CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Terms


The practice of writing on papyrus and animal hide in an alphabet derived from the Phoenician script was well established in the Greek world by the time Socrates and Plato became active as philosophers. Logographers, professional writers of letters and speeches, earned money by preparing texts for others; Lysias and Isocrates were both orators who worked as logographers.

While in Plato's Phaedrus Socrates--who left no written works-- views writing as a debased form of communication, suitable only for entertainment, Plato's own relationship with writing is ambiguous, as he is the author of many powerful philosophical dialogues. Both Socrates and Plato understand writing as a fundamentally representational activity. The act of writing only records ideas; it cannot generate them. Like other mimetic arts, writing produces a "copy of a copy", twice removed from the origin (arche) of the eternal Forms.