

Prom. All this I knew, and more than this; for I shall be released; nay, even now the day is not far off when one of your blood shall come from Thebes, and shoot this eagle with which you threaten me .

Her. With all my heart! I shall be delighted to see you free again, and feasting in our midst; but not, my friend, not carving for us!

Prom. You may take my word for it; I shall be with you again. I have the wherewithal to pay abundantly for my ransom.

Her. Oh, indeed? Come, tell us all about it.

Prom. You know Thetis–But no; the secret is best kept. Ransom and reward depend upon it.

Her. Well, you know best. Now, Hephaestus, we must be going; see, here comes the eagle.–Bear a brave heart, Prometheus; and all speed to your Theban archer, who is to set a term to this creature’s activity.

Words of the day (20 minutes)

Rhetoric, Logos, Pathos, Ethos, Sophist. Go beyond the dictionary definitions, such as “the art of speaking or writing effectively; writing or speaking as a means of persuasion or convincing.” Introduce Aristotle on rhetoric: “Aristotle defines the rhetorician as someone who is always able to see what is persuasive (Topics VI.12, 149b25). Correspondingly, rhetoric is defined as the ability to see what is possibly persuasive in every given case (Rhet. I.2, 1355b26f.). This is not to say that the rhetorician will be able to convince under all circumstances. Rather he is in a situation similar to that of the physician: the latter has a complete grasp of his art only if he neglects nothing that might heal his patient, though he is not able to heal every patient. Similarly, the rhetorician has a complete grasp of his method, if he discovers the available means of persuasion, though he is not able to convince everybody.” (see Christof Rapp, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric,” available at )

Have students think of examples of this kind of communication. Why is some speech “effective”?  Introduce “Logos,” “Ethos” and “Pathos” (see, for brief definitions,  ).  What is the goal of speaking or writing, broadly stated?  Ask students to record a time that they used speaking or writing “effectively”—what did they accomplish? Is effective, persuasive speech always good?  Return briefly to the rules formulated by the class for discussion, and discuss them in the context of the need for conversation to accomplish something, or be “effective.” Are the conversation rules conducive to “rhetoric” or are they productive in other ways?


Collect all permission slips. Check in with students as to what they think of the class so far, and inform them that next class, they will start to learn about and discuss a strange and fascinating man named Socrates—one of the first official philosophers—who did not agree with the professional teachers of Rhetoric, the Sophists.

Lesson Plan 5: Ancient Greece in Art and Politics and Socratic Conversation

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words


Highlight the significance of ancient Greece as the birthplace of democracy and as a cultural context for such arts as epic, tragedy, and comedy

Review the importance of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, and theater.

Continue to discuss the term “Sophist,” along with the key terms “rhetoric,” “god,” “hero,” “tragedy,” and “comedy.”

Stress how different Socratic philosophizing was and how strange the figure of Socrates seemed to many normal Athenians.

Coach Preparation

Review and bring to class a work on the general background of ancient Greek culture and politics—for example, the DK Eyewitness Books volume Ancient Greece is a helpful resource, since it is a picture book suitable for sharing with the students. Various project and coloring books on ancient Greece are also available at the CKP Office.  Bring in pictures illustrating public speaking in various forms.  Also, review the entry on “The Sophists” at and the background works included in the coach planner, especially James Miller’s “Socrates.”

Essential Questions

Why was Athens so important?  Why did it so prize public speaking?  What is tragedy/comedy? What is a Sophist

Reflection (10 minutes)

Begin by reflecting on the previous session, inviting students to add more of their own thoughts about ancient Greece and rhetoric.  Show them some maps of ancient Greece.

Recapitulation of Rhetoric and Sophism (5-10 minutes)

Return to these ideas briefly and ensure that all students are up to speed.

Take a few minutes to review the Sophists, the first professional teachers of the verbal arts.  Use picture books, coloring books, or videos to show scenes of ancient Athens, including the Parthenon and the Agora.  Show the students pictures of the various forms of public speaking in ancient Athens.

Activity 1: Ancient Greece and Theater (20 minutes)

Ask students what they think ancient Greek theater was like. Bring in illustrations or a model of the theater of Dionysus in Athens and talk a little about the political significance of the theater and the huge role it played in the life of ancient Athens as a vehicle for telling and retelling stories about the heroes.  Invite some discussion of the notions of “tragedy” and “comedy,” asking Socratic style questions about the essential features of those genres.  Note how ancient Greek tragedy developed the art of “dialogue,” creating parts for the actors.  Illustrate with a brief account of Aeschylus, who is credited with having introduced dialogue in his tragedies—see

Activity 2: Ancient Greece and Democracy (20 minutes)

Introduce the fundamentals of Athenian direct democracy, noting, however, the exclusion of women and slaves.  Talk briefly about the nature of political debate and Athenian jury trials, noting the importance of rhetoric/public speaking.  Read a brief passage from Pericles’ Funeral Oration (, in which he talks about the superiority of Athens to other city states and stresses the importance of discussion.  Note that the Sophists were important because they sometimes offered to teach people how to speak persuasively and win their cases.  These were real people—unlike Prometheus—and they had such names as Thrasymachus, Gorgias, and Callicles.  They were paid for their lessons.

Activity 3: Not knowing (10 minutes)

Inform students that next class they will be reading a dialogue that takes place in ancient Athens. This dialogue is a conversation constructed by the philosopher named Plato, who was a student of Socrates (and teacher of Aristotle) and wrote dialogues, some of which were inspired by conversations with Socrates. Many people in Athens agreed that Socrates was a strange man with strange ideas.  Show them some pictures (or a bust) of Socrates.  Inform them that, at the start of the next class, you will discuss a few words uttered by Socrates that might help them understand his attitude in the dialogue. Ask students to record the quote “The only thing that I know is that I know nothing at all.” Allow students to ponder this quote, reminding them that when doing philosophy, patience is required to understand complicated ideas.  Stress that Socrates was NOT a Sophist or rhetorician or dramatist.  For him, philosophy, the love of wisdom, was different and more important.  He did not take a lawyerly, tragic or a comic view of life, but a philosophical one.

Words of the Day: The Sophists, Comedy, Tragedy, and Dialogue

Invite students to write these in their notebooks and to keep thinking about the ways in which Socratic philosophy can reflect a different way of life, the pursuit of truth about how one should live.


Indicate the importance of Athens for the life of Socrates, and ask students to consider the line they wrote down in their journals in preparation for next class discussion.

Lesson Plan 6: Justice and a dialogue with Socrates

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Draw some of the characteristics of Socrates out of the dialogue.

Attempt to determine the nature of the Socratic task in the dialogue.

Coach Preparation

Review the materials on the Socratic elenchus used for previous sessions (for example, Woodruff, “Plato’s Early Ethical Dialogues,” at ) and read or re-read Bk 1 of Plato’s Republic, available at Bring to class more materials illustrating Socrates in action, his strange appearance and manner of philosophizing.

Essential Questions

What is justice?  What is Socrates doing when he philosophizes?  What is Socratic dialogue?

Reading the dialogue ( from Republic Bk. I) (30 minutes)

Ask the students if they remember the line from Socrates given at the end of the previous class.  Ask them to keep it in mind as they do the reading for today.  Review the notions of dialogue, rhetoric, and sophism before reading and discussing an adapted Socratic dialogue from the Republic of Plato. Before reading, ask a few students to recapitulate the class rules for discussion, and remind them to be polite and respectful during the reading. Assigning roles might be necessary for the dialogue if the class is small, but in large classes, popcorn reading is advised. Using this method, students must all follow along as the arbitrarily-chosen reader speaks a line aloud. If the student stumbles, encounters trouble, or is embarrassed or shy, thank him or her and move to another speaker. Inform all students that it is important that they each understand every line. If a student does not understand a line, he or she should raise his or her hand and say “repeat!” and the line will be repeated. Ask students to refrain from questions or comments until the dialogue has been read twice by the class, and everyone has some idea of what it is about. Ask students to pay close attention during the dialogue, and try to discern an answer to the question: what kind of person does Socrates seem to be?

Set the stage for the passage that follows.

Socrates: Dear friend, Cephalus! What do you consider to be the greatest blessing that you have from all of your money?

Cephalus: Well, Socrates, when a man is old, he thinks about the life he has lived and what he has done to other people. It is important to return what you have borrowed, not to lie to anyone, to have treated everyone with justice – to have lived a good life.

Socrates: But what is justice? Does it mean that you should never tell lies and always pay back what you have borrowed? That seems to be what you said. Or, is justice something more than that? Are there any exceptions to justice? For example, suppose that a friend lends me his weapons. A few days later, this friend becomes very upset and very angry about something, and he asks me to return his weapons to him because he needs to use them. Now, I know that it is very dangerous to use a weapon when upset or angry. Also, if he wants weapons because he is upset or angry, then he probably wants to use them to hurt someone. But the weapons belong to him, so according to your definition of justice, I should give them back to him. But what if I know that if I give them back he’ll use them to hurt someone or to hurt himself? Should I still give them back to him in order to be just?

Cephalus: Good point, Socrates. You are quite right – you shouldn’t give the weapons back to him.

Socrates: So then, speaking the truth and paying back what you owe is not the correct definition of justice.

Polemarchus: No, wait, Socrates – that is the correct definition of justice.

Socrates: Polemarchus! So now you are stepping in to this discussion! What do you think the correct definition of justice is?

Polemarchus: That giving back what you have borrowed is justice, just as my father said. Cephalus was right!

Socrates: I don’t quite understand. So I should return the weapons to their owner when he asks for them, no matter what?

Polemarchus: Yes!

Socrates: But don’t you agree that it is dangerous for a person to use weapons when he is angry, and so I should not give my friend back his weapons if he wants to use them while he is angry?

Polemarchus: Certainly not! Even though they are his weapons, and you owe them to him, it would be too dangerous.

Socrates: So when your father, Cephalus, said that giving back to a friend what belongs to him is justice, he didn’t think of this exception to his rule?

Polemarchus: My father thinks that a friend should always do good things for his friend no matter what. And letting your friend have his weapons when he is angry would be bad for him.

Socrates: So it seems we have a different idea now of what justice is. At first, we thought that justice is giving to each what belongs to him, and what we owe to him. But now you say that justice is doing good to your friends. You seem to think that what we owe to our friends is to do what is good for them, even if that means that sometimes, in order to do good to them, we do not give back what belongs to them.

Polemarchus: Yes.

Socrates: What do we owe to our enemies, then? If justice means that we owe good things to our friends, and enemies are the opposite of friends, does justice mean that we should give our enemies harm? Is it just to harm our enemies – since it is just to do good to our friends?

Polemarchus: That seems right, I think.

Socrates: But is it ever just to harm anyone?

Polemarchus: No, of course not. Doing justice to others means not harming them, even if they are our enemies!

Socrates: So we have a problem again. It is much more complicated than it was when we started, and no definition of justice seems to be good so far.

Discussion (20 minutes)

Discussion will of course vary from class to class. Start off by asking students if they can identify what the main question of the dialogue is. Younger students in particular will likely see the dialogue as a story about two people disagreeing. It is important to begin by bringing all students around to understanding that the three are interested in the question of justice, and that Socrates’s questions are in pursuit of the best account. During discussion, be sure that students always reference their reason for thinking what they express. Even at the risk of being boring, keep discussion exegetical and focused on understanding the positions of the three characters, and in particular the style of Socrates. Push the students to identify his goal, to understand that he does not seem to have any set opinion himself on the matter.

Raise again the quote about knowing nothing. Does Socrates’s behavior in the discussion help us understand why he would say “the only thing I know is that I know nothing”?  Explain that later in this same Bk from the Republic, Socrates converses with a famous Sophist named Thrasymachus, who held that justice is only a sham masking the realities of power.  In the next class session, they will see how Socrates deals with Thrasymachus.

Words of the day: Socrates and Socratic Dialogue (10 minutes)

Socrates. So far as the students know, Socrates is a man who has a very strange style of arguing. He has opinions about the matter of justice, but only expresses them by telling other people that they are wrong, and identifying the matter as a complex one. Inform students that Socrates is considered to be a philosopher, and a lover of wisdom, who claims that he “knows nothing.”  He is eager to talk to people who can inquire or search with him for better answers, but he only wants them to talk about what they really believe.  He takes philosophy of this sort to be a way of life, not a paid profession.


Ask students to review their notebooks at home, contemplate the character of Socrates, and share some facts about his personality with their parents. Next week, they will encounter him again, and try to discern more about his personality and way of life.

Lesson Plan 7: Thrasymachus, the Ring of Gyges

and the nature and origin of justice

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Understand Thrasymachus on the nature and origin of justice, and how Socrates responded to him.

Contemplate the concept and propensities of human nature.

Coach Preparation

Review Bk 1 of the Republic, especially the exchange between Socrates and Thrasymachus.  Mark your copy of the dialogue to indicate the name of the speaker and any special directions you want to give the students for reading these parts.  Review the pronunciation of names and key terms,and the entry on “The Sophists” at  , along with the relevant sections of Woodruff on “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works,” at  .

Essential Questions

Is “justice” a sham, a mask for the exercise of power?

What motivates the pursuit of justice?

Is it ever right to act unjustly?

How does Socrates deal with the angry Thrasymachus?

How does the Socrates portrayed here fit with the students’ previous impressions of him?

How do these Socratic conversations end in aporia?

Activity 1: Socrates and Thrasymachus (30-40 minutes)

Read and discuss the following passage from Bk 1 of the Republic. The coach or coaches may want to read it through aloud first, asking the students to listen and try to catch what is going on.  Then invite students to go over it again, taking turns playing the parts of Socrates and Thrasymachus in a few select passages, such as those highlighted in red.  Help them out if they get confused about just who is speaking, perhaps having the students playing the parts stand up in front of the group, getting signals when it is their turn to speak.


“Several times in the course of the discussion Thrasymachus had made an attempt to get the argument into his own hands, and had been put down by the rest of the company, who wanted to hear the end. But when Polemarchus and I had done speaking and there was a pause, he could no longer hold his peace; and, gathering himself up, he came at us like a wild beast, seeking to devour us. We were quite panic-stricken at the sight of him.


He roared out to the whole company: What folly. Socrates, has taken possession of you all? And why, sillybillies, do you knock under to one another? I say that if you want really to know what justice is, you should not only ask but answer, and you should not seek honour to yourself from the refutation of an opponent, but have your own answer; for there is many a one who can ask and cannot answer. And now I will not have you say that justice is duty or advantage or profit or gain or interest, for this sort of nonsense will not do for me; I must have clearness and accuracy.

I was panic-stricken at his words, and could not look at him without trembling. Indeed I believe that if I had not fixed my eye upon him, I should have been struck dumb: but when I saw his fury rising, I looked at him first, and was therefore able to reply to him.

Thrasymachus, I said, with a quiver, don’t be hard upon us. Polemarchus and I may have been guilty of a little mistake in the argument, but I can assure you that the error was not intentional. If we were seeking for a piece of gold, you would not imagine that we were ‘knocking under to one another,’ and so losing our chance of finding it. And why, when we are seeking for justice, a thing more precious than many pieces of gold, do you say that we are weakly yielding to one another and not doing our utmost to get at the truth? Nay, my good friend, we are most willing and anxious to do so, but the fact is that we cannot. And if so, you people who know all things should pity us and not be angry with us.

How characteristic of Socrates! he replied, with a bitter laugh; –that’s your ironical style! Did I not foresee –have I not already told you, that whatever he was asked he would refuse to answer, and try irony or any other shuffle, in order that he might avoid answering?


[Skip Section]

Yes, he replied, and then Socrates will do as he always does –refuse to answer himself, but take and pull to pieces the answer of some one else.

Why, my good friend, I said, how can any one answer who knows, and says that he knows, just nothing; and who, even if he has some faint notions of his own, is told by a man of authority not to utter them? The natural thing is, that the speaker should be some one like yourself who professes to know and can tell what he knows. Will you then kindly answer, for the edification of the company and of myself ?

Glaucon and the rest of the company joined in my request and Thrasymachus, as any one might see, was in reality eager to speak; for he thought that he had an excellent answer, and would distinguish himself. But at first he to insist on my answering; at length he consented to begin. Behold, he said, the wisdom of Socrates; he refuses to teach himself, and goes about learning of others, to whom he never even says thank you.

That I learn of others, I replied, is quite true; but that I am ungrateful I wholly deny. Money I have none, and therefore I pay in praise, which is all I have: and how ready I am to praise any one who appears to me to speak well you will very soon find out when you answer; for I expect that you will answer well.

Listen, then, he said; I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger. And now why do you not me? But of course you won’t.

Let me first understand you, I replied. justice, as you say, is the interest of the stronger. What, Thrasymachus, is the meaning of this? You cannot mean to say that because Polydamas, the pancratiast, is stronger than we are, and finds the eating of beef conducive to his bodily strength, that to eat beef is therefore equally for our good who are weaker than he is, and right and just for us?

That’s abominable of you, Socrates; you take the words in the sense which is most damaging to the argument.

Not at all, my good sir, I said; I am trying to understand them; and I wish that you would be a little clearer.

Well, he said, have you never heard that forms of government differ; there are tyrannies, and there are democracies, and there are aristocracies?

Yes, I know.
And the government is the ruling power in each state?
And the different forms of government make laws democratical, aristocratical, tyrannical, with a view to their several interests; and these laws, which are made by them for their own interests, are the justice which they deliver to their subjects, and him who transgresses them they punish as a breaker of the law, and unjust. And that is what I mean when I say that in all states there is the same principle of justice, which is the interest of the government; and as the government must be supposed to have power, the only reasonable conclusion is, that everywhere there is one principle of justice, which is the interest of the stronger.

Now I understand you, I said; and whether you are right or not I will try to discover. But let me remark, that in defining justice you have yourself used the word ‘interest’ which you forbade me to use. It is true, however, that in your definition the words ‘of the stronger’ are added.

A small addition, you must allow, he said.
Great or small, never mind about that: we must first enquire whether what you are saying is the truth. Now we are both agreed that justice is interest of some sort, but you go on to say ‘of the stronger’; about this addition I am not so sure, and must therefore consider further.

I will; and first tell me, Do you admit that it is just for subjects to obey their rulers?

I do.
But are the rulers of states absolutely infallible, or are they sometimes liable to err?

To be sure, he replied, they are liable to err.
Then in making their laws they may sometimes make them rightly, and sometimes not?

When they make them rightly, they make them agreeably to their interest; when they are mistaken, contrary to their interest; you admit that?

And the laws which they make must be obeyed by their subjects, –and that is what you call justice?

Then justice, according to your argument, is not only obedience to the interest of the stronger but the reverse?

What is that you are saying? he asked.
I am only repeating what you are saying, I believe. But let us consider: Have we not admitted that the rulers may be mistaken about their own interest in what they command, and also that to obey them is justice? Has not that been admitted?

Then you must also have acknowledged justice not to be for the interest of the stronger, when the rulers unintentionally command things to be done which are to their own injury. For if, as you say, justice is the obedience which the subject renders to their commands, in that case, O wisest of men, is there any escape from the conclusion that the weaker are commanded to do, not what is for the interest, but what is for the injury of the stronger?

Nothing can be clearer, Socrates, said Polemarchus.


Yes, said Cleitophon, interposing, if you are allowed to be his witness.

But there is no need of any witness, said Polemarchus, for Thrasymachus himself acknowledges that rulers may sometimes command what is not for their own interest, and that for subjects to obey them is justice.

Yes, Polemarchus, –Thrasymachus said that for subjects to do what was commanded by their rulers is just.

Yes, Cleitophon, but he also said that justice is the interest of the stronger, and, while admitting both these propositions, he further acknowledged that the stronger may command the weaker who are his subjects to do what is not for his own interest; whence follows that justice is the injury quite as much as the interest of the stronger.

But, said Cleitophon, he meant by the interest of the stronger what the stronger thought to be his interest, –this was what the weaker had to do; and this was affirmed by him to be justice.

Those were not his words, rejoined Polemarchus.


Never mind, I replied, if he now says that they are, let us accept his statement. Tell me, Thrasymachus, I said, did you mean by justice what the stronger thought to be his interest, whether really so or not?

Certainly not, he said. Do you suppose that I call him who is mistaken the stronger at the time when he is mistaken?

Yes, I said, my impression was that you did so, when you admitted that the ruler was not infallible but might be sometimes mistaken.

You argue like an informer, Socrates. Do you mean, for example, that he who is mistaken about the sick is a physician in that he is mistaken? or that he who errs in arithmetic or grammar is an arithmetician or grammarian at the me when he is making the mistake, in respect of the mistake? True, we say that the physician or arithmetician or grammarian has made a mistake, but this is only a way of speaking; for the fact is that neither the grammarian nor any other person of skill ever makes a mistake in so far as he is what his name implies; they none of them err unless their skill fails them, and then they cease to be skilled artists. No artist or sage or ruler errs at the time when he is what his name implies; though he is commonly said to err, and I adopted the common mode of speaking. But to be perfectly accurate, since you are such a lover of accuracy, we should say that the ruler, in so far as he is the ruler, is unerring, and, being unerring, always commands that which is for his own interest; and the subject is required to execute his commands; and therefore, as I said at first and now repeat, justice is the interest of the stronger.

Indeed, Thrasymachus, and do I really appear to you to argue like an informer?

Certainly, he replied.
And you suppose that I ask these questions with any design of injuring you in the argument?

Nay, he replied, ‘suppose’ is not the word –I know it; but you will be found out, and by sheer force of argument you will never prevail.

I shall not make the attempt, my dear man; but to avoid any misunderstanding occurring between us in future, let me ask, in what sense do you speak of a ruler or stronger whose interest, as you were saying, he being the superior, it is just that the inferior should execute –is he a ruler in the popular or in the strict sense of the term?

In the strictest of all senses, he said. And now cheat and play the informer if you can; I ask no quarter at your hands. But you never will be able, never.

And do you imagine, I said, that I am such a madman as to try and cheat, Thrasymachus? I might as well shave a lion.

Why, he said, you made the attempt a minute ago, and you failed.
Enough, I said, of these civilities. It will be better that I should ask you a question: Is the physician, taken in that strict sense of which you are speaking, a healer of the sick or a maker of money? And remember that I am now speaking of the true physician.

A healer of the sick, he replied.
And the pilot –that is to say, the true pilot –is he a captain of sailors or a mere sailor?

A captain of sailors.
The circumstance that he sails in the ship is not to be taken into account; neither is he to be called a sailor; the name pilot by which he is distinguished has nothing to do with sailing, but is significant of his skill and of his authority over the sailors.

Very true, he said.
Now, I said, every art has an interest?
For which the art has to consider and provide?
Yes, that is the aim of art.
And the interest of any art is the perfection of it –this and nothing else?

What do you mean?
I mean what I may illustrate negatively by the example of the body. Suppose you were to ask me whether the body is self-sufficing or has wants, I should reply: Certainly the body has wants; for the body may be ill and require to be cured, and has therefore interests to which the art of medicine ministers; and this is the origin and intention of medicine, as you will acknowledge. Am I not right?

Quite right, he replied.
But is the art of medicine or any other art faulty or deficient in any quality in the same way that the eye may be deficient in sight or the ear fail of hearing, and therefore requires another art to provide for the interests of seeing and hearing –has art in itself, I say, any similar liability to fault or defect, and does every art require another supplementary art to provide for its interests, and that another and another without end? Or have the arts to look only after their own interests? Or have they no need either of themselves or of another? –having no faults or defects, they have no need to correct them, either by the exercise of their own art or of any other; they have only to consider the interest of their subject-matter. For every art remains pure and faultless while remaining true –that is to say, while perfect and unimpaired. Take the words in your precise sense, and tell me whether I am not right.”

Yes, clearly.
Then medicine does not consider the interest of medicine, but the interest of the body?

True, he said.
Nor does the art of horsemanship consider the interests of the art of horsemanship, but the interests of the horse; neither do any other arts care for themselves, for they have no needs; they care only for that which is the subject of their art?

True, he said.
But surely, Thrasymachus, the arts are the superiors and rulers of their own subjects?

To this he assented with a good deal of reluctance.
Then, I said, no science or art considers or enjoins the interest of the stronger or superior, but only the interest of the subject and weaker?

He made an attempt to contest this proposition also, but finally acquiesced.

Then, I continued, no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker; that has been admitted?

And the pilot likewise, in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor?

That has been admitted.
And such a pilot and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest?

He gave a reluctant ‘Yes.’
Then, I said, Thrasymachus, there is no one in any rule who, in so far as he is a ruler, considers or enjoins what is for his own interest, but always what is for the interest of his subject or suitable to his art; to that he looks, and that alone he considers in everything which he says and does.

When we had got to this point in the argument, and every one saw that the definition of justice had been completely upset, Thrasymachus, instead of replying to me, said: Tell me, Socrates, have you got a nurse?

Why do you ask such a question, I said, when you ought rather to be answering?

Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose: she has not even taught you to know the shepherd from the sheep.”

Explain to the students that Thrasymachus was a real person, a professional teacher of rhetoric whose name means “Bold-in-Battle.”  He was said to be good at manipulating strong emotions.  He was a Sophist.  Facilitate general discussion of how Socrates responded to the anger of Thrasymachus and whether he succeeded in pulling apart the claim that justice simply represents the interest of the stronger.  Ask students if they have made progress in their own thinking about justice and to record their reflections in their notebooks.  Ask them if they remember the word Aporia, and if the Socratic dialogues that they have been discussing illustrate that kind of impasse.

Words for the Day: Thrasymachus, Justice

Repeat, for emphasis, that Thrasymachus was a Sophist specializing in a form of Rhetoric, and that Socrates took a very different approach, as they have seen.

Closing (10 minutes)

Share with the students the story of the Ring of Gyges  (given below), putting it in your own words and as clearly as possible.  Ask them to think about what they would do if they had such a ring and to add these reflections to their notebooks.

Even those who practice justice do so against their will because they lack the power to do wrong. This we could realize very clearly if we imagined ourselves granting to both the just and the unjust the freedom to do whatever they liked. We could then follow both of them and observe where their desires led them, and we would catch the just man redhanded travelling the same road as the unjust. The reason is the desire for undue gain which every organism by nature pursues as a good, but the law forcibly sidetracks him to honor equality. The freedom I just mentioned would most easily occur if these men had the power which they say the ancestor of the Lydian Gyges possessed. The story is that he was a shepherd in the service of the ruler of Lydia. There was a violent rainstorm and an earthquake which broke open the ground and created a chasm at the place where he was tending sheep. Seeing this and marveling, he went down into it. He saw, besides many other wonders, of which we are told, a hollow bronze horse. There were window-like openings in it; he climbed through them and caught sight of a corpse which seemed of more than human stature, wearing nothing but a ring of gold on its finger. This ring the shepherd put on and came out. He arrived at the usual monthly meeting which reported to the king on the state of the flocks, wearing the ring. As he was sitting among the others he happened to twist the hoop of the ring towards himself, to the inside of his hand, and as he did this he became invisible to those sitting near him and they went on talking as if he had gone. He marvelled at this and, fingering the ring, he turned the hoop outward again and he became visible. Perceiving this he tested whether the ring had this power and it so happened: if he turned the hoop inwards he became invisible, but was visible when he turned it outwards. When he realized this, he at once arranged to become one of the messengers to the king. He went, committed adultery with the king’s wife, attacked the king with her help, killed him, and took over the kingdom.

How if there were two such rings, one worn by the just man, the other by the unjust, no one, as these people think, would be so incorruptible that he would stay on the path of justice or bring himself to keep away from other people’s property and not touch it, when he could with impunity take whatever he wanted from the market, go into houses and have sexual relations with anyone he wanted, kill anyone, free all those he wished from prison, and do the other things which would make him like a god among men. His actions would be in no way different from those of the other and they would both follow the same path. This, some would say, is a great proof that no one is just willingly but under compulsion, so that justice is not one’s private good, since wherever either thought he could do wrong with impunity he would do so. Every man believes that injustice is much more profitable to himself than justice, and any exponent of this argument will say that he is right. The man who did not wish to do wrong with that opportunity, and did not touch other people’s property, would be thought by those who knew it to be foolish and miserable. They would praise him in public, thus deceiving one another, for fear of being wronged. So much for my second topic.

As for the choice between the lives we are discussing, we shall be able to make a correct judgment about it only if we put the most just man and the most unjust man face to face; otherwise we cannot do so. By face to face I mean this: let us grant to the unjust the fullest degree of injustice and the the just the fullest justice, each being perfect in his own pursuit. First, the unjust man will act as clever as craftsmen do–a top navigator for example or a physician distinguishes what his craft can do and what it cannot; the former he will undertake, the latter he will pass by, and when he slips he can put things right. So the unjust man’s correct attempts at wrongdoing must remain secret; the one who is caught must be considered a poor performer, for the extreme of injustice is to have a reputation for justice, and our perfectly unjust man must be granted perfection in injustice. We must not take this from him, but we must allow that, while committing the greatest crimes, he has provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice; if he makes a slip he must be able to put it right; he must be a sufficiently persuasive speaker if some wrongdoing of his is made public; he must be able to use force, where force is needed, with the help of his courage, his strength, and the friends and wealth which he has provided himself.

Having described such a man, let us now in our argument put beside him the just man, simple as he is and noble, who, as Aeschylus put it, does not wish to appear just but to be so. We must take away his reputation, for a reputation for justice would bring him honour and rewards, and it would then not be clear whether he is what he is for justice’s sake or for the sake of rewards and honour. We must strip him of everything except justice and make him the complete opposite of the other. Though he does no wrong, he must have the greatest reputation for wrongdoing so that he may be tested for justice by not weakening under ill repute and its consequences. Let him go his incorruptible way until death with a reputation for injustice throughout his life, just though he is, so that our two men may reach the extremes, one of justice, the other of injustice, and let them be judged as to which of the two is the happier.

Lesson Plan 8: Argument and Piety in the Euthyphro

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Read part of the “Euthyphro.”

Examine the “method” Socrates uses in this dialogue.

Discuss the matter of piety.

Discuss how this dialogue also illustrates the characteristics of Socrates discussed in previous sessions.

Coach Preparation

Read or re-read the Platonic dialogue “Euthryphro,” available at . Review the account of the dialogue given in Woodruff, “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works,” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at  Be sure to understand the nature of the famous “Euthyphro argument” about whether something is right or good because God commands it or rather whether God commands it because it is right or good.  Also be sure that you understand that the elenctic Socratic method is not featured in every Platonic dialogue with Socrates as a main speaker.  Later Bks of the Republic are not Socratic in the manner of the first Bk. Also, take a look at the book What Do You Believe? by DK Publishing, available in the CKP office.  This work is recommended for sharing with your students, at the end of this session, the better to illustrate the range of religious belief.

Essential Questions

What is piety?

Are things right or good in and of themselves or are things right or good because it is said that they are?

Review of Sophists v. Socrates (5-10 minutes)

Review the discussion of Bk 1 of the Republic. Ask students to refer to notebooks in order to provide a class definition for Sophist. Ask students to recall some “big questions” (justice, fairness, etc.)—would arguments made by Sophists be useful for asking questions about “big ideas”? Why or why not? What would Socrates say about that, and why?  What would Socrates say about professional teachers of rhetoric?  What was Socrates careful not to do in his conversations in Bk 1 of the Republic?  Note the importance of the Socratic questions to the big question “How is one to live?”

Activity 1: Reading the Euthyphro (25+ minutes)

If students are old enough, have them read the slightly colloquialized edition of the Euthyphro by Holbo and Waring in the book Reason and Persuasion. Otherwise, use the more simplified excerpts below. Remind students that if they are confused about a line, they should say so right away, and they will be able to hear it repeated.

Before reading, remind students that when Socrates and the other character Euthyphro use the word “piety” in this dialogue, they mean “doing the right thing.” Ask students to pay close attention during the dialogue, and try to discern an answer to the question: what kind of person does Socrates seem to be? Inform them that, before they begin, you will share a few words uttered by Socrates that might help them understand his attitude in the dialogue. Ask students to remember the line “The only thing that I know is that I know nothing at all.” Allow students to ponder this quote briefly, reminding them again that when doing philosophy, patience is required to understand complicated ideas.

Setting: Socrates and a priest named Euthyphro meet while they are waiting to go inside the home of the most powerful judge in Athens, who is called the “King Archon.”

Euthyphro: Socrates! How are you doing? What are you doing out and about today, and why are you waiting outside the home of the King Archon? Surely you can’t be having any legal trouble!

Socrates: Someone is going after me in a court case, Euthyphro.


Eu: What?! I cannot believe that someone is prosecuting you in a court case, Socrates! Who is it?

Socrates: A young man named Meletus. He has accused me of a very serious crime, and if he is right, he will be a very good man for having gone after me. He says that someone is corrupting the young people. He must be a wise man if he has figured this out, and since I am the opposite of a wise man, he has decided to accuse me of corrupting the young people. The state, and the court, will decide if this is true. Clearly, Meletus is trying to be a good citizen by watching out for the young people of Athens.

Eu: I hope that he is a good man, Socrates, but I suspect that the opposite is true, and he is doing a very bad deed by going after you, because you haven’t done anything wrong. But anyway, how does he say you corrupted the young people?

Soc: He makes a very surprising accusation against me: he says that I have invented new and fake gods, and that I deny that the real gods exist.  This is what he says I have done. Anyway, what are you doing here?

Eu: You see, Socrates, I am accusing a man of a very serious crime. You will think I am crazy, though, if I tell you who I am accusing.

Soc: Why do you say that?

Eu: I am accusing my father!

Soc: Your father?! My good man! Why? What are you accusing him of?

Eu: Murder.

Soc: My goodness! He must have murdered someone very important to you—a family member, perhaps—if he deserves to be prosecuted in court by his own son.

Eu: I am surprised that you would say that Socrates. It should make no difference whether the murdered person is a family member or a stranger. The real question is this: is it fair that he was murdered? If it was fair and just that he was murdered, then it is my duty not to do anything. But, if he was murdered unfairly and unjustly, then it is my duty to go after the man who committed the crime, no matter who he is. Even if the murderer lives under my roof in my home, and eats at my table. Here is what happened: a man who worked for my family got drunk and killed one of our farm workers. My father was upset, and tied up this man’s hands and feet, and threw him in a ditch. He then left him there in the ditch and went into town to ask a priest for advice on what to do next. Meanwhile, the man in the ditch died from cold and because he had no food to eat. Some people have told me that it is impious and wrong for a son to prosecute his own father. But whoever says that clearly knows nothing about the gods!

Soc: Good heavens, Euthyphro. You are such a good priest and an expert about the gods, that I suspect you have some reason to believe that you are not doing the wrong thing by going after your father like this. Since you are such an expert, let’s talk about this more. Maybe it will help me when it is my turn to defend myself against this Meletus fellow who accuses me of corrupting the young people.

Eu: Sounds good, Socrates. What do you want to know?

Soc: Let us talk about the nature of piety, and what it means to do the right thing. Isn’t doing the right thing always the same? Also, isn’t doing the wrong thing always the opposite of that?

Eu: Certainly, Socrates.


Soc: And what is doing the right thing? What is the wrong thing?

Eu: Doing the right thing, or piety, is doing as I am doing. This means that doing the right thing involves going after anyone who is guilty of murder, or any other serious crime—no matter who they are. For instance, think about Zeus. He is known as the most powerful and righteous of gods. It is known that Zeus punished his own father, Cronos, for doing bad things. Also, Cronos had punished his own father, Uranus, for doing bad things, too. And yet, for some reason, people are angry with me. How silly.

Soc: I want a more careful and exact answer, Euthyphro. You only said that piety was doing as you are doing. Surely there are other “right things” to do, though. I do not want some examples. What I want to know is this: is there one idea shows us why wrong things are wrong and why right things are right? If we knew this one idea, we could use it to measure all other situations and determine if the people involved did the right or the wrong thing.

Eu: All right. How about this: Piety is what is dear to the gods, and impiety is what is not dear to them.

Soc: Very good, Euthyphro. Just the sort of answer that I wanted to hear. But I have a question: even in your example, Zeus had one opinion and Kronos and Uranus had different ideas. They are all gods, but they disagreed. This ruins your definition of piety. If some gods think a thing is right and others think that same thing is wrong, how will we know which is correct?

Eu: This is true, Socrates.

Soc: Plus, there is another problem. You still haven’t helped me understand what “right and wrong”—“pious and impious”— actually mean. Do you agree that we can avoid the first problem by saying that things that what ALL the gods love is pious and good, and what they ALL hate is impious and bad?

Eu: This is much more agreeable, Socrates. Yes. It is true.


Soc: I wonder this: which of these is true: that pious things are pious because they are loved

by the gods, or that the gods love certain things BECAUSE they are pious?


Eu: I don’t get it. What do you mean?

Soc: Let me explain. We say that someone is carrying their backpack, and we also say that “the backpack is being carried.” We say that someone is “seeing a movie,” and we also say that the movie is “being seen” by a person. Do you see the difference?

Eu: I think so… Keep explaining.

Soc: If somebody said that a backpack was “being carried,” what makes this true?

Eu: Of course, it would be because somebody was carrying the backpack. If somebody is carrying it, that means that it is a true fact to say that the backpack is “being carried.”

Soc: Exactly. In the same way, if something is happening to something or someone, then they are in a certain condition. Think of it this way: someone can be described as in a condition of “suffering” because something is making them suffer. Right?

Eu: Sure! I get it. The condition that someone or something is in means that something happened to create that condition.

Soc: Right. Now think of this: If something is “right” because it is in a condition of being loved by the gods, doesn’t that mean that the gods must have first loved it? In other words, doesn’t the condition of being loved come AFTER the act of loving?

Eu: Sure it does.

Soc: Didn’t you say that piety, or “right things,” are in a condition of being loved by the gods? Wasn’t that your definition?

Eu: Yes, it was.

Soc: But, it cannot be the case that the gods love something because it is loved by them. If we say that, we would go on forever. The gods love something because it is loved by them because they love it because it is loved by them… forever and ever! They have to love it for some reason, and that reason cannot be that they already love it. So we still have a problem: we need to know what it is that makes good things good and bad things bad. We still haven’t figured this out, and the one answer that you tried saying—that things are good because the gods love them—didn’t work out in the end.

Activity 2: Discussion  (10 minutes)

Lead students to highlight three things that tie in with previous course content. First, ask the students to locate an example of induction, or the use of particular examples to challenge a general definition. Second, ask students to categorize the “goals” of Socrates and Euthyphro: is Euthyphro a Sophist? What is he, and why does Socrates have a problem with him?  How would you describe him?  What is Meletus’s goal? Third, have students locate some bad arguments, and explain why they are bad.  Did this exchange end in aporia?

Activity 3: Divine precedent (10 minutes)

This dialogue provides a useful opportunity to substantively address an issue that has been raised frequently in past classes and will likely come up in future discussions, particularly when students argue about deeply held beliefs. Is citing God (or gods, as the case may be) a good way of proving something? One possible response on the coach’s part is to explain that in a religiously pluralistic environment, simply citing one’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely felt, may not convince others of an idea’s truth. Making this clear to the students may be important, and it is worth mentioning that Socrates’s point about inter-god disagreement in the Euthyphro is an expression of an analogous problem. Inviting discussion about this point has been very fruitful in past WW classes. Invite students to present knowledge about different religious conceptions of piety based on the actions of gods.  Show them some pages from the book What Do You Believe? to illustrate the range of religious belief.

Words of the Day: Euthyphro, Euthyphro Argument (five minutes)

Repeat these and ask the class to write them in their journals and keep thinking about how Socrates dealt with Euthyphro.                    


Ask students what they think of Socrates now.  Inform students that with the next session, they will start to work on their class presentation content, which might take the form of composing their own Socratic dialogue.

Lesson Plan 9: A Play, “The Gods Judge Socrates”

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


To give the students an example of an original skit/dialogue based on Socrates and the Socratic method.  To encourage the students to think creatively about how they can write such a dialogue, using what they have learned about Socrates and philosophy.

To learn more about the religious and philosophic context from which the Socratic method emerges.

Coach Preparation

Coaches should review this skit beforehand and think of some suggestions, based on their discussions with their students, for a similar project.  Be prepared to discuss a range of options with the students, explaining to them how they will be invited to the University of Chicago campus to perform or exhibit their project.  Review what you have (or have not) been able to say about Socrates, and plan to fill in missing details.

Essential Questions

What is the Socratic elenchus?  How did it lead to Socrates being put on trial?

Reflection (5-10 minutes)

Begin by reflecting on the previous sessions, inviting students to add more of their own thoughts about ancient Greece, Socrates, and philosophy.  Which discussions have they found most meaningful?  How might they like to pursue them?

Socrates (10 minutes)

Review what you have said about Socrates and give more details about his life and work, including examples of stock summary descriptions of him, such as:

Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher, born in 470 BC, in Athens, Greece. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon. We know of his life through the writings of his students, including Plato and Xenophon. His “Socratic method,” laid the groundwork for Western systems of logic and philosophy.

Highlight again what made him different from other thinkers of his time, and give the dates for Plato and Aristotle as well. Explain how Socrates was a new type of “word hero”, one who, at least as he figures in Plato’s early Socratic dialogues, deployed “elenchus” rather than “eristic,” philosophical conversation rather than mere adversarial debating, sophistry or rhetoric.  Recall the definitions of those terms, and invite students to perform “The Gods Judge Socrates”, asking for volunteers to read or act out the various roles.  Explain that this is a work produced by some Winning Words students who were inspired by their discussions of Socrates.

A Play, “The Gods Judge Socrates”,

University of Chicago Laboratory School (35 minutes)


Narrator: Mt Olympus, 399 BC.  The king of the gods, Zeus, has called the other Olympian gods together for a Council Meeting.  Assembled with Zeus, the Lord of the Skies and the Thunderbolt, are 1. Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy, and heroism, and patron goddess of Athens, 2. Apollo, the god of music, healing, plague, prophecies, poetry, and archery, whose oracle is at Delphi, 3. Ares, the god of war, bloodlust, violence, manly courage, and civil order, 4. Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, whose gift of Helen to Paris of Troy caused the Trojan War, 5. Poseidon, Ruler of the Seas, the Earthshaker, 6. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and 7. Hera, Zeus’s wife, the Queen of the gods and protector of hearth and family.  The other gods and goddesses had schedule conflicts.


Zeus: It has come to my attention that there are some strange things going on in your city Athena:  Who is this man Socrates, and why is he being put on trial?


Athena: Dread Majesty, son of Cronos, this man, Socrates, is very strange.  His followers call him a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, because he devotes his life to seeking the truth about how mortals can best live their lives. Although his followers love him, he has annoyed many important people by questioning them about such things as virtue, piety, courage, justice, love, and friendship.  His enemies have charged him with impiety and corrupting young people.


Zeus: Impiety?!  We gods cannot stand for that!  Is this true?


Apollo: Lord Zeus, a word of explanation here.  A friend of this man Socrates visited my oracle at Delphi.  He asked the oracle whether anyone was wiser than Socrates, and the oracle told him that no one was.  But when this was reported to Socrates, he was puzzled; he never claimed to have any special expertise at all.  So, he went looking for someone wiser than himself.


Zeus: Hence the questioning?


Athena and Apollo: Right!


Zeus: Ares, Aphrodite, what do you make of this Socrates?


Ares: I like this troublemaker!  He is stirring up conflict, violence, bloodlust (at least for his own blood).  Who knows?  Maybe these mortals will start going to war over this philosophy thing!  We had better alert Hades about this!


Aphrodite: Hold on Ares.  I am not sure that I trust this man at all.  Why, he seems to think that physical beauty is just not that important!  He claims that the beauty of mortals lies within them, whatever that means.  Whoever heard of a beautiful liver?  And anyway, this Socrates only loves ideas!  Ares, if the mortals had followed him, we would not have had the Trojan War!


Ares: Terrible man!  Still, my manly courage side has to admire him—did you hear what he just told the Athenian jury?  They found him guilty and asked him what a fit punishment would be.  And he told them that he should be treated to free meals at City Hall, just like the athletes who return victorious from the Olympic games!


Athena: That sounds VERY ARROGANT!  My poor City has to put up with that?  I am not sure that I understand this mortal’s so-called wisdom!


Zeus: That gives me an idea, dear daughter.  Let us summon one of your favorite mortals of all, Odysseus, the great hero of the Trojan War, whose soul now dwells on the Isles of the Blessed.  He was always the cleverest of mortals, a man of Winning Words.  Let us hear his verdict on this Socrates, and on whether we gods need worry about these new philosophical developments.


Odysseus is summoned, and Zeus provides him with a backgrounder on the situation.  Odysseus is then invited to address the assembled gods and goddesses on the subject of Socrates.


Odysseus: Great gods, again you favor me.  My great protector, Athena, my wisdom is nothing compared to the wisdom of the gods.  How can I serve you?  How can my mortal experience, nothing to the gods, shed any light on this case?


Athena: Well, you can see why he has always been my favorite.


Zeus: Odysseus, favorite of the gods, that is what we want of you—the perspective of a mere mortal.


Odysseus: Zeus, Lord of the Skies, I will speak.  I believe that this man Socrates is pious, and if he is condemned, I hope his soul will join me on the Isles of the Blessed.


All the gods: Whaaaaat?  Is he that good?


Odysseus: Peace, Immortal Ones.  I mean no offense.  I only affirm what I just said—the wisdom of mortals counts for little.  Surely you agree?


All the gods:  OBVIOUSLY!


Odysseus: And surely the piety you so rightly demand of mortals requires that we recognize how limited our wisdom is?

All the gods: Yes, of course.

Odysseus: Then Socrates must be a very pious man, for he claims that he knows nothing, and that the wisdom of mortals counts for little.

Zeus: Athena, daughter dearest, why would your City condemn Socrates for such noble thoughts?

Athena: Father, I will see that they come to regret it!

Ares: Hooray!  Would you like to help with a few more wars?

Odysseus: Thank you, Immortal Ones, I trust the will of the gods will carry me back to the Isles of the Blessed, where I shall await the arrival of this strange man Socrates.  I have some questions to ask him!

Zeus: I bow my head to that.  This has made me very thirsty—someone get me something to drink!  Apollo, get me some nectar!

Apollo: But you quit drinking nectar.

Zeus:  Well, get me something else to drink!

Apollo:  Lemonade, Lord Zeus?

Zeus:  Lemonade?!  No, water!

Poseidon: Here Sire, have some water—I have plenty.

Zeus: (takes a sip)  Pleeeeeck!  That tastes terrible!  You gave me sea water!

Poseidon: Of course Sir, I am the Lord of the Sea.  You can develop a taste for it.

Zeus: I just want that taste out of my mouth!  Give me some food!

Poseidon: Food Sire?  Here, try this fresh sea….

Zeus: Not you, where’s Hera?

Hera: What would you like Dread Majesty?

Zeus: Ambrosia!

Hera: We only have the fat free kind.  Remember your New Year’s Resolution?

Hermes: Perhaps I can help Lord Zeus!  Would you like some tasty snakes?  I always have some with me!  I could even cook them up for you, with Hephaestus’ help.

Hephaestus: That sounds more like a job for Hades.

Socrates: By the dog!  Perhaps I can help you, Lord Zeus.

Zeus: Who are you?!  And no dogs, or mortals, are allowed on Mt. Olympus without special permission.  We do not even let Hades bring Cerberus along.

Socrates: I am the soul of Socrates, the philosopher condemned to death by Athens.  I was on my way to the Isles of the Blessed when I ran into the great hero Odysseus, who told me how to get here.  I could not resist the opportunity to learn from gods, since you are surely much wiser than I am.  And I happen to have with me a doggy bag from my last feast—I only like very plain and simple food, and not much of it.  I used to say that whereas my fellow citizens lived to eat, I ate to live.

Zeus:  Doggy bag?  Are you offering the King of the Gods some kind of dog chow?  That does not sound very wise to me!

Hera: No, Dear, I think the weird mortal means he has some of that mortal food that is always being tossed into the sacrificial fires for us.

Hermes: Lord Zeus, do you want the snakes or not?

Zeus: Not, though I might regret this choice after tasting this Socratic bag lunch.  What is this?

Socrates: A roast beef sandwich and individual serving of red wine.  Odysseus thought you would like it.

Zeus: Hera, can I eat this?  I do not want to end up with a bellyache like my father Cronus.

Hera: Remember, Dear, your father’s digestive problems were rather special, the result of eating his children, plus a large rock.

Zeus:  Well, here goes.  You there, the soul of the mortal Socrates, entertain me while I dine.  Do you know any good jokes?

Socrates: No, but people used to take pleasure in my questioning important individuals claiming to be wise.  Here, let me show you my method.  Aphrodite, you are the goddess of beauty.  Surely you can tell us what beauty really is …

Narrator: And so the Gods and Socrates spent their remaining days discussing the meanings of important life concepts like beauty, justice and wisdom. Mount Olympus was finally calm—the temperaments of the strong-willed Gods were finally peaceful.

Discussion (10-15 minutes)

Allow students to discuss their reactions to Socrates and the different claims of the gods in relation to their understanding of wisdom that they developed during previous sessions. Encourage students to point to specific statements in the play as evidence for their claims, either supporting or refuting them.  Is the play too comic?  Is there enough Socratic dialogue in it?  How would they change it?

Word for the Day: Class Project

Encourage the students to sketch their ideas for the class project in their notebooks.


Stress again how the students should be thinking about what kind of project they would like to do, and how they would like to present Socrates.  Explain that in the next sessions, you will be adding some more details about Socrates, giving them Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates in “The Apology.”  Invite the students to keep thinking about how Socrates differs from Odysseus, Prometheus, the Sophists and Rhetoricians.

Lesson Plan 10: Socrates and the Elenchus

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words


Fill in more about the character of Socrates, his trial and death, and continue the inquiry into the nature of Socratic method by discussing a reading from the Apology

Coach Preparation

Read or re-read the Apology, available at and Debra Nails, “Socrates,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at   Also review Woodruff, “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works,” at    Read and bring to class M. D. Usher’s Wise Guy: the Life and Philosophy of Socrates.  Also bring various depictions of the trial and death of Socrates—for example, a reproduction of David’s The Death of Socrates (see  ), or a bust of Socrates.

Essential Questions    

Why was Socrates brought to trial and condemned?  Was his condemnation just or unjust?  Did Socrates take care of himself?            

Recapitulation of Socrates and last week’s dialogue (5-10 minutes)

Have a few students share what they remember from their initial encounters with a Socratic dialogue. Remind them that this is the name for dialogues in which Socrates is a discussant. Ask if students shared a fact about Socrates with their parents—what did they share, and what were parents’ responses? Review briefly Socrates’s questions about justice and piety, and the results of the dialogues discussed in previous sessions. How do we know that “justice,” “piety” etc. was the main point of the dialogue?  Ask if they have some suggestions for the class project.  Write a few on the board and indicate that they can discuss them later in the session.

Activity 1: Socrates as an Athenian (10 minutes)

Explain the circumstances of Socrates’ trial and death, including briefly the claims of his accusers in order to show how “strange” the ideas of Socrates were within the predominating tradition of thought in Ancient Greece.  Rehearse the stock descriptions:

Socrates, Greek Philosopher, 469-399 B.C.

“A philosopher of Athens, generally regarded as one of the wisest people of all time. It is not known who his teachers were, but he seems to have been acquainted with the doctrines of PARMENIDES, HERACLITUS, and ANAXAGORAS. Socrates himself left no writings, and most of our knowledge of him and his teachings comes from the dialogues of his most famous pupil, PLATO, and from the memoirs of XENOPHON. Socrates is described as having neglected his own affairs, instead spending his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated, seeking wisdom about right conduct so that he might guide the moral and intellectual improvement of Athens. Using a method now known as the Socratic dialogue, or dialectic, he drew forth knowledge from his students by pursuing a series of questions and examining the implications of their answers. Socrates equated virtue with the knowledge of one’s true self, holding that no one knowingly does wrong. He looked upon the soul as the seat of both waking consciousness and moral character, and held the universe to be purposively mind-ordered. His criticism of the Sophists and of Athenian political and religious institutions made him many enemies, and his position was burlesqued by ARISTOPHANES. In 399 B.C. Socrates was tried for corrupting the morals of Athenian youth and for religious heresies; it is now believed that his arrest stemmed in particular from his influence on Alcibiades and Critias, who had betrayed Athens. He was convicted and, resisting all efforts to save his life, willingly drank the cup of poison hemlock given him. The trial and death of Socrates are described by Plato in the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.”  See

Urge students to imagine him in Athens, a poor and shabby looking man, wandering about in the streets barefoot, asking other citizens questions, and saying “the only thing that I know is that I do not know anything.”  Do a quick reading of the conclusion of M.D. Usher’s Wise Guy: the Life and Philosophy of Socrates.  Explain how Socrates could have been called “Street Wise Guy,” since he was always out in the Agora, or marketplace, philosophizing.

Activity 2: Apology excerpts (20 minutes)

Call on students sentence-by-sentence to read this explanation from the Apology.

I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit, and will tell you about my wisdom – whether I have any, and of what sort – and that witness shall be the god of Delphi. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether – as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt – he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of this story.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of this riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, “Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.” Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. Then I went to another, who had still higher philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.

After this I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity was laid upon me – the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear! – for I must tell you the truth – the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that some inferior men were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the “Herculean” labors, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. When I left the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them – thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am almost ashamed to speak of this, but still I must say that there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than they did themselves. That showed me in an instant that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.

At last I went to the artisans, for I was conscious that I knew nothing at all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and in this I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom – therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and the oracle that I was better off as I was.

This investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies, and I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go my way, obedient to the god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and this occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

Discuss, and be sure that students understand Socrates’s dilemma and proposed solution. Focus on the last sentence of the second to last paragraph, and ask students to explain it and record it in their notebooks. Ask students if they know of any people that think themselves wise but are in fact not wise. What makes these people like or unlike Socrates? Further, how can Socrates be “better off” than anybody at all if he knows that he knows nothing? Inform students that Socrates was often seen smiling, in a good mood, and going to parties with his friends. Some say that he was the happiest man who ever lived.  How could a man who knows nothing be so happy?

Activity 3: Losing one’s temper (15 minutes)

Having spoken about “good conversation,” have students brainstorm conversation topics and stage brief dialogues between sets of students on those topics. Instruct one student to show a temper and get riled up by the argument, like Thrasymachus, and the other to maintain calmness and cheerfulness. Play this out, and see how the conversations go. What happens to the conversation, and who enjoys the conversation more? Also talk about the “point” of a conversation: which person focuses more on the topic at hand, and why? What effect does the angry person’s demeanor have on the conversation overall, and in particular its “point”? Ask students if they can think of any examples of people who lose their temper during communication, and other people who speak calmly. What do these two methods of communication say about the people who practice them? Why do some questions demand a less emotional attitude when they are being discussed?

Activity 4: Words of the day: Epigoge, Elenchus v. Eristic (10 minutes)

Elenchus. Students have so far read some Socratic dialogue, and one explanation from Socrates as to why Socrates engages people this way. Although Socrates himself, or Plato speaking for him, did not describe his philosophizing in terms of a method, others have used the ancient Greek word “elenchus” to describe his approach. “Elenchus” refers to the search for truth by short question and answer exchanges in which people share their actual beliefs and test their lives.  Woodruff gives this fuller definition:

“The general rules of elenchus are these: Socrates’ partner (often called his interlocutor) must answer every question according to his own beliefs, and the partner (not the audience if there is one) judges the outcome. Socrates’ questions start from his partner’s initial statement, which usually implies a claim to wisdom or to knowledge of a subject related to virtue. Sometimes Socrates seeks clarification of the claim; at other times he proceeds directly to elicit his partner’s agreement to premises that will turn out to be inconsistent with the initial claim. In some cases, the premises have no authority aside from the partner’s agreement; in others, Socrates provides an argument for premises, usually in the form of an epagoge, a general inference from a set of examples. An elenchus usually concludes in the discomfiture of the partner, who now appears unable to support his initial statement. Some form of elenchus is probably responsible for Socrates’ claim in the Apology that he has demonstrated that every claimant to wisdom whom he has examined has failed the test (21b-23b).”

Be sure students can pronounce the word, and understand that when Socrates is “examining” a person, it sounds a lot like an argument, but can also be understood as a collaborative inquiry into the truth, unlike “eristic,” which is merely about winning debating points. When people collaboratively inquire into something, it is generally for the reason of discovering something or learning something, which means admitting the need to learn, inquire, etc.. Explain how Socrates urged the Athenians to take better care of themselves.  Discuss…


Ask students to try using the elenchus in their life. What happens if they “examine” their parents or siblings using elenchus?

Ask them for more thoughts on the class project—what would they like to do?  Start ranking some of their suggestions on the board.

Lesson Plan 11: The Fate of Socrates

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words

Time: 1 hour


Discuss more passages from Plato’s Apology and learn more about the life, conviction and death of Socrates.

Learn more about the role of the Sophists and Rhetoricians in Plato’s writing and in the Athenian democracy.

Formalize the class project, encouraging the students to discuss which questions they want to pursue and to come to an agreement.

Coach Preparation

Review Woodruff, “Plato’s Shorter Ethical Works,” at  , Plato, “Apology,” at , and “Crito,” at  Do some more background reading on the trial of Socrates, and consider using such resources as  and  for this session, depending on the personality of your group.

Essential Questions

How does Socrates differ from the Sophists and Rhetoricians in his conduct of his defense speech?  How strange was Socrates?  Was Socrates right not to flee his punishment?  Would you do what Socrates did?  Did Socrates really take good care of himself?

Activity 1: Many Socrateses (20 minutes)

Show students a few more renderings of Socrates’s face. Remind them that he was said to be a short and pot-bellied man, described by Plato has having a “snub-nose and eyes that stick out.” Often dressed in ragged clothes, he walked about the streets of Athens barefoot, said to be accompanied by a mangy dog. Of course, these are mostly attempts at describing a man of whom there is no completely reliable physical description. Explain how his wife, Xantippe, was said to complain about him, and how he was said to go into a trance-like state sometimes when he was thinking.  Explain, too, the Socratic demon, which Socrates said kept him from wrong action. Give a brief account of the dialogue “Crito,” explaining how Socrates could have escaped his punishment but chose not to.  Note the significance of the comedy “The Clouds” by Aristophanes, which poked fun at Socrates and may have contributed to his conviction, according to Socrates in the “Apology.”  Instruct students to take artistic license, and walk around as though they were Socrates, carrying around their Socrates quote sheets. Call upon students to read sentences from the Apology, in their chosen Socratic timbre.

“A person who is wise will admit that his wisdom is in fact nothing.”

I must fulfill the philosopher’s mission of searching for wisdom in myself, and in everybody else.”

“My searching has led to my having many enemies of the most dangerous kind. I am called wise, for many say that I myself possess the wisdom that I seek in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that only God is wise. I go my way, obedient to the God, asking everyone questions, citizens and strangers, and I show all of those who think that they are wise that they are in fact not wise.”

“If you kill me, you will not find many others like me. This sounds ridiculous, but I think of myself as an annoying fly, given to Athens by the God. Athens, our country, is like a giant and noble horse, who is so big that he must move very slowly. Because I am the fly, I sting the giant horse, and by stinging him, help get him to move quickly”

“I have a prediction for those who vote to sentence me to death. Right after my death, you will find that you have really punished yourself. You will have killed me in order to get rid of someone who accused you of not being wise.”

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

Discuss, in particular focusing on Socrates’s presumed political role in the state. Why is a democracy, in which all of the citizens vote on all decisions, slow-moving? In what does Socrates’s “sting” consist, and why does it get the horse moving? Relate to students the details of Socrates’s death, and stress in particular his willingness to accept the punishment, and his claim that his death in fact punished the very people who voted for it.  Invite students to puzzle over how Socrates could both profess his own ignorance and yet be convinced that the unexamined life is not worth living and that it would be wrong to flee Athens.  What did he “know”?

Activity 2: More about the Sophists (20 minutes)

Tell students that Plato described as a Sophist someone who “makes the weaker argument the stronger.” Ask students if they can explain this. Explain again that in Athens, the best way to get what you wanted was to sue someone or accuse them of something bad. Doing this allowed one to go before all of the citizens of the city and publicly make arguments against another, before the citizens would cast votes and decide the fate of the accused. This was what Sophists were said to do, traveling from place to place suing people, training others to make bad arguments, and charging a fee. Connect this to Socrates’s accusation, and his resultant execution.  Remind them that Socrates denied that he was a teacher and took no pay for his philosophizing. Have the students play the Sophist, and “make the weaker argument the stronger.” Pair students up, and have then accuse one another falsely. Have the students take turns standing before the class attempting to incriminate their partner. Remind them that an import part of the Sophist’s work was using powerful rhetoric to persuade the other citizens that the accused was guilty. Return to this theme, and ask students to reflect on “effective” language use—again, what is effective language use for Socrates, given the quotes read above, and what is effective language use for the Sophists using rhetoric? Why would Plato, the man who admired the Socratic conversations, devote much of his writing to making fun of Sophists?

Words of the Day: Review of Eristic, Sophism and Rhetoric versus Elenchus, the “Examined Life”

Ask the students to continue to reflect on how the philosophical life and method of Socrates, as presented in the recent sessions, relates to their earlier discussions of wisdom and aporia, heroism and courage, rhetoric and sophism, and the Socratic elenchus.  Review the basic timeline for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, giving the students a more formal chronology to which they can refer.

Closing (20 minutes)

Finalize agreement on a class project.  Explain to students again that the elenctic Socratic method can be used to seek answers to their own questions.  Which questions do they find most interesting?  Explain that in future sessions, they will need to do more of their own philosophizing, and will be free to pursue more of their own questions.

Lesson Plan 12: Philosophize like Socrates

The Civic Knowledge Project: Winning Words


Get the students to take an active, creative approach, using what they have learned about Socrates

Develop a detailed plan for the class project

Coach Preparation

Reflect on the questions and themes that your Winning Words students have consistently favored, and consider ways to offer them some guidance as they frame their class project.  Review other Winning Words skits and projects to get some ideas, and consider how you can pose good questions to the students to help them as they develop their work.  Consider using this twenty minute YouTube video about Socrates, if you have not already used it and your group needs to catch up:    Review the interview with Stephen Toulmin, at , noting the significance of the term “reasonable” as opposed to “certain.”

Essential Questions    

Can or should one apply the Socratic method in one’s own life?  Would that make one a philosopher? Is the philosophical life really the happy life?             

Recapitulation of Socrates and last week’s dialogue (5-10 minutes)

Have a few students share what they remember from their initial encounters with a Socratic dialogue. Ask again if students shared a fact about Socrates with their parents—what did they share, and what were parents’ responses? Review briefly Socrates’s questions about justice and piety, and the results of the dialogues discussed in previous sessions.  Explain that you have some exercises that might help them think about how to act like Socrates, and how to portray him in their project.  Review the term “Logos

Activity 1: Good and bad, formal and informal arguments, reasonableness (10 minutes)

Much like agree/disagree, except with arguments—post Good/Bad/Don’t Know signs on the ends and center of the room, read off arguments, and have students run to the sign they agree with. There are two questions for each argument. The first is “is this a good argument?” and the second is “would this argument convince you to do what it advocates, even if the argument is not good?” Make up arguments, or use the ones below.

1. You should brush your teeth, because it might help you prevent cavities.

2. You should brush your teeth, because if you don’t, you will definitely get many cavities.

3. You should give me your money, because if you don’t, I will attack you.

4. You should eat broccoli, because broccoli is the best food in the world.

5. You should do your homework, because if you do, your grades will likely improve.

6. You should do your homework, because I have a friend who does all of his homework.

What makes some of these arguments good arguments and some of them bad? What makes some reasonable? Why would we ever choose to listen to an unreasonable argument (like #2)? With younger students, do not focus on pointing out formal fallacies, but show rather that some arguments overwhelm us (those with threats, or those that scare us) and make it impossible to actually think about the points. Instead, we are occupied with fear for our safety, or whatever other supervening concern (including the desire to be popular—a subject about which students usually have much to say.)  Follow the conversation where it leads, inviting more questions about the obstacles to being reasonable.  Invite comments on how Socrates overcame such obstacles, and question the students on whether they would describe the Socratic life as the good life, a reasonable, happy and virtuous one. Suggest the following possible questions for them to pursue: What is Happiness?  What is Virtue?  Can one be Happy and Selfish?  Can one be Just and Happy?  Can Money or Fame make one Happy?  Is the Happy life the Best life?  What is Truth?

Activity 2: Rehearsals (30 minutes)

Have the students work on their skit or project, either independently or as a group.  Work with them to determine a plan for completing it in time for the UChicago Winning Words performances and exhibitions.  Create smaller working groups if necessary.  Make sure that all of the students are actively included and engaged.  If necessary, devise two class projects, the better to accommodate serious differences.  Discuss details of costuming, performance, etc.  Make sure that they have information to take home to their parents concerning the date/time/place of the performance.  Encourage them to invite their parents, friends, and relatives.  In the course of this work, briefly introduce the students to another philosopher, John Dewey, explaining that he was a very famous American philosopher who worked at the University of Chicago in the 1890s and founded the Laboratory School, which still exists.  Explain that Dewey very much admired Socrates, but also stressed that students needed to learn by doing, experimenting with and testing their ideas in practice.

Words for the Day: Reasonableness, John Dewey

Note in particular that “reasonableness” is a broader term than “rational” and that it can be achieved even when certainty is impossible and inquiry produces aporia.


Ask the students if they are all happy with and clear about the class project.  Explain that they will be learning more about various philosophers and philosophical perspectives in future sessions, but they will also be learning by doing, putting into practice some of the Socratic ideas.  That is, they will be doing more live philosophizing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.