As they conclude, Socrates and Phaedrus recall that they initially set out to “examine the attack on Lysias on account of his writing speeches, and to ask which speeches are written artfully and which not” (277a-b). They have observed two points integral to the art of speech: (1) one must know the truth and be able to define everything on which one speaks; (2) one must understand the nature of the audience’s soul(s) and prepare every speech accordingly. Furthermore, anyone who believes that he writes down matters of great importance should be reproached. For the worthy man will only write for the sake of amusement—and learning about what is “just, noble, and good.” Such discourse can be called the man’s “legitimate children” and may spread naturally to other good souls (278a). The producer of such discourse can be called a philosopher—a wisdom lover. On the other hand, the man who dwells on his writings will be called a “poet or a speech writer or an author of laws” (278d-e). Finally, after a prayer to the gods, Socrates and Phaedrus set out on the path back to the city—and to their respective favorites, Isocrates and Lysias.
See the analysis of the previous section for insight into the conclusion of the dialogue from a philosophical point of view. Here, Socrates mainly summarizes what has come before, reaffirming the overarching importance of philosophy for spoken and written discourse. By extension, he disparages all those who dwell on their writings at the expense of philosophical dialectic. The philosopher, Socrates repeats, would only write—even legitimate discourse—for the sake of amusement.
But having written Phaedrus and so many other dialogues, can Plato justify thinking of himself as a philosopher? Arguably, the Socratic teachings could not have spread so widely and lasted so long without Plato's writings. Is it perhaps legitimate for an author to write of the dialectic discourse of others? Is there a way to produce a piece of writing that can survive the test of time across various audiences and still be philosophically or rhetorically valuable beyond a small, private group, without causing harm by leading some readers astray? If so, perhaps the Socratic dialogue, very carefully constructed, leaving the casual reader no worse off and providing entertainment for philosophical readers, is Plato’s answer.
The return to Athens signifies a return to normalcy, at least on the part of Socrates. But the mention of Isocrates—a famous Greek orator, associated with the school of Sophists—concludes the dialogue on a troubling note. For if Isocrates is indeed Socrates’ favorite, then are we to see that even Socrates fails to inspire his beloved student to take up philosophy rather than rhetoric? The Socratic way of life, after all, proves tragic, leading to Socrates’ death by poison. Is this the fate a philosopher who abhors public rhetoric should expect?